my boss retaliated against me in my performance evaluation after I talked to H.R.

A reader writes:

I wrote to you shortly after Hurricane Sandy regarding being written up by my boss for an unscheduled absence because I didn’t “specify that it was because of the hurricane.

[Editor’s note: Here’s the original letter, which I answered privately at the time:  “When my area was hit by the hurricane, the guidance from my office was that it would be open but that employees were to use their judgment on whether to come in or not. I chose not to brave the storm and understood that I would need to use eight hours of PTO. When I returned to the office two days later (it was closed the next day due to the storm), my supervisor was waiting with a Performance Improvement Plan. In my company, taking three or more unscheduled days off in a six-month period will result in a PIP, and I had taken an unscheduled day in May and one in July. Management had sent out an email, however, informing employees that time missed during Sandy would not count toward a PIP, so I asked my supervisor why I was receiving one. She said that it was because I did not specify when I called out that it was because of the storm, so for all she knows I was sick or just didn’t want to come in. To be honest, I don’t recall exactly what I said when I called out that morning (I left a message on her voicemail, which is within company protocol), but I didn’t think it mattered.”]

I did end up taking that up the ladder, as you suggested, and not only was my PIP dropped, but my boss and HER boss (who signed off on the PIP) met with me and apologized for the incident (I would guess not on their own free will, but that’s fine).

I was assigned to a different group (not because of the unscheduled absence incident; we get switched around every year or so), and I thought I was done with my now-former boss until it came time for annual reviews. Even though I had a new boss, former boss wrote my review because I had been on her team for most of the review period.

Well, former boss hammered me on my review. She gave me very low scores on things such as “positive attitude in the workplace,” “professionalism,” “performs job with enthusiasm,” etc. Things that there are no quantitive ways to measure. All of the “1 out of 4s” she gave me completely overwhelmed the things like accuracy and productivity (I am a medical coder) which she had no choice togive me a good score on. Also, her boss signed off on it.

I’ve been with this company for 4-1/2 years and every review I’ve ever had has been outstanding. I’m worried that this review will affect my raise and bonus. I know you hear a fair amount of “It wasn’t faaaaaaaaair! My boss haaaaaaaates me!”, but I truly believe that she is getting back at me for crossing her.

My new boss says that, since my low scores have been entered into the computer system (UltiPro if you’ve ever heard of it), nothing can be changed but she will adjust my raise and bonus when the time comes to reflect the fact that my review was unfair.

I hate the idea of having this horrible review on my record, especially since I’ve always been an outstanding performer. I’m also not sure I trust my new boss to adjust my raise and bonus since there’s no way of knowing if a certain percentage raise is because the company is scaling back on raises or because my review was so poor.

Do I have any recourse? Is this something under HR’s purview?

Wow.

Well, first, that’s great that your HR department handled the hurricane absence the way that they did, and that they pushed back against your manager and her manager. And that gives me hope that they’re likely to handle this new issue well too.

Because, yes, retaliating against someone in their performance review is a big deal. It’s a big deal on two counts: First, because it’s a performance review. That’s not something you mess around with, and if that’s really what happened here, it’s such a profound betrayal of their core job responsibilities that it should be treated as a major performance problem on their part. Second, it’s a deliberate attempt to undermine the action that HR took, and since HR in this case is representing the interests of your employer, it’s like your boss and her boss were saying “F you” to the management above them.

These are both two huge problems.

So yes, please do talk to HR about this. Talk to the person who you spoke with about the initial hurricane write-up issue, and be very clear that you think this is retaliation for going to HR about that. Point out that all your previous evaluations have been outstanding, and use the word “retaliation,” specifically, because that tends to perk up HR’s ears. Good luck.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Just a Reader

    Was the original letter published? i’d love a little more background if it’s available.

    This is appalling. And stupid…why do managers think they won’t get caught doing stuff like this?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It wasn’t published — I’d just answered her privately, suggesting that she talk to someone with more authority than her boss. However, I just added the original question into the letter as background (OP, I hope that’s okay — this way people have the full background).

    2. AF

      They get away with it because people are afraid they’ll be fired, so they don’t speak up. It’s awful and retaliation is sometimes difficult to prove (although it seems pretty obvious here). Good luck OP!!

  2. Michelle

    This sounds like such an uncomfortable situation!

    Can someone add a link to the original letter from the OP? Thanks!

  3. Coelura

    Hopefully, your new manager will help mitigate the fallout from this situation. At our company, we are able to enter an interim review which updates the current performance rating immediately. It doesn’t replace the bad review rating, but does update the current rating level which makes a big difference throughout the year. I hired an individual internally last year one week before the final ratings were submitted. In that week, his manager changed all of his ratings from “exceeds” to “does not meet” in retaliation for leaving his team. I wasn’t able to get the ratings changed, but was able to override the pay raise & bonus amounts plus did an interim review in 4 weeks which changed the current performance rating.

    1. Anlyn

      Holy crap. That manager should be fired for doing something like that, because as you note, it affects bonuses and raises. Damn.

