Am I Still Hireable?
January 22, 2011 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I got written up at work this week. What now?

Without a verbal warning or any HR involvement, my immediate boss wrote me up at work. This is the second time I've been written up - the first time was for being less than 5 minutes late to work about 8 months ago, for which my boss was chastised verbally by her boss because I was working through lunch and working late virtually every day.

A friend of mine who is in HR at another organization advised that I attempt to augment this write up. He suggested that my boss should be able to add positive letters or achievements to my file (he also noted that a good boss would do this regardless, but I digress). I've had several big accomplishments, but my boss refused to add these emails about my performance (from people higher in the organization) to my file. She said that she would 'consider' giving me a positive performance review pending the next few months. I read this as a 'no.'

-How will this write up affect future employment? This is most important to me as I want to get out as soon as possible.

-It's obvious my boss is gunning for me. She's told me before that she 'doesn't like me,' and last week called me about a situation and said she 'hates me' and said 'I'm going to kill you.' Not in a 'I'm really going to kill you' kind of way, but still ridiculously unprofessional nonetheless. Unfortunately, she wins in this situation. HR is non-existent, as we're a national non-profit. What can I do?

This is also really affecting my work. I dread leaving in the morning, carry it home at the end of the day and feel like I'm not doing enough, even when I'm working my ass off.

Any help appreciated. Throwaway email is Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd tell HR, especially about the "I hate you I'm going to kill you comments."
posted by Max Power at 2:18 PM on January 22, 2011 [17 favorites]

Have you talked to those higher-ups who've complimented your performance?
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:18 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This doesn't affect your future employment at other companies at all, except insofar as you won't want to give your immediate boss's name as a reference. It's not like these "write ups" are accessible anywhere outside your current company. There's no central repository for storing misbehavior at work like there is with your credit report. No one at any other company will set even know about it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:19 PM on January 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

Agree with Max Power, immediately schedule a meeting with HR and tell them about the "'hates me' and 'I'm going to kill you'" comments and tell them you feel like you're being harassed. If you get all this recorded early, it will be your best defense later on if you need it. If, as you say, there really isn't an HR, meet with your bosses supervisor and give them a letter describing the situation, and send them a copy by email as proof that you reported it.

At this point, while the job may still be salvageable, the most important thing you can do is create a paper trail of your own indicating that you've brought all of this to your employers attention. That will be important when and if you need to talk to oversight agencies or the unemployment office...
posted by jardinier at 2:27 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely speak with HR and her sup or manager. That will keep you from being railroaded.

Something similar happened to a fellow in my organization. He was being verbally abused and nitpicked for very minor time oriented things. His actual job performance was outstanding. The next level up manager and HR met and moved him to a different area and are now investigating the supervisor. It's looking to me like the sup is going to be reprimanded and that performance records will be amended.

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 2:28 PM on January 22, 2011

When my I suddenly found myself part of the national organization rather than the state level, I still had access to HR, even I'd they were in a different state. Your boss is behaving very badly regardless of your less than 10 minutes late to work. Those sorts of comments are not OK whether from a coworker, boss, or friend.
There must be HR that you have access to at some level. I found that sometimes I would go talk to my former HR person since she was in the same building before I talked to new HR person I had never met in a other state.
Seriously, that kind if language is unacceptable.
Further, something is up if HER boss gave her shit for writing you up the first time. Keep your own "good" letters file of emails and other written praise. No one sees your company file outside the company and they might already know she's batty.
posted by sio42 at 2:31 PM on January 22, 2011

I was in a similar situation at a major accounting firm. HR was no help. The partners loved me. My boss and some underling accountants disliked me. I was written up for weird stuff. Once I was written up for not coming in to work, when I had! My boss had to do some major back peddling on that one. My boss wrote an odd evaluation, I showed it to one of the partners. He started laughing. When I said I didn't think it was funny, he said "isn't this a joke?" He offered to "fix it" for me. But by that time I had another job. Sometimes if you are smart and confident, insecure people take a disliking to you.

My boss would use me to deliver bad news and enforce rules. He tried to make himself look like the good guy. I was never late and never made a mistake, it drove him crazy. He disliked that the partners trusted me more than him. It bothered him so much that he couldn't find anything real to pin on me. My boss was a blithering idiot, and everyone knew it. It was a very odd situation.

Anyway, I never used him or HR as a reference, just some partners and other people I worked with. I got out of that job after 7 months. It caused me some major problems with my mental and physical health. But no one in any subsequent job ever checked with my boss or HR. Make sure you cultivate some good relationships with other people at your current job.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 2:43 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is harassment, and it's illegal in most states.

