Dealing with bad boss and HR
February 13, 2005 2:19 PM   Subscribe

BossFromHell/HRToolFilter: How many of you encountered the boss from hell and the HR zombies who defended him/her? What did you do? Are you glad you did what you did, or would you have done something different?
posted by nj_subgenius to Work & Money (21 answers total)
I think we need a little more info here. I'm an HR zombie and I'd say my job is (in part) to balance employee needs with company needs - too far one way and we'll go out of business, too far the other and we'll lose the people who make the business run/get sued. Depends on how screwed up your whole company is, but HR will rarely "defend" a boss from hell. They might refer you to someone who can do something about it, like your boss's boss....?

What's the sitch?
posted by pomegranate at 2:24 PM on February 13, 2005

Yes, I encountered him. I transferred from one department in computing to the other the moment I got wind he (a three-quarter boss) was encouraging the real boss to fire me (the way it was organized where I worked, I had 4 quater-bosses, 5 demi-bosses, 1 three-quarter boss and 1 real boss [whom I actually never met in person during the first stint there]).

It worked out really well, because I got the job in the other department on a technicality (woohoo! DE FAULT!) The day I transferred was awesome, the look on the horrible bosses' face was priceless. The new department seemed to work out much better for everyone.

That old boss took it pretty hard, though. He ended up giving up one of his favourite things -- micromanaging us lower level people, becoming a demi-boss again. Other things indicated it had a lasting effect as well.

All in all, it worked out really well for me, and the results of him giving up a quarter of bosshood worked out really well for the department I left. Things ran much smoother. For example, everyone got their own personal set of screwdrivers to repair computers with (before there was 1 screwdriver per 4 people, attempts to requisition screwdrivers were met with "we don't have enough money for that" [yes, their idea of buying a screwdriver was to buy a $25 model, rather than just get their arses to the dollar store and buy something to use until they had the money to buy good tools] ).

There's a lot of other things I managed to leave a lasting impact on there, not the least of which is forcing that place to decide whether we are in the union there or not (at the time it was decided in secret between the union and the employers to keep that hush-hush). The end decision was that if we were employeed as full-time workers, we were unionized.
posted by shepd at 2:54 PM on February 13, 2005

I quit. He wouldn't stop talking about blowjobs, cheating on his wife, or beating his kids. He told me who to be friends with and what to wear. He commented on other women's bodies and came very close to spanking a waitress once--his boss had to stop him.

I didn't want to sue because I was only 22 and sexual harassment is difficult to prove. Even if I weathered the character assassination, future employers might hear about the case and refuse to hire me because I'm a "troublemaker." Besides, if I ever encountered sexual harassment again and wanted to sue then, the defendant might slip my previous suit into evidence past a lazy judge and I'd lose. I was too young to give up my right to sue in the future, and besides, I wanted to change jobs anyway.

I notified management on my way out. They pretended to care but did nothing...which sure helped my co-worker who sued 6 months later. As an aside, I'm spending tonight finishing up an article on sexual harassment law that I hope to publish in a law journal someday. Maybe I'll play a tiny part in helping future 22-year-olds escape the boss from hell.
posted by equipoise at 3:04 PM on February 13, 2005

I had a boss who believed people were hacking into his computer and stealing his files "through the DNS system". He installed a personal firewall, and at least 4 times a day would drop in with access logs demanding to know what employee was 'hacking' his computer. In the end, I complained about it to him (but only after he accused another subordinate, who couldn't reboot a computer without IT help, of hacking his system), and then to the HR department, and then to the company president (his direct boss). And then a week later, I got laid off. That might work well for you too. :|
posted by boaz at 3:07 PM on February 13, 2005

To be fair, I got a very nice reference letter written by the company president, and they gave me a 5% raise to index my severance pay to, and paid me for all my earned vacation time, even though a month of it had officially expired. They were extremely nice about everything, but it was still an eye-opening experience.
posted by boaz at 3:19 PM on February 13, 2005

Wow, equipoise, that is horrible. I never could understand people who could do things like your old boss.

Boss from hell is a pretty big category. I have had several that probably fit. You know it will not be easy when all of your co-workers give you condolences on your new boss. With the first I just outshone everybody else and all was fine. It was a lot harder than just that but it did really work out and I have never gotten better performance reviews. The second time outshining everyone would have required 60+ hours weeks end over end which I was just not willing to put in. I stood up to his challenges regarding commitment, gave quality work and we at least reached an accommodation. With each, I was too young and naive to speak with HR.

HR is a tough route. Telling your story may help, but more likely helps someone two or three steps behind you. The boss will always get the benefit of the doubt on the first couple of complaints. Your best bet with HR is to find a sympathetic ear if you can and then very, very respectfully tell them your issues. Do not demand, or expect results. Just give info. If they have heard it before you may get results, if not you will set the stage for your replacement or your replacement's replacement. Just keep it very business-like and respectful, emphasizing the good things about your boss as well as the bad. Where I work now they regularly send the ogres to charm school and it works. However, no one has to go until the complaints start to really mount up.
posted by caddis at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2005

equipose, my boss did that as well. I guess I didn't mention it because I ignore it so much I've pretty much forgotten it. One memorable memory was this time, early in the morning (I started work at 7 am) he describe exactly how he liked a woman to f*ck him. Uggggggggggggh.

That was the worst of it. Other times were more him describing other sexual matters nobody gave a shit about during lunch. For that matter alone I would usually eat lunch alone. Until the other people started eating lunch with me... it ended up us vs the bosses for lunch. LOL.
posted by shepd at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2005

Well, let's see.

My first 'real' job was working for Iowa Student Loan Liquidity company, while I was still in school (I still owe 'em like $50k, ahem)

I got the job because I was friends with this girl from my highschool, the boss was his uncle. He was an idiot. I mean he knew computers about as well as he knew the rest of life.

I talked him out of firing me once, the second time I didn't care. Later they hired me back with a 50% rase because no one there knew anything about crypto.

Finaly, they laid me off with *no* warning when they closed down the Ames office

The weird thing was, he molested his nice, the one who had gotten me the job. He grabbed her tits, tried to kiss her, etc. Her telling me about it, then having to see him at work was pretty strange.
posted by delmoi at 5:27 PM on February 13, 2005

I got the job because I was friends with this girl from my highschool, the boss was his uncle

I mean, her uncle. I guess that's why they have a preview button...
posted by delmoi at 5:28 PM on February 13, 2005

I was in a similar situation. I was at first fooled by the HR people, who seemed sympathetic to my plight. But it was clear after a while that they weren't on my side at all and I quit. It was a gutsy thing to do, since I had a three-month-old at home and didn't have another job to go to, but I felt I had no other choice. The weeks I spent at home looking for another job were among the worst of my life.

Fifteen years later, I'm still glad I did what I did. It was difficult, but staying would have been infinitely worse.
posted by tommasz at 5:34 PM on February 13, 2005

Sorry for the length of this. Take from it what you will.

Me: You're making it impossible for me to accomplish anything. Here's my four weeks notice.
Boss: Oh, okay. I don't really have any choice about all the stuff you're ticked off about though.
... next day ...
Boss: You can't wear casual clothes to work, you have to wear a suit.
Me: So fire me.
Boss: If you don't wear a a suit tomorrow, I'll have no choice but to send you to HR
... next day ...
HR droid: Hi, your boss just called me about your clothes, can you come up to my office for a few minutes?
... 2 minutes later ...
HR droid: You have to wear a suit to work. It says so in your contract.
Me: I don't care.
HR droid: Everyone else wears a suit. Why can't you wear one too?
Me: Because I'm leaving in four weeks and I don't care anymore.
HR droid: That isn't a very mature attitude.
Me: Why should I care what you think? [heavy emphasis on 'you']
HR droid: Er, look, we're all a team here -
Me: Please don't start with the sport metaphors.
HR droid: Right, sorry, haha. Anyway the reason why you have to wear a suit is to make a good impression on any clients that happen to pass through your area.
Me: No clients have ever passed through my area.
HR droid: By not wearing a suit, you're letting the rest of your team down.
Me: They're adults, they'll get over it.
HR droid: Okay, look. I want you to go home and come back tomorrow in a suit. If you don't wear a suit, I'll have no choice but to fire you.
Me: But I want to leave.
HR droid: I understand, but if you don't wear a suit, I have to fire you.
Me: Which is fine. I don't care if you fire me or not.
... some time passes ...
HR droid: So if you show up tomorrow without a suit, I'll fire you.
Me: But I want to go. I don't like it here anymore.
HR droid: Okay, well see how you feel tomorrow.
... next day ...
Boss: I'm sorry, I had no choice but to tell HR you weren't wearing a suit today.
HR droid: Hi, could you come up and see me?
... 2 minutes later ...
HR droid: I asked you to wear a suit, and you didn't wear a suit.
Me: That's right.
HR droid: Both your boss and I warned you what would happen.
Me: Indeed.
HR droid: So I'm afraid I have no choice but to fire you.
Me: Fine.
HR droid: Summarily. You get your leave paid out but no severance.
Me: I'm okay with that.
... downstairs ...
Me: Well, cheerio everyone.
Boss: I didn't want to send you to HR, but I really had no choice. It's your fault.
Me: Okay, bye.
Boss: I'm a little disappointed in you.
Me: Uh-huh, all the best, see you 'round.
posted by Ritchie at 6:18 PM on February 13, 2005

So, Ritchie, when were you planning on getting to the "boss from hell" part of that story? I would have done the exact same thing and fired your obnoxious ass. Just because you gave notice doesn't mean you can flout workplace rules.

As to the original question- keep a log. Document all instances of your boss's behavior, with time an date. After you've gotten about a page's worth (or enough to show a general pattern), send it to HR. It's not the kind of thing that'll hold up in a court of law, but any decent HR department will take you very seriously if you show up with something like that.

Alternately, request a transfer. Just go to HR and simply say that you and your boss's work styles are at odds and making it difficult for you to succeed, but that you very much like working at the company and would like to put your skills to use in a different capacity.
posted by mkultra at 6:38 PM on February 13, 2005

Think twice before setting the bozo bit. That said, never stay in a role where you can not succeed.
posted by tomharpel at 7:57 PM on February 13, 2005

mkultra, I wasn't fired for being obnoxious, I was fired for wearing the wrong clothes. And my boss didn't fire me, she sent me to HR (to someone I'd never heard of before) to do the deed for her. Which is, to put it bluntly, pissweak. And the rules in this instance were stupid, so both of them acting like their hands were tied made them both stupid. And the lesson is, when you are caught between stupid people following stupid rules, maintain a veneer of civility and get the hell out as soon as possible.

But then again, my standards are very high.
posted by Ritchie at 8:06 PM on February 13, 2005

tomharpel, the bozo bit makes no sense to me, sorry, that's not me. But the second, yah, well...
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:50 PM on February 13, 2005

I typed out a long narrative about the BFH I encountered, then deleted it. It's water under the bridge. It was a horrible experience. Leaving felt so good. Doing really well and being recognized at the new job felt great.

See if you can find a mentor. If there's somebody in the department you can talk to, it may help.

Document. It will help you retain your confidence if the BFH tries to shred you. If you have good grounds to sue, see a lawyer. You can't sue on the grounds that the boss is wrong, stupid, incompetent or a jerk.

Look for a new job. You may have to anyway, so start now. It's good to have a choice.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 PM on February 13, 2005

I agree with mkultra about the log - and it may be admissible in court. Contemporaneous notes that you have notarized help to build a good case.
posted by mlis at 9:14 PM on February 13, 2005

I quit when a husband and wife team of bosses from hell were slotted in above me after our much-larger company bought theirs. They were given the positions as part of their compensation package during the buyout. It was a time of chaos, and came just as the Tech Crash was just about to gather steam.

They were incompetent, and worse, killed the (software) project I'd brought from nothing to world-beating and ready to deploy over the past two years because it threatened a far weaker package from their old company's product line that they wanted to front-and-centre during the product line rationalization. They felt threatened, they knocked me back, gleefully. Despite broad hints and support from everyone from the CEO (to whom I directly reported with regards to my project) on down that it wouldn't be long before they took their leave (with options exercised), I couldn't take the constant shit shower, and bailed.

The company got bought out and delisted a couple of years later.

I took a 60% pay cut to go back to Korea (with the concomittant lifestyle bodyblow) to something I love -- teaching -- and I don't regret it. If I'd stayed, I'd be richer than bloody croesus, probably. Still, I'm happy if poorish, and may go back to work with a friend who has started his own company, sometime in the future. C'est la vie. I learned valuable lessons.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:52 PM on February 13, 2005

When i've had a bad boss, i tried to transfer internally, failing that I quit (after first finding a replacement job, providing 2 wks notice, and explaining to boss(es) and in any exit interviews the specific reasons why I left).
Never regretted it.
posted by forforf at 11:43 PM on February 13, 2005

I had a BFH at my first real job out of college who was promoted to Director of Development because she was sleeping with the VP of Development, which wouldn't have mattered except that she was incompetent, had no management skills, and seemed to think that her job was to exact revenge on the rest of the team that had wronged her in some way. She placed the entire team on "probation" because of supposedly shoddy work and was generally a terror.

I started applying for jobs the day she got her promotion and within a month 5 of 7 of us had left or had given our notice. On my last day at that company she was finally demoted. It was sweet sweet justice indeed.

Oh, and HR was no help at all. The only thing that got through to the executives was the vast majority of the team leaving.
posted by bshort at 7:47 AM on February 14, 2005

I've not been in a situation like this, but there's a website that's filled with similar rants/problems - and some suggested solutions...

I Work With Fools

Perhaps you'll be able to find something useful there?
posted by Chunder at 7:51 AM on February 14, 2005

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