      1. Coelura

        There weren’t any direct consequences for that manager. However, it was pretty well known that he “made the employee pay”, so he lost a lot of face over it. Its so hard to prove retaliation that it just wasn’t worth trying – particularly because he’d end up with just a warning. Instead, I took care of the employee and he’s a very happy camper today. One year later, he has seen more than 15% in pay increases and is a top performer.

        1. Katie

          That’s honestly pretty unbelievable. If there was any record at all of the fact that things got changed from “exceeds” to “does not meet” in a very little amount of time, it’s not hard to prove that there was something very wrong with what the manager did. Even if you don’t have incontrovertible evidence, SOMETHING should have happened to that manager.

    2. K

      I have to say, I do not understand why companies implement such rigid systems. First of all, I guess retaliating against employees in their performance review isn’t a fireable offense at your company, but surely something related to employee retaliation must be – don’t they want to be able to change the reviews in that case? Second, what if the review was simply entered into the system incorrectly? Isn’t there even a mechanism for correcting a typo?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I suspect “can’t get the ratings changed” actually is just someone (not Coelura) saying they can’t change the ratings because they don’t want to deal with the hassles of making that happen.

        I’d be shocked if the system truly doesn’t allow it; that wouldn’t be a feature that would be in an employer’s best interest. Because of typos — as you point out — and also situations like, say, a racist manager who gave low ratings to everyone of Race X, where the company would have a huge legal problem if they couldn’t undo what the racist had done.

        1. Reeya

          “I suspect ‘can’t get the ratings changed’ actually means ‘someone (not Coelura) said they can’t change the ratings because they don’t want to deal with the hassles of making that happen.'”

          Yup – years ago I worked for a company where something very similar happened to a co-worker (retaliation from former manager after transferring to different department), and even though it was pretty clear that that’s what had happened, the amount of bureaucracy and red tape that was involved to go through the formal process of challenging the unfair review and officially changing the scores was so onerous that my co-worker and his new manager gave up. The new manager knew that the retaliatory review from the former manager was a bunch of BS, so in a sense it wasn’t a disaster…but the bad, unfair review still remained the official review on record in my co-worker’s file, which sucked.

        2. Ashley

          Not sure about that. My company also uses Ultipro and I successfully argued my way into a higher rating in my boss’s eyes, but he was not actually able to change it in the system. Ultimately, it didn’t affect my overall rating enough to matter, but I know it was an issue (and continues to be.)

          1. anon-2

            If he didn’t change it, then you didn’t argue your way into a higher rating. Your boss’ eyes are one thing — what is on the record is something else. It’s naivety to think that the boss can’t change his own errors.

            He COULD change it, but would lose face, appear to be indecisive, and have to admit he was wrong.

            If it continues to be an issue – it always WILL be an issue.

        3. SarasWhimsy

          That is correct! Virtually every system out there that handles performance can be changed – including Ultipro. Believe me, as an HR Systems Analyst, I get to make these changes. All.Of.The. Time. And you wouldn’t believe the crap we have to take out. Racist and sexist remarks and other ridiculous and utter bullshit.

          1. ThatHRGirl

            Agreed! Maybe it’s an issue of “can’t get that done right this second, but after the merit cycle has gone through HRIS can go in and change it and backdate your raise”.
            Can you tell I’ve dealt with this before? Ugh. If this was a manager in my client group I’d be pisssssed.

        4. Katie

          Agreed. At my company, we have one of these programs, and I can contact IT to override pretty much anything, even if it’s been signed off on by others.

        5. EngineerGirl

          Its a lie that a performance review can not be changed. Think about it – all documents can be corrected or annotated. “It can’t be changed” is really a code word for “I don’t want to use my silver bullets on this”.

          I would go to HR and specifically mention retaliation. For this case, it isn’t illegal. It should be noted though that retaliation for protected activities (reporting EEOC issues, FMLA issues, etc.) is illegal. HR should definiately keep track, because at some point the retaliation will fall into the illegal bucket if it is allowed to continue.

          1. BeenThere

            Even if the application doesn’t allow it through the interface or because of the workflow e.g. review has been signed off. Someone in IT (with appropriate privelleges and authorisation) should be able to change the applications database/files that it uses to build the review.

    3. Just a Reader

      This type of retaliation is fascinating. Do you know what happened to that manager–were there any consequences?

    4. anon-2

      A rating *CAN* be changed. The problem is, if ratings change, managers get undermined, face is lost. Charges that “the inmates are running the asylum” crop up.

      I worked at one place, where the manager placed three of us on probation at the same time. Two of us quit within a week, and they had to try to squirm to make peace with the third guy that was left, without undermining the manager, and without retracting the document. They worked out a very uneasy truce via which he’d agree to stay until his upcoming 10th anniversary milestone.

      Physically – it’s possible to do. Politically – difficult. Ratings can be changed if the company is going to be sued over them, or if it ends up driving the employee out the door (and the business goes with him/her).

      I actually had an annual review expunged once. Now that was REALLY a dinner table story, good for another day.

  4. businesslady

    this is so awful, OP–I hope they manage to straighten it out for you.

