two of my employees are harassing their disabled coworker

A reader writes:

I manage a small digital marketing firm. The owner is usually in the background doing the “big stuff” like networking and bringing in sponsors or big clients, I do almost all the hiring, and we use a virtual assistant HR company that tends to just forward me complaint emails (a separate issue).

We have one staff member who has been with us since the company formed 10 years ago. “Lola” has an amazing creative mind, produces great work, and our clients adore her. Our last three major accounts we landed because of word of mouth that Lola works for us and us alone. She’s also a joy to work with, very friendly, and a hard worker. I don’t have any negatives about her performance over the 10 years I’ve worked with her.

Lola has been very open with us about some medical needs she has. She’s been open with the whole team so it’s not a huge secret or hush-hush, especially since her condition is degenerative and she’ll slowly lose functionality over time. We’ve even all joined 5k runs as an office in her name and when we have a chance to donate to a charity it’s almost always to charities that represent research for Lola’s condition. I always thought that as an office, we had her back.

Even before the pandemic, I noticed our younger “go-getter” staff (two in particular who need a lot of attention and reassurance) complaining about Lola not meeting deadlines. The complaints increased drastically since the pandemic started. Lola works at a different pace than the rest of the team, but she’s not missing deadlines. If something is due at noon on Tuesday and she has it submitted by 11:45 on Tuesday, that’s not late or past the deadline. When we do project management, we set realistic goals and timelines for everybody on the project, taking into account the pandemic, child care, access to materials, all of it. We consider the entire team’s needs and the client’s, not just Lola’s. But I have the two staff who complain a lot that Lola’s behind or not working as fast as they’d like, both of whom even went so far as to exclude her from a project and finish her work for her, which was unnecessary since (1) the work they turned in wasn’t what the client wanted and caused rework and (2) they still had four weeks left until the deadline for a first draft. Both employees were told to stop doing that multiple times and they were put on different projects so that they didn’t need to monitor Lola’s progress. (Their bosses, who both report to me, agree with me that we should keep them off teams with Lola, but there is overlap in skill that we require for some projects.)

I just found out from our HR person that they’ve escalated their complaints about Lola to the owner, and their complaints are backed with no evidence about her “inability to do her job on time,” as well as a complaint about me that favoritism prevents me from making Lola meet her deadlines. (Keeping them off projects with Lola and not pairing them up for other work is their main evidence of my “favoritism.”) I think their behavior is based on ableism and I know it’s 100% not rooted in fact. If we lose Lola as an employee, I have no doubt in my mind our clients would go with her. The owner is frustrated that it’s even come up and wants me to “just handle it.” My idea of handling it would be to advise those two employees in particular (nobody else backed up their HR complaint) to maybe find work elsewhere.

What direction do I take with this?

Honestly, I’d prepare to fire them.

You have two employees who are targeting a disabled colleague, excluding her from work, taking over her projects, and complaining about things that are patently untrue like that she’s not meeting deadlines when she demonstrably is. On top of that, they’re doing work incorrectly, causing others to have to redo it, and creating a crapton of drama. They’ve been told repeatedly to stop, but instead they’re escalating.

I want to be clear: When someone has legitimate concerns about a colleague’s work, they’re entitled to raise those concerns, especially if it’s impacting them. But they’re not entitled to keep pushing it over and over, and they’re certainly not entitled to do what looks an awful lot like targeting someone because of a disability. They had a chance to be heard and now they need to accept that their management sees it differently and move forward. If they don’t like the way your organization manages Lola, they need to decide if they can live with it reasonably happily or not. It’s not okay to keep pushing their agenda about a coworker over and over.

What they’re doing is toxic for your organization. It’s awful to Lola, and it’s bad for the rest of your staff too because I can guarantee you that if they’re pushing this agenda so hard, they’re complaining to other coworkers about it too.

Where are their managers in all this? They should be taking a very hard line in shutting this down — and if they’re not, as their managers’ manager, you’ll need to coach them to. They need to be explaining that what they’re doing is unacceptable and needs to stop, and that if it continues they’ll be putting their jobs at risk. I’d frame it as, “We’ve heard your complaints, looked into them, found them without basis, and have been clear with you that Lola isn’t missing deadlines. At this point you appear to be harassing a colleague and it needs to stop. We will not entertain further complaints about Lola’s work, which is excellent, so I need you to decide whether or not you want to remain here, knowing that.”

That should come from their managers. If their managers are too inexperienced or too wimpy to deliver that as directly as it needs to be delivered, it might need to come from you instead. That’s not ideal since the complaints are now about you as well, but you have the authority to shut this down and should use it.

Of course, you don’t want an outcome where they stop complaining through formal channels but instead just complain to everyone else, so you and their managers will need to watch closely for a while to make sure that’s not happening. If it does, at that point I’d conclude the situation isn’t salvageable and you’d need to part ways. (Warn them ahead of time that that’s how serious this has become so they’re clear on the stakes and aren’t blindsided if that happens.)

Before any of this, though, make sure you and the owner are on the same page about what her instructions to “just handle it” mean. Let her know you plan to make it clear to these two employees that this needs to stop, period and — given how disruptive it has become and because they’re harassing a disabled employee — if it continues after that, you intend to let them go. It’s important to make sure she’s onboard with that plan before you do it (because if she has qualms about it, you’d need to work those out before you act, not afterwards).

I’m not sure how aware Lola is of what these two are saying and doing, but I’d also make sure she knows how much you value her and that you’re actively working to shut down this BS. If she knows even a little of it, she’s got to be tremendously unsettled and the more decisively and swiftly you can act, the better for her and the better for your culture.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 371 comments… read them below }

  1. Ana Gram*

    This is a massive liability for your company both PR and, very likely, legal. I don’t see any alternative to firing them.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      You see no alternative to firing them, and I see no downsides either. They don’t sound as though they are particularly good at their jobs. And if they can’t see why Lola’s work is excellent and her client relationships valuable, how are they going to improve? They don’t even know enough to see that they fall short.

      1. TootsNYC*

        life will probably be easier for everyone:

        (two in particular who need a lot of attention and reassurance)

        How much time and energy does that take up?

      2. Ice and Indigo*

        Plus you want to retain Lola, right? And she may well lnow that if she quits, clients will go with her, ie she can afford to quit. How much harassment does she need to take before she decides you don’t have her back and leaves?

        1. Bibliovore*

          Yes, this. And someone with the reputation OP suggests Lola has may well be getting recruiter contacts, too; what are the chances that even if Lola hasn’t yet decided to look elsewhere, a recruiter’s call could suddenly seem a lot more tempting?

          1. JessaB*

            Not to mention after the clients follow her because she’s that good, her lawyers will get with the company lawyers and explain violation of the ADA failure to stop employees for bullying an amazing worker because of her disability requirements. I could see her winning damages in a constructive firing. This is beyond toxic it’s gone far enough that it might be illegal. The company could get in a lot of hot water.

      3. designbot*

        yeah I kept waiting for the, “these two are really important to the firm for (contacts, skillset, SOMETHING)” and it just never came. All signs point to siding with Lola and retaining her and the clients who love her. It’s both the right thing to do morally and the right thing to do for the business.

    2. Artemesia*

      This is a great time to hire competent people many of whom are out of work or looking for opportunities. These two have been told and instead escalated their behavior. Fire them. Walk them with two weeks severance. Hire new people. Another warning just drives it undergrounds. They have been repeatedly warned and instead ignored that and escalated. Sit down with the owner and lay out the liability of harassing a competent disabled worker and get his support and fire them tomorrow.

    3. Alex*

      I don’t think it’s that simple, and in many ways Allison’s advice may well leave the LW’s company open to legal action from these employees. In general firing employees shortly after they have accused their manager of favouritism and have officially documented this with HR should only be done with extreme caution and after discussing the situation with a lawyer. If the LW’s company hasn’t been documenting the situation properly it may well be that the only evidence available paints a very different situation than the truth to the extent that it would appear that the LW has been targeting the employees in question because they had highlighted her ‘failings’.

      1. Koalafied*

        IANAL, but I’m not sure the complainers would have a legal claim in the US. The laws that protect employees and whistleblowers from retaliatory firings are specific to when an employee has lodged a complaint of discrimination or harassment on the basis of a protected characteristic, or has complained about the company engaging in other illegal behavior. As far as I’m aware, if you complain about just run-of-the-mill bad-but-legal boss stuff, you have no legal protection against being fired in retaliation (though of course a good HR department would want to put a lid on that because it’s a best practice to protect employees, they have no legal obligation).

        1. Mike Engle*

          I happen to be a lawyer but I’m not your lawyer, I’m nobody’s lawyer here, and I don’t practice this kind of law currently…but I think OP’s company could fire those two people. I’m not seeing a whistleblower or retaliation claim. What would that be? The Americans with Disabilities Act? Nope! The one talented beloved worker might have a claim if they were fired, or if they perceive a hostile work environment because two wahoos are hogging all the work and doing it badly. But you don’t get a ADA claim because you think your co-worker gets “a break” or “a pass” under the ADA. (Besides, Management literally has to engage in an interactive process to work with the employee who invokes ADA for their protection in the workplace.)
          As Alison said, those two employees can raise a concern about the other worker. Management looked into it, they saw that no deadlines are missed and the work is good, so the concern is investigated and the investigation is final. But now that the investigation is final, you have to drop the issue, and you especially have to NOT hog all the work and do a bad job with it. Those other two would be VERY FORTUNATE if Management gives them that ONE LAST WARNING.

          1. jojo*

            Management should write them up over the work they did incorrectly, that had to be redone because they screwed up. And continue to document. They can also write them up for filing false complaints that Lola missed deadline. Management sets deadline, not workers. And i bet they did not go to management, just HR.

      2. Corey*

        > In general firing employees shortly after they have accused their manager of favouritism and have officially documented this with HR should only be done with extreme caution and after discussing the situation with a lawyer.

        No, there is absolutely no legal basis for anything you wrote here. Where did you get this idea?

        1. Wintermute*

          It’s still great advice to contact a lawyer, though, because when people think they’ve been unfairly targeted they often invent a reason in their minds and the reason they invent is often that you were up to something sketchy. It would not be hard for “there’s gross favoritism going on here” to morph in someone’s head into “aha, the reason for the favoritism is ” even if they stretch to get there it could be trouble.

          It’s simply a matter of protection.

            1. Amaranth*

              Is HR actually documenting this? It didn’t sound like OP was called in to respond, just told ‘complaints were made’ and nobody else stepped up to back the complaint. The troublesome duo should have been counseled already by their own managers, but so far they seem to be the only ones taking official actions.

      3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I am going to guess, based on your spelling above, that you are non-US. In the US, you can fire someone for anything other than discrimination against a protected category. You can fire them because you are having a bad day, because they microwaved fish in the breakroom, because they wore a yellow tie, because you hate their stupid face, or for no reason at all. You can walk up to someone and say, “You’ve done excellent work here for fifteen years, Ted, but my cousin’s kid just got fired from the Wendy’s and needs a job, so pack your desk. You’re gone.”

        1. Anne Elliot*

          This is an overstatement. Employment law varies from state to to state and even within states that are truly “at will” (meaning, you can let someone go at any time for any reason), there may be protections in place for state employees, federal employees, and unionized employees. I work in an at-will state but I am “subject to the state personnel act,” which means my employee (the state) certainly cannot fire me as easily as this asserts. Respectfully, you have rebutted an arguably incorrect statement with an arguably incorrect statement.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            You are right – government jobs, unionized workers, and Americans working in Montana will sometimes have additional protections. I am not aware of any American workplace, however, where this statement would ever apply:

            “In general firing employees shortly after they have accused their manager of favouritism and have officially documented this with HR should only be done with extreme caution and after discussing the situation with a lawyer.”

            I’ve been a union shop steward and a ton of my family works in the public sector. I have never once heard of someone being able to contest a firing in a court of law because “the boss was playing favorites.” You would be laughed out of court.

            If you are unionized or government, sure, the company has to take more steps to document and follow procedure before they fire you. And even then, “bullying disabled coworker” is going to cut out a lot of the middle steps.

      4. LCH*

        Except they haven’t documented it. Accusing someone of something isn’t the same as showing proof/documentation.

        1. Llamagoose*

          +1 exactly.

          It’s weird because of how provably false the accusation is. Like, saying someone missed a deadline when they clearly didn’t (presumably, deadlines are written down and turned-in work is timestamped somehow), it’s so obviously untrue that I’d almost want to fire the complainers for lying.

          I mean, maybe they could be mistaken as to when the deadline is once or twice, but once it’s been cleared up then continuing that specific accusation is a bald-faced lie.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Exactly. I’d think that any anti-retaliation laws would only apply to complaints that are legitimate. That is, upon hearing the complaint, the company is obliged to investigate. If the investigation shows the complaint is groundless, as it so obviously is in this case, the company may then tell the complaining employee to stop complaining about something that isn’t a problem and that the groundless complaints are themselves a serious problem. At this point, they’re firing the complainers for a serious performance issue (failing to work with a valued and senior coworker), insubordination (continuing the behavior after being told to stop), and as you point out, the obvious lies about Lola missing deadlines.

            1. Ms. Enigma*

              IANAL but my understanding is that you’re protected from retaliatory action by your company even if your complaint is without merit.

              Let’s say Sally overhears Joe having a conversation with two colleagues, Bill and Sue. Sally thinks she hears Joe say a racist slur and report him to HR. HR investigates and finds that Sally misheard Joe and clears him of wrongdoing. The company cannot discipline Sally in any way for making a good-faith accusation.

              However, if Sally continues to make complaints against Joe and other coworkers that are without merit, the pattern of making groundless complaints might be cause to fire Sally.

              1. Anonys*

                But my understanding is this counts only for good-faith claims of harassments? So a claim about missed deadlines/favoritism is unrelated to harassment (in the legal sense), and therefore wouldn’t fall under this in my (admittedly limited) understanding.

