Advice column: I was moved to another office to help out, but someone there has now stirred things up against me

Dear Ash

I have been with my current firm for three years now and get on with everyone. About a year ago I was asked to move offices to help staff an office no one else wanted to go to. I got on with everyone there for the most part, but a colleague developed a dislike for me. She undermined me, ignored me for weeks at a time and quite often left early because she had “worked through lunch”. I never drew any of this to management’s attention. I asked her about a very small matter one day and she totally flipped and stormed out of the office; the next thing I know, I am being moved, there’s a formal complaint and she has been signed off with stress for a month. The complaint was found to be groundless but I was still moved. I was assured she was being moved too but this hasn’t happened. I feel completely helpless and angry at management for following the person that has stamped the loudest. I want to leave, but my other colleagues are great and I have put so much into this job.

Ash replies:

It seems you have been caught up in a whirlwind of office politics. There are a few issues which I suggest you explore further before you take any drastic action.

If you were asked to move offices like that, there may have been underlying issues at the other office in the first place which resulted in staff resource issues and you being asked to move. The colleague who seems to have been somewhat put out by your move was perhaps feeling insecure in any case, and it does not appear to have been anything you have directly done to prompt such a reaction.

The distinct lack of communication is at the core of this issue. You don’t seem to have been given any information as to what is happening or why, and it may be that your colleague’s reaction was also originally rooted in her insecurities from a lack of information from management about your role.

It is unclear from your correspondence whether a formal grievance or disciplinary process was ever followed or whether management just tried to deal with the matter informally behind closed doors; I suspect it may have been the latter.

In any case I suggest that you initially seek a meeting with your line manager, on an informal basis for now, in order to talk through your concerns and to try to clarify where you stand. Stay calm and outline some brief points in advance that you want to cover, but try to ensure that you focus on the positives of your job too in order to keep your options open: highlight the fact that you enjoy working for the company and have made some good friends, but also confirm that this issue has affected you and that you need assurance that your concerns are addressed too.

If you do not receive satisfactory assurances and still feel unhappy, then you may just want to consider looking at other opportunities for now, whilst also seeking some advice from an employment lawyer to confirm where you stand legally.

Unfortunately, where one employee does raise issues against another there will be a process that management are required to follow in order to curb the threat of a claim from the employee. It may be that such complaints are sometimes unjustified, but they still have a process to follow. Therefore, playing devil’s advocate, your manager may have decided not to move your colleague in order to prevent her possibly resigning and raising a claim for constructive dismissal against the firm; and they may well not actually perceive you to have caused issues. However, they should have investigated the claims properly and should not have left in essence a black cloud of baseless accusations hanging over you.

No matter what you decide to do, just remember not to let such accusations affect you as a person. Your colleague clearly had problems even before you moved to the office, because if someone is unwilling to engage with a new colleague without taking the opportunity to get to know them properly, it is they that have the issue and not you.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162, or by email: KatieWood@lawscot.org.uk

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