    & your previous track record should ultimately help you a lot here. I mean, first of all, it’s rare for a high performer to suddenly start doing poorly without some external cause, so you’d think the retaliatory review might raise some eyebrows. but also, I’d question how someone could be keeping up with deadlines & working efficiently despite not having a “positive attitude in the workplace,” exhibiting “professionalism,” & “perform[ing their] job with enthusiasm”–so I think any reasonable person looking over your scores would agree that something was amiss (& that it’s not your job performance!).

  5. mark

    As a manager at my job, the only way I can give someone low scores on a yearly performance review is to have documentation that you was notified of your behavior. So my question to you is has your former manager spoken to you about it? If not then you have to talk to hr. Supervisors/Managers can not wait a year to indicate any issues they have with an employee, they must have something to back up what they say. Now you did indicate you wasn’t in the dept long but it doesn’t matter, the manager has to let you know of any behavioral issues in order for you to correct them, nor wait until review time.

    1. Seal

      Same here. In fact, at our organization HR reviews overall scores before we’re allowed to give performance evaluation forms to our employees. If any manager here tried to pull this kind of BS, they’d get called on it immediately.

      Take your case to HR and as Allison says, use the word “retaliation” a lot.

  6. Nyxalinth

    Wow. There’s a lot of words I would love to use to describe this woman, but I won’t. Not even the ‘getting crap past the radar” version. I sure am thinking them, though.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP. That woman is incredibly unprofessional.

  7. W W

    I have never had the sense that a yearly review was going to be a fair assessment of my work, which is part of why the process is very anxiety provoking. At my old work place my boss pretty much told us that because the company was doing poorly she was not allowed to give reviews over a certain number (I think 3 out of 5). Meanwhile everyone in my department had been heroically putting out fires (caused by higher decisions) and keeping day to day business afloat in really difficult circumstances. And then we were all given mediocre to poor reviews. It all seemed pretty arbitrary, more about how much the boss liked you. Then, after reviews come out at that company, there is a mad scramble and everyone writes a defense for themselves trying to get their review changed. Some reviews get changed and some don’t, and for those whose review doesn’t get changed they are told we’re not allowed to change them after the fact. In my review I’d been given credit for accomplishments that I didn’t even do, they had been done by my co-worker.

    Needless to say, I found another job. But at my new place, very small company, we don’t even do reviews. And I still am pretty wary of the process. I imagine that very few managers have received much training on how to give reviews and that very few managers give fair and effective reviews. But maybe that’s just my bias.

    My sympathies to the OP, definitely a difficult situation.

    1. Jenn

      This is EXACTLY how my company works…..maybe we work for the same organization? ;-)

      We hate the annual reviews, especially since our manager really has no idea what we do, or how intense our workload is. I guess he thinks fairies come in and poof! Things magically get done! So we basically spend our reviews justifying what we do, and how much we do. Then he’ll give us crappy scores, with no specific examples to justify them, and then we’re invited to “appeal” these scores, which involves MORE written justification.

      It sucks.

    2. Lulu

      I’m with you there! Between one place having the limit on how many people can be rated well, regardless of performance, and another featuring MIA/non-communicative managers deciding the fact that my psychic skills weren’t up to par trumped my strong performance for the one team I was able to actually work with… And add to that the general ambiguity of the “process” and lack of interest in making it useful for employees… I’m predisposed to not expect much from them, and be wary of how they’re handled in general. Of course, that doesn’t mean much when you’re stuck relying on them for raises/bonuses and future perception of worth.

      Wish I had something besides sympathy for the OP – it does sound like HR’s previous action and their awareness of the overall situation might end up working in your favor, however. Often they don’t much care (partly I’m sure because it’s easy for people to cry foul when they really did deserve negative marks), and the fact they were so responsive to the initial issue is promising!

      1. BeenThere

        My opinion of most performance reviews is they are just fodder to fire someone so HR have a paper trail. Likewise for bonuses and promotions, if gives them a back up to justify giving their buddy a big raise. It’s rarely a true indicator.

    3. Kay

      My manager refuses to give out ratings higher than a 3 because they have a policy that would require the company pay us a bonus. It really sucks and kinda leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I hope other non-profits aren’t like this.

    4. Anonicorn

      Our yearly reviews might as well be “prepare reasons why you’re doing an outstanding job, present them to me, and I’m going to give you the score HR told me to anyway–right there in front of you–without any consideration to all the stuff you just told me.”

      Why even bother? Just save me the time and give me the stupid paper to sign, because this is obviously meaningless to both of us.

    5. Kelly

      Sounds like most retail jobs. No matter how hard you think you work, you’re not going to get the raise that you deserve. It’s more about how you get along with your manager than how hard you actually work.

  8. ChristineH

    Are these performance evaluations also sent to HR for their records? If so, I’m surprised that they didn’t catch those low scores since they’ve already addressed the initial unscheduled absence issue.

    Wow, how petty can these managers get?! (also referring to the incident described by Coelura above).

    Please keep us posted, OP!

  9. Lily in NYC

    This situation really makes my blood boil for the OP. OP, good luck; we’re rooting for you!