                Also, even if your understanding is correct, it’s quite hard to assert that these claims are “good faith”. If they say deadlines weren’t met, but they were on the project and Lola handed things in on time (which presumably other people in the project are aware of) it’s quite easy to show that their issue isn’t actual missed deadlines but just that for some reason they think Lola should just work faster or else they will (sloppily) do her work for her.

      5. serenity*

        Non-US comments to this situation that misinterpret US hiring and ADA laws are probably not helpful here.

      6. Gaia*

        I think you might be outside the US. Legally, favoritism isn’t actionable in the US (unless based on a protected class).

      7. Observer*

        In general firing employees shortly after they have accused their manager of favouritism and have officially documented this with HR should only be done with extreme caution and after discussing the situation with a lawyer.

        Not in the US. Favoritism is completely legal.

      8. Artemesia*

        favoritism is not a protected class. I can favor Shirley over you and fire you as a result. As long as it is not race, gender etc discrimination you are just out of luck. BUT they are allowing disability harassment to go on and on without fixing it. The longer they let it go the more open they are to a serious lawsuit.

        1. Sinister Serina*

          Exactly. I had a great job at work and it was leading to something else even better…and my manager left, a colleague got promoted and put his girlfriend, who also worked in the company in my spot. And I had to smile in the meeting, while she gushed about how excited she was for the opportunity.
          But eventually she got fired (he couldn’t protect her anymore once she got assigned to someone else) and he got let go over the summer. He was still protecting her even after he got married to someone else though.

      9. AKchic*

        now that the owner has gotten involved, it may be that the owner needs to step in and say that they have investigated, and everyone was extremely kind to them already and gave them plenty of chances to correct their behavior, to avoid legal repercussions for themselves and the company, and at this point, all they’ve done is double down and escalate, so at this time, the owner is handing them their walking papers for singling out a person with a disability, creating drama where there is none, insubordination, false claims, not following the chain of command, not following directions, creating more work, not being a good fit for the office, attempting to create a hostile work environment for Lola, blah blah blah… and give them a 2 week severance each, a 20 minute supervised pack-up and supervised walk-of-shame to the front door.

        Of course, I would discuss with HR and an attorney to make sure all bases are covered to ensure Lola (and OP) is protected.

      10. cheeky*

        They can try suing, but they’re probably at-will employees. I think you’re saying that they were retaliated against, but the instant the company says, “You were harassing a coworker about their disability”, they’re not going to succeed.

      11. Kella*

        I would expect there to be at least some documentation for the employees having performance issues, being spoken to about complaining about Lola, and about the reasons for moving them to projects separate from Lola. So any complaints about “targeting” could easily be disputed with evidence of valid performance issues. Also being placed on a different project from Lola is hardly solid evidence of favoritism.

      12. Karia*

        Surely accusations have to be credible? They’re accusing the manager of ‘favouritism’ because he won’t let them harass and make false accusations against a disabled employee.

      13. Avi*

        Iunno, the ‘favoritism’ claim rings too hollow to take it seriously. I mean, of *course* the company favors Lola. She’s a top employee with a decade of exemplary performance and the clients love her, while these two are transparently self-important f#ckups. Who wouldn’t take her side over theirs, absent any actual evidence to back up their allegations about her performance? You’d have to get a really dim judge for that to not get tossed out of hand.

      14. Tessa*

        Firing employees for harassing a disabled colleague… you don’t get job protections that allow you to attack a protected class. Nope.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I just had the annual pleasure of doing harassment training. This is harassment. One extremely clear warning, then fire them if they do it again.

      1. Ana Gram*

        Yep, this is basically one of the super obvious scenarios they present in class and have you discuss. Everybody laughs because who would do such a thing?

        I guess I just learned who…

        1. MassMatt*

          I think the 2 employees should be warned and fired or groundwork laid for firing, but I am wondering why they seem to be so stuck on this issue. The LW says Lola does great work, that clients have sought her out, and while she has a degenerative health issue she is making deadlines. The 2 employees sound poor all around, but they are fixated on Lola, and assuming Lola is not making deadlines when she is.

          It reminds me of the letter we had from someone who said someone in their office was fixated on an office mate with a prosthetic leg. This guy was obsessed about it–if someone came in asking to speak to her he’d say “she’s the one with the missing leg” even if she was sitting behind a desk and this would be invisible.

          These two seem really fixated on Lola’s disability (or whatever we call it–degenerative health issue) to the extent that they are assuming it defines her so she can’t possibly be competent. Yes, people with disabilities can be good workers, these two need to get over themselves or get out.

          1. I'm A Little Teapot*

            To be perfectly honest – I don’t care why they’re stuck on this. I just want them gone. The individuals who are harassing another person are perfectly welcome to examine their motivations. I hope they do. But they can do it somewhere else.

            1. Quill*

              I think they may be angling for a Klingon promotion, i.e. get rid of someone with the same (ish) job who is senior to you to get moved up.

          2. Ellie*

            It might be jealousy related, if Lola does great work, is great to work with, and clients love her. It also may be that Lola is being perceived as getting extra attention due to the fundraisers that the OP mentions – its possible that their favoritism complaint might even have some truth to it. Although frankly, favoring an employee who does great work and brings in clients seems pretty reasonable to me. But I think its worth the warning so that these two have a chance of learning something for the future, and to mitigate any damage they do if they are eventually fired, and there’s gossip around it.

            I’d sit them down individually and clearly explain to them that Lola does excellent work, brings in clients, and is not missing deadlines. Tell them that they are harassing her, and that the company cannot allow it to continue, and that if it does, then you will have to let them go. I’d also mention Lola’s disability if it was me, in terms of, ‘this is extremely serious due to these reasons and it cannot continue’, but I’m not sure if that would run afoul of some other law… but its a relevant factor and it underlines how unacceptable this is. It also might clue them in that they likely won’t get anywhere with a lawyer, due to that fact alone.

            Either way though, I wouldn’t try that hard to retain them, they don’t sound like much of a loss.

          3. Karia*

            Jealousy. Inadequacy. Lola’s disabled, she’s a woman, and she’s a rockstar at work.

            It sounds like they’re mediocre at best and insecure about it – he mentions they require a lot of reassurance.

            1. Amaranth*

              The fact that Lola is recognized by clients as a rockstar and they aren’t being put on her projects any more could be a huge factor. They aren’t getting the face time with top clients and since they were too shortsighted to see her as a mentor, they are treating her as a roadblock. Never mind that they are unlikely to get those level accounts now, regardless.

          4. Tess.*

            They are harrassing a disabled colleague for being disabled, basically. Handle this as you out to handle employees who harass a Jewish Person for being Jewish, a woman for being a woman, an Asian person for being Asian, etc.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Not only might Lola take a job elsewhere (and her clients with her) but couldn’t their behavior put the company in hot water with the ADA compliance? Also, if the company has supported Lola with her condition, it stands to reason that other employees feel positively toward her and will be watching how the company handles this. Sounds like it is not Lola who needs a PIP if these other employees are taking action that negatively impacts projects (doing poor work that needs to be redone/not being good enough team players to work with her productively).

      It honestly sounds to me like they are a massive liability for the company. Document the things they did that impacted projects and cost the company and recommend they be fired. At minimum, the skills overlap is not your or Lola’s problem. It is their managers’. Lola is doing her job. They are not. Lola should not be the one punished here. If they can’t do their jobs, they shouldn’t have their jobs.

      1. Inca*

        I think liability and ADA should be left out of this because this is an office manager who *wants* to do the right thing because they believe it is the right thing (and also sensible business-wise.)

        That is a much more powerful statement. Saying ‘we from our own values do not tolerate this harassment and powerplay, goodbye’ is so much stronger than ‘we do this because the law says we should not tolerate it’, because that leaves open the possibility that if they didn’t *have* to, they wouldn’t have done it.
        (And that may be a story of victimhood those two would love to play out: ‘they only had to act because of some *law*’, they’ll say, and you can feel the eye roll from here.)

        If at all possible, I would own this as an office and manager as much as they can: ‘this is not tolerated. WE do not tolerate it.’
        It probably won’t help those two look differently at things (then again, who knows?), but it’s much stronger as a statement to yourself, your office, your employee if you own it and don’t defer to liabilities or something.

        1. I Need That Pen*

          I hope you can hear my applause because my hands hurt…

          My company’s handbook has statements like this. “We do not tolerate x,y,z.” Without the paraphrased law that says why they don’t. Like my boss in front of the whole staff who said if he finds out about any kind of sexual harassment, “I’ll fire you.” Documentation and absolute examples of course. But he means it. He didn’t follow up with “Because it’s against the law.”

          1. BubbleTea*

            Yes, it is against the law BECAUSE it is so outrageously egregious that it can’t be tolerated.

    6. TootsNYC*

      not just liability.
      If Lola decides to leave this company, they are going to lose clients, simply because they’ll go where she goes. Even if no one ever tells clients that she was treated badly.

      1. MassMatt*

        …And it sounds as though the industry has a lot of word of mouth, so it IS likely the story would get out. Especially as the perpetrators don’t seem to have the sense to drop the issue.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        Disabled or not, as a rainmaker Lola is more valuable to the firm than other staff. The bullies just don’t realize that they are disposable while Lola is essential to the business.
        They are also stupid and vile, but other posters have covered this aspect already.

    7. serenity*

      I agree 100%. I’ve never said this on this site but Alison’s response here is far too gentle given the gravity of the situation.

      These employees are opening up the firm to massive liability that would frankly be a slam dunk were it ever to come to legal action. Fire them immediately.

    8. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      As someone who has been in Lola’s place, but without sympathetic managers:

      There is no alternative to firing them. All of their “complaints” are based upon Lola’s disability. That is discrimination. Disability discrimination is a violation of Federal law. They have been warned, multiple times, to stop the behavior. They continue to violate Federal law. Kick their sorry, ableist, know-it-all butts the eff out, and hire decent competent human beings.

      1. Nic*

        Yes. And honestly, I can also understand the owner’s position of “just handle it”. He’s right – he shouldn’t be receiving their complaints because something decisive should have been done about this long ago.

        It shouldn’t take them escalating their false complaints beyond HR to him. HR and/or their managers (and/or LW) should have come down on them like a ton of bricks and given a formal warning for harassment when they kept on complaining even after they were moved to different teams and not working directly with Lola. That should have been their last chance – and they’ve blown that too. They’ve been harassing Lola for MONTHS; have bad-mouthed her, have taken work from her and finished it badly, have provably lied about her and about LW’s management of her – even after they were moved to different projects – so how are they still working there?!

        Right now? They need a major “Come to Jesus” meeting with a formal warning that you will not tolerate any further lies or harassment aimed at undermining Lola and her disability, because this has now been going on for [x] months and [y] incidents and it is unacceptable behaviour. They do it once more? Even the tiniest whinge? Then you fire them. No ifs, buts or maybes. They’ve had their due warnings and they’re done.

        And frankly, Lola deserves an apology from all the managers and HR for the lack of prompt action and clear signposts in this sorry saga.

      2. Momma Bear*

        This is what I mean – Lola has rights via federal law. The company should simply do the right thing, but also they could be in violation of federal law if they don’t. If everyone did the right thing simply because it was the right thing, we wouldn’t need these kinds of laws.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m disabled and encountered the same exact stuff in my career so I’m massively biased….

      …but yes. Fire them. There’s no excuse for ableism.

  2. AmosBurton*

    Honestly, I’d do more than “prepare” to fire them. Finding replacements during a pandemic would likely not be difficult, especially since they do not sound like exceptionally skilled workers. People don’t need to be “warned” about being indecent or mean-spirited. You can’t make somebody a decent human being via a PIP.

    Just document the last thing they did, fire them, and hire somebody new. No “preparation” necessary. if they stole from the company, one wouldn’t “prepare” to fire them, they’d just be frog-marched out (virtually) by security, and up goes an ad on Indeed. Same here. If you can live without them for a short while? Simply fire them today.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I think given this series of events:
      Employees make demonstrably false claims against Lola > OP tells them to quit it > Employees go above OP’s head to repeat demonstrably false claims plus new complaints of “favoritism”

      It is easy to defend a decision to fire immediately. It sounds like OP is willing to if they felt like the next step was to suggest they find another place to work–I suspect they just needed to hear someone say “yes, firing them is probably what you need to do.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      PIPs are for work quality issues, where you need to see if the person is able to raise the quality of their work or not. They’re not for something like this, which is about behavior that they can either stop today or not.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        I think there was a question not too too long ago where one of the takeaways was “how can you put someone on a PIP when the desired outcome is just ‘don’t be an asshole?'”. I’m going to dig through the archives, I vaguely remember it someone being outrageously terrible in their first week.

        1. hbc*

          I started writing that PIP once, and when I got to the first bullet, I realized how pointless it was. “Don’t be a jerk” is too vague and not useful for those who think they’re righteous and non-jerky, and “Stop telling lies about other people missing deadlines” is a ridiculous thing to have to write down, and ignores the fact that it’s basically guaranteed they’ll find some other way to be jerks that you haven’t explicitly ruled out.

          You either have a Last and Final Warning meeting where it’s clear they’ve used up any benefit of the doubt and the word “fired” is used several times, or you fire them outright. “Let’s improve your performance by not lying and harassing people for the next 90 days” is just…not workable.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yes, how exactly do you grade ‘stop being a massive bigot’?

        “Well done, you cut down your offensive nature by 50%!”

        It’s not quantifiable. Therefore it’s not a PIP issue anymore than ‘you’re harassing women in the office’ would be.

      3. Tess*

        I don’t feel like this kind of discriminatory harassment deserves a “stop today” warning. If you knew a Black colleague was called the N-word and/or subject to all manner of racially offensive behaviors and aggression for MONTHS—but then you demand (and they actually comply with) stopping “today”… how could you expect the victim (or their co-workers) to continue as “normal” side-by-side with those who inflight that sort of thing? That’s cruel and wrong, IMHO. You can’t un-say the racist (or ableist) words once they come out of someone’s mouth, or un-do the racially (or ability-related) actions or agressions. They’re out there and everyone knows.

