Being kept down by the man, so let's protect our backs.
June 16, 2008 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Help me protect myself from a radically inept boss. Please! Very long, very sorry.

I work for an NPO that is very well known in our town. 10 months ago I got a new boss, and we thought everything was peachy. It's not. Let me tell you his indiscretions and then you tell me what to do:

Here's a brief list:
-Since being here he has raised $0 on his own. This is his primary responsibility. I personally have raised ~$30,000, for which he has taken primary credit.
-He has reevaluated our employee handbook and decided that our yearly Paid Days off don't accrue, whereas the previous board and ED said they did, even though there is a line in the handbook which states something along the lines of "Previous Agreements remain in effect..." We have been asking for clarification since January, nothing yet. They're set to wipe in August. I stand to lose 2 weeks of vacation. I would share the text of the handbook with you and you'll see that they DO ACCRUE if you can read, but that would be too much for this forum.
-He continuously violates confidentiality about other staff with me. Complaining about them, asking me for advice, telling me they'll be the first to go when layoffs come in the fall. We've never had layoffs. Since coming, he's dropped our client service to 25% of previous level while spending the same volume of money. (Example, we just got a $400/month phone system...)
-He wrote me up for a number of reasons, mostly for things I was never warned about and which my previous boss told me were my job. He tried to write me up again for things that just weren't true, and I marked it up, corrected it, and handed it back. He didn't file it.
-My portion of this NPO controls about $150,000/year. He has made our books say that we're $50,000 in the black. However, he keeps raiding our account for general expenses. Right now it has about $5,000 in it, where it should have at LEAST the $50k if not $80k.
-He has hired a fundraiser on commission and told her that it's illegal and not to tell anyone.
-He has told this person that she can have the job of an outgoing staff person, without an interview, and even though the person is the wife of a board member and the sister of one of my employees. When the board asked about conflict of interest, he told us that he would post the position, do 3-5 interviews, and then tell them she is the best candidate. He said "We'll just tell them we did it right, ok?"
-He's deviated away from our policies dozens of times, some things that could cause us to lose both our 501(c)3 status and our charter. When asked (not by me) about what the board thought, his response was "Oh, we just won't tell them. They don't need to know."

The list goes on. I can't figure out if he's inept or trying to make us fail. Since he's been here, we keep bumbling along about 30 days away from being broke. I have no confidence that even though my program is making more than it was expected or budgeted to that it will still exist in 6 months.

So, my question me protect myself.

I've decided to make a quick communication log that outlines every day, time, and context of every conversation we have, however briefly. I will include any quotes that are untoward, and I will name names. I will encrypt the file. Anything else?

My question is that he's one of those undermining guys...he'll routinely say horrible things about staff as throwaway comments to board members, right after saying great things to us and when we can hear him. He's already got a couple board members thinking that 2 of us employees (out of 4) are whiny squeaky wheels. I do, however, know that the board's evaluation of him resulted in a 7/10 performance rating. Still, he's the boss---I want to be believed...

I'm digressing, I'm sorry. Really, here it is:

How can I record the BS he feeds me? I have a creative zen vision:m, but there's no external mic. I can't really conceal a microphone in a t-shirt very well, but I'm sure there has to be a small recorder with a great environmental mic. I want you to tell me where it is and what it is. I also want you to tell me what else I can do to save my job besides keeping my head down and my mouth shut.

I'm likely going to be offered the same position in Florida, and if that comes along I think I'm OUTTA HERE, but I DO plan on being THAT GUY and turning over all this crap to the board if/when I leave.

Follow up responses by me will be made through a friend in the same industry.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
can other employees back up anything of what you're saying? this guy sounds like he's really bad for the company, and a small groups of you should perhaps go to the board about it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:22 AM on June 16, 2008

Depending on which State you're in, recording a conversation without both people's permission is illegal, so you may not be able to do that -- or, at least, you may not be able to use the recording later.

If I were you, I'd go to the Board now. They have a responsibility to oversee the organization, and if this boss is as bad as you say, they need to know about it sooner rather than later, so that they can take appropriate steps.
posted by littleme at 9:34 AM on June 16, 2008

document EVERYTHING. have your colleagues document EVERYTHING. bring it to the board—or whoever is his superior.
posted by violetk at 9:35 AM on June 16, 2008

and if that comes along I think I'm OUTTA HERE, but I DO plan on being THAT GUY and turning over all this crap to the board if/when I leave.