  10. Reeya

    Oof, this is really awful. Push back, absolutely, but also…I’d start shopping for another job. Hopefully HR handles this as well as they handled the initial issue, but still…I don’t think you should have to put up with a workplace that makes you to have to consistently petition HR to be treated fairly/reasonably.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think the OP has any need to job search. This is one manager behaving badly, and she doesn’t work for her anymore. There’s an HR dept that took her complaint seriously and handled it well (it sounds like). There’s no reason for her to leave, and potentially end up in a job with far worse problems.

      1. Reeya

        Fair enough – there no guarantee she would land somewhere devoid of problems entirely if she left. That said, if I had to go to HR twice in such a short timeframe in regards to one manager’s poor behavior – even if it’s a former manager – I’d be pretty frustrated, regardless of how well HR handled it.

        (What do you think of the old canard of “you should always be looking for your next job?” I have heard that so many times over the years.)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Always making contacts, yes, and always having an idea of what you’d do next if you were laid off tomorrow. But not always up to take your next job, or you could change jobs every year!

          1. Reeya

            Makes sense to me!

            I totally know someone who literally changes jobs every year. Literally. Brilliant guy – I get why he keeps getting offers and I’m kind of impressed, but since he takes them each time I keep wondering how long he’s going to be able to pull this off before he gets painted as a job-hopper. (Which would be totally fair because…he IS a job-hopper.)

      2. ExceptionToTheRule

        I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for hard-core job searching, but I would put myself in a place where I’m casually looking. There’s no guarantee that the OP won’t end up back in this manager’s orbit (or the manager’s manager) and people that behave with such pettiness rarely let it go.

        1. AMG

          Exactly. If they rotate annually, there is no reason why she couldn’t end up under this manager again, or the boss’ boss. I wouldn’t work under those kind of people again–it’s not worth it. I’ve been there.

          1. Reeya

            I’m wondering now if there might be a way to ensure that she not be placed in the same group as the manager during subsequent rotations/reorganizations. Perhaps that is something she should ask HR to broker when they resolve this issue with the retaliatory review? (I don’t even know if that’s something an HR department would be willing to do.) If there’s a way to shield her from working with this manager (and the manager’s manager) going forward, that would be optimal, because she wouldn’t have to worry about getting sucked back into this petty game-playing.

            But yes, as long as there’s the possibility that she might end up working with this manager again in the future I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be on the lookout for someplace else to work. Not, like, frantic resume updating/LinkedIn bombing frenzied job hunting, but casual looking, as ExceptionToTheRule put it.

            1. ThatHRGirl

              I would assume that’s not something the HR department is likely to agree to, but if the OP was ever rotated under Original Manager’s headcount again, I’m assuming HR and/or that Manager’s boss would have a very serious conversation with them about how they are to tread carefully and not do anything that could seem retaliatory against OP for previous complaints/investigations.
              Also… it could be one of those things that never goes down “on paper”, but the HR folks might do some things behind the scenes with each rotation so that OP & boss don’t end up back together again.

  11. Karthik

    Sounds like a cop out. What kind of system doesn’t let the scores be changed with management override? Something tells me that they won’t adjust your pay and bonus.

  12. Lulu

    As an aside, what is UP with all of these vicious managers? I just don’t understand how people can do things that significantly impact someone else’s livelihood for such petty reasons.

    I’m fortunate enough to not have worked anywhere with these “PIP”s (or maybe just not been in a position to be made aware of them!), but that sounds kind of ridiculous on it’s own – I understand the potential issue of people regularly calling in under possibly false pretenses, but 3 sick-or-otherwise-unscheduled days in 6 months being worth generating an official call for “performance improvement”??? I’ve worked in environments I have considered unduly dysfunctional in other ways, and even they sound preferable to this. Perhaps this is just the norm in certain industries, so doesn’t sound as strange to others as it does to me, but I’d probably be quickly dismissed from anywhere that operated that way as I do actually get sick/allergies/all-night insomnia more than once a year (and that does not eradicate my ability to perform well in general).

    1. AP

      Agreed – there are so many things that drive me crazy about working in a tiny 5-person company, but not having to have formal evaluation scores that need to be overridden or knowing the term PIP is making me love it right now!

    2. Elizabeth

      As an aside, what is UP with all of these vicious managers?

      If you think about it, there is a certain segment of the population that pulls the wings off of flies as children. I’m vaguely certain that the same group ends up being managers like this. I know that a good many of them go into professions where they can take out their own frustrations, insecurities & general meanness on others.

      I am capable of being petty & vindictive, if given enough reason (usually someone being petty & vindictive before I am). I can’t imagine living my life so that I’m always in that state of mind.

    3. CatB (Europe)

      As an aside, what is UP with all of these vicious managers?

      I tend to think that everybody is dragging into the workplace their general paradigm of life, their weltanschauung. Few people manage to be kind, loving and tender at home and bitchy and vicious at work. Most of the (sane) people are consistent throughout.

