September 28, 2009

Intimidation at work

When Ravi Raj accepted a position at the Harvard-MIT Data Center, he was thrilled to have the opportunity to work for a university that he believed would be a progressive and prestigious employer. Yet, to his surprise, Raj received warnings early on from his managers to never take part in union activity at his new job—although he was a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. He was even more disturbed when a new supervisor began to subject him to racial slurs, mocking his Indian accent in front of other staff. The incidents that followed are not just an embarrassing, and as yet unresolved, incident for the Harvard community; they demonstrate a troubling lack of accountability in protecting union rights on campus.

Raj immigrated to the United States from India in 1986. Receiving a master’s degree in Management Information Systems, he worked at Hewlett-Packard, Anderson Consulting and Tufts University before accepting his job here at Harvard. When Raj stood up for his rights and complained to administrators about his poor treatment, he faced the consequences of a flawed system: Raj’s boss took away his office, criticized his work, and gave him a mediocre evaluation while Raj waited for assistance that never came.

Though Harvard provides official avenues for employees to voice complaints of discrimination, Raj has hit several roadblocks and in the meantime has faced threats and intimidation. Last April, on the day of Raj’s scheduled meeting between his union representative, his supervisor at HMDC, and Human Resources, a stranger approached Raj inside a building where he was working and threatened him by name. According to Raj, the man said, “Ravi Raj, you have chosen the wrong path and the wrong union. You should watch out.” Such an action is despicable for its cowardly and bullying nature.

Harvard University cannot tolerate discrimination and the intimidation of its workers. As appalling as the racial slurs against Raj may be, more disturbing is his experience when he decided to speak up. While Raj has filed complaints with the Harvard University Police Department and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Raj currently must work under the same supervisor and has received threats of being fired—even though clients often write compliments about his efficient work. The mechanisms in place at Harvard to deal with discrimination and intimidation in the workplace have failed Ravi Raj.

Raj has pursued conflict resolution with management at HMDC, HR, and even the office of the University Ombudsman without success. When contacted, HR and the office of the Ombudsman declined to comment, citing employee confidentiality. While this may be simply their policy, someone needs to step in and speak up on Raj’s behalf. One of the mechanisms in place must be broken—if not the whole system—as it appears Raj’s case has been lost without resolution. Even if there is a reason that Raj’s superiors, HR and the office of the Ombudsman have not pursued his complaints, their official silence has not allowed for resolution of Raj’s unfortunate situation. Regardless of whether the people able to bring about a positive change for Raj believe his story, they still should recognize that an employee feels seriously threatened in his workplace. It is inexcusable that no one has moved to resolve this situation for Raj on humane grounds alone.

In this challenging economic time it is even more important that we remain vigilant about cases of discrimination and intimidation in the workplace. With jobs more scarce, such cases are more likely to go unreported as people are afraid of being laid off. For his part, Raj works in fear that he will be fired because of the animosity that exists between him and his supervisor, and he believes that his co-workers are too afraid to stick up for him because of fears for their own jobs. Do we have a good enough system in place to ensure that Harvard employees are safe to defend their rights, whether on their own or as a member of any union? It would be difficult to look Raj in the eye and say, “Yes.”

Ideally the avenues in place to deal with complaints of discrimination would have worked, and Raj would have been placed elsewhere immediately, the supervisor punished, and the situation resolved. For Raj, still working in an environment that feels unsafe, a fair solution would be for management to place him in a different office with a new supervisor. Union members, students and concerned community members have held several demonstrations on Raj’s behalf. These should continue. More broadly, though, the University must look closely at the mechanisms that are currently failing to protect workers.



Anonymous said...

Check out Youtube 'Bullied to death: They committed suicide because of bullying

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Bullying can kill

Act now... save a life.

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

There are almost 30.000 comments linked to this video - that's quite a conversation about bullying...

Aphra Behn