Just leave. Youre whistleblowing on what exactly? Someone who isnt doing his job very well and breaks some rules? The hiring scenario happens all the time, btw. Its not like he's poisoning children or spending your budget on his new ferrari.

Honestly, you sound somewhat hysterical yourself. If I was on the board and you gave me 100 hours of audio you secretly taped with an mp3 player in your pants, Id think you were a nut (or a chicken little) and delete everything. If you feel strongly about this you should write a strongly worded letter to his immediate superior and someone on the board who trusts you and leave it at that when you leave. No tapes or long encrypted files of "what bad thing my boss did today." Those things only really hurt your case, imho.

In the meantime talk to HR about your vacation days.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:38 AM on June 16, 2008

This is tough. I don't know that anyone is going to care. You can say what you want, record what you want, but sometimes businesses simply put their faith in bad managers.

The thing that will help you the most is to keep your record as factual as possible. If you leave and send out a communication of any kind that suggests you are unhappy in any way then it will be dismissed as the work of someone who is disgruntled.

I'm not sure recording your boss without their knowledge is legal, but if I were going to do it I would simply buy a digital recording device from RadioShack, and keep it in my shirt pocket. These look just like MP3 players for the most part.

In a situation as bad as this, I would consider going above him and complaining. Another idea would be to meet with your co-workers and see if you can't get them to sign on to a mass "no confidence" statement of some kind. However, these are the actions of the desperate, and could very well lead to jobs lost.
posted by xammerboy at 9:38 AM on June 16, 2008

Oh - - the vacation thing is bs. Simply send your question to HR and cc your boss. If your days don't accrue - then take your vacation immediately. Sounds like you need it! :-)
posted by xammerboy at 9:46 AM on June 16, 2008

Paper trail. Keep a log of everything you think is wrong with dates, times, context and the substance if not verbatim. Then start finding out what the chain of command is for something like this. If you're going to go the whistleblower route you're going to want to use all the correct channels so that if you experience retaliation you have a reason for them to listen to your diary of problems. This is important: your log will not be useful until you are defending yourself. Everything else should be through regular and established channels.

Furthermore, what xammerboy said as well.

Summary of recording consent laws.
posted by rhizome at 10:14 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first thing I would do is use all your remaining vacation days and use that time to find a new job. From your post it doesn't sound like going to the board will help at all - you say that some of these inappropriate remarks and 'rule breaking' has been done directly to/in front of the board so it sounds like they're already aware of his behavior and don't have a problem with it.
posted by missmagenta at 10:19 AM on June 16, 2008

While there's lots of stuff on the list, the one that to me seems potentially the most serious (for him) and perhaps easiest to prove is the business about making the accounts seem in the black when they are not.

If he falsifies the books and misrepresents the accounts to his superiors or other stakeholders, that would be a firing offense in most organizations and (disclaimer: IANAL) may be criminal depending on what exactly he's doing. If you see a way to blow the whistle on this, you may be able to save your organization and get rid of your boss. (But if you feel you are in any way complicit with his deception, it may be wise to get some legal advice first.)
posted by blue mustard at 10:24 AM on June 16, 2008

Guys, its a nonproft ("NPO"). They likely don't have an HR department like you see in the corporate world, and a lot of what is being described here is playing fast and loose with donor money (either individual donors or grants or perhaps even Federal dollars).

I'd start on the fiscal side. I wish you'd given some idea of your role at this organization or if you are a social services organization and/or a United Way organization. In brief, though, I'd take whatever steps necessary to get a complete fiscal audit done by an outside organization. He's pretty clearly cooking the books and it would be interesting to see where the money is going. If you're a grant-funded organization, one approach to this might be to contact your largest funder and say "I'm an employee and I'm afraid that the money you contributed to us isn't being spent as you intended." If you're funded in any way by United Way they will be more than happy to come in and take a look at things. (If you are United Way, or the local chapter of any national NPO, then you should probably contact your national office for guidance.)

Another question is how involved your board actually is. Is it simply a token board who is there to rubber stamp things (if so you're probably screwed)? Or is it a more activist board that takes seriously their duty to oversee your organization? If the latter, you need to find someone on the Board (ideally the chair) get them to go to lunch with you and just lay out things as you see them. Leave out the small stuff, though, and focus on the fiscal mismanagement and whatever issues lead you to have concern for your 501(c)(3) status. Personnel mismanagement can be a good second tier, but is the fiscal and reporting issues that are going to have traction to get fast action.