      We all have our dark spots, deep down inside. It’s just that sometimes power happens to activate the “right” spots of darkness…

      1. EM

        Exactly. My old boss was all of these things, and I stopped being mad at him when it dawned on me that he really is not a nice person, and is divorced and can’t find anyone willing to date him (for some bizarre reason, he would tell us about his dates at the office. :/), which is why he spends every Christmas alone in his apartment. His behavior at work is likely the same in other areas of his life, and hit hasn’t served him well.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      On what’s up with vicious managers — there are petty, incompetent people in every job. But when they happen to have managerial authority, they have the ability to affect more people with it and in bigger ways, so you notice it more.

      1. Lulu

        True, I guess I tend to want to believe that you have to be a bit more of a “grown up” to get promoted to supervisory positions. (I know, delusional on my part!) I’ve definitely experienced… differences of opinion/perception with managers, but fortunately not been privy to anything as overtly petty as this kind of thing. I suppose I should be glad I can still find it shocking ;)

        1. TrainerGirl

          You’d be amazed. I worked for a manager that had a file full of run-ins involving retaliation with various employees a mile long, but was still allowed to remain a manager. Her only punishment was that she was not allowed to be promoted any further.

          She was moved from one team to another several times during my time at that company. She was the most immature, retaliatory person in a management position I’ve ever met. I was lucky enough to move to a new position under another manager, but she let me know that she planned to hose my in my review that year. I reported that to HR, and since my new manager wrote my review, and the old one procrastinated so much about giving her input (because she was told by HR she wasn’t allowed to lowball me), her input ended up as comments and didn’t affect my rating.

          With managers like these, I wonder if they have some damaging information on someone in power and that’s how they’re allowed to remain in their jobs without punishment. I always figured that this manager knew where the bodies were buried because she probably helped dig the holes.

      2. AMG

        I really believe part of it is the economy–so many people are more dependent on THIS job and can’t get a new one, and the managers take advantage of it.
        I agree that the power attracts a certain personality type. The type of people who don’t really want the power are often the ones who should have it the most.

      3. Lily

        When the employee is petty and incompetent, the good manager isn’t going to talk about it. Since the manager is responsible for the department’s work, the ineffective manager may end up finishing up the incompetent employee’s work, so the co-workers may not notice it, either.

      4. anon-2

        A bad manager has the chance to not only make life miserable for his employees – but those employees – while not having to have to take the boss home with them, have to take the problems home and it affects everyone there.

        The best things to cure that are a) turning the tables on the bad boss or b) if he/she has an adult child, and that child gets the same ration of **** that the manager’s handing out to his or her underlings.

        That changes the attitudes quickly.

        How to avoid it? Whenever possible, be in a position where you’ll be able to thumb your nose and walk away from any bad situation. Not everyone can do that — but — if you can — be able to do that. In that manner, no one will mess with you.

    5. K

      Seriously, right? We just went through our evaluation process and – yeah – parts of it were a bit disorganized, and it dragged out too long, and some more structure might have been nice. But thank God I don’t have to lose sleep over the idea that the people evaluating me are acting out of petty vindictiveness and nobody higher up is going to be willing to back me up. And also thank God when I got the flu in December I was able to stay at home and rest instead of being worried about being put on a “Performance Improvement Plan.”

    6. Anonymous

      I was put on a PIP after I’d been out for doctor appointments leading up to SURGERY! Ultimately, they did not let me go, but I wish they had!

      1. ThatHRGirl

        If the absences were part of a persistent/on-going serious medical condition, you’d always want to consult your leave policy and/or apply for intermittent FMLA protection if you’re eligible – even after the fact, since it can be back-dated. Just my 2 cents :)

  13. Rob Bird

    Think of the positive side though; this is the last time this Supervisor will have any control over you.

    1. FreeThinkerTX

      If the OP is lucky. Sounds like employees rotate groups regularly (every year or so), and she could end up underneath this child of a manager again.

  14. CatB (Europe)

    In can’t understand what kind of metrics are these. How do you measure “positive attitude”? What gauge do you use for “enthusiasm”? (Well, there ARE ways to measure this kind of things, only not directly; and finding the right proxies is not easy). I tend to believe that the company OP is with might have deeper problems and this message only shows the surface.

    No help, I fear, beyond sympathy and “vamp up your resume”, but I keep my fingers crossed.

    1. L

      My boss didn’t give me a raise or a promotion in 2 years based on my random negative comments. He said “if raises and promotions were only based on performance and getting things done well and on time, I would have no complaints about you ever. But you specifically had your reviews pushed back 6 months for every negative comment I heard you say.” SO basically I made 4 comments in 2 years that he thought were negative that hurt my salary growth. I left but came back, he gave me a 23k raise when he asked me to come back 6 months later. I still make some negative comments, and they will prob hurt my future raises, but I am cool with the 23k bump I got when I came back so I am choosing to be ok with maybe not getting another raise ever again and my attitude in general has improved since I started making what my co-workers do.

        1. Nyxalinth

          I once worked–briefly because they decided halfway through training to put us on schedules that let off after the bus quit running–for a call center in Florida. They brought in pizza for us while we were in training and one guy either commented he didn’t care for Pizza X or like Pizza Y better. He didn’t say it with any rancor or bad attitude; just stating a preference.

          They fired him for it.

          The reason, we were told, is he was “ungrateful” and “negative” and he should be glad for having the pizza. I’m guessing also that they would have abused their employees horribly and told them that they shouldn’t be “negative” and should be “grateful” to even have a job.

