Ethics reporting fallout?
February 18, 2018 7:32 AM   Subscribe

I reported my manager for an ethics violation. Not-my-employment-lawyer, not-legal-advice especially welcome!

I have specific reasons to believe my manager claimed to be working when he was not, in order to take a longer vacation than we are allowed. That would mean he was also paid for those days. My coworkers (who don't report to him) were laughing about it at lunch.

You can probably imagine that there was already no love lost between my manager and me before this, and that's true. Before he left, my manager gave me a written warning that was, I believe (and my manager's boss told me she believes) to be unfair and unwarranted. I am a good employee -- I received a several thousand dollar performance award, and have been repeatedly recognized as a top performer. This was before my current manager, of course. My manager has a very autocratic, micro-managing style, and I have not been able to give him the degree of submission that he requires. I am the same person, but now my performance is rated as unsatisfactory, despite meeting or exceeding all the agreed upon business objectives.

For him to drag my name in the mud, presumably so he can build a case to fire me, and then for him to break the rules we all have to follow -- well, I reported it. He would know it was me anyway, I figured, so I gave my name. So what now?

There is a non-retaliation policy at my job. I thought that giving my name would protect me from his retaliation for reporting him. True?

How will this play out?
I figure, if I'm correct that he did what I think he did -- best case, they fire him, and I'm free to delight some new manager. But what's the worst case? They do nothing to him at all, maybe they don't even investigate, everyone knows I'm a snitch and shuns me, my manager's boss (whom I adore) get disciplined for letting the vacation scam happen, my manager fires me anyway. But what's the most likely case? No clue.

I think, if my manager fires me now, I will have been wrongfully terminated, but what does that mean in an "at-will" state? Could I have grounds to sue for reinstatement? All I want is to keep doing the work I love, at the company I love.

Before you tell me -- I could just get another job, yes, I thought of that. Thanks for any other insights you can offer me!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IAAL. Employment lawyer. Now.

There are a lot of details to your case that involves looking over your employee handbook, performance reviews, and state and federal laws that only a lawyer can answer to help you think through your potential rights and options depending on what plays out. If it were to go to being let go, a wrongful termination would require proof of a lot of things (your ethics complaint, for example, unfortunately comes after documented problems, justified or not, not before your complaint - which will clearly be a defense against a claim of retaliation.)

Separately from your two imagined scenarios, it could just as easily lead to situation on the inbetweens - he gets a warning about remote work, is asked to convert his time sheet to use more vacation hours, then he's done. By which he turns around and then continues to "manage" you further and makes your life worse.

This is an extremely hairy situation and I'm reading the ethics report as a opportunity to get back at your boss - not a fully thoroughly thought out concern about the ethics and health of the company. If there are rights you want to protect and can see yourself suing this company you love so much if things go pear shaped, talk to a lawyer now for next steps.
posted by Karaage at 7:48 AM on February 18, 2018 [24 favorites]

I think your manager will find other real flaws in your work. No one is perfect all the time. Your manager will most likely use your real flaws, which other people may not care about, to report you again and then fire you. He will document these issues, so that it is legal.

Look, if you hate your boss, you need a new job. You could switch groups at your company or look in another company. Your manager may be a horrible person. And it is awful to work for a horrible person. So then you move. Reporting your manager for something trivial and possibly cleared by their boss is likely only going to harm you. Your only course of action when you hate your boss and they are writing you up is to
A. Wait to get fired or
B. Find a new job.
Likely several other managers will learn you've cited your boss for something trivial. These managers will not want to work with you in the future. Don't damage your career further, just get a new job at a new company before word of your pettiness gets around.
posted by Kalmya at 7:49 AM on February 18, 2018 [11 favorites]

my manager gave me a written warning that was, I believe (and my manager's boss told me she believes) to be unfair and unwarranted

Companies do not need to be fair. Your manager's boss is lying to you to get you to work as long as possible. If she actually believed that, and she actually believed you were a good worker, you wouldn't have this problem because she would have done something about it. You just got insight into what sort of company you work for. It doesn't sound like the sort of company you should want to work for. Why do you still want to work there?

