Recently I was reading about the superintendent of Yosemite National Park who had retired due to complaints among his staff of creating a hostile work environment. 14 of his staff had filed the complaint. In the complaint staff stated “that the environment is indeed toxic, hostile, repressive and harassing. I have worked with a number of Tribal organizations where this exists. While it is not legally mandated that Tribes follow the federal law in regards to this matter, most Tribes have harassment policies which address the issue which is a good practice.

When a hostile environment exists there is a tremendous amount of stress on staff, they are less willing to take risks, turnover is greater, sick leave is used more frequently and productivity can be significantly reduced. When it is not addressed it only gets worse and never better. Some try to ride it out until a new person takes over that position but if the offender is protected politically this may take a long time.

When this environment exists the first step is to document the behavior. You can’t just use some vague examples when you take your issue to human resources. They will need to know specifically what is happening and how it has impacted you.

Find other allies within the work unit or team. Frequently there are others who are also impacted by this type of toxic environment. There is power in numbers. The more of you who step forward and are proactive about what is going on the more likely you will be able to have your grievance heard.

If human resources is not able to help you as a last resort file a grievance. Hopefully they will be objective and then if you have your situation well documented they will respond accordingly and you will be given a fair hearing. Sometimes even this process can become political and even though you may think it is a slam dunk case the grievance committee may not rule in your favor. If this occurs you will have to decide if it is in your best interest to continue on in your current position. You can either resign or perhaps there is another position you can transfer to in the organization that would be a healthier environment.

It is very important for the administration to take allegations of a hostile work environment very seriously. Make sure the policies and procedures applied consistently and fairly. Also, the message needs to be communicated at all levels that there is zero tolerance for this type of behavior and harassment. It will become very difficult for the organization to hire highly qualified staff and retain them if the Tribe becomes known as one that allows a hostile work environment to be the norm.

In one organization I worked with I was in a hostile work environment. I had done what was asked of me by my supervisor and the president of the college and yet they continued to harass me and blame me for their own inadequacies. I was talking to another staff member and mentioned that I felt this was an example of a hostile work environment. Evidently someone overheard me and shared it with my supervisor. Within a few days I met with my supervisor who was very friendly to me and she changed her tune 180 degrees. I never had another issue with this person again or with the adminstration. It may not be that easy to address in a Tribal organization as they may not be facing legal consequences but I was glad to see the change in my work environment.

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