      1. Not So NewReader

        L, now here is a boss that fail to grasp the concept of what reviews are for. Matter of fact, I am thinking he fails to grasp the entire concept of management….

    2. A.

      It definitely is subjective to a certain extent. One of my first jobs out of school had me working as an assistant to three different managers and they each had pretty different standards on that aspect of the performance evaluations. I am a very productive, very focused, and very courteous worker, particularly in that role. I am, however, a bit of an introvert, so I’m not always the most chipper, if you will. Again, always polite and accomodating, just not a particularly gregarious or vivacious individual.

      So with two of them, I got the highest rating in those areas due to my courtesy, respect, and willingness to go above and beyond. However, my third manager gave me a middle of the road score, later saying that a positive attitude requires being “your managers’ constant cheerleader” and a “happier, more bubbly approach.”

      Now today I would be a little cheesed off about the latter (because I highly doubt a male manager would ever say either of those things to a male employee), but the reviews did teach me a lot about the kinds of expectations some people will have of you and whether/when it’s worth examining and changing (or, as it turns out, not). But there’s not much to do when it comes to the tangible consequences which always kinda sucks in situations like this.

      1. John Quincy Adding Machine

        because I highly doubt a male manager would ever say either of those things to a male employee

        Ugh, so true. It’s like strangers telling you to smile — doesn’t seem to happen to men. As an introverted gal (despite my misleading username), it’s one of the workplace double standards that annoys me most.

        1. Reeya

          Being told to smile = one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s a complete double standard. It’s not my job to be a fun beaming ray of sunshine in the office – it’s to perform my tasks and responsibilities consistently and accurately.

          I can’t believe the manager put it down in writing that they would have preferred a “happier, more bubbly approach.” Ew. Yeah, there is no way he would have written such a thing for a male employee.

          1. Jamie

            Yeah – if society could put a moratorium on telling us to smile I’d really appreciate it.

            Or when I do telling me I’m so much prettier when I smile and I should do it more often. Sure, because being prettier for you person commenting was my goal when I got up that morning!

            Funny thing is, I smile plenty. It’s not like I’m some grumpy sourpuss all day long. I smile when someone says something worth smiling about, or a I see a picture of someone’s baby, or any picture of any animal anywhere (want me to smile every time I see you? Tape a different lolcatz print out to your forehead each time.)

            I laugh when something is funny – I’m actually a pretty happy person…but the people saying stuff like this are reacting to times when we are “supposed” to smile and it’s not natural for me so I don’t.

            When I get in my face is neutral. I’ll say hi if I see you and we make eye contact, but I don’t grin at people as a greeting. I don’t open presentations or meetings with a big ole toothy grin either – which I probably should – but it feels so weird. I smile when I am organically inspired to show pleasure or happiness – which is not every moment of every day. But it’s often enough that I really think I should be exempt from direction in this area.

          2. Joey

            For most managers a positive attitude is a prerequisite to a higher performance rating. You can still just do tasks and responsibilities, but it will be much harder to get a higher performance rating without being a “ray of sunshine”.

            Think about it this way. Who do most managers prefer to be around day in and day out- the cheery person that makes work more pleasant or the bland person who sits in the corner?

            1. Jamie

              For me? I would prefer to be around the person whose work is accurate and needs the least amount of hand holding – regardless of how sunny their disposition.

              I’m not talking about a bad attitude – that’s a problem. But no, I don’t have a preference for sunny beaming people over people who are more serious and reserved…I will always prefer those who I can count on to turn out consistently good work.

              Granted – it’s probably different if you are managing customer service oriented people…but I need accurate inventory counts and if you can crunch numbers and still smile at everyone and make them feel welcome, that’s great, but certainly nothing I care about.

              It depends on the position.

              1. Joey

                Of course there are managers out there who don’t give points for a great attitude, but I’m sure we can agree that plenty do.

                1. Jamie

                  We see great attitude differently – but I will agree to disagree.

                  I’ve worked with plenty of sunny and perky people who actually didn’t have great attitudes toward the job itself. I’ve worked with quiet and reserved people where the quality of their work really mattered to them. Now I would take a perky person committed to the work over someone reserved any day – I just don’t see a correlation between being particularly smiley and sunny and a good attitude.

                  For me the attitude is how they approach the job – but again I agree to disagree as there are plenty of people out there who think like you. I just thought it should be said for the others that there are also plenty of managers like me who evaluate on different criteria.

                2. Jamie

                  Now I would take a perky person committed to the work over someone reserved any day

                  correction – someone reserved who wasn’t committed to the work.

                3. Joey

                  Of course performance rules, but I think all things equal most managers will take the sunny person. I think most people don’t understand that a sunny attitude is sort of like a cover letter. It’s kind of the icing on the cake, but of course it doesn’t make the cake.

        2. Lisa

          Why are women never allowed to have bad days? Have a reason to be mad / angry? Act appropriately as a manager , but then be deemed a bitch or psycho?

          Why are women treated like we have separate rules as to our behavior?