There is a non-retaliation policy at my job. I thought that giving my name would protect me from his retaliation for reporting him. True?

Policies are not self-enforcing. HR works for the company, not for you. Their choice is to get rid of him or get rid of you. It appears the company is making the choice for the latter. The vast majority of companies do not even pretend to be ethical, and of the ones that claim to be ethical, the majority don't do anything about it.

Could I have grounds to sue for reinstatement?

You can always sue. However, if you win, the best case (which by itself, is unlikely - specific performance orders are quite rare) is you'll be working for an employer that doesn't want you around. More likely, you'll be entangled in an extensive court case that comes with extensive records - and every subsequent employer will know about it. Yes, it is illegal to discriminate against potential employees that enforce their legal rights. Don't think for a moment it doesn't happen. Would you go out of your way to hire an employee that you know is willing to sue their employer?

I could just get another job, yes, I thought of that.

You said it, not me.
posted by saeculorum at 7:50 AM on February 18, 2018 [13 favorites]

If she actually believed that, and she actually believed you were a good worker, you wouldn't have this problem because she would have done something about it. This.

I would take a very clear-eyed look (with the assistance of a close friend or family member, if necessary) at the performance review and see if there is ANYTHING there that you can work on. Yes, your boss is a jerk. But are there any germs of truth in there that you can work on improving?

On the anonymous report - yes, depending on your company and the size of your company it may come out that you were the person who put it in. Yes, if I was your manager's manager, if the charges were true I would discipline both your manager and your manager's manager. For a first offense, I find it hard to imagine even considering firing someone (if it isn't more complicated than Joe said he was working Thursday but actually was in Maui) but obviously different companies have different policies. If he's in a position where he could be teleworking while vacating, that makes it more challenging - did he send emails and respond to issues? If he was present in some way unless he immediately caves and says "OMG YOU CAUGHT ME" it would be difficult in my organization to do more than to send him a strongly worded message about being at work when he says he's at work. I wouldn't do anything like, for example, request flight records (though he could of his own volition bring that in if he'd like to prove them erroneous).

Retaliation is tough to prove and happens way more than we'd like. Basically IF he does find out he needs to treat you exactly the same way that he did before he knew. I would just take very careful notes, document document document.

And if you and your friend after reviewing the performance rating you got strongly believe still it was unjustified, I would also start documenting things around the issues he mentioned. Your widgets are not shined perfectly? Bring them to him for feedback before turning them in, then document them in an email "Hey Joe thanks for making time to review my draft final polished widgets. I appreciate the input on polishing the threads of the widget, and I appreciate you looking at the finished project and tell me that 'they're fine, turn them in and go away'. OP"

And yes, work on getting a new job.
posted by arnicae at 8:00 AM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

The fact that you did this, that you sought relief in this specific way, rather than some other way, says something about you and about your situation in this job and about your boss. It could say different things to different people. You need to frame this story in a few different ways: one to show why it was reasonable for you, at this time, to do this thing -- you've probably got that covered already. But other people will think of the story differently, and you need to respect and learn from those versions, for several reasons:

- You will need to tell your story in a way that addresses, deeply and with nuance, those other versions that emphasize other motivations an circumstances;

- You will need to find ways to move forward that address open questions about you and your character;

- You will need to gain a deep understanding of the several layers of other people's motivations in this situation;

- You may be the kind of person, either through having an exceptionally strong inner value system, or through lacking certain other background experiences, who will run up against situations like this repeatedly. Gaining skill and depth in handling them benefits not just you, but the rest of the world which benefits from diverse viewpoints. You don't need to be pushed out just because you aren't a follower, but you need to gain skill every time something like this happens.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 8:30 AM on February 18, 2018 [12 favorites]

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? Pick one.

Every company does a cost-benefit analysis when there is a conflict between employees, regardless of rank, and it becomes clear that one of them has to go. This is sometimes a detailed process and sometimes ad-hoc, but it happens every time. The reason lower level employees are the ones to go, even if they are longed tenured, more loyal, or better people is because the cost to replace them and the business costs of work stoppage is almost unilaterally lower. Bad managers stay because they are harder to replace, have special skills, and will cost the business more money while the jobs are open. The only time the manager goes is if (a) It is a unilateral us-or-them with a large quantity of lower level workers that would result in a total work stoppage unless the manager is fired, or (b) If the manager has done something blatantly against the code of conduct or against the law, like harassment, theft, etc.