Also, try talking to HR, and include the names of the higher-ups who *HAVE* praised you to see if you can move sideways in your organization to work for one of them instead of your godawful boss.

Save every email, and document EVERYTHING that you possibly can.

It also could very well be that the company is looking for an excuse to fire your boss. Although it's a risky strategy to take, going to HR could very well provide the impetus for them to finally do so.
posted by schmod at 2:45 PM on January 22, 2011

Personally, if my superviser stated that he/she "hated me" and was going to "kill me", I would be contacting an attorney.
posted by HuronBob at 2:47 PM on January 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is harassment, and it's illegal in most states.

(Whoa, there. Writing someone up is not harassment. Telling someone you're going to kill him/her could certainly be considered terroristic threatening, but that's going to be tough to prove unless you've got it in writing or have a witness. I don't think I need to speak to the morality or appropriateness of such comments.)

OP, it doesn't seem like you've got a lot of hard evidence against your evil boss, unless you have something in writing that you didn't mention in your question. I'd ask yourself what you want to accomplish here. If you're trying to unseat your evil boss, even if it means sacrificing your job, by all means go to a lawyer, although you're probably going to need more than what you've written about here to have any sort of case. If all you want is to get out of there, you may want to consider other avenues.

Are there any openings in another department you could post for? If your boss truly has it in for you, she may not have a problem with you transferring. You don't say what this second write-up was for and whether or not you feel it was legitimate. Was it? Do you have performance issues you could work on while you attempt to transfer or look for another job?

If you work for a large non-profit, it's likely that they only provide job title and dates of employment when giving references. When you're filling out applications, don't list your boss as a reference. If the application asks for the phone number of your current employer, give the main switchboard number instead of your department's number (or, God forbid, your boss's number). It's very unlikely that your boss would even have the opportunity to give a future employer her personal opinion of you.

Good luck - hope you're able to get out of there soon.
posted by pecanpies at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2011

I'd tell HR, especially about the "I hate you I'm going to kill you comments."

Agree. This sounds like a fight that you cannot - and don't need to - win, but you might be able to poison her well on the way out. Comments like these are often taken seriously.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:10 PM on January 22, 2011

In terms of this affecting your future employment - it's not. I don't know the nuances of HR law, but I'm pretty sure that if a prospective employer calls your current company to verify employment, all they can do is confirm dates of hire and *maybe* job title.

All this documentation in your file is internal - it's basically so that if they fire you and you try to contest it or sue them or whatever, they can say that there is a paper trail. However you said you want to get out so I wouldn't worry about it. Good luck!
posted by radioamy at 3:11 PM on January 22, 2011

Update your resume, prepare to find another job, complain to HR about your boss. Often you will not be the only one who is complaining about a problem boss. Even if you are the first to complain, once HR starts asking around, they may turn up more problems than just you.

A friend of mine had a problem with her boss, never complained, and just got another job. When HR asked her why she was leaving, she mentioned all the BS that her boss put her through. They started their own investigation, found that it was a pattern of abusive behavior and transferred her boss to a new department and demoted her out of a management position and begged my friend to reconsider leaving.

If you get written up multiple times and don't do anything about it, you are going to be first on the chopping block when they need to let someone go.
posted by empath at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

As others have stated, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! From your project, any praise, and anything that would be considered harassment on your superiors part. Write down the dates that the boss verbally harasses you, yes saying what your boss has said is harassment. After collecting everything you can, go to human resources. If you don't think you have enough (you probably do, but if you don't wait for the behavior to continue for further documentation). Once you sit down with human resources you can mention your strange bosses behavior and how their assessment of you does not match the work performance and that their unprofessional behavior is making you feel very uncomfortable as well as threatened. Now you've brought it to the companies attention as well as showing them you are serious with the collection of work, dates, times and conversations. Ball is now in their court.
You are not done yet, now continue to document everything. If the behavior continues due to blow back and if need be you now have to find yourself an employment attorney. You shouldn't have a boss behave the way this one is, I know I wouldn't tolerate such abhorrent behavior.
posted by handbanana at 3:34 PM on January 22, 2011

You need an employment lawyer. The idea that it's somehow illegal to give more than a minimal reference is wrong, and it's also legal to give a bad reference.