Don't do any audio recording. It won't help. Do keep a log -- a very specific log -- of your interactions with this person. I would keep it on a flash drive rather than on your work PC. Be very detailed, take as many notes and direct quotes as you can. Make friends with your accountant and/or your admin/office manager person see if you can track where the money is going.

If you or your friend want to contact me, my email is in my profile.
posted by anastasiav at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm sure there has to be a small recorder with a great environmental mic.

I'm not sure what kind of price range you're looking for, but Sound Professionals has some inconspicuous microphones. The Zoom H2 is a good pocket recording device. Those might be a little overkill for what you're doing, though, and as others have said secretly recording someone is probably not the best idea.

I DO plan on being THAT GUY and turning over all this crap to the board if/when I leave

One thing to note about leaving a job on bad terms on purpose is that you might be burning bridges. You never know when this boss or one of his friends might be in a position to help or hurt your career sometime in the future. You personally don't have much to gain by calling your boss out after you leave, so the smartest move for you might be to leave on good terms and hope that the board eventually figures out that he is incompetent.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:39 AM on June 16, 2008

Posting for anonymous, pasted from email:
-My ED insists that he has been trying to get the personnel committee to convene for months re: the PDO. (Since January. There are 2 people on the committee.) Another employee stands to lose 6 weeks of vacation, which is the maximum she was previously allowed to carry. We work ~50-60 hour weeks with a minimum of support and have been told by this boss that, regardless of our vacation or other work schedules, if we are needed we are expected to be present.
-Two of us did go to the president of the board in January and were largely ignored. There is a new president who has outlined quarterly reviews for the ED. We are unsure of how to approach her---she's highly qualified and very professional though.
-I love my job and the work we do. I honestly feel that he will be the end of this organization. The work we do is too important to just disappear, and so I feel they need to know. Also, they like me and speak highly of me all the time. I want them to know why I would be leaving, it's not just sunny skies and more money.
-We don't have HR. We have 5 full time employees and 3 PT's. The extent of our HR is the ED and the personnel committee. I did discuss the PDO issue at a board meeting once, a long time ago, following 2 staff meetings where we asked for clarification. This was one of the reasons I was written up, for "Going over his head to the board and making him look like he didn't have control of the staff." All I said was "The staff would really like the board to look at the Employee Handbook and tell us what it means."
-He's not falsifiying books...he's...putting them together in an interesting fashion. The audit starts next month. I really, really feel like a lot of blame is going to get put on me---I'm safe though, as I can't write checks or access any accounts or anything. I have discussed with one board member who is also on my section's committe that the NPO's profit and loss statement of accounts doesn't match my sections report, I believe he's going to bring it up at the next board meeting.

Thanks for the advice---keep it coming.
posted by TomMelee at 10:44 AM on June 16, 2008

Set up a free email just for this purpose. Send frequent email documenting events. Be as brief, factual, unemotional and non-judgmental as possible. Forward all meeting agendas, memos, etc. to this account.

If you are asked to do anything illegal or clearly unethical, bring that up, and don't go along with it. for instance, "We'll just tell them we did it right, ok?" "Oh, I couldn't do that; I'm a lousy fibber." and "Boy, if we got caught, we might get sued, and that could get nasty." If you do anything illegal or unethical, you can be held accountable.

Call your state's Bureau of Employment. Vacation time that has been awarded generally cannot be taken back. they'll know. If he tries to take it back, he is exposing the agency to liability. In fact, when you present your concerns, present them as your concern that his actions expose the agency to liability, not as "he's a big fat jerk."
posted by theora55 at 11:00 AM on June 16, 2008

There is a new president who has outlined quarterly reviews for the ED. We are unsure of how to approach her---she's highly qualified and very professional though.

Approach her professional to professional. Contact her office and make an appointment. Lunch is really ideal for these sorts of things, but a regular appointment in her office can work well as well.

I also wouldn't hesitate to contact the personnel committee yourself as well. They are, functionally, the HR for the organization. If there are only two of them, they shouldn't be hard to contact (by you). Find a way to get something in writing from "the boss" (I'm unclear if he holds the title of ED or some other title) - ideally an email - that says he's been trying to get them to convene since January, then if you find out they know nothing about it you'll have some point counter point evidence to take to the Chair.