An ethics violation like taking more time than allowed for vacation is unlikely to fall under (b) regardless of what was in the employee handbook. It is a petty infraction. Your reporting it looks more like tattling than doing the right thing. Is it unfair that managers get to bend and break the rules and lower level employees perceive that they are bound by them lest they lose their jobs? Yup. Totally unfair. But that's the workplace for you. Now that HR knows there is bad blood between you and your manager - you flagged it yourself and your reporting itself looks retaliatory after your written warning - they are already calculating how to get you out.

It's up to you whether you want to find a new job and leave on your own terms, or wait to be managed out and attempt to collect unemployment (which HR could fight against because you will have been fired for cause), and figure out how to explain that in future interviews.

I have been down this path, and chosen both "right" and "happy" at different times. I sued a former employer for a labor violation once and I won. Don't sue somebody unless you want it to become your new and only hobby. I prefer to be happy. YMMV.
posted by juniperesque at 8:36 AM on February 18, 2018 [21 favorites]

Just to add to the mix here: my manager gave me a written warning that was, I believe (and my manager's boss told me she believes) to be unfair and unwarranted

Where I work all performance reviews/warnings etc are signed off my the manager AND the manager's manager. Is that the case where you work? I think that perhaps your manager's boss is not being straight with you.
posted by Toddles at 9:01 AM on February 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

All I want is to keep doing the work I love, at the company I love.

If this is your real goal, I'm going to suggest a different course of action than the one you are on now.

Assuming that you did this on Friday, at the beginning of your next work day, go see the person with whom you filed this grievance. Retract it: It was a rumor and you were having a bad day, you absolutely want to retract it (It does sound like you were discussing what your manager was doing with a group of people - Do you truly know? There are things worth taking a stand for, but is this it? Are you sure you weren't biased by your anger at your review?)

Next, do whatever it takes to get managed by another person. Find an intriguing project where you can learn X or apply skill Y. Talk to people - it sounds like you had a history of being respected and liked. See if it is at all possible to get yourself moved (or figure out how other people at your company have done - trust me, moving managers is not uncommon).

In the meantime, I would do what Arnicae suggests: Address the comments in your report, and document that you are addressing them - until that moves come through.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 9:02 AM on February 18, 2018 [25 favorites]

Many companies would call this theft and fire the employee immediately. You have to wait and see. Supervisor will now hate you. If supervisor is not fired, you should make every attempt to find a different job, in the organization or elsewhere. If you are terminated for no reason, inaccurate reason, whatever, you will be able to collect unemployment.

Are you female and is supervisor male? Do you have evidence of any sort of harassment on the basis of age, sex, discrimination, or another protected class?

I've been discriminated against and treated badly at work. It can make your life hell. Pursuing a case against an employer will create a great deal of misery, but it does maybe teach the employer to train staff better, sometimes. Read the comments above. Decide carefully. American workplaces suck pretty hard, so if you have a chance to support a union, do it.
posted by theora55 at 9:09 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I rearrange my work plans frequently, normally because I have multiple things going on at any one time and priorities are constantly changing for various reasons, all of them difficult to anticipate.

And I also have to do a time sheet every week and my normal working week is 42 hrs. And I do not get paid overtime but I have worked somewhere around 300-450 hrs of overtime in any fiscal year since 2006.

You can assume that if I clock up 40 hrs of work from Mon-Wed to get through all time sensitive things on my to do list before I go on vacation on Thurs I will only be ‘taking’ 2 hrs of vacation that week even though I was technically out for two whole days. Prior to leaving I will also have submitted my time sheet for the following week, a full vacation week, because the powers that be have decreed time sheet delinquency a mortal sin. So upon my return to work, I will also amend that time sheet and reallocate every single hr I was working whilst I was supposed to be on vacation. I’ve had 2.5 wk personal trips that resulted in something like two day reduction of my vacation balance. And that sucked because I really do not feel the need to start every trip absolutely exhausted, to be on a call at 1 am when I am the other side of the world or sit by the pool with my laptop. A casual or malignant observer may interpret this as me ‘stretching’ my vacation allowance. And they would look ridiculous saying that.