  3. Tabby*

    WHAT THE WHAT NO. Fire these people immediately; they’re giant jackholes, and they need to go. They’ve decided to pick on Lola, like 8th grade bullies, and need a slap upside the head to get the idea through their heads that this behavior is not acceptable at all.

  4. Lena Clare*

    Wow this whole company doesn’t like facing problems does it? Two managers who won’t deal with problem employees and an owner who passes the buck back down to you OP. These 2 employees have got away with complaining about it because no one has stopped them before now and their griping and discrimination has been allowed to escalate. I would prepare them for firing, as Alison says. They cannot be allowed to continue like this. If you have heard about what is going on, chances are very good that Lola has too, and if she is that good she will leave.

    1. Spooncake*

      I’ve been in Lola’s position so I’m in a good place to judge whether she knows about it, and the answer is almost certainly yes. In my case, I was lucky to have a manager who shut down complaints about my work and my supposed special treatment (aka the reasonable accommodations I was legally entitled to have) and the complaining stopped- I would hope OP is able to do the same.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Likewise, only my manager agreed with the bigots and claimed I could ‘fix’ my health issues by ‘diet and exercise’ so therefore any lack of health improvement on my part was ‘laziness’.

        I left that firm like my backside was on fire. Two weeks later he’s begging me to come back and fix issues, to work at stuff that they can’t handle. Not sorry to say I refused.

    2. Liane*

      “I would prepare them for firing, as Alison says.”
      And my preparing them would be, “Company doesn’t tolerate insubordination* and lying, much less bullying and harassment. So Owner and I have decided you. Are. Gone. Effective NOW. Here’s your last check in accordance with state law.”

      *I gather they have been, sort-of, told to “please maybe cut this out, like soon.”

    3. HumbleOnion*

      This is what I was thinking. I’m sure Lola is aware of the situation, and all the other employees as well. If I worked for this company I would be very unimpressed that this was allowed to continue.

      1. Some Cajun Queen*

        Same. If I were just another employee there and saw this going on for any length of time, it would signal to me that management was letting it slide. I would also be looking to move on. No decent person wants to work for a company where two trash coworkers are allowed to relentlessly and continuously harass an employee with disabilities.

    4. Watry*

      I’m currently in a very similar position to Lola. She knows. People who complain about coworkers like this and escalate it are rarely as subtle as they think they are.

      1. Amaranth*

        Frankly, they rarely care to be subtle, half the perceived ‘power’ of bullying is making sure that the target hears you denigrate them.

    5. Observer*

      Of course she knows about it! She’s not stupid and they did her work “for her” – actually instead of her. And they did it wrong!

      How could she NOT know?

      1. Mineral Water*

        … and she’s probably pretty upset that it’s affecting the work quality! I was in the same situation as Lola (high performer with medical accommodations) and I was incensed with an employee doing a sloppy job just as much if not more than their having fire ants in their pants to get work done more quickly than I could promise.

        A “go-getter” attitude is someone that goes out of her way to get real results (like Lola), not someone who rushes to compete and seem busy by how many tasks to check off their list. These two are manufacturing competition to fluff their egos!

        Show them the door before Lola burns out or runs out.

    6. I'm just here for the cats.*

      Of course Lola knows, she probably saw that her work was completed by the others!

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Wow this whole company doesn’t like facing problems does it? Two managers who won’t deal with problem employees and an owner who passes the buck back down to you OP.

      And, possibly, also the OP — who ought to be thinking about firing them or at least a last chance PIP but instead suggests she could:

      advise those two employees in particular (nobody else backed up their HR complaint) to maybe find work elsewhere.

      This isn’t a criticism of the OP, or a nitpicking of language, I just agree that there seems to be quite a culture of handling problems ‘gently’ within this company.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think it sounds like they have mostly been taking the right steps so far, and now that they’ve reach the point where these employees just need to be fired they are looking for a gut check that that’s the right thing to do.

    8. Kella*

      To be fair, OP said that these employees have been spoken to multiple times about the issue and their managers were involved in the decision to take them off projects with Lola, so most likely their managers were involved in trying to deal with it. It’s not the managers’ or the OP’s fault that the employees ignored them and we don’t know if their managers a. know about this recent escalation to HR or b. are also trying to figure out what the next step is for enforcement. The fact that the problem hasn’t been fixed yet doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to fix it. I think it can be argued that these employees should’ve received consequences earlier, but OP is here now asking about how to proceed and now they’ll have the information they need to do that well.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        If moving them to different teams and not letting them work on projects with Lola count as consequences, then they have seen some? Just not any they haven’t rephrased in their heads as OP favouring Lola.

  5. Jack Be Nimble*

    I love the strength of Alison’s response here! Those two employees are behaving unacceptably toward Lola, and they need to get shut down hard. I think this illustrates very well how insecurity fuels prejudice and narrow-mindedness — Punch and Judy over here think, subconsciously, that disabled people are inherently less-than, so when confronted with a disabled person outperforming them, they have to scrabble to find a way to reassert their position as “””””superior.”””””

    1. LDN Layabout*

      People get intensively uncomfortable about degenerative diseases, I’m only in my early 30s but part of the reason my family emigrated to the UK was because the level of care available for one of my parents in my country of origin was: Put them in a home and forget about them. Thankfully my other parent is, you know, a decent human being so that didn’t happen.

      And people don’t like being uncomfortable so they have to reframe it as Lola doing something ‘wrong’. It makes me intensely angry.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s also a horrible subset of these people who fear that ‘degenerative diseases’ are either a) contagious or b) all the fault of the person suffering because if they ‘looked after their health better they wouldn’t have it’ (seen it a lot with type 2 diabetes. Angers me).

  6. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    OP, you need to purchase a trebuchet, load these two clowns into it, and launch them into a pit of slime.
    Also fire them.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          … A practical exercise in a training session on data gathering for project management that I did a few years back involved mini trebuchets (we were firing a marble with it).

          Apparently it was preparing us for problem-solving on multiple levels!

  7. Dave*

    If they have time to do someone else’s work that isn’t due for another month I am wondering if they don’t have enough to do. Is a lack of workload on their part making their unacceptable behavior that much worse?

    1. Liane*

      Who cares? Their behavior would be reason enough to fire them and stamp the paperwork “For Cause! Not Eligible For Rehire!” regardless of their workload.

      1. Dave*

        To me it is worth considering because a) if you lose them the loss may not be a big as you initially think and b) do you really need to people or maybe just one person with a skill set both people had?

        1. Lance*

          OP suggests they need a bunch of assurance, so that’s emotion labor that would depart with them; they’re harassing functionally a key figure in the company, so if they don’t go, the company is risking said key figure (Lola) going, as others have suggested.

          Between picking up any slack they might leave behind, or risking losing Lola, I think the answer is no contest.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            They also risking losing other employees who are probably disgusted by their behavior and management’s failure to stop it.

            1. WS*

              Yes, any other employee with a medical condition (including people with conditions who don’t need any accommodations now, but have been encouraged to stay by the accommodations for Lola) are going to be looking at this and reassessing their opinion of the company. This is a trust issue as well.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          I get what you’re saying here- does OP really need two people in that position, or does OP just need a competent adult doing that job rather than a pair of overgrown middle schoolers? That being said, it’s also true that this behavior is worth firing regardless of whether or not OP loses anything by canning them.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      An interesting point, though I have a slightly different take: The work they took over did not meet the standards, so it might be that they aren’t spending enough time examining the quality of their *own* work. So time that they think of as extra could actually time they should be devoting to fixing their own deliverables.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Or is their work done thoroughly? For example, are they writing quick but buggy code? Some people are just efficient. And some people are just fast and sloppy.

    4. TootsNYC*

      not to mention, there was this:
      (two in particular who need a lot of attention and reassurance)
      Life might get a LOT easier and more pleasant in their workplaces. I’ve managed people like this, and it’s a major drag on everyone.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Except at least some of the work they have done is subpar, so maybe they’re doing hers when they shold have done their own.

  8. ellex42*

    OP, take Lola’s disability out of the equation. You say these other 2 employees “went so far as to exclude her from a project and finish her work for her, which was unnecessary since (1) the work they turned in wasn’t what the client wanted and caused rework and (2) they still had four weeks left until the deadline for a first draft. Both employees were told to stop doing that multiple times”.

    Under normal circumstances this is justification for a serious warning at the very least. The ableism is just the icing on the unprofessional behavior cake.

    If they do good work when they aren’t trying to interfere with Lola’s work, I think you should give them a warning that they’ve already been told to stay in their own lane and work on their own assignments multiple times, and further disregard of direct instructions from you/their managers/the owner will be grounds for firing.

    And then follow through if their behavior doesn’t improve. Again, the ableism is bad enough, but what they’re doing would still be potential grounds for dismissal.

    1. Lizy*

      This. Their behavior is not ok, completely aside from the fact that they’re doing it to/with a person with disabilities.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, totally. Alison’s had other questions about this very situation, without the disability aspect, and had told the LW how very unacceptable it is for employees to behave this way. So while of course their dissing on Lola and her disability is the grossest part of this, even the baseline bad behavior here is grounds for termination (and especially if it continues/since it has continued after they’ve been told to stop).

    2. Bostonian*

      Yes. And this isn’t to minimize how serious the ableism part of it is. Because that is very serious. But considering that these 2 knuckleheads seem to think Lola is getting “favoritism” treatment, it’s important to point out how disruptive their behavior is in of itself (in addition to who it’s directed towards).

    3. I'm just here for the cats.*

      Good point! Sometimes when something happens that involves a person with a disability we focus on the disability and forget that if this happened to an able bodies person it would still be wrong.

    4. Nic*

      Honestly, this post is hitting a lot of trigger points for me (not helped by the fact that it’s the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act in my country and yet we’ve still got major structural ableism which has only been getting worse this year).

      I’m glad that LW has reached out to AAM for help and I want to encourage LW to do the right things as advised by Alison…but right now I’m also feeling completely and unproductively furious at how LW and the managers have comprehensively let Lola down by ineffective management and failing to have her back over the last months of harassment.

      I just don’t understand why no-one did anything except ask these guys to be nicer, until they went so far as to escalate to the owner. Honestly, I think the owner’s right to be pissed off and to say “just handle it” to LW, because it sounds like as the firm’s manager, they should have been liaising with HR (who should have been warning the troublesome duo about the firm’s harassment policy when their complaints were shown to be a tissue of irrelevance and provable lies) and taking firm and decisive action on the harassment much earlier. OK, so they were moved to a different team after they directly sabotaged Lola’s work, but it sounds like no-one did anything concrete with the constant verbal attempts to undermine her (both before and after the sabotage).

      Bottom line? They did that and kept escalating who they were complaining to, because they were feeling empowered to, because no-one shut them down hard enough and made it clear that the behaviour was unacceptable. If they had had a clearer message, then either they would have backed off, or LW wouldn’t be writing here because they’d have been fired already.

      1. Amaranth*

        +1000 These two should have been corrected when they started targeting Lola’s work ethic and pulled up hard when they started ‘doing her work.’

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      went so far as to exclude her from a project and finish her work for her, which was unnecessary since (1) the work they turned in wasn’t what the client wanted and caused rework and

      It wasn’t just unnecessary. Unnecessary means it didn’t need to be done, or at least not by them. It’s unnecessary for me to dust my manager’s office. It’s unnecessary for me to gild the edges of my TPS reports. What they did wasn’t extra. It was BAD. I think a better description would be to say it was inappropriate for them to take her work from her and do it badly.

      1. MamaSarah*

        This is the part of the LW’s letter that struck me as particularly heinous – the offending pair did work that was assigned to someone who else, rushed and produced a deliverable that the (paying) client didn’t want, and the project had to be redone…those are staff hours that need to be paid. There’s a client that may have lost trust in your firm or caught wind of the internal drama. Beyond ethics and workplace culture, it sounds like these two are bad for the bottomline. Be kind and tell them why you’re letting them go, let them know if they qualify for UI, help with the cobra, cash out any PTO and cut ties. Enough is enough.

      2. micklethwaite*

        Yes! Unnecessary sounds…neutral. This was bad. It was counterproductive, wasted staff time, embarrassed the company if the client actually saw the unsatisfactory work and had to ask for it to be fixed, AND showed deep disrespect to a colleague (who happens to be more essential to the business than both of these clowns put together). If they had already been asked to back off Lola at this point, it was also frankly insubordinate.

        These two are behaving really badly. You can’t put up with this.

  9. Uhdrea*

    You cannot PIP someone into no longer believing that a disabled employee is inherently lesser because they are disabled. Even if these two were stellar, which it certainly doesn’t sound like they are, they have very clearly demonstrated their disdain for people with disabilities. If you don’t handle this decisively now, you’ll be failing Lola and any other disabled employees or clients you may have in the future.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      This comment is really interesting to me because these two have clearly shown their opinion about this disabled person at least, or people with disabilities in general… but how many people are out there harbouring beliefs that you or I would see as wrong in the same way (I won’t give examples as I know that kind of thing can get political, but I’m sure everyone has their own list of ‘wrong’ beliefs that they can mentally supply) but just haven’t acted on them at work.

      It does raise the question of whether you are changing the behaviour or the belief really?

      For example – and it is not the case at all, but just to illustrate… let’s say I have developed a belief that people of ethnicity X have undesirable quality Y, but I manage to “zip it” at work so that no one really knows my beliefs and I interact normally with people of ethnicity X. Is it different?

      I am not asking to provoke or be controversial, I genuinely think it’s an interesting viewpoint/question.