          I personally hate “stop acting like so-n-so…” Can’t I have my own thoughts / opinions / anger without being told that I am “acting” like someone else?

      2. archaeomanda

        I cringe whenever I see ads for jobs I would otherwise be interested in that specify they are looking for cheerful, enthusiastic people. I’m plenty kind and helpful and polite, but I am just not enthusiastic. Sunny, perky people kind of annoy me, in all honesty.

  15. Katie

    I’ve experienced some retaliation in my workplace but never something so blatant. I hope HR skewers her.

  16. Anonymous

    I’d speculate that since the former managers were forced to apologize, in the long-run the OP is in good shape. If she left the organization now, the low reviews would be meaningful. But if she’s in her new position for awhile she’ll get good reviews, and also the higher-ups/HR in the organization know the one-time low reviews are an anomaly.

  17. AP

    Not to nitpick, because this sounds horrible, but by “unscheduled day off,” is that a sick day or an emergency call-in-the-morning PTO day, or a real no-show? Because if someone at my company had even a single no-show that would probably get them a bad review on its own.

    1. FreeThinkerTX

      It doesn’t sound like a no-show, because the OP called her boss and left a voice mail. The manager knew before the office opened that day that the OP wouldn’t be there.

        1. Reeya

          The way I read “unscheduled day off” was that she used PTO hours without giving her manager advanced notice – so, calling in sick or for an emergency the morning of. No call no show is pretty bad – where I’ve worked you get a warning even if you do it once. I doubt that’s what was happening here.

          And that’s part of what is so weird to me about this – so, at this company, if you use 3 PTO days “unscheduled” they put you on a PIP. What if you got really sick? I got a horrible flu/bronchitis thing right before Christmas – I couldn’t breathe normally for over a week, and just walking to the bathroom would sap my energy for the rest of the day. It was really bad. So, if I’d called in sick 3 times that week because I was very ill and contagious, they’d put me on a PIP. That’s just absurd, and kind of inhumane. Some things just cannot be planned ahead of time – that’s the whole point of giving people PTO hours. Its the employee’s time to use as they see fit – they earned it. Making it difficult to take PTO for emergencies by threatening them with PIPs if they happen too often just creates an environment that is unnecessarily antagonistic.

          1. Lulu

            That is just a completely INSANE policy to me! “Why yes, I foresee my appendix will burst around Tuesday, so can you approve me for Tues through Fri off, please?” “Oh, the doctor said I have highly contagious strep throat, but I knew I’d have to work on my [health] performance if I stayed out, so just don’t stand too close to me, you should be fine!” Totally what I refer to as Other Side Of The Looking Glass policies…

            1. Lisa

              Exactly… If you are given sick days… why are you supposed to schedule them in advance? How is a sick day considered a no-show???

  18. Not So NewReader

    On average, Alison, how much impact does one bad review from a loose cannon, hurt an employee’s record? I assume that it is a bigger concern internally, than it would be to an outside employer. How much of an employee’s file is retained after s/he leaves?

    1. EM

      I got a letter of reprimand in my first job. I got pulled under in an attempt to get at my boss. He got suspended. He worked there for another eight years until he retired. I’ve had two jobs since then, and nobody has ever asked me about it.

    2. Jamie

      ISO registered companies will have a minimum retention for training/job requirement records and a lot of companies just retain the full personnel file for the duration of that minimum time.

      That said – they can always keep them longer – it’s just the minimum that is stipulated.

      But as Alison said – this varies so much from place to place. Also, how much they will disclose varies also.

      I’ve verified employment for former employees based on records, but our policy is date of employment, titles, and compensation if requested by the former employee. Under no circumstances would I start reading old performance reviews unless the former employee specifically requested copies – and even then I’d supply them to him/her – not an outside party.

      But every place will do this differently.

      1. ThatHRGirl

        Ditto on the ISO thing.
        In my organization at least, as long as you’re not on documented corrective action (we don’t call it a “PIP” but it’s similar), it shouldn’t really affect you long-term. Hiring Managers rarely (if ever) ask to see reviews of internal candidates they might be interested in – they’re more likely to talk to the current manager, which in this case it sounds like OP’s current manager is in her corner.

        1. Jamie

          Right – although speaking of CARs (Corrective Action Reports) that’s something to keep in mind.

          If a CAR is issued to you or your company and you’re charged with assuming the responsibility then your name is now in their system as well.

          In some smaller niche industries, you could very well be working for them someday, so you want to make sure you’re totally professional and present well in your responses.

          If we were looking at someone and they worked somewhere we’ve issued CARs to, absolutely we’d look in our system to see if they handled themselves properly or were part of the problem.

          May be less relevant in the non-niche industries – but I swear everyone in mine is 4 degree of separation – not six. I’m happy where I am, but still fiercely aware of that face with every document I prepare and email I send.

          1. ThatHRGirl

            oh – I was talking about individual corrective action (like, being written up for poor attendance, etc) not CAR.

            1. Jamie

              OH – we don’t use them for that so I was confused.