So I hope you are very clear about the facts of your boss’ time keeping. I would also recommend that you start searching for a new job because this is unlikely to have the desired effect.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:25 AM on February 18, 2018 [10 favorites]

I think you made a mistake on the vacation day reporting.

For front-line staff, which may or may not include your manager, attendance and vacation reporting is a huge deal, because of payroll and productivity costs. If you’re actively doing the actual work, your time spent doing it is very significant. As you go up the ladder, the exact numbers of hours tend not to matter as much because the goals the manager has to meet are team goals - is my team (rather than I specifically) meeting its goals. Depending on the job, managers might throw in lots of extra hours on weekends, might do personal things while still being available by phone, etc. And if the team is on tack and meeting its goals, the manager may reap the benefits with a day or two here as tradeoff for the times that isn’t the case.

Of course good managers also report their time accurately but I’m getting at - this may not be a big deal to your company at all, and may make you look petty and out of touch with business practices.

Also, escalating the conflict is not a good look.

I think you probably need a new job. But if you do stay:

1. Document every goal you meet, your efficiency, etc.
2. If you feel harassed document it every time as well.
3. Make a visible effort to work with your boss professionally.

If you get fired (or even if not) you definitely need a lawyer.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:08 AM on February 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

I have not been able to give him the degree of submission that he requires.

I don’t know what your performance review said, but as long as what he requires is work related, this is part of your job now. If you can’t do it, you need to change jobs. Your performance could otherwise be excellent, but if you’re not doing what he requires, even if it’s because you think it’s not necessary, his complaints are justified. He was chosen to be manager. He gets to decide how to manage.

Aside from that, I agree with Wolfster that the best course of action is to try to retract your complaint. It’s really unlikely that you know the ins and outs of how he manages time. I’m also a person who makes up time in ways that might not be obvious to anyone who isn’t following me around all day. I’m not a manager, but I would be livid if someone who was angry at me for other reasons tried to report me.
posted by FencingGal at 10:26 AM on February 18, 2018 [10 favorites]

Are you sure you know what your manager's deal was with their manager? I have a professional job managing a small team and my officers, our management, and I often work from home, put in hours working on writing and research or even taking meetings during vacation, and extend the time of our vacations accordingly. This might not be transparent to the people on neighbouring teams or even to others on the same team. Your colleagues might have been snickering because it looked to them like your boss was getting away with something but there's no guarantee they had the facts.

If, under circumstances like that, one of my direct reports went to my manager to tattle on me, my boss and I would have both rolled our eyes and taken note of the person's character. And not in a good way. I am not vindictive in such circumstances but many others are.

I agree with Wolfster and Fencing Gal that your best course of action is to retract your complaint as soon as possible. After that, try to get along with your boss as well as you can while you look for a new job. You and everyone around you will be much better off.
posted by rpfields at 11:26 AM on February 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Many companies would call this theft and fire the employee immediately.

And many companies would not give the faintest shit provided the manager was meeting all their kpi's and did it infrequently. Indeed, no company I've ever worked for would care if the relevant employee was otherwise a good performer, and unless you think your manager is a complete fool (be honest) they would be in a good position to judge this and make the call as to whether or not it would be okay.

Ethics violation, really? I thought you meant taking a bribe or something. Your hatred for this person, warranted or not, is blinding you to the reality here.

Get a transfer or new job. Nothing is worth dealing with a manager that's a bad fit. But also, read that performance review and think about it. Is it just about submission? Don't write off all the feedback, ask a peer what they think you could work on.

