A reader writes:
I’ve recently been contacted by a supervisor in our company who has heard that one of his subordinates has been regularly “cursing” both him and his daughter (who also works for our company). By “cursing,” I don’t mean using foul language. I mean she considers herself something of a witch and has been literally putting curses on these people.
These people don’t generally put much stock in that sort of thing, but they are starting to get scared to work with this woman (especially the daughter). Not exactly sure how to approach the “witch”…. Suggestions?
I wrote back and asked for more details, because how could you not?
The additional information:
I work in HR for a school division. The problem is happening at one of my schools. There are four cleaning staff working at one school. The head janitor (Jeff), the assistant head janitor (Mandy), and two cleaners (Whitney and Roberta). Roberta is leaving, and I met with her today for an exit interview.
Mandy has, for whatever reasons, decided that she hates Jeff and Whitney. So she is bad-mouthing them to staff, bullying Roberta into “joining her” in her hatred and and maligning them to other staff. That, I can deal with. It has happened before and I have learned how to deal with workplace bullies and insecure people who feel the need to undermine the reputations of their peers in order to make themselves look better.
What I’m concerned about, and what was confirmed by Roberta during our interview, is this “curse.” My information is that Mandy said something along these lines: “When people make me angry, or cross me, I don’t worry because I have ways to get rid of them. And I’ve cursed them. I have a place in my house with candles and other items and I know how to do that.”
Jeff is thinking it is just silly, but Whitney is absolutely terrified. She’s looking up ways to ward off curses online and starting to consider going on sick leave because she is afraid to work with this woman. (To make it worse, both Jeff and Whitney got really sick and missed almost a full week of week approximately two weeks after Roberta said that Mandy “cursed” them, which adds to her fear!)
To me, regardless of whether or not she is Wiccan or a witch or practices voodoo or whatever she does, this is a bona fide threat against another employee. I honestly want to treat this pretty seriously, separate from the bullying issue. Thoughts?
I think that’s exactly right — it’s intended as a threat and that’s not acceptable.
Normally I’m a big fan of managers handling performance problems on their staff themselves rather than looking to HR to do it for them, but in this case, since she’s putting curses on her manager, I can see an argument for you having a one-time meeting with her and her manager and jointly laying down the law. (Of course, this may just get you added to the list of people she’s cursing, but black magic is one of many occupational hazards.)
Tell her clearly that it’s not acceptable to threaten to curse or otherwise harm anyone she works with, that threatening people with harm — regardless of the means — is grounds for termination, and that this is a one-time warning but if it happens again, you’ll let her go. And in this same conversation, you should also make it clear that badmouthing her coworkers to others isn’t acceptable either, and that she’s expected to behave professionally and pleasantly while she’s at work. Basically, this is the “your behavior is far over the bounds of what we will accept here, we take it seriously, and we’re going to have zero tolerance for it going forward” conversation.
And please don’t get caught up into some long series of warnings with her. Behaving this way is sufficiently unacceptable that it warrants only a single warning and then firing. In fact, frankly, if you’re 100% sure that the reports you’ve heard are true, I’d assume that you’re going to need to end up letting her go fairly soon, because good employees just don’t operate this way (and I’m talking here about all of the behavior, not just the curses), and I’m highly skeptical that she’s a stellar performer on every other front.
Meanwhile, I would start reading up on counter-spells, potions, and hexes, as you’re probably going to need them.