              Sometimes I forget that there is more than one meaning for that. :)

  19. Sharon

    I’ve had a few irrational/unfair performance evaluations in my time also, and they always make me wonder where in heck HR is. The worst was the boss who wrote me (and two coworkers) up for whispering and abusing email. The short story is this:

    He (boss) came and told us (computer programmers, sitting next to each other in a cubicle situation) that we were being too noisy and bothering the customer service folks on the other side of our cube walls. We started keeping our voices down. He came back and said we were still too noisy. We changed to whispering. He came back and said to knock it off, NO talking. We changed to conversing by email. He came back and said he logged all of our email and to stop abusing it. We switched to discussing ONLY projects, no personal stuff at all. Got talked to again. We stopped using email and didn’t talk to each other at all – by this point the atmosphere in our area was pretty icy and I could tell others were wondering about it. At this point we were afraid to talk to ANYBODY, so we didn’t. Finally, he came to us and told us he was going to write us up after he got back from vacation in two weeks. Sure enough… he did. Whispering and abusing email. No HR in sight through any of this, so instead of trying to find them, I just found another job and got the heck out.

    At another company I had a situation where for many years I was the golden child who could do no wrong according to my performance evals. Then one year I managed to get on my manager’s bad side and voila! I was Hitler’s sister who ate puppies for breakfast. Not just a bad eval, but also a promotion that I’d (too) patiently waited 9 years for got yanked out from under me. Again, no HR. And because the entire management roster above my manager got replaced (this company they actually played manager-musical-chairs every year), there was nobody there to defend me so I couldn’t even look for an internal transfer. Had to find another job.

    1. fposte

      Does HR automatically get involved with evaluations? I always thought you had to officially go to them about stuff you wanted their involvement with.

      1. ThatHRGirl

        In my organization (large, corporate, each HR rep has a department they serve), we don’t get too involved – we make sure they are given, signed, and turned in to be filed, and then we input the actual rating into a system that calculates the increase/bonus/etc… and would only really take it further if we noticed a particularly low rating for someone we had previously understood to be a high performer, or the opposite.

  20. AMG

    This makes me want to do contracting work from my home office and never set foot in an office building again. I have just left a position where I was screamed at on a daily basis for trying to do my job (attend a meeting? The horror!), laid off for reporting SOX violations, the list goes on and on.

    I thought my situation was one in a million, but in reading this, I am definitely not alone. Crazy!

  21. Elizabeth West

    I hate performance evaluations. The whole review thing is just a joke. What’s wrong with just doing feedback throughout the year when needed, and documenting any reprimands? Seems like it would be easier. There seem to be so many problems with doing it this way.

    1. Jamie

      Done badly like discussed here they aren’t worth much.

      But done properly they are an addiction to regular feedback – not done in place of it.

      There shouldn’t be any surprises in a performance review – because a good manager has already let you know where the issues lie – if any.

      But it’s a great chance to have a one n one with the boss to go over longer term career goals, training you’d like (or they suggest), other resources you may need or want. It’s easy for stuff like this to get back burnered during the year and its nice to talk about big picture suff.

      1. Lulu

        Too bad more managers don’t prioritize it or see it this way. If I’d ever experienced any of the upsides, I’d be on board, as I agree it’s good to have a scheduled opportunity to discuss the big picture. Unfortunately, when they’re not handled properly they’re such a morale suck they have the opposite effect, and tend to create a cynicism towards the process in the future. I suppose the best approach is to not expect much, at least use the opportunity as a personal review point, and be pleasantly surprised if you work somewhere that uses them as intended. If your review process is dysfunctional or abusive, well, at least you know who & what you’re dealing with now.

      2. K

        And really, I suspect the abusive bosses who are screwing up performance reviews in the way discussed here probably aren’t giving good, useful feedback during the rest of the year either.

  22. Vicki

    I received a “retaliation review” once. I was part of a small layoff (Department wanted more Marketing people so they “laid off” some QA and developers to make room).

    The layoff was apparently a bit of a surprise to my manager, as was the followup instruction from above that he was now required to write my annual review _that weekend_ when he had a ski trip planned. Why they thought I needed to have a review when I was leaving, I don’t know.

    He poured all of his stress and frustration into that review. I read it over and said “You know I’m not going to sign off on this, don’t you?” He was a first-time manager and not at all good at it but I felt sorry for him at that time.

    1. anon-2

      Re the expungement of a review — I refused to sign off on it. It was issued as an attempt to deny a promotion that was overdue.

      That brought human resources into it.

      That brought a summit meeting.

      That brought a negotiated truce. Long story short, it was better for all of us that I refused to sign off or participate in the process. Since there were un-truths and half-truths involved, I did not want to respond to it.

      Sure, upper management would “back up the boss” – officially. But my response would have probably ended HIS career (indirectly and eventually). HR acted properly – “let’s defuse this situation.”

      You can’t destroy a guy’s (manager’s) career over one stupid impulsive mistake. I wouldn’t feel right about that.

      Hopefully your manager backed away from it.

  23. Sean

    9I do hope they’ll stay in touch and we’ll get an update about this…sounds like a really tough and rather ridiculous situation. Very unprofessional on the former boss’s side.

  24. Anonymous

    I watched “Horrible Bosses” for the thirtