Harassment by a Subordinate Employee at Work

What Happens When a Subordinate Employee Bullies Their Boss

Woman at desk giving dirty look to prankster.
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Workplace bullies usually operate from a position of power. In fact, studies show that 80 percent of bullies are in a position of authority. Often bullies target peers, subordinates, or those below them in the organizational hierarchy. However, sometimes roles are reversed and the subordinate harasses the supervisor.

Below is one account, submitted by an anonymous worker, of how a subordinate's abusive, harassing, passive-aggressive behavior wreaked havoc on her supervisor.

Bullied by a Subordinate

About a year ago, the department I worked in was eliminated. The few of us who remained were assigned to another division. My supervisor has a high title but found herself with too small a staff to justify it. Therefore, she scurried to find programs in other departments to raid. One department gave her an employee referred to as "a gift" because departments are happy to give them away. My supervisor knew of the 30+ years of incompetence and the bad reputation of the employee she was acquiring and she wanted minimal interaction with her new acquisition. Therefore, she assigned this "gift" to me.

In the past year, this subordinate has refused to perform any work. At first, she claimed that she was a victim of bad managers for the prior 32 years of her career. Later, she claimed that she was the victim of her last supervisor's conspiracy against her. Soon, she turned her attacks on me. She refused to do her work, because, she claimed, she never had to before, or I didn't ask her politely, or she didn't understand my request, or her previous supervisor performed her work for her, or it was above her pay grade. My supervisor declared that all the tension was merely a personal dispute between the subordinate and me.

At her most aggressive, the subordinate would lather herself in pungent oils and lotions and stand over me as I sat in my cubicle. She would talk to me only while eating with her mouth open and food falling out and making disgusting sounds from her endless bodily functions. In addition, she would pray loudly to herself, blast evangelical radio about repentance, and conduct loud personal conversations about people going to hell for how they treated her. When other people visited me for work-related needs, she would take off her shoes and rub her feet with noxious ointments while trying to join our discussion.

Ultimately, after a confrontational discussion where I cited her many passive-aggressive, obnoxious actions, as well as her self-admitted incompetence, I refused to look at her or talk to her. I told her to stop wasting time with her attacks upon me and do her work. She asked me, "Who hurt you so badly that you treat me like this?" I told her that I did not invest in myself or my career to be around someone like her and to do her work. She turned her back to escape me and I said, "Don't ask my deepest thoughts and ignore me if you can't accept that you're the problem." Co-workers overheard my words and angry tone and gasped at the interaction.

How the Bullying Escalated

I complained to my supervisor who created the entire situation. I documented the numerous insubordinate actions, unprofessional conduct, and unacceptable work, but my supervisor played my complaints off as my having a difficult personality and advised me to buy an air purifier. She claimed that nobody else complained about the subordinate's odor, noise, and throwing papers and trash on surrounding empty cubicles, even though an employee with OCD and fear of germs worked two cubicles away. She said that we had to work out our disagreements between ourselves, but she refused to reassign the subordinate or support my request to pursue formal charges against her.

At other times, this subordinate would ask me to stay behind at staff meetings (although she reported to me) to report and reprimand me to our division head. She claimed that I abused her because I could no longer talk to her without yelling and being angry. She accused me often of being a miserable person, independent of her presence. I zealously defended myself, identified her numerous failures to perform and demanded that she be transferred from beneath me. My co-worker even volunteered to manage the subordinate because she had worked with her earlier (and strongly warned our supervisor not to acquire her) and knew her notoriety was well-deserved. In fact, she understood why the subordinate was often assigned to isolated cubicles far away from whatever division she was assigned.

Over the course of the year, I suffered emotionally and physically. I gained 40 pounds from the stress of having to sit in the stench and filth and work with a deadbeat protected by civil service. I have cried at work, cried to my supervisor (who laughs at me and tells me that my weight gain is my own fault), and spent nights infuriated because I am forced to work late to redo the subordinate's work because my supervisor makes me accountable.

The subordinate continues to threaten to bring me up on charges and accuses me of being widely disliked, although I am professionally accomplished, when I ask her critical questions about her written work product. When I report these attacks to my supervisor, the supervisor threatens to suspend both my subordinate and me.

What the Confrontations Have Led to

Thus, I have instructed the subordinate to only communicate to me using email so that she protects herself from the abuse she accuses me of and so that I have documentation for her abuse of me. I also use these emails when she later denies saying whatever absurd excuse she devises in her refusal to perform her work. Because I have stated that she should email me only, she openly provokes me to become angry and then says loudly to nobody, "Did everyone hear how she speaks to me?"

Over the course of this year, she has insisted to my supervisor that she is going to retire any day now. She makes this claim after her most obnoxious confrontations with me when I document her theft of time or insubordination or incompetence. Her false promises effectively buy her three more months of reprieve, because my supervisor tells me that she'll be leaving any day now. She has yet to submit her retirement papers. So I continue to wish for her departure.