He's not falsifiying books...he's...putting them together in an interesting fashion. The audit starts next month.

If he's saying (even in grant reports or reports to the board) "we spent $X on this when, in fact, he did no such thing - or if he's failing to report expenditures - that is all falsifying the books, even if the cash isn't ending up in his own pocket. Funders give you money for specific purposes. Its not at all unlikely that some funders have given you specific dollar amounts to spend on very specific things, and if they find out that their money has gone to something else, they'll ask for it all to be paid back.

The fact that their is already an audit scheduled, along with a quarterly review of the boss, tells me from experience that the Board already knows something is up.
posted by anastasiav at 11:04 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should get the board or your ED to give your boss a raising goal. If he can't raise say, $30,000 or match the 1/5 of the benefit raised my the rest of the department, he should be out.
posted by parmanparman at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2008

Fast clarification from Anonymous:
-My boss IS the ED.
-Audits happen every year, nothing special about it coming up. Big donors want to see them and the national organization expects them.
-Anastasiav-you have mefi mail.
posted by TomMelee at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2008

Just leave. Youre whistleblowing on what exactly? Someone who isnt doing his job very well and breaks some rules? The hiring scenario happens all the time, btw.

Mismanagement of funds, particularly donor funds, is THE serious offense in the nonprofit world. In a for-profit company, well hey, if management is inept, the company goes out of business. In the nonprofit world, it taints your name and makes future fundraising extraordinarily difficult. Add to this that he guy is risking their charter and nonprofit status. Of course, what's at stake isn't one more product on the shelves, it's the mission of the NPO, which often impacts the community.

Anonymous, the new prez is your best bet. What you need is documented proof -- a memo, something. The paid time off policies, misappropriation of donor funds, and policy funny-business that is contrary to your charter/status are your best bets. I agree that recording is probably not worth it.

The other stuff, like the breaches of confidentiality, inappropriate comments, hiring practices, bad-faith management styles...that's unfair, sure, but can very very easily be characterized as a "personality conflict." Keep ALL personal feelings the hell away from your whistle-blowing.

Needless to say, you may lose your job over this. Then again, I've [ahem] "seen" BODs force NPOs to revise their policies because of a leaked memo regarding, a completely legal, if unfair, change in employee benefits.
posted by desuetude at 11:34 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Um, the Zen Vision:M *does* have a built in mic. Just go to "microphone" on the main page.
posted by disillusioned at 11:59 AM on June 16, 2008

I honestly think you are screwed. I also work at a non-profit, it's larger than yours, but the dynamic is similar. The problem is that your ED was likely hired by the Board (and it's a hideously time consuming process with very few applicants), and barring a catastrophic failure on his part, their not likely to move to get rid of him any time soon. This leaves you blowing your whistle straight into the wind.

If you can ignore the constant feeling of your job being in jeopardy, you could try and stick it out until after the audit and see if something shakes out then, but I would really suggest you don't wait that long. This person sounds like they want to set up their own little fiefdom, and that entails getting rid of the "old guard," either by attrition or actual firings.

These places can go poison in a second, and the non-profit world is small. Cut your losses, write a cordial letter to the board outlining your concerns without pointing ANY fingers at the ED and get the hell out.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:01 PM on June 16, 2008

grrr...ignore the bad grammar in my post above (their...they're). It's monday.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:03 PM on June 16, 2008

Stinks man... but don't record that stuff. I wouldn't keep you around if I were on the board if you did. I work in development and I have a sketchy boss. I keep notes of what he is doing and I am watching him hang himself. It is taking a while... but he is slowly hanging himself.

If you are in development... develop some relationships with the board. When the time is right, tipping of the right person on the board about some wrong doing is better than trying to tape something. If the board is good at all they are probing past your boss for information as to what is going on in the group anyway.

My boss also enjoys taking credit for my raised funds so I had to become an aggressive cheerleader for myself. Cut that right out. I do things like call my chairman of the board, "I had a great time working with Mr. Smith and I just secured a $50K gift with him. I think it would go along way if you would call him and thank him on behalf of the group." You get to cultivate the donor and tell your bosses boss that you made it happen.
posted by meta x zen at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I also want you to tell me what else I can do to save my job

After that description your question is "how can I be sure I get to stay here?" Really?