      1. Nic*

        At work, as a manager, you don’t have the power to change beliefs. You can offer education if you think there’s misbehaviour due to ignorance, but the only thing you can enforce is workplace behaviour. The firm has a code of professional behaviour, and you enforce that. If there’s a law that covers workplace standards, you enforce that.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Agreed! At work, or anywhere else in life really, you don’t have the power to change other people’s beliefs … not just that you don’t have the legitimate organisational or role power, or influence, but more profoundly that it just isn’t possible (there’s a whole body of philosophical work on this subject, of course).

          I had taken this comment:

          You cannot PIP someone into no longer believing that a disabled employee is inherently lesser because they are disabled

          .. to mean that a PIP is futile / not enough (depending on your perspective) to change their beliefs, ergo, they need to be fired (‘decisive action’) because even if they change their behaviour, we still have the history that they had behaved like this previously so will always be aware of it — or something not too far from that.

      2. LGC*

        For example – and it is not the case at all, but just to illustrate… let’s say I have developed a belief that people of ethnicity X have undesirable quality Y, but I manage to “zip it” at work so that no one really knows my beliefs and I interact normally with people of ethnicity X. Is it different?

        Yes, because in that hypothetical, you’re treating everyone equally. Likewise, LW’s employees might themselves believe that people with “invisible” disabilities should be accommodated in the abstract, but the way they’re acting is targeting Lola for harassment.

        Back to Uhdrea’s point – you can’t PIP them into not having jerk thoughts about Lola. You shouldn’t PIP them into not having jerk thoughts about Lola, because that’s impossible to do. You can PIP them into not being jerks about Lola’s performance, but the question is whether it’s worth it…which it probably isn’t. I think it’s kind of unfair to just fire them immediately (which I don’t know if that’s what she’s suggesting, but it sounds like it), but I’d definitely gear up for it.

        (I won’t get into the nuance that if you are biased against people it can show even despite your best intentions. But I’m meeting your assumption here.)

      3. Kella*

        I can’t find any specific studies but I’m fairly certain there’s evidence that changing behavior can lead to a change in beliefs. Our brains tend to find ways to justify that what we’re doing is worthwhile overtime.

      4. Tiny Kong*

        I don’t think is helpful to think that some people as being “secretly bigoted” and able to hide it successfully until one day it comes out. It certainly feels that way with celebrities and acquaintances/coworkers, but we must realize that we don’t really know these people well, and the people who do have known these things for a while.

        Plus it separates people into “Good” and “Secretly Evil”, and draws a clear line between thoughts and actions, which isn’t really the case and leads us astray.
        Someone can have conscious bias against a certain group, and actively vote against their rights and interests, but associate warmly with many of them and consider them “the good ones.”
        Someone can have unconscious bias against a group, vote for their rights and speak openly for their interests, but somehow have no friends from that group and unconsciously exclude them at work.
        How do you separate belief and action here? Which of these people would create problems at work?

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      You’ll also be failing the other employees who have no problem with Lola or her work. It’s demoralizing to see this sort of stuff even if you’re only on the sidelines. I guarantee others have to listen to the “Lola just can’t seem to do her job” nonsense.

  10. IsItOverYet?*

    Yup, toxic to the whole team on many levels – these two would generally piss me off with what they are doing and then I would be more annoyed if I was redoing their work and if teams are being to account for their jerkiness. Also, bad for your business because if you don’t handle this well Lola should leave and there go your clients…and she may well have legal recourse as well. So yeah, maybe give them one very stern talking to and if it doesn’t end, out they go.

  11. skeezix*

    I feel like there are 2 options to present these employees:
    1) Knock it off, it’s been explained to you. You can remain employed if you can nix the base-less complaints and refrain from gossip. If this behavior continues, it will result in IMMEDIATE termination and no reference.
    2) This has been explained to you. If you feel you unable to work in this environment, you can resign immediately with standard severance and a neutral reference.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Yes, this is my question for the OP. What kind of reference would you give either one of these people?
      If employee A resigned tomorrow and you got a call six month from now asking for a reference, would you say s/he is welcome back?

    2. madge*

      This. They aren’t gossiping or slipping into laziness. They’re showing an astounding lack of integrity in lying about a disabled employee. This is toxic to the entire team and will stain your reputation with clients if it’s allowed to continue AT ALL.

      Unless their work is incredibly specialized, there are probably plenty of qualified replacements available right now.

      1. Amaranth*

        If its not malice then its exceptionally poor judgment because they are assuming deadlines that don’t exist, aren’t reading the room to realize her exceptional value to the company, and exhibiting a total lack of professionalism with all the gossip and backbiting. HR should have said ‘did you talk to your manager’ and then those two should have been called in to answer for lack of spine.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I would still offer the neutral reference, as encouragement for them to GTFO immediately.

        Basically, there are two choices – option (a), you have one chance to get your act together, and there will be no reference if you don’t; or (b) leave now, and get a not-terrible reference. So the “neutral reference option” should be compared to the “no reference option,” rather than a standalone offer. Probably still more than they deserve, but it does have the advantage of getting them out the door as soon as possible.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think in my shoes I’d keep it to “was employed from X to Y, not eligible for rehire.”

        Especially if it’s out of norm for their industry, that gets the message across without saying anything that problem children could dispute because all you’ve given are facts.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Why even bother with offering a neutral reference? OP says that these two weren’t even top-notch employees before the harassment started. Just decline to give a reference in any circumstance, verify employment and that’s it. We should not make it easier for bigots to find jobs.

  12. CatCat*

    They’ve been warned multiple times. Not sure they need to be warned again. If you don’t want to drop kick them out the door at the same time, you could possibly divide and conquer here by getting rid of the next one that complains, the one who’s work quality is not as good as the other’s, or, if there is one that is more the instigator, get rid of that one.

    The one left standing will be more likely to get their stuff together and quit behaving this way, and if not, you will already have a pool of candidates when hiring to backfill the one that was fired that you could potentially draw from to backfill the second one if it comes to that.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’d treat them the same. Not the “first one who” or whatever. Just – can you work here in your own lane, and without targeting people who are meeting expectations, or not. That’s the choice, pal.

      If you lose two people at once, that’s fine. You can do better. You need neither the Leader of Asses, nor the Follower.

    2. Observer*

      My suspicion is that the warning was not explicit enough. Largely because everyone seems to be minimizing what they are doing.

      I mean the excluded someone from a project she had been assigned to, lied about the deadline and did the work themselves – INCORRECTLY! And the OP describes this as “unnecessary”. That’s a major understatement.

      1. Nic*

        I agree. They didn’t do something “unnecessary”; they ostracised a colleague, made it impossible for her to carry out the work she’d been assigned, and (deliberately or not) sabotaged her share of the project. Because they are not as good at the job as they think they are (i.e. as good as/better than Lola). And they’ve also lied about their colleague multiple times in a transparent attempt to have her disciplined/fired…

        And yet, the first time that LW seems to consider doing anything apart from move them to a different team (which hasn’t exactly worked as intended to stop them from harassing Lola), is when they go so far as to try to pull the company’s owner into their campaign of harassment! And only then, because the owner is having none of it and tells LW flat-out, to deal with the situation.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think it’s probably true that the warning wasn’t as explicit as it could have been, but I think in this case it is defensible to just fire them now anyway. While it’s generally best if people aren’t blindsided by firing, I think that matters more when it’s something like a performance issue that someone can work to improve on. If their response to being told to stop harassing Lola was to double down and escalate, it doesn’t seem like improvement is likely on the table anymore.

  13. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    These two toxic employees are liabilities, not assets. Cut your ties with them before your good employee cuts her ties with you.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      And good clients. Not just the ones she brought in, but the ones who work with these two. I think they will try to get “client support” by taking their opinions outside.
      “You are lucky you have me. Some people just don’t care about deadlines. I’m not one of the “favorites” but I will work for you.” type bullshit.

      1. [insert witty username here]*

        Yes, this. It’s a bit of stretch in theory, but I think a lot of us have seen this kind of thing play out enough that in reality, it’s not a far stretch at all. Their next escalation would definitely be to clients. These two jerks need to be gone – NOW.

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        Can confirm. Had a former coworker do this when she was turned down for a promotion she wasn’t qualified for. She emailed the entire client list (luckily internal clients but still hundreds of people) essentially demanding they contact the hiring manager and tell them they want her for their corp liaison. They definitely emailed the hiring manager but it wasn’t to support her…

      3. EPLawyer*

        Considering the last 3 big clients came on solely because of Lola, I would laugh my butt off if they tried this. Oh we meet deadline unlike SOME OTHER PEOPLE. Yeah that’s nice, we get Lola working on our account right? If we don’t have Lola we aren’t signing. Pan to the Toxic Twosome staring in disbelief that their plan backfired spectaculary.

        I would have ONE conversation with them, only because it might not have been made clear their jobs are on the line. It would be — this stops now. ANY further complaints about Lola and you be immediately terminated. I would not leave it up to the managers who apparently feel that if they know the complaints are baseless there is nothing more to be done. You, LW, you meet with the Toxic Twosome and make it very clear it stops now.

        I would add one addition, not to save the idiots but as an overall thing. Make sure your deadlines really work for everyone. If Lola is meeting her deadline, even if it is last minute, does that impact anyone else’s work? do you need to adjust their deadlines to accomodate Lola’s work pace? You want to keep Lola but you want to keep good people around her. (which these two are NOT)

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          “if Lola is meeting her deadline, even if it is last minute, does that impact anyone else’s work? do you need to adjust their deadlines to accomodate Lola’s work pace? You want to keep Lola but you want to keep good people around her. (which these two are NOT)”
          Valid point.
          House cleaning time is a good time to review processes and procedures before bringing the new people in. So hey, bonus, improved moral, improved production and improved processes.

  14. Patty*

    I love when I see the headline in a tweet, think to myself “fire their asses”, and then read that Alison has diplomatically suggested the same.

    1. MBK*

      Yes, I look forward to the OP writing in again with text containing the words “update” and “fired.”

  15. OrigCassandra*

    OP, please also consider the opportunity cost of keeping these two pieces of work on your staff.

    I am absolutely, positively, 100% certain you can hire better people pretty quickly right now.

    1. JustaTech*

      Even if there weren’t tons of people looking for employment right now, it’s still better to be without these two actively detrimental people on your staff. Empty chairs would be better.

  16. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Hi, OP. Yes, handle it. And realize that they are giving you no choice.
    Leopold and Loeb/Smith and Hickock here might be perfectly adequate employees on their own, but somehow, someway, when they came together the result was toxic.
    Two employees are sabotaging projects, filing false complaints, lying to coworkers and managers about another employee.
    Step one was to move them to other projects…like you separate two “bad” kids in a grade school classroom?
    Not working with Lola is not what they want. They want her out.
    Well, they are correct that somebody has to go…
    and you write that you think clients will go with her? When they find out why she left, you may see more clients than the ones you expect. Even if Lola doesn’t,
    wow, this is rambling, and I’m sorry, but it’s personal for me, anyway,
    you think that this is in house now.
    What are they saying to clients about Lola?
    they are such a liability it it making my head spin.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, I’m also kind of side-eyeing the completely avoidant choice to just not have them work together. They should take responsibility for their actions and learn to be adults.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I’ve been thinking about this over the last hour. I feel for OP.
        Boss has thrown this mess in her lap with no direction.
        Handle it.
        Um, ok. Legally, they should be fired for harassing a coworker in a protected class.
        Business wise, they should be fired for being lousy employees (lying, messing up projects and workflows)
        Does boss mean that or does s/he mean that OP should create new workflow management algorithms to keep them from working together, to keep them from working with Lola, to keep them from working with Lola-centric clients…
        Yeah, OP they need to be let go, and you need your boss to acknowledge this.

  17. Alex*

    The only thing that might explain some of this behaviour is if there is something that is in the part of the project Lola has responsibility for that is having a knock on impact on other parts of the project which is leading to other employees having to make changes at short notice or which is preventing them from managing their own workload in a way that is not being recognised by management (although even then the better response would have been discussing the actual impacts of Lola submitting at the last minute with their managers and looking at how deadlines can be altered to give these employees sufficient time to complete their own work). I suspect this is not the case, and the employees are just arseholes, but it’s worth mentioning because people don’t usually care what their co-workers are doing if it doesn’t have an impact on their own workload or make their own work appear of a lower quality.

    1. JustKnope*

      Nah, your last line is just not true. People are petty bullies all the time, even when it doesn’t have any impact on heir work. Let’s not pretend there’s any justification for the way these two have been behaving.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Oh my gosh, yes, this. The previous company I worked at had people who were checking the online status of employees in completely unrelated departments in the hopes they could gossip about how “lazy” the other team was.

        Ditto being “outraged” because someone they only knew tangentially was “always late”.

        Never understimate the amount of possible pettiness in any work setting.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        There was a person in a tangential group who what a first class shit stirrer. She found the weakest link and would ask her about what other people were doing. By complimenting this woman, shit stirrer would get her to criticize/critique her peers and then shit stirrer would go to managers and say Aaron and Zelda should really be fired, because…
        (yeah, this is the machavellian twit I dealt with. Her reign of terror lasted five years!)

        1. Anon for this*

          This is my current team lead. Some the sh*t’s been recognized and bosses pushed her to back off, so now she’s complimenting all the people she tried to get fired before. Helps that we’ve been working with people 5 years longer than she has, and have a lot of credit built up.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            Same. In our case it was ten to fifteen YEARS that she came in a tried to discredit.

      3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        your last line [“people don’t usually care what their co-workers are doing if it doesn’t have an impact on their own workload or make their own work appear of a lower quality.”] is just not true. People are petty bullies all the time

        I don’t disagree that people are often petty bullies!, but I think there are other motivations as well to being cognisant of what co-workers are doing even when it doesn’t impact us. For one, a sense of fairness or equitability… for example if another co-worker is constantly doing “whatever the thing is” (e.g. the person leaving early in another question the other day) and I’m not allowed to do that, despite the fact that neither of our jobs are blocking other people if something isn’t done and aren’t “butts in seats” type of work… I don’t think it is petty bullying to be a bit upset that policies are being applied (or not applied) inequitably.

    2. Bostonian*

      If that’s the case, then the deadlines should be different. You don’t ask for something on Monday when you really want it the Friday before. Lola isn’t doing anything wrong by handing something in 15 minutes before the deadline. I can totally understand wanting to find a charitable explanation for someone’s bad behavior and try to see the best in people, but this isn’t one of those cases.

      1. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

        Agreed – the OP discusses how they project manage in the letter – if there were any adverse impact on the two brats by Lola meeting her established deadlines, it would have been stated or accommodated in the project timelines / schedule.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        This is something I have had to stress to (internal) clients of my team in the past. We provide information for other teams as a large part of our work. Sometimes a request for information is made, with a deadline, and we will work on it, but then the requestor will ask for the information earlier than the deadline without even acknowledging that they’re asking for something different than they originally wanted. My response is always something along the lines of “per your original request, we’ll have the information to you by EOD on $date. If you have determined that you need something before that, we will see what we can do, but can’t guarantee the same level of accuracy or thoroughness that we usually provide.” And when I do an initial orientation with new people who will be requesting stuff from us, I always tell them “when you request stuff from us and set a deadline for it, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time with the finished product to do whatever you need to do with it. Don’t ask for something to be done by EOD on Wednesday if you need to present it as part of a nice tidy packet of stuff first thing Thursday morning.”

      3. Cafe au Lait*

        I’m someone who gets frustrated when projects are turned in right before the deadline. Even when the project timeline is reasonable, the deadline is reasonable, and I am not waiting on the work. Over time I worked out that I needed to change my narrative. I can’t control when other people turn in their work, but I can control when I look at it.

        A Tuesday project noon deadline means I don’t even open the file until 8am on Wednesday. Thursday/Friday deadlines aren’t opened until Monday.

        When I get that drives-me-batty itch, I remind myself that I won’t even look at it until XXX date, so why does it matter? It stops the itch from turning into a rash.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I’m genuinely glad you recognize this is your pet peeve and it’s not something you need others to adhere to turning things in before the agreed upon deadline.

          I’m also proud of you, if it’s not weird for an internet stranger to be proud of you :)

    3. Observer*

      It’s quite clear that the issue is not knock on effects of Lola’s issues. It’s not just that they are not handling it reasonably, but they are doing things that make more work for them and others.

    4. Bryce*

      My thought in regards to deadlines is if they’re being told an earlier one to keep them on task and that strategy (which isn’t great) is having side effects.

      Again, “they’re jerks” is more likely, just crossed my mind.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I hadn’t thought of that (despite having been in a ‘false deadlines’ situation several times in the past) but it is an aspect worth considering. It’s more likely that they are jerks exhibiting ableist behaviour but also possible that Lola’s disability is a red herring and they just dislike her for some other reason (like being a top performer!) or, indeed, are genuinely under the impression that she is missing deadlines.

        The false deadlines strategy is an insta-fail for a lot of reasons, primarily because it assumes people don’t talk outside of the official channels and so if department Y is given a false deadline for their work that they have to complete for department X… they will do it, because there’s no way the information will leak unofficially between X and Y that the deadline is actually “this much later date” !

  18. Parenthesis Dude*

    I’d be curious to know whether projects with Lola have the same timelines as projects without Lola. Perhaps the standard practice for projects without her is to go back to the client multiple times to get feedback since the junior staff is less likely to get it right the first time than Lola. If so, I can understand where these staff members are coming from (even if their behavior is inexcusable). I’d like to know why they felt it was necessary to turn in a draft four weeks before the deadline.

    I’d also be a bit disconcerted that these coworkers pulled the stunt of doing Lola’s work for her more than once, only to find that what they produced wasn’t good enough. Presumably, they should have learned their lesson at some point that there’s a reason why they’re junior to Lola and that they can’t replace her work. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they’re overestimating their ability.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      I agree that the repeat is worrisome. Are there other areas where they’re not listening to feedback and instruction?

      Also, they aren’t doing Lola’s work, they’re messing up Lola’s work. I might be on a firing kick, but I think it’s time these two find jobs at some place that is else.

    2. Ahsley*

      It can be vary normal for different people that do the same type of work to have vastly different deadlines. The more senior the more complex your projects are most likely. Under rational employee circumstances where there is a minor rub it can be a point worth discussing in a management relationship.

    3. TootsNYC*

      It’s also normal for an employee who produces client-recruiting quality of work to be given more time in order for them to work around the difficulties in their life. It’s not necessary for things to be equal in the workplace; that’s not what “fair” means.

    4. I'm just here for the cats.*

      I don’t think that the timelines matter. The OP says
      “When we do project management, we set realistic goals and timelines for everybody on the project, taking into account the pandemic, child care, access to materials, all of it. We consider the entire team’s needs and the client’s, not just Lola’s”
      So I don’t think it’s that they are just giving more time for Lola, but give as much time as possible for everyone, which I think is great because who wants to work on a project with a time crunch. I think these 2 employees have some issue.

  19. Akcipitrokulo*

    Fire them.

    This is gross misconduct and putting your firm at risk of being sued.

    If you really want to – but I wouldn’t, given they have already been warned time and time again – you could call them in for formal meeting and state “if you do this again you will be fired immediately and escorted from premises”.

    But they may retaliate against Lola. So I’d get legal ducks in a row and do it now.

  20. different anon for today*

    “My idea of handling it would be to advise those two employees in particular (nobody else backed up their HR complaint) to maybe find work elsewhere.”

    I liked this ending. Yes OP, yes.

    But you could go further as AAM says – fire them.

  21. merula*

    I love the vehemence of Alison’s answer here. These people are utterly, totally wrong and probably just need to go.

    If there’s one way to turn this around, I think it’s hammering on the whole “this behavior isn’t serving a business purpose” thing. From their perspective, management is coddling someone who isn’t doing the necessary work, and I think we can all relate to that frustration even if they’re absolutely wrong here.

    I would make that a big chunk of the conversation. “I understand that you are saying you did X, Y and Z because you wanted to meet the client’s expectations and get to a better result for the company. However, your actions caused A, B and C result instead, with the addition of a potential legal liability. We absolutely cannot be doing rework that puts our clients at risk, and we cannot subject any employee to apparent harassment.”

    Even then, though, I think you’re probably going to have to fire them, but I do think it’s worth one last Very Serious Conversation, with you as the Big Boss if that wouldn’t undermine your managers. (Is there an opportunity for you to meet with each one alongside their managers, so that you can reinforce that you’re all on the same page here? Less of a “I have to handle this because Middle Manager isn’t” and more of a “This is so serious and important we are all meeting”?)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This … OP and both managers laying it out for the two employees acting like they’re in middle-school.

      1. Polly Hedron*

        I agree, I would be even more vehement.
        I’m also on team Fire Them Immediately, no other conversation.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, me too. If they’re thrown for a loop because they’re fired, they’ve had plenty of warning. Granted, I’m not in the US, but the ableist behavior of those two employees needs to be dealt with ASAP. They’re a liability to the company.

  22. singularity*

    OP described these two as ‘go-getter’ types but these two are ignoring clear, direct feedback from a superior so…

    1. Batgirl*

      I think I know why; often the more ‘gumption’ someone has, the less substance they can offer. Some people get really motivated at the prospect of an easy win. Unfortunately the thing they’re all revved up about is the prospect of outpacing a disabled employee. Which they cant do because she has better skills (and basic common sense, like focusing on your own work).

    2. linger*

      “Go-getter” = “excessive gumption” (as evidenced by rush to complete work as fast as possible), exercised with insufficient judgement, due to incompetence [evidenced by failure to meet standards for clients] and prejudice [ableism], and translating into “go get another job”.

      Taking the pair off tasks with Lola and leaving them working together just (i) allowed their prejudice and resentment to fester in their own echo chamber, and also (ii) removed a standard of comparison for work quality — thus magnifying both parts of the problem. It may have been better to separate them and have them work individually with Lola, with instructions to learn from the standard of her output (with specific points of improvement). The work quality is the part of this that could have been covered by a PIP. But now that they’ve escalated it to HR and doubled down on their sniping about Lola, it’s probably gone beyond what could have been salvaged.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      It seems like their “go-getter”ness takes the form of wanting to get everything done early. In addition to learning how not to be giant asses, they will have to learn that faster is not always better. Quality work delivered on time is certainly better than poor or mediocre work delivered early.

  23. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    They are poisoning the well. Fire them and see everyone who has been putting up with this crap show give a big sigh of relief.

    1. Professor Plum*

      YES! It’s not just Lola who sees what’s going on and being made uncomfortable. It’s every employee and they are watching to see how this is handled, or not.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is a super important point to keep in mind. OP, the longer you take to shut this down, the more likely it is that your other employees are going to start looking for other work because they’re going to stop believing you’re capable of preventing employee harassment.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Came here to say this. The morale in the workplace if they are escorted out the door for what they’ve been doing will go way up. OTOH, if they are allowed to continue, and eventually run Lola out of the company, the morale will go way down. It’s not just Lola that will leave, others will follow.

      1. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

        commenter-name-buddy! Yes, and also maybe OP should send an email to the workplace after they are gone to reinforce the company’s no tolerance policy for bullying, harrassment, or toxicity. Because if this has been on-going for weeks, months even, other employees have seen the lack of action and need to see that it’s finally been dealt with.

  24. SBH*

    “What direction do I take”

    Y’all kidding me with this, right? You have two terminations to handle, today. You have moved these individuals away from working with a protected class staffer and now they are trying to make waves above your head?

    Your inaction on their behavior, and willingness to expose the company to an ADA violation, is just mind-boggling.

    1. Salad Daisy*

      That was the first thing I thought! The ADA does not only apply to what the employer does, it also applies to employees creating a toxic climate for a disabled person.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and the employer is responsible for ensuring that employees who are contributing to a toxic work environment for a disabled person are prevented from doing so. The easiest way to do that is to fire them.

    2. Nic*

      Yup. They moved the employees away from the person they were harassing – and they went right on harassing her. And then they escalated, to HR and then to the owner of the company. I’ve no idea why there’s confusion about what to do here – fire them!

  25. Adereterial*

    I don’t think Alison goes far enough here.

    There’s no ‘preparing’ required. They’re harrassing and discriminating against a disabled colleague and have been told to stop. They’ve persisted. They need to be fired before Lola makes a formal complaint.

    Their managers also need firm action – if they’re not prepared to step in and resolve a clear case of discrimination promptly, they need urgent retraining. You may need to prepare to let them go, too. Tacitly condoning this behaviour by not nipping it in the bud is almost as bad as the harassment itself.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I’m not Alison obviously, but I didn’t interpret “preparing to fire them” as “think about firing them at some point in the future” – I think she meant “start doing the logistical and prep work to get them fired asap.” Things like making sure the owner is on board, finding out what paperwork is required, asking IT to shut down their systems, and practicing what you’re going to say in the firing meeting.

      Good luck, OP – these two sound like absolute nightmares. Lola deserves so much better, as do you and your other colleagues. Please keep us posted when you have an update!

      1. Adereterial*

        Alison suggests giving them one final chance.

        They don’t deserve it. This is harassment and discrimination and thus gross misconduct, as such you can dismiss summarily if your local laws and company policies allow for that. You don’t hang about when someone is breaking the law on your nickel – you dismiss, and document later.

        1. Kella*

          I think Alison usually recommends one last conversation with a very clear warning that they are about to lose their job, not just as a courtesy to the employee, but also to demonstrate to *other* employees that they don’t have to worry about being fired with no notice. Ethically, these two don’t deserve another chance but it makes sense to establish a precedent that you don’t fire without a direct warning that the offense is a firable one.

      2. jojo*

        First i would have an official talk with them about their behavior. Then i would give Lola public accolade and a little gift card. Then i would fire them for their reaction to that.

  26. employment lawyah*

    Fire them!
    Check with your employment counsel first, though, to make sure you’re taking the right steps.

    I don’t think you need to justify it to them and I would be disinclined to do so. They may be ___ist or not; they may be targeting a disability or not… what matters is that you made rules, they broke your rules. That’s all you need to let them go, even if the “real” reason is something else. It’s not as if they are likely to “accept firing” if you make it clear it’s about Lola and disability rights, all it will do is to make it harder, so I would not go there.

    In terms of your company: It sounds like you may be using different rules for different folks and different situations….? This can often make a lot of sense!! People are different. But there is always a balance between perceived equity (individual treatment) and equality (identical treatment) and people are ALSO very focused on equality and VERY sensitive to differential treatment–at least, when they think they’re on the “losing” side (nobody minds it if they get more than they should.)

    It sounds like you’re doing pretty well so far. But if other people continue to raise complaints then even if you think they are wrong you may have to devote more effort to walking the fine balance on both fronts, perception matters a lot. If that continues to be an issue, consider finding someone competent to help you walk that road.

  27. Happy*

    And OP, if this goes on much longer, the company is going to take a big hit when Lola quits and clients leave with her!

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*


      I recently gave notice my (decent) job because a problematic colleague hasn’t been dealt with for years. Not to the level of these two “‘go-getter’ staff (two in particular who need a lot of attention and reassurance)”, but still aggravating for many on staff, including those of us who work extra hard to make up for ProblemColleague’s deficits. The team won’t fall apart without me, but several colleagues (including my manager) have said it’s a serious but unsurprising loss for them.

      HR even asked in my exit interview if I would stay if ProblemColleague left. Maybe if ya’ll had taken care of it a few years ago…?

      Don’t be in that situation, OP! Take care of your best employees, which includes soft skills like “do not screw up someone else’s work” and “follow instructions.”

  28. learnedthehardway*

    Another vote for coming down hard and fast on these two employees, but do get the owner’s support and commitment to whatever measures you take first. Last thing you need is to not be backed up by management, if you decide to fire these two.

    In fact, since you’re not the direct manager for these two employees, it’s not appropriate that the owner has told you to “handle it”. I mean, can you discipline or fire them???