Your boss is unlikely to be fired for this and frankly to me you look like a bit of a dick to do it, if you wouldn't do it against a colleague you liked. Trying to get people fired is mostly not cool.
posted by smoke at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2018 [14 favorites]

I don't think there is anything wrong with what you did by reporting your managers behavior. I can see myself doing the same thing, but I also think I have a bit of a self-destructive side. I'll throw caution to the wind given enough annoyance for a long enough time done by shitty people. It feels great to get back at a jerk when they've done something shitty, doesn't it? IDK, sometimes getting fired isn't the worse thing that can happen when one is passionate about not tolerating cheats and liars. There's a nonzero chance you will keep your job and your a-hole manager will be reprimanded, as they should be if they indeed did do something egregious, which will make it all worth while. I say good work!
posted by waving at 12:33 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you might not have a job much longer. What you did was not about ethics at all, as you freely admit. You’re being vindictive against a boss you don’t like, and most unfortunately it’s with a matter that’s basically trivial—so you also are displaying your naivety in how business is actually conducted. It’s really not going to read any other way, no matter what it looks like from inside your head.

If you can’t find immediate shelter in another manager I’d focus on preparing yourself for finding another job—full time.
posted by danny the boy at 2:06 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Watch out for unintended blowback, even if they fire your manager, his boss may now be thinking "How long until this person reports me for a violation, I signed off on that performance review also". And your newly hired manager will hear the stories about you and wonder the same thing.
posted by 445supermag at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2018

I am a good employee -- I received a several thousand dollar performance award, and have been repeatedly recognized as a top performer. This was before my current manager, of course. My manager has a very autocratic, micro-managing style, and I have not been able to give him the degree of submission that he requires. I am the same person, but now my performance is rated as unsatisfactory, despite meeting or exceeding all the agreed upon business objectives.

This reads like, boiled down, "I know what's best better than my boss does, and I'm going to ignore him* and do my own thing."

You will not win that. Period.

You need to find a way to work with him. If you know a better way, you're allowed to suggest it. Not to do it anyway when he says he wants something different.

* worse, you're making it impossible to overlook with the escalation of sniping him on trivial timekeeping shit. The most he's going to get is a "hey, can you make more of an effort to make your time accurate? Thanks." Oh, possibly also a "wtf is wrong with your people to spend time on this kind of drama? Don't they have enough to do?"
posted by ctmf at 2:43 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh here's another thing to think about if your goal is to get moved to another manager: where I work we have a "no dumping" policy. That is, if I start having a problem with an employee, they're mine until the problem is resolved no matter how much I might want to "find them a place they would enjoy more" and get them out of my hair.

I only mention that because some people try the "be a big enough pain in the ass to get transferred" strategy, and it backfires.
posted by ctmf at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

[for conduct issues. Sometimes that IS the right answer for performance problems]
posted by ctmf at 3:27 PM on February 18, 2018

Ethics violation: his nephew is getting all the contracts, he's hitting on the interns.
Repeating water cooler gossip ? No.
Neither are hours worked or vacation time.
That's not your business. You have no idea what his deal is with his superiors.

Have you heard of a bargaining tactic called work to rule?
Brings sides to the bargaining table very quickly as things go all to hell.

There is a give and take , there has to be for a complex organization to function.
We can't pay you overtime ,but take a few extra days off.

You come off looking petty and vindictive, desperate to offset a bad performance review.
This won't end well for you

Smoke gave good advice
posted by yyz at 3:59 PM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh dear. I very much agree with the people who suggested you retract the complaint. Unless you work for a very different company than the ones where I have experience, then what you reported is not an ethics violation. And I have to say, Internet Stranger, that reporting it like one already makes me think less of your original complaint. If it has that effect on me, imagine what it will do in HR.

Look-- managers are often available during their vacations for working or at odd hours. I had two solid days worth of conference calls during my Christmas break, so my last travel day did not count in the tool as vacation time. This kind of informal comp policy is common for employees who are salaried and have irregular working hours. Unless circumstances are very different at your company, then it just makes you look petty and silly. Furthermore, you have no first hand knowledge this is true-- you reported gossip! The literal worst that is likely going to happen is your manager is going to be told to watch out for the perceptions of his vacation.

And let's imagine that somehow you work in a company with such strict rules that he gets fired. Who do you think will ever want you in their team? Do you somehow think this is going to make your life better?

Anyhow, if you can't or won't retract, you need to consult an employment lawyer.
posted by frumiousb at 4:13 PM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

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