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THE QUESTION

I have worked in the same company for years without incident. This year, a new vice-president was hired and from day one, he did not like me.

I have been accused of being disrespectful, unprofessional, and not a team player. When I asked for examples, the responses were vague (he heard about something) or grossly untrue (that I leave early when in fact I leave late every night). Since he refused to hear me out, I asked if human resources should mediate. I was told not to cause trouble.

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Since then, I have been denied two promotions, refused an annual raise and am now excluded from meetings and decisions. I feel harassed and humiliated. He has now started repeating his view to other company leaders. Everything I have worked for is being maliciously destroyed.

Recently, I found out this VP is friends with a leader I knew 15 years ago who bullied staff. I was one of the few people who stood up to him. I think this is why my VP has had disdain for me from the start.

This is now a vindictive smear campaign. Is this not considered slander that has caused financial loss and reputational damage? Should I hire a lawyer or get an outside mediator involved? I love my work, and my colleagues but this new VP has made my life at work unbearable and I am sick of feeling threatened.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Doug Nathanson

Chief human resources officer, Canadian Tire, Toronto

Although you are facing a difficult situation, it sounds like you want to resolve matters and remain with your employer. As a first step, you need to have a more detailed discussion with your VP. It's rare for a boss to "not like" someone from the outset and you need to get at the reasons behind the issue, without assuming that certain decisions are tied to personal feelings or past circumstances. Schedule a meeting and address the issue directly and professionally – arm yourself with examples of your positive contributions and the conduct you find troubling. Make it clear that you take the rectification of the situation very seriously, without coming across as overly sensitive or threatening.

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If this meeting does not ameliorate the situation, absolutely consult an HR representative. Your HR team should help you understand your workplace rights, what codes of behaviour exist at your company and how complaints are handled. Explain the facts and the impact it's having on your work and request HR's assistance to resolve the situation, either through informal mediation efforts or a more formal dispute resolution process.

Should these efforts fail, consider consulting an employment lawyer who will advise you of alternative measures. While this step will escalate the matter, workplace bullying and harassment are extremely serious issues and cannot be tolerated. Although involving outside assistance is the last resort, it is justified when the conduct you are dealing with necessitates more formal intervention.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Faith Tull

Senior vice-president of human resources, Randstad Canada, Toronto

It is rare that we work our entire careers without encountering a superior who does not like us. This can be magnified when a boss acquires staff that he/she did not hire themselves. This is not the fault of the employee, and no reason for an employee to be bullied, harassed and/or humiliated. The human resources team is not just a partner for management, they are partners for all people of the company. HR should be an impartial neutral party to work with teams to resolve employee issues. One should never be dissuaded to approach HR with concerns.

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Employee engagement and the employer's brand is high on the strategic priorities for many companies. It would be an employer's preference to be made aware of these types of issues in order to rectify them, not just for one individual but all employees and future employees.

It should be remembered, however, that if an employee suspects that they work in a poisoned and hostile work environment where they are not comfortable approaching the right individuals to look into their personal issue, they have the right to go directly to the Canadian Human Rights Commission without fear of repercussion or retribution from their employer.

Once they file a complaint, the Commission works to ensure fairness to promote organizational change. Their tribunals will investigate the situation while providing protection for the employee.

It would be unfortunate for a long-term employee to give up their tenure, career and love for their organization to a bad boss.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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