    I would set up a meeting with their managers and the owner, and whatever your company has for HR, and get consensus and an action plan on how these employees will be dealt with, together with who is responsible for confronting the employees about their behaviour, and what the progressive discipline steps will be (including how to avoid retaliation against Lola), and what the company’s “line in the sand” is – ie. what happens if these employees do this again? What if they complain to other employees or clients about “favouritism” towards Lola? At what point is the company prepared to fire them?

    Also, if your company decides to keep them on, what is the developmental/remedial training going to be? It’s not enough to just shut these two down, and expect the problem to disappear. They need to understand that a) ableism is illegal discrimination (some diversity training may be in order), b) workplace norms of behaviour (ie. teamwork, treating colleagues with respect), and c) that actions have consequences (their behaviour should be reflected in their performance ratings and bonuses, if any).

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      I wonder if we’re being too hard on the owner. “Handle it” could mean “I’m sure you will resolve this appropriately,” or could mean “you should have handled this by now so get on it.” The fact that the owner trusts LW enough to go back to her after getting a complaint suggests s/he has at least some trust in her.

      It’s HR who should hop to it!

      1. Nic*

        Yeah, that’s the way I read it – that owner is surprised and displeased to be pulled into a situation that should have been handled several layers of management down, and well before the problem employees tried to pull him in on their side. What does he pay HR and management for, if it isn’t to deal with employee behavioural issues like harassment?

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Normally I would agree, but it sounds like they have one of those remote HR package dealies that is basically a glorified payroll service with an email box that serves as a ‘complaint dump.’ I’ve worked with those before and I don’t think OP can count on them for anything here.

  29. AnonyWorker*

    I have no advice to give that hasn’t been said here, but a question – are there any interviewee questions one could ask to suss out companies with toxic team members/milquetoast management like this?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      To managers:
      1) What is turnover on this team?
      2) Why did the last person leave?
      3) What is your management style?
      4) What does excelling in this job role look like?

      To potential team mates, especially in a one on one conversation:
      1) What does your normal day look like?
      2) What does an exceptionally busy day look like?
      3) What are common challenges you face?

      Listen for hesitations, pauses in the middle of answers as they try to find polite ways to say ‘malfunctioning Hellmouth’, and of course, any slighting references to co-workers are a big red flag.

  30. Cobol*

    I agree with everything said above, most importantly now is a good time to find very qualified people.

    Now my but, and this is prefaced by thinking that by go-getter you mean younger people straight out of college, who may have misguided beliefs about what matters. I would;
    1) determine if they both are equally at fault, or if one is following the direction of the other
    2) Either directly, or via their managers let them know exactly what is happening. Lola had brought in the big accounts because of the quality of her work/reputation. Completing something ahead of deadline is not better than completing something at deadline. Their work is not the quality you want, possibly due to the previous point. Most importantly, you do not want to hear one more thing about working with Lola.

    I mean, or just fire them.

    1. Observer*

      Either directly, or via their managers let them know exactly what is happening. Lola had brought in the big accounts because of the quality of her work/reputation.

      Nope, they don’t need to hear this. The OP does not need to justify how Lola is being treated and their instruction to these employees. And while in SOME cases, it might be a good idea to give people the background, in this case,they don’t deserve it and it’s not going to help. Don’t give them another chance to try to argue their (bigoted) case.

      1. Cobol*

        I disagree with this statement in a sense. They have earned their firing. But there’s a very real scenario in which they can be told Lola is what success looks like, not what you are doing. That can be powerful.

        I started and ended my response with you can fire them if that is what is right. And they could not be young employees at all, which negates everything I said. OP knows exactly what is happening, whereas I only have a theory where there is room to educate.

        1. Elbe*

          Agreed. The LW isn’t obligated to lay out how valuable Lola is, but I think it would be great if they included those details while showing them the door.

          First, these people do sound relatively young/inexperienced. Maybe they’ll stay jerks their whole life, but some people do change and it’s often a swift humbling with severe consequences (like being fired) that prompts the soul searching required to make changes. I hope they become the type of people who deeply regret the behavior they’ve shown here.

          And second, it’s satisfying for the people doing the firing to reassert their values, to call discrimination by its name and take a firm stance against it. It’s powerful to say, “This person you thought was a problem is actually more valuable than both of you combined.” There’s no reason to spare their feelings or be vague.

          1. Brusque*

            I wish I could ‘like’ your comment.
            I don’t really believe those two can change, but I do believe decent people should give them at least a chance to do so by telling them where they are wrong even if it’s on the way out of the door.

  31. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impared Peep*

    As someone who was the disabled employee, fire their asses. Do it today. I was bullied at work and my productivity went downhill when the people who bullied me were simply told to knock it off. That was it. They continued to do it, management was hand off, and I didn’t give a damn when they fired me. In fact, I was relieved. If Lola is that good, then you will lose her if you don’t simply fire the assholes.

  32. Pickaduck*

    Firing them would be the best day of my year. They may also need a little reminder that every one of us is a split-second from being a person with a disability. Absolutely shameful.

  33. Sara without an H*

    But I have the two staff who complain a lot that Lola’s behind or not working as fast as they’d like, both of whom even went so far as to exclude her from a project and finish her work for her, which was unnecessary since (1) the work they turned in wasn’t what the client wanted and caused rework and (2) they still had four weeks left until the deadline for a first draft. Both employees were told to stop doing that multiple times and they were put on different projects so that they didn’t need to monitor Lola’s progress.

    Why is no one managing here? OP, I’m bewildered that you kept the Dysfunction Twins on the payroll after this incident. They sabotaged another team member’s work. And it sounds as though we’ve got four different managers (including you and the owner) who are trying to work around the problem, rather than deal with it.

    Fire these people. Now. Because it’s only going to get worse.

    1. Tabby Baltimore*

      I, too, think–after the Dysfunction Twins have been dealt with, however that’s done–that the OP needs to lead the Twins’ managers in a group step-by-step reflection on how they let their employees’ behavior get this bad. What clues did they see early on? What did they discount, rationalize, or ignore, and why? Were the managers unaware of all the HR tools at their disposal to encourage, or even coerce, more professional behavior from them? The managers of these employees have a lot of explaining to do (to OP) about why they were, and remained, so ineffective at shutting down this awful behavior, and what they would do differently going forward. Maybe they need some kind of remedial training from HR, or maybe they need to be put on some kind of training plan, or even a PIP, themselves.

  34. Slow Gin Lizz*

    FIRE THEM OMG. And then make sure to report back to Alison what happened so we’ll know too. Ugh, these people are the WORST. And you and Lola are terrific and I hope you let Lola know how great she is.

  35. WellRed*

    OP when I started to read about a complaint, I assumed Lola had raised it. The gall of these two! Also, I feel like this has come up a few times recently in letters, but when an employee is either harassed or harassing the answer is not “ let’s ignore the problem and just not have them work on the same team. Manage your team, empower your team to manage their time. I love that your inclination is to fire these two. That’s probably the outcome.

  36. Batgirl*

    OP you need to bring the thunder. If they don’t leave the room quaking and apologetically thankful for their final warning, go straight to firing them. Say things like “Harrassment, persistent harrassnent no less, of employees is a firing offence” and “trying to rope the owner of the company into helping you to bully an employee has seriously damaged your reputation”. Don’t forget “We are well aware that you can’t work well with others which is why you were moved previously by your managers. You have squandered that chance to focus on yourself” and “Employees who focus on pulling down others when their own performance is sub par is the adult equivalent of trying to get a classmate in trouble to cover up your own missing homework. Stay in your lane! You are not qualified to comment.”
    If you get anything but frantic nodding and compliance say “Well that leaves me no choice but to make this your last day. Clear out your desk”.

  37. Anon For This*

    Egad. I had to shut this down with a coworker once (a peer, I did not manage her). She took me to lunch to let me in on her plan to attempt to take over a coworker’s job “because she’s never here.” Said coworker had an erractic schedule due to a serious medical condition (I have no idea what–not my business) but I knew for a fact that her clients loved her, she had figured out some WFH accommodations that were not generally available at that time (we’re all WFH now), and was on top of her projects. I told La Nasty that she was going to accomplish nothing besides making herself look like a vicious opportunist and lose the trust of the entire team. Happy ending: she heard me out, backed down, and went looking for advancement in other directions. But if I hadn’t been blunt with her, she would have escalated. Shut this down, OP. It’s ugly.

  38. Llellayena*

    I’m on side “Fire them now,” Think of it this way, every single day they come to work with this behavior and this attitude, they are putting the entire company at risk of a REAL harassment lawsuit from Lola…that she would probably win. Their work is not excellent enough to balance that out (you’ve actually had problems with their work that could have put them on a PIP) so you’re not losing much by letting them go and Lola (and all your other employees) will see that you won’t stand for harassment of another employee and be more willing to stick around. I only see a win for everyone (except the two idiots) if they get fired today. Since they have a complaint against you, I’d probably have the firing come from someone else though. Can their managers fire them, or the owner? or both?

    1. animaniactoo*

      Oh no, far better if the firing comes from the OP. The person they thought had no power. And then discover that said person does indeed have power and they might want to take note of that kind of thing for future.

    2. Observer*

      Since they have a complaint against you, I’d probably have the firing come from someone else though.

      Why? If the OP has the authority to do this, there is no need to cede it just because some insubordinate employees complained. I also agree completely with what animaniactoo says.

      1. Llellayena*

        I was trying to fend off any claims of retaliation from the two soon-to-be-former employees. They might not win, but the complaint would be annoying and possibly pricey for the company.

        1. Observer*

          It wouldn’t matter. On the one hand, retaliation claims require legally protected activity, which doesn’t exist here. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter who does the firing – if the OP had an illegal reason for the firing, then the company would still be on the hook.

  39. redwinemom*

    I think you need to jump on this RIGHT AWAY!!
    If you don’t bring them in immediately (whether to fire them, or give them each notice to stop this behavior) – how would you handle a request for a reference in the future?
    Unless their managers previously dealt with this in a serious manner (with documentation), I *believe* you would have no option but to give them an adequate referral. This would also be true if you gave them the option to resign.

    1. WellRed*

      It would be the kind thing to do, but there’s no obligation on the employer’s part to give a referral.

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        Nope. You don’t need to do anything. It’s common to only confirm dates of employment. Might want to avoid giving a *bad* reference.

    2. Ellie Mayhem*

      There’s nothing legally problematic with giving a negative reference, as long as it’s factual. Many companies have policies against providing references other than verifying titles, dates of employment, and salary, but these aren’t legal requirements.

  40. animaniactoo*

    “You do not get to set deadlines for Lola and her work that pre-empt the deadlines that we – as your mangers and project mangers have set for ALL of you. You also do not get to hold her to those arbitrary deadlines and then complain that she is not meeting them. If you feel that you are not being left enough time to do your portion of the work, you are entitled to raise that separately. If you aren’t willing or don’t want to do that, that is on you. But knock it off with what you’ve been doing to Lola or you can expect to find yourself working to meet an unemployment filing deadline.”

  41. INTP Manager*

    “Both employees were told to stop doing that multiple times…”

    Without guilt or fanfare, fire them. Today. And take Lola on a virtual lunch.

  42. irene adler*

    Please take action.
    Up to now, Lola is probably under the impression that she must put up with these two as the office has accommodated her medical situation. So it is past time to stop these two.
    Lola should be given lots of assurance that the company values her work. And that, down the line, should anyone repeat any sort of ugly behavior towards her, she needs to know she can report it. And be supported by management.

  43. City Mouse*

    You have two employees who are being cruel toward another employee due to her disability. Morally speaking, firing them is the right thing to do.

    You have two employees whose skills are not particularly valuable to clients trying to interfere with the work of an employee who is valuable to clients. Practically speaking, firing them is the smart thing to do.

    You have two employees harassing a third employee who is a member of a protected class for reasons related to that protection. Legally speaking, firing them is the safe thing to do.

    On top of all that: 1) You appear to be in the U.S., where firing people is relatively easy in comparison to other Western countries, and 2) you’re in the midst of historic unemployment, in which lots of skilled people are hungry for work.

    So why are these two bozos still employed by your company, again?

  44. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Fire away! These “go getters” are going to get your company in a boatload of trouble (ADA violations and lowered morale as other employees see their middle-school mean kid bullying go unchecked, just for starters). The LW doesn’t say how long these go-getters have been with the company, but if it’s any longer than a few months then their need for attention and reassurance bespeaks immaturity as well. They’re bad for business, bad for morale and not exactly great human beings. Document everything and get rid of them NOW!

  45. Thankful for AAM*

    I have been the employee watching a good employee who has a disability being harassed (in front of other employees!).
    The good employee is gone to a better job, the harassing manager is still there.
    Guess how much respect the rest of us have for that manager and management in general?

  46. Megs*

    I’m not opposed to firing them immediately but first I would take a look and see if one of them is the ring leader in this and the other feels they must go along to fit in. I know from experience if that is the case and you get rid of one the other might do well with just a stern warning and find better people in the company to use as role models. The OP mentioned that they’re the younger employees which may mean that one is being heavily influenced because of this.

  47. Van Wilder*

    @Alison, you should add a new contest category for end of year: “Most satisfying update.” I have a real need for justice right now.

  48. Reluctant Manager*

    LW should make it clear to everyone–owner, her subordinate managers, and the idiot employees–that they are exposing the company to significant legal liability on addition to being bad people. I’d do it to make sure the hints of “favoritism” get squashed. Yes, talk to a lawyer, because protecting the company from lawsuits as well as lost clients is definitely one of everyone’s most important jobs.

  49. Not So Happy It's Monday*

    I do wonder if these two think this approach will establish themselves as the “go-to” designers in place of Lola? There is often resentment from new employees on how they may not be trusted with the most visible/valuable projects and they are trying to show this is wrong. “Take out the king of the hill!” Unfortunately, they proved that they cannot be trusted with these projects.

