I have mediated well over one hundred workplace cases in the last fifteen years. One that stands out as unique involved a mentally challenged worker, who I’ll call Tom, who was alleging discrimination based on his handicapped status. Tom worked the third (overnight) shift with a large organization and wanted to be moved to another shift. He alleged that his employer’s unwillingness to move him to another shift was evidence of discrimination against him. He was accompanied by his union representative, who I’ll call Dave. Management was present in the form of Tom’s supervisor and a person from Human Resources (H.R.).
The mediation had proceeded without much progress for over an hour, with the two sides sticking to their initial positions (“I need a new shift” and “We can’t move you”). Suddenly, the employee’s union representative asked for a caucus. I asked the management folks to move leave and convened the caucus with just Tom and Dave. Almost immediately, Dave said, “Tom, you have to tell him.” Tom said nothing, just looking at the tabletop. Dave repeated his request, more urgently.
So, Tom reluctantly told me his story. It seems that Tom was being terrorized by a gang of fellow male employees. Rather than being allowed to do his work, nearly every evening the gang was publically humiliating Tom by calling him names, laughing at his limited social skills and physically accosting him by pulling down his pants while he was concentrating on his work. Tom had been too embarrassed to tell anyone but Dave, and had asked Dave to keep his secret. To his credit, Dave knew that such a secret should not be kept.
With Tom’s permission, I reconvened all four parties, and Tom then told his story to everyone. This took courage on Tom’s part, especially since the H.R. person was a woman. The mediation was immediately terminated at the insistence of the H.R. staffer so that she could initiate a formal investigation of the possible discrimination and assaults against Tom and perhaps reconsider his request for transfer to another shift.
Tom was different from his co-workers but that did not make him less deserving of the kind of respect we should all expect in the workplace. For Tom, mediation was a tool that would end his torment at work and hopefully prevent future bulling by the “late shift gang”.Contact Mark Loye For Workplace Bullying Conflict Resolution