Another employee stands to lose 6 weeks of vacation, which is the maximum she was previously allowed to carry. We work ~50-60 hour weeks with a minimum of support and have been told by this boss that, regardless of our vacation or other work schedules, if we are needed we are expected to be present.

Is the existing policy that you get paid out on vacation when your employment ends? Because if not, what difference does it make what you get to carry forwards? It clearly will never be allowed to be used.

Bad bosses are unfortunate, but quite frankly someone like this is doing you a favor when they're this horrific - they discourage you from grinning and bearing it. Get out. You loved this place and this job, but that was before. Never fall in love with a job or a bar - they inevitably change over time, and you are left pining over something that no longer exists.

If the board continues to shrug and give this person acceptance then you need to accept that they're perfectly happy with things as they are. Maybe they won't be happy with the financial situation when it comes to light, but don't kid yourself: they're happy with the current situation where they're being treated like mushrooms, and that should tell you something about the caliber of operation they're overseeing.

As far as what you need to do, aside from accepting the reality of how things are, the first and foremost is determine how bad you need this job and what you'll do if you're fired tomorrow. Because if you are going to do anything other than keep your head down and suffer till you go elsewhere, you're talking about bucking someone who is duplicitous, unethical, spiteful, and lazy.

If you're comfortable with that possibility, document the overt fraud (being a shit boss and talking trash about people does not qualify) and go to the board with it. Or just the new president. But put it in writing and present them/her with it - this makes it a little more clear that you're not just going to roll over on this one if someone tries to steamroll you. It should be a huge wake-up call for them, since under Sarbanes-Oxley they, as the board, are responsible for the actions of the people they're overseeing. Smart people will be worried and take action.

Quite frankly, however, these do not sound like smart people given their oh-okay reaction to your boss's proposed hiring of a boardmember's family.

Just go. Stop looking back fondly on the job you had long ago and look at the one you actually have. Then do what's right for you.
posted by phearlez at 12:32 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Again from email:
Thanks for the insight, particularly that jobs are like bars and change over time. I appreciate that muchly. I will make an appointment to speak with the personnel committee folks and maybe the board president as well. I'll go without recording, but I'll certainly keep a communication log. Anything else I should add to it?
posted by TomMelee at 2:51 PM on June 16, 2008

I completely agree with anastasiav and recommend following her course of action. I don't even think you need to obsess over amassing paper "proof" of unethical activity; all you need to say is "confidentially, there are some interactions that have made me uncomfortable as a staffer, and I thought you should know about them just in case you would like to look into it further." Don't get too caught up in playing detective, because it isn't your job, and could come back to harm you. Simply make a short list, as you did here, of actions which worry you and share those verbally with the board president. Make no judgements or speculations, just say you've "noticed" these things and they don't seem to sit completely right with you, but don't level any accusations. Let her investigate. After that, you can rest easy that you've done your duty. You can stop trying to gather evidence to bring the ED down singlehandedly, which is definitely not a good idea. A communication log is fine (highly recommended, in fact, because it's very hard to reconstruct timetables after the fact - better to have an ongoing record of what happened when), but anything you're doing to try to 'entrap' the boss could put you in a truly terrible position.

The responsibility for the fiduciary health of the institution lies with the board, and once you've alerted them to the idea that there may be problems, the rest is up to them. Issue an alert in relatively conservative terms ("I'm wondering if there's a problem here or if I'm just reading the reports wrong"), and then just do your best to do your job well. A board president will pick up on your message without your hanging yourself through your efforts to clean the organization up.

I wouldn't plan on staying where this ED can continue to influence your career.

As to the vacation policy, I don't see anything untoward about that. As unpleasant as it is, new EDs are empowered to make these kinds of changes in employment policies, with board approval. If the board approves the change and if the change is legal under your state's employment law, there's really no recourse. Outstanding unpaid vacation time carried over the end of the fiscal year has to be listed on the books as a cash liability, and that affects the bottom line; we had to curtail the banked vacation at my job too, for a similar reason. It's not illegal to change policy, and the handbook should be amended once the change is approved to reflect the new policy. But that is a minor consideration compared to your concerns about finance.
posted by Miko at 7:26 AM on June 17, 2008

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