    There is also a lot of career advice about deadlines like “if it’s on time, then it’s late” and “if it’s early, then it’s on time”. Basically that getting it in early will delight the customer. That only works when the product is of the same high quality that taking the normal schedule would produce. So these folks may see just meeting a deadline as failure. Their lack of understanding is a liability over and above the exclusion behavior.

  50. Observer*

    OP, you’ve gotten lots of advice that I totally agree with. There are two things about your letter that REALLY puzzle me.

    One, what is your definition of “go getter”? These people don’t sound like “go getters” at all! They sound like entitled, needy, incompetent and character challenged idiots.

    Secondly, why are you and your managers doing so much to accommodate these people? They’ve disobeyed instructions, they are being obnoxious and they are exposing the company to real risk. And it’s not like they are such great employees otherwise. Even if they WERE great at what they do, their obnoxiousness would be a problem. But in combination with their other faults and poor work, why?

    1. bananab*

      Not the OP but I feel like I know exactly this type of “go-getter” and it’s hard to put my finger on how. I’m betting there’s a reason they are in quotes. There’s a certain type of person newish to the workforce that tries to make a name for themselves by pointing out processes and people that are doing things “wrong,” usually far too quickly to actually have an informed take to share like that.

    2. BadWolf*

      Since the OP put that term in quotes, I would guess it’s applied with a bit of irony. Like how we view “gumption” here.

  51. TiredMama*

    I just want to note that the LW may need to have a conversation with all the managers to ensure that they absolutely do not share any of the same concerns. I may be completely wrong, but it would not surprise me if someone in management encouraged them to file the complaint with HR.

    1. AKchic*

      Yes, but did they mean it in earnest, or in the “sure, if you feel this is a problem, you go right ahead and file that complaint, but I’m not listening to your whining about a non-issue” sense, hoping that someone higher-up would do the dirty work and shut the two knuckleheads down for them?
      It seems like there may be a lot of managers who don’t want to actually manage this situation.

  52. AKchic*

    You have two low-level individuals that have opened your company up to a potential ADA lawsuit. Instead of stopping their open behavior, they instead doubled down and have included you in their complaints and now the owner wants you to “fix it” without any actual direction. No other manager has actually shut them down (that you’ve mentioned). No other worker has shut them down (that you’ve mentioned).
    There is absolutely no way Lola doesn’t know about this behavior. If this isn’t remedied ASAP, what are you going to do if Lola leaves before you get this “fixed” (whatever that means)? Will the owner back you up and support you in firing these two low-level employees in order to keep Lola and reduce the risk of lawsuit(s), PR problems and losing client(s) if Lola leaves?

    It’s time to discuss your firing options with HR and a lawyer, and document everything. Lola is worth protecting.

  53. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Marketing can be one of those industries that rewards ambitious and cut-throat attitudes and behavior. They want Lola’s projects (I’m guessing that her success and tenure make her the senior person who gets the most important projects) and they think that’s “favoritism” — as if a job is supposed to be a kindergarten class where everyone gets an equal turn. Of course employers have favorites — in the sense that they have best producers…senior level ranks…rain-makers. So go ahead and have a conversation with them that YES, the company favors Lola…because she’s the top producer in quality and creativity that the customers want. These juvenile “go-getters” need to learn that trying to pick-off the top person won’t make them queens of the dodge-ball game.

  54. Tess*


    How does harassment differ from hostile work environment? Is the difference solely on protected class (like differently abled)?

    I work with someone who is just a viper: mean-spirited and unkind, petty and vindictive, and she is a known problem, yet she’s kept because we are short-handed. I am a constant target but not in a protected class. If that constitutes a hostile work environment, and not harassment, are there options for me, besides leaving?

    Thanks for any input.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be illegal, hostile work environment needs to be based on a protected class as well. If she’s just a jerk, that’s not illegal.

      That said, in a reasonably healthy environment, you’d be able to talk to your manager, her manager, and/or HR about it.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Also, if anything she says is gender-related, that’s a protected class. So if she repeatedly uses ‘b*ch’, that’s hostile work environment. Document it, take it to your manager or HR, and ask *them* if they see a hostile work environment possibility.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “I am a constant target but not in a protected class”

      Just a general FYI that everyone has a protected characteristic, which puts them in a protected class. That doesn’t mean every nasty action towards you is illegal – just means that if anyone is targeting you because of your gender/race/etc, then the law could protect you. Everyone has a race. Everyone has a gender. Everyone has a nationality. To constitute illegal discrimination, the question is, is the person being a jerk to you *because* of your gender/race/nationality/etc? (Illegal discrimination can take the form of a hostile work environment, and that means someone is making your work life incredibly difficult to be in *because* of your gender/race/ etc.) But it sounds like the person you work with is a jerk and mean, but you don’t say she is targeting you or acting out at you because of a protected characteristic.

  55. memyselfandi*

    I work with someone like the “go-getters.” For them, something handed in 15 minutes before the deadline is late and they will complain about it to superiors. Some other characteristics that seem to go along with this focus on deadlines are feeling that the boundaries of their job description are up to them to determine and feeling that no one does as good a job as them on things they feel propriety (have expertise) about. They also trim job assignments to fit the time they want to devote to them, so will turn in work that is sufficient but not outstanding, but early which they think is the most important thing. They are also somewhat of a bully. They haven’t been fired, but have not been hired elsewhere in the organization and do not understand why. Over time people have learned and don’t want to work with them. Sounds to me like the OP has a couple of the same type. Either that or they did so many team projects in college where someone didn’t pull their weight that they are super vigilant. ;)

  56. NewYork*

    I agree the two did not handle well, but to donate/support ONLY Lola’s charity will likely result in resentment. If you have to balance work based on disabilities, childcare, etc., be prepared for the harder working ones to leave. Life goes on. I suspect Lola’s condition has deteriorated, as OP said, and she is doing less work.

    1. Colette*

      Huh? It’s pretty normal to support charities that deal with issues people you know are dealing with. And although Lola has limitations, she is getting her work done. I’d also dispute that the two problem employees are harder working; it doesn’t sound like they are at all, since they’re wasting time doing stuff they’re not supposed to be doing. If I spend the day building the company’s yearly budget, I don’t get credit for that since it’s not my job.

      1. NewYork*

        Supporting ONE charity to the exclusion of others is likely to breed resentment. OP should try to be fair. Or maybe she does not care

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          So the problem employees are resentful that their office donates to a charity that benefits people who have a disability like Lola’s? And it’s not fair that OP’s office chooses to donate to a charity that benefits people like their friendly, hard-working colleague? How should OP be more “fair”?

        2. Reluctant Manager*

          That’s ridiculous. There is no legitimate expectation that a company support all charities, especially not a small business. How enthusiastically the employees join in is another story. Now, if there are several employees with comparable related charities, it might be bad to organize runs for Bess’s breast cancer and not Tommy’s testicular cancer, that’s another story. But there is no standard for charity parity.

        3. pancakes*

          No. Many companies support one or two charities or none at all, and employees generally don’t have much or any say in what they are. Being resentful in those circumstances would be something only someone with a misplaced sense of entitlement or overly-invested emotionally or somesuch would have a problem with.

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Sounds like OP would LOVE for the two “go-getters” to leave. I’m confused where you’re getting this idea that the two jerks are harder working, or that Lola’s doing less work. OP says “we consider the entire team’s needs and the client’s, not just Lola’s” and that Lola is hard working and does excellent work…while the two jerks need a lot of attention.

    3. Me*

      Wow. No just no. OP doesn’t have an issue with Lola’s work. Reasonable accommodations are not “unfair” to “harder working” individuals. In fact these two tried to do Lola’s job and it had to be redone.

      Please stop looking for a reason to justify bad behavior.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      A lot of companies tend to pick one philanthropic cause to donate to and sometimes it’s because an employee or founder was profoundly affected, or because that’s part of their branding image — health care, environment, women’s issues, education, feeding the hungry, etc. It’s not bad that this very small company has decided to pick a cause that affects one of their own long-time employees. Anyone who is so petty they RESENT charitable work, can work someplace else.

      1. WS*

        +1, I’m a cancer survivor who works in healthcare, and my department chooses to donate to a rare cancer charity. Appropriate on a personal and professional level.

    5. Not A Manager*

      “I suspect Lola’s condition has deteriorated, as OP said, and she is doing less work.”

      Why do you suspect this?

  57. WTH*

    They may or may not be harassing her because of a disability, they may just want an excellent employee gone so they can try to step into her role. They feel her excellence is making them look bad when in fact it is their own toxic behavior. They may try to sabotage her work. No one is perfect, I would find any reason at all to fire them

  58. RJ*

    Consult their managers, review with HR and review with the company’s legal counsel, but these two have got to go!

  59. Girasol*

    If OP decides to give them one last chance and a PIP instead of an immediate firing, the first performance objective should be a sincere apology to Lola with a promise to her that they will never engage again in the specific behaviors that have undercut her.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      If I were Lola, I wouldn’t believe that for a second. This isn’t an issue of poor performance that a PIP could fix. They’ve already been told to stop it and they haven’t and then did an end run around the manager. And the other managers don’t seem to be doing anything. Considering the legal ramifications, I’d jump straight to letting them go.

      I agree Lola deserves an apology—from the company.

  60. I'm just here for the cats.*

    I wonder how fresh out of school are these folx? Are they new and do they not understand disability accomodations? And has anyone, either the OP or the employees’ managers, commented on why they think they need to work so fast?

    Although what I think they are doing is horrible (disability advocare here) and needs to stop ASAP, I wonder if they have sort of perceived problem? Like do these employees feel they need x from Lola earlier? Do they feed pressure from somewhere to get projects completed ahead of schedule? Do they feel like they should be given more tasks?
    I think there needs to be one final conversation and if anything more happens they are out the door.

    Also OP check in with Lola. If they are doing this behind her back then they might be doing stuff to her directly. She certainly knows that work she was doing was completed for her and messed the project up. Please make sure these 2 sent bullying her in other ways.

  61. HR in the City*

    Oh my gosh!!! These two employees are a huge liability to the company. Write these employees up immediately & let them know this is a last chance and next time they are fired. This is of course assuming that nothing is documented but now is the time to document it. Lay out all the missteps of taking over the work and causing redos and how you have investigated but there is no basis to the complaint. I think that these two employees will probably sue if you fire them now so I say do a last chance and then make sure that things are followed through on.

  62. Chels*

    Just commenting here to share about person-first language which is widely preferred by the disability community as the best way to refer to someone with a disability. Instead of saying “disabled employee” or “disabled coworker”, the person-first version would be “employee with a disability” or “coworker with a disability”. In the latter versions, the person comes before the disability.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I’m kicking myself now for writing “disabled employee” quoting the title, because I’m fully aware of this, and even have a ‘disability’ myself (under UK law – in scare quotes for myself because I don’t consider myself disabled or with a disability, but legally it is — mental health in this case, long-term/rest of my life and well controlled with medication but significant impact on my life without treatment) and I’m always careful to use language like “wheelchair user” (rather than “in a wheelchair”) etc where relevant! but then I wrote disabled employee or co-worker. Ugh, sorry.

    2. Reba*

      There are quite a few people in said community who prefer the opposite, though — i.e. they use “disabled person,” “autistic person,” or similar — so best bet is to ask the person in question what they prefer, as much as possible!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, I’m an autistic person. If I trust you, I’m “autistic” and you can drop the person. Someone who uses “a person with autism” sets me on edge immediately- if they have to remind themselves that I’m a person every time they bring up my autism, that’s worrisome!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Would like to say that’s massively dependent upon the person. I’m a disabled person. I’m an epileptic too. I don’t mind correcting someone once, but if they insisted on that ‘person first’ language I’d get massively offended.

    4. ZucchiniBikini*

      Yeah, another voice to say I personally don’t like person-first language for *myself*. I refer to myself as a Coeliac, an asthmatic, and a disabled person – not as person with …. (asthma, Coeliac Disease, a disability). I’m also a mother, as opposed to a person with children. I fully understand the point behind person-first and would never tell someone else how they should want to be referred to, but equally, I do get irritated when (usually abled) people keep correcting me with my own language about MYSELF.

      Appropos of this, I just recently participated in a large-scale project to design an Accessibility Policy framework in a group of tertiary institutions; our stakeholder engagement revealed a pretty even split between community members who preferred “person with a disability” and those who preferred “disabled person”. In short, I do not think it’s true to say (anymore) that person-first language is the universal or even overwhelming preference.

      1. Chels*

        Thanks for sharing this! I love your example about how you’re a mother and not a person with children. That really resonates with me. My dad has a disability and we’re constantly modeling how he likes people to reference his disability. I completely agree that asking someone how they like to be referenced is best, but there are situations where there is no opportunity to ask first or when referencing a group of people, each of whom might have a different preference. I typically default to person-first in these situations, knowing that there isn’t a universal consensus, but expect and welcome correction.

  63. pcake*

    This started before the pandemic, so these two “go-getters” have been doing illegal and horrible things to an excellent employee who may – for all you know – be going home every night and crying for hours. They were told to stop doing what they’re doing, but they continue, so on top of targeting an employee (whether or not she has a disability), they’re not doing what their managers tell them.

    How are they not already fired? Aside from common decency and creating a toxic work environment, they’re breaking federal laws that can cause the company many problems. If it’s up to you, bring in your company’s lawyer to help let them go, because they seem like people who like to stir up trouble. Since management has told them repeatedly to stop doing what they’re doing…

    I hope you talked to the owner about these guys months ago and kept the owner updated, because sometimes context helps when a situation like this occurs. Totally aside from the legality issues, sometimes I see the complainers get their way when the big boss has no information about what’s really going on.

    Did you remind HR that Lola is A) a longtime, very good employee who’s never let the company down and B) that those two guys have been targeting an employee with a disability continually while C) they are not taking direction from their manager?

  64. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    The complaints increased drastically since the pandemic started.

