Dear Nonprofiteer, Who can I turn to if the ED turns away?

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I work at a nonprofit. I was injured by another employee. I had to go to the emergency room a few days later because of the injury. My boss did not offer me an accident report until I went to the emergency room. He will not do anything about this. He is getting a little crazy and mean towards me. Somebody said they thought he is having an affair with the employee. What do I do?

Signed, Damaged Goods

Dear Damaged:

Were you injured accidentally by another employee, or did she harm you on purpose? If it was an accident, it sounds like the Executive Director has already done all that he’s supposed to do about it, albeit a bit late. Though your agency has the responsibility to provide you with the necessary forms to file for workers’ compensation, it doesn’t have any obligation to discipline the worker who hurt you. Accidents happen, and no organization could ever get anything done if it treated those occurrences as occasions for disciplinary intervention.

But if another employee hurt you deliberately, then the agency’s obligations are quite different. Without going into all the HR details–which, in any case, vary somewhat from state to state–you are entitled to be safe in your job and the person you accuse of harming you is entitled to defend herself against that accusation. The agency is obliged to balance these rights but it’s also obliged to give precedence to keeping you physically safe.

I say “the agency” but the balance of your letter suggests that your real question is, “Who do I turn to if the Executive Director is not discharging the agency’s obligations?” If your agency has a Personnel Committee, this is precisely its role–to make and enforce personnel policies which keep employees safe (and away from each other’s throats). So if you think what’s required is a hearing on your complaint that you were deliberately injured by another employee, go to the chair of the Personnel Committee and ask for one. If there is no Personnel Committee, go to the chair of the Board and ask for one.

What should you say? First, whatever it is should be in writing; if there’s a legal or quasi-legal issue (Did the other employee commit assault? Were the agency’s safeguards adequate?), you’re going to want to document everything you did. Second, your letter should contain the following information: how you were injured, when and by whom; that you believe the injury was inflicted deliberately and thus that you’re at continued risk from the other employee; that you expressed this belief to the Executive Director but he failed or refused to investigate or to provide you with sufficient assurances of your safety on the job; and that you understand the Board of Directors is responsible for protecting the agency from risk, including the risk posed by an employee who threatens other employees. For good measure, you might add that you know Workers’ Compensation covers accidents on the job but does not cover injuries inflicted intentionally. Conclude with a request for a hearing on your situation.

What’s missing from this letter? Any allegation about a personal relationship between the Executive Director and the offending employee. Why? Because, though it’s juicy, it’s not relevant. Unless the offending employee is being sexually harassed by the ED–which is her call, not yours–there’s nothing to prohibit personal relationships between staff members. Is it great management? No. Does it lead to gossip and disruption? Sure. Is it any of your business? Not even a little.

It doesn’t matter why the Executive Director is refusing to act on your legitimate concerns; it matters only that he is refusing to act on them. And because those concerns are grounded in policy–the policy that employees should be safe on the job–it’s appropriate for you to raise them directly with the responsible person on the Board of Directors.

But let me suggest that if the Executive Director is being “crazy and mean” to you, and if you’ve been injured by a fellow employee, your energy would be well-spent looking for another job. It would certainly be a service to the agency to assure that any future employees be safe from assault, but you’ve already been wounded in the service of the agency. Maybe once was enough.


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