A boss who "hates" and "wants to kill" you is not likely to support a transfer and may try to sabotage your future employment prospects. Take advice to make sure you get out safely.
posted by tel3path at 3:35 PM on January 22, 2011

i don't understand whether or not you actually have an HR department because in one sentence you state: Without a verbal warning or any HR involvement… and then later on HR is non-existent, as we're a national non-profit. What can I do? which is it? because if you do have an HR department, i agree with the others who say it's time to get them involved.

this will not affect your future employment as long as you do not use your boss as a reference. your HR is not allowed to do anything more than to verify your employment to future employers. your files are for your company's internal use and generally as a means as paper trail in order to either reprimand you or fire you. i don't know about your company but some companies involve HR when there is a write up as well as allow the employee to respond to the write up. i once got written up with a final warning for something that i disagreed with. there was never a first or second warning as was supposed to be the protocal. in the section where i had to comment and sign, i stated my objections and reason for objecting to the write up.

i'm really sorry that your boss sucks. i know what that's like and it makes work completely unenjoyable, even soul-sucking. unfortunately, your options are either to get transferred (which would require you to mitigate that write-up, so again, get HR involved), or find a new job elsewheres.
posted by violetk at 3:40 PM on January 22, 2011

'Without a verbal warning or any HR involvement…' and then later on 'HR is non-existent, as we're a national non-profit. What can I do?' which is it?

As I read it, there was no HR involvement because HR is non-existent.
posted by pemberkins at 3:57 PM on January 22, 2011

These are the jobs you quit. Start looking. Start leaving.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:03 PM on January 22, 2011

HR is non-existent, as we're a national non-profit

What? I work at much smaller non-profits and there is always HR.
posted by slidell at 4:11 PM on January 22, 2011

I don't know what's up with the people who like to say "it's illegal to give a bad reference" or "all a reference can do is confirm you worked there".

I have been a "reference" several times. Usually people will ask me if they can use me as a reference, and part of the reason they pick me is because they're pretty sure I'll say something nice. But, when potential employers have called me as a reference, they tend to ask questions basically in the following format:
Did you work with Person X?
When did you work with person X?
What was person X's role when he worked with you?
Did you have a good experience with person X?
Would you like to work with person X again?
Overall, would you recommend Person X as someone to work with?

I answer these questions honestly, which, like I said is pretty much always positively, or these people wouldn't have picked me as their reference. I assume all my answers are legal (I don't see how they could not be), and even if they weren't, I wouldn't know it. I am not a lawyer. I'm just a regular guy who's name got written down in a former colleague's "professional references" section of a resume.

The system of employment references is not a highly codified legal framework, it's just a few phone calls from HR departments calling up regular people that happened to have worked with a particular job applicant in the past.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

What outcome do you really want? I know you probably want to prove that your boss is in the wrong but what will that accomplish? Just start looking for another job. You don't have a permanent file that follows you around.

I have a different read on the "hates you" and "wants to kill you" part, Do you actually feel threatened? Some people just talk this way "If you do u X again I will kill you" or "I hate you right now"
posted by Ad hominem at 5:12 PM on January 22, 2011

Keep in mind HR is not your advocate or therapist. They are there to keep the company from being sued.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:14 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Make a complaint to HR about the comments, the write-up, and the lack of proper procedure being followed. This may not necessarily turn around your situation, but it at least documents your boss's behavior for the record. I've seen how hard it is to fire abusive or incompetent bosses when there is absolutely no written evidence that anyone had a problem with them.

Is there anyone above your boss's head you can talk to about this? Your boss's boss, maybe? Instead of "making a complaint about your boss," though, frame it as asking for advice, because you're concerned about getting unfairly fired in this economy. (Complaining tends to get brushed off as "eh, personality problem, work it out." Asking for advice is flattering, as it defers to that person's authority.)
posted by desuetude at 5:39 PM on January 22, 2011

I dread leaving in the morning, carry it home at the end of the day and feel like I'm not doing enough, even when I'm working my ass off.

When I was in a similar situation, I had to make a rule at home: I'm allowed to rant about work for 15 minutes when I get home. My partner times me, and then I'm cut off. Every time I bring it up after that, he says "You already got your 15 minutes, sweetie." New topic.

I can't understate how effective this was for improving my health. These situations are so toxic. It gave me my evenings back.
posted by heatherann at 5:46 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to find another job ASAP. Things are too far gone with this boss for this job to ever stop being a huge source of stress.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:51 PM on January 22, 2011

HR is non-existent, as we're a national non-profit

What? I work at much smaller non-profits and there is always HR.

Slidell, well to add another datapoint, I have worked at a small non-profit with no HR. It does seem odd in a national non-profit though. I have also worked at non-profits where there ostensibly was an HR department, but they were useless if not downright incompetent.

I would agree with everyone who says document. It wouldn't be a bad idea to consult an employment lawyer, but if they take your case well..I personally know of two cases where the lawyer promised a lot more than they delivered. In one of those cases the person paid out a lot more in legal fees than they ever received in a settlement. In the other case the person ended up with $10,000 in legal fees and while they received 6 -9 months wages, they may have received close to that as severance pay (they were laid off while the lawyer was pursuing the case. It's not a bad option per se, just an expensive and time consuming one in which the outcome is uncertain. On the other hand, people think that they can get away with shit like this because they bank on the fact that a lot of people won't bother. It's a tough call.
posted by kaybdc at 6:29 PM on January 22, 2011

Any chance you could get a meeting with her and her supervisor to discuss things? I'm thinking of saying something along the lines of "I really love my job, I think I'm working hard, I take pride in my work and want to do it well. When I'm written up and hear comments like this, I feel awful and want to improve. What's the best way to do that for you?"

It's risky, but sounds like it's risky right now, too, if she's saying she wants to boot you because she doesn't like you.

I manage a small local gov't unit where I AM the HR department, and in a couple of tough personnel situations have really appreciated having a 3rd person step in. It could be another department head, someone from admin, a volunteer with HR/counseling experience -- you don't have to have an official HR unit to get someone to fill that role in this sort of situation.
posted by hms71 at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2011

Ugh, you pointed out that HR is basically non-existent, and yet most folks are telling you to talk to HR.

Sure, document as much as you can for now, just in case. But your only sure bet is to use people who you know will talk about your good work as references for your next job. I'm sorry, it sounds like the situation is Rough. You deserve better!
posted by ldthomps at 9:08 PM on January 22, 2011

Dust off your CV. You're either going to walk out of the door, or be kicked out. This company obviously doesn't care that much about its employees (no HR - wtf?), and those are the worst kinds of companies to work for.

In your resignation letter, make sure to mention that you're grateful for the chances to have achieved X, Y and Z (list your several big accomplishments). Try to ensure that someone who likes you sees it. It might make them sit up and notice what is going on with your boss, it might not. It would certainly make me feel better to remind them that they're losing a valuable member of staff, though.
posted by Solomon at 11:45 PM on January 22, 2011

tylerkaraszewski , nobody is saying "it's illegal to give a bad reference" or "all a reference can do is confirm you worked there". in fact, everyone is telling the OP not to use his/her boss as a reference. obviously if the OP's boss hates him/her, s/he wouldn't want any future employees communicating with his/her boss about his/her performance. what is illegal is for HR to do much more than confirm that an employee has worked at the company, in what capacity, and the dates of their employment.
posted by violetk at 12:29 AM on January 23, 2011

*future employers
posted by violetk at 12:30 AM on January 23, 2011

It's not illegal for HR to do that where I come from. If no reference
is agreed before the employee leaves (or even if one is) they may flesh out a factual reference using the employee's last appraisal among other things. False or misleading records do matter.
posted by tel3path at 3:54 AM on January 23, 2011

what is illegal is for HR to do much more than confirm that an employee has worked at the company, in what capacity, and the dates of their employment.

This is simply not true (at least, not in the U.S.). Giving a more detailed reference is not illegal per se, just risky and unwise. It may be illegal if the information given is false and amounts to slander/defamation of character. If the information given is true (and verifiable), it is not illegal. The fact that an upset ex-employee may sue a previous employer for giving a negative reference does not mean that giving a negative reference is illegal. One does not need to violate any laws to be sued in civil court.
posted by pecanpies at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2011

Once upon a time, when prospective employers called to confirm the employment details on your resume, they would frequently ask for an opinion on you as an employee. Standard procedure for HR departments now is to have a policy (it's not a law) against communicating anything other than very basic, objective facts like your dates of employment and title. IANAL, but I have been told by lawyers that this is to prevent HR employees from unthinkingly offering evidence that can be used against the company in a lawsuit, because HR is presumed to be speaking in an official capacity on behalf of the company.

But when you provide names of individuals who are willing to act as a reference and speak with your prospective employer, they can say anything they like, as they're offering their personal opinion, not speaking on behalf of their company.

(To confuse things further, some HR departments try to bolster their policy by also advising their employees to not act as a personal reference for anyone. I've also heard HR people confidently tell people that the "verification of employment only" policies are a law. Maybe they were told it was a law so that they wouldn't question it?)
posted by desuetude at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2011

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