    I read most but not all of the comments, but didn’t see this mentioned directly…

    OP, Do you have any sense (other than the now ‘normal’ differences which I won’t bore you with re-iterating again!) of what might have changed or how things might have changed in your specific situation since the pandemic started?

    I inferred that y’all are now working from home when you weren’t before, for example. Has there been any change in the ebb and flow of how you work as a result of that (beyond the obvious ‘we meet on zoom/teams/skype/etc rather than in person, etc) ?

    Is it possible (and I’m aware that I’m speculating hugely) that there may be a sense of insecurity of employment, maybe not enough work for everyone, especially impacted by the pandemic and so they try to discredit their co-worker somehow to be ahead of the rest in being kept on if you need to make layoffs, for example.

    I don’t see (but I am open to people telling me!) why, if the motive is “ableism” etc rather than “feel insecure compared to a high performer” that the behaviour would have stepped up directly in response to the pandemic.

    1. Eliza*

      There’s been a major uptick in ableism in the media since the pandemic started, to the point of pundits openly arguing that the elderly and immunocompromised should die for the sake of the economy. I wouldn’t be surprised if that had an effect on people’s attitudes.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Thirding. I’ve had to field quite a bit of anger on- and off-line about “people like me” being the reason things can’t go back to normal, and not always from people who know I’m immunocompromised (I can’t and won’t hide the cane).

      2. Anonosaurus*

        There is a narrative for some people in my country along the lines of “let’s go back to normal and if you are high risk and feel you need to shelter in place then you can do that”. That it’s okay to basically say in public that you don’t care if older people and vulnerable people die (because it’s impossible to shield 100%) so you can go to a bar disgusts me. Thankfully our current political leadership doesn’t subscribe to this, at least not yet.

        (I get the downside of lockdown/shelter in place – it’s the naked disregard for anyone considered weak and therefore dispensable.)

        So yes I think the pandemic is normalizing certain proto-eugenics attitudes and making the prejudiced feel more comfortable being openly dismissive of other people’s right to life. Your employees are nasty little pieces of work and they need shut down like yesterday.

      3. Ellie*

        Yes, its been absolutely sickening where I am, and I will never forgive certain politicians and people in the media for saying outright that the lives of my parents, my partner’s parents, and grand parents, are less important than someone’s small business that they can start up again in 12 months time.

        Best comment I read was the one about people with ‘underlying conditions’ needing to take extra precautions, and then someone pointed out that around 50% of the population has one of these ‘underlying conditions’. No-one’s expendable, but that really showed how terribly short-sighted that argument is.

    2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      This seems like a classic ‘why not both’ scenario, where if they’d already singled her out because of their ableism it would only make sense for them to double down on that if they feel insecure about their employment or just more stressed out in general.

  65. Tidewater 4-1009*

    You should definitely reassure Lola and make sure she knows how much you and the company value her.
    When you say you’re working to shut down her harassers, *make sure it’s actually done quickly*. If it’s not done in a few weeks, it will look like you just said those things and didn’t mean them.
    I’ve been in similar situations. When the boss is saying he/she will solve a problem and the problem continues, I’ve concluded they don’t actually care about the problem. If Lola reaches that point, she probably will leave.

  66. Elbe*

    I’d be genuinely curious as to how these two defend repeated complaints that she “isn’t making deadlines” when, in fact, the LW set the deadlines and can verify that the work was received. Do they disagree with the deadlines set and therefore consider them invalid? Or are they grasping for reasons to complain about Lola, who apparently hasn’t done anything to hurt them, even though deep down they know there are no reasons? Given that they’re a) factually wrong, b) creating liability for the company, and c) jeopardizing their own jobs, why do they keep choosing to do what they’re doing?

    Of course, this would just be to satisfy my morbid curiosity about illogical people. Their reasons don’t actually matter to the outcome here. I agree with pretty much everyone else that they will likely have to be let go. The LW just needs to document everything, make sure that she’s communicating clearly to these two about how wrong they are, and then fire them.

    If the LW thinks that this awful behavior has made its way around to Lola, she may want to have a meeting with Lola to assure her that it’s being taken seriously and will be handled shortly, one way or another. It would be horrible if Lola were to get another job because, from her perspective, nothing is being done about the treatment she’s received in an office she thought supported her.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Just speculating that they’ve entered into a dysfunctional, toxic pattern where they continually tell each other how much smarter and better they are than Lola and continually reinforce their own bad behavior.

    2. Mill Miker*

      In my experience, people like this see a constant implied deadline of “ASAP” on everything. Regardless of what the calendar says, if you’re not maintaining a constant performative sense of rush then you’re missing the deadline.

      1. London*

        Sorry for taking all that advice about deadlines like “if it’s on time, then it’s late” and “if it’s early, then it’s on time” at face value, I guess.

        1. LutherstadtWittenberg*

          Not every company follows those pithy quotes. If you do and resent other people for not doing so, that is very much your problem.

        2. nonethefewer*

          Another advice about deadlines: “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

  67. Quill*

    Allison’s response is far more business appropriate than mine, which is “meet me in the parking lot.”

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Gritty, like Christmas, lives in all of us and is most keenly felt when you smash ableists with a brick.

  68. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’m vicious when cornered and definitely NOT a ‘nice’ disabled type. Also encountered this where the firm stood UP for the bigots, argued they had a ‘right’ to their views and I’d be oppressing them by making a big deal over it.

    Jokes on them, when I left in disgust they realised they’d lost their only competent tech.

    Basically, fire bigots. It’s so unlikely they’ll change.

    (Again, massively biased. But also enraged that this kinda stuff still goes on)

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Yo, Keymaster: be biased. Be enraged. They may never change, but when other people hear your anger, they will respond, and not the way your f**cker former colleagues think. Karma really is a thing. Rock on with your badass self.

  69. Tamer of dragonflies*

    As usual,Alisons advice is spot on.It sounds like these two “go getters” have been talked to about this several times and its not getting through that what they are doing isnt standerd procedure.It should be made very clear that this is the last warning and the next step is termination.Its not up to them to set the pace that work is done, and that Lola is doing everything that they are supposed to,when they are supposed to.Lolas performance isnt out of line,but theirs is.
    It seems me that Lolas disability isnt in play as a reason for the complaints,but more that the deadlines set are reasonable.And really,the disability shouldnt matter .The reasonable deadlines are a part of the office culture.These jackwallies should be disiplined whether the person being complained about has a disability or not.

  70. nonegiven*

    You should just tell them that the company can’t tolerate their harassment of a protected class, that it makes them liabilities and they have to go. Goodbye.

  71. Ms. Enigma*

    Adding my voice to the chorus of “FIRE THEM!” but adding document, document, document.

    We had a problem employee, “Jill,” at my work who I recommended my boss (the owner) fire. He dragged his feet. Her behavior escalated to where she was accusing other employees of misconduct. Eventually she accused someone of putting a child’s life in danger. The incident was caught on camera and nothing remotely dangerous happened, and there were two other adults in the room that concurred with the video evidence. We documented everything and formally warned Jill about filing false reports. Shortly after her contract came up for renewal and we eliminated her position. She’s now suing for wrongful termination, retaliation, sexual harassment, wage theft, etc. It’s been more than a year and a lot of money–this and the pandemic will probably cause the entire company to go under.

  72. Bob*

    Alison’s response here is excellent.

    I highly recommend rapid action and termination.
    Also if they “behave” it just means you likely pushed their behaviour underground and they will continue to attempt to sabotage Lola, but less visibly.

    Hence i would recommend you terminate them right away, especially since Lola is a key employee.

    Of course make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s. If you have legal counsel on retainer or need to pay someone, make sure you have all necessary disciplinary documentation, are paying any necessary severance and making sure your not even close to breaking any laws make sure you are covering your interests 100%.

    Also since Lola is such a key employee is she paid commensurately?

  73. Tomalak*

    It’s telling that the work they rushed out had to be redone. It’s rarely competent people who behave like this.

    People who are basically decent are just more competent too.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      There’s at least one study that shows that men who are good at video games are less likely to be jerks to women in chat, so I think you’re on the money there.

  74. Still Trying to Adult*

    Oh, my.

    I’m ready to give these 2 younger employees the benefit of the doubt that they are ‘young, dumb, and full of spit & vinegar’ (because this is a professional forum).

    But they’re way out of line. WAYYYYY out of line, so far out of line that you should fire them first thing in the morning the next day they come in. If you absolutely cannot officially fire them that day because you need to prep time, just tell them to take the day off, you have some other much more pressing issues and they wil. be a distraction in the office. Or if they work remotely, have a convenient IT fiasco that prevents them from accessing.

    They are being cruel, they are lying, turning in bad work that needs to be redone, and causing too much drama and a toxic workplace. ff The sooner they are gone the better. And while you may not be able to completely teach them the lessons they need to learn, perhaps you’ll be putting them on a right path. Yes, your managers below you need a little counseling too, on how to handle this if it ever comes up again.

  75. staceyizme*

    Let’s review: they don’t follow norms about timelines (claiming that Lola turns in work late, contrary to all past experience), they don’t follow directions from their superiors (they’ve been told to desist and have escalated the complaints) and 3) they’re acting like “mean girls” or “mean guys” by having excluded Lola from meetings and doing work in her place that needed to be redone. They’re not “go-getters”, they’re garden variety jerks. Maybe you’ve not been clear enough or firm enough. Maybe they’re just too blinded by wishful thinking in terms of their relative value. But at this point, does it matter? Document the issues to date. Discipline them. And, when inevitably, they object, AGAIN, fire them. It’s ordinarily a last resort, but these two not only don’t know how to read a room, they’re actively damaging the company’s work product and work relationships for no good reason.

  76. Kallisti*

    Uh LW a question for you:

    If they were behaving so egregiously towards a coworker who doesn’t get accomodations would they still be working there?

    My suspicion is no. They would not.

    They’re targeting Lola in part, I’m sure, bc they KNOW that their bigotry is a popular one that they can skate by with for an obscene length of time

    Evidence? They still have jobs. At all.

    Fire them and literally everyone who had any ability to do anything needs to apologize to Lola for their complicity with ableism

  77. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    “I’m getting the sense that you are not happy in the same workplace as Lola. Don’t worry, I’ll solve that problem immediately”.

  78. AllyPally*

    I say prepare to fire them, but also make it incredibly clear what the situation is.
    “Lola does better work than you. I would rather wait for Lola to finish than present the clients with whatever sub-par work you spaffed out in half the time.”

    1. Brusque*

      I’m reminded of a pupil I once tutored on math. She just couldn’t get her head around the fact that math don’t work with shortcuts. You have to do it step by step to be good. She was so fixated on the idea fast=good I wasn’t able to teach her anything. Instead of listening she always searched for loopholes and easy tricks to shave off work. In the end I told her I couldn’t teach her anything, because she rejected everything I told her if it was too time consuming in her mind. She then even accused me of sabotaging her by not telling her my ‘tricks’ to finish her tests in time and didn’t believe me that yhere are no tricks. Math is about accuracy. It doesn’t help to be faster if the answers are wrong. Sadly that’s a thing too many people don’t understand when they’re young and never learn when they grow old. You do twice the work if you rush and are not just better but also faster in the long run if you take your time to do it right the first time. I bet Lola isn’t so slow just because she’s disabled but because she’s accurate. And since she keeps her deadlines she can’t be that slow anyways.

  79. Dave*

    This is terrifying from a legal and business perspective. They’re bringing huge risks to the company with this behavior, and it should have stopped long before now.

    Just because their managers haven’t properly called them to heel is not enough reason to “give them a final warning” or “prepare to fire them”. Anyone with a brain should know this behavior is unacceptable. Just fire them.

    I’d clear it with the owner, then immediately call them on the carpet and fire them on the spot. “You were warned that your complaints have no basis in fact and told to knock it off. Instead you escalated to harassment and rumor-mongering. Let me be clear: Lola is a much better employee who generates much more value than you two combined. If this were just a case of interpersonal friction we would still side with her for that reason. But you’ve taken it far beyond that to engage in deeply immoral behavior against a disabled co-worker. Pack your things and leave immediately, I’ll have someone walk you out in an hour. You’ll receive two weeks severance; if you have any further questions or comments, contact HR to schedule an exit interview.”

  80. Brusque*

    Sometimes people create themselves a narrative and can’t see the reality anymore. But usually such kind of people have very skeved worldviews to begin with.
    They obviously believe in their narrative that Lola is a pity case everyone accomodates. They don’t see what you see: that she’s a valuable asset that rakes in money.
    So while the harrassment and toxic workplace situation is the legal angle that defines the risk for the company, what those two need is the cold shower of realisation that they are NOT the rockstars here. Lola is. Do that being disabled or not, Lola is the valuable worker and if they create a she or us situation like they do now they will have to go. Because loosing Lola means loosing business while loosing those two means loosing death weight.
    If OP can’t get that point across (and I doubt those people can get out of their own narrative long enpugh to see reality) those two are a terrible risk for the company because obviously they can not be trusted to make good decisions based on facts and have already prooven that by uneccessarily rushing a project to proove a nonsensical point (of Lola being too slow in their opinions) and not even realising their own stupidity when the project had to be redone.
    Obviously they care more about being right than making sure to ensure the wuality of their work. I wouldn’t wonder if they’d already refraimed their failure as being sabotaged by Lola’s slow pace.

  81. OhBehave*

    Please send an update to this letter!
    OP – I am impressed at how you are handling this. Many managers would let this fester until it became a huge problem (losing clients, Lola starts to get personally harassed, etc.). This must be dealt with immediately. Lola is facing enough with her disease without having work issues.

  82. jomola*

    As a former HR person, these two should be pulled in for a warning by HR, their manager znd OP.. There may, or may not, be accommodations being made for Lola – but that is none of their business. They should be told that. Personnel matters are not for public consumption and as such, they are not entitled to any explanation beyond their claims were investigated, determined to be without merit, and yet they still continue their harrassment. This meeting is their final warning and will result in immediate termination if any other harrassment is noted. Period.

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