I don’t know how well you can answer this question, but how would you define a hostile work environment when it comes to police work? I won’t give you all the facts, but my shift is having a problem with a lieutenant who’s throwing his weight around. I know that the chain of command (who I don’t trust in this case) and my chief have an “open door policy,” but I might be walking into a trap if I go that route. If I go outside them through an employee assistance program and mention hostile work environment, they’ll have to inform my chief. Also, my sergeants are in the same boat as me. I’m looking for any advice you can give. Please help!
Robert, Thanks for the question. Let’s jump right in.
First of all, an a-hole lieutenant is different from a lieutenant who engages in a practice of creating a hostile work environment. You need to get that one through your skull and into your brain-housing group before we go forward. People of a certain rank are given a certain amount of weight. Not only are they allowed to use it, they’re expected to use it. A lieutenant has a fair amount of weight, and good ones use their position to better the department in the direction set forth by the chief.
To answer your question, a hostile work environment is caused by discriminatory harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, genetics, age or sex. It can also be caused by retaliation in violation of another discrimination law. That isn’t just my definition—that’s the definition.
First you need to figure out what you’re actually dealing with. If your situation falls into one of those categories, you’ll have a valid hostile work environment claim and should take action. If you go that route, first, you need to put the lieutenant on notice. Take a witness and after you tell the lieutenant what’s up, go take notes on the discussion. After you collect your notes, send the lieutenant an email outlining the discussion you just had. Give them a reasonable amount of time to make some changes—you tell them the timeframe. Then go to the next level in the chain. Make sure you also take notes on the day-to-day actions that you think are giving you a claim. If your claim is valid—and you present it this way—and you suffer any sort of retaliation, go find a lawyer.
Now if you just have an a-hole boss, that’s another matter. We all have those and we need to deal with them. First, try to step away from your comfort zone and figure out if the demands from your boss are unreasonable or just different from what you’re used to doing. If the lieutenant is looking for more arrests, more tickets, a higher quality of work or more work in general, that may be uncomfortable and different from what you’re used to, but it isn’t a hostile work environment. If the chief is backing the lieutenant, then the demands may be coming from the chief’s directions. The chief may have selected that particular lieutenant just because they’re good at shaking things up. In that case, you have a few choices.
You can give the lieutenant whatever they’re looking for. That might just end things and you can move on when they rotate out. That option is about as exciting as guarding the cars while the SWAT folks go blow up a house—or so I’ve heard. Ol’ Bullethead has never guarded the cars.
Much more fun is either a work slowdown or a work speedup. Work slowdowns are probably more boring than guarding cars, so I don’t recommend that one. I really like the option of significantly picking up your work. I’ve said it many times before: We don’t work in a factory. The only thing cops create is liability. So if the lieutenant asks for more tickets, start scratching everyone for more. But while you’re out there writing tickets, create some liability: When warranted, arrest people, chase them on foot and in your cars—don’t give anyone a break. Just be positive about what you do. Have your ducks in a row and stay between the lines (stay legal or you’ll create a whole different set of problems for yourself). When you do that, your boss has no reason to come after you.
So figure out what the real problem is: Are you dealing with an uncomfortable situation that involves an a-hole boss or do you have a valid, hostile work environment? After you figure that one out, go forward as described and you should be in good shape. Keep your sights aligned and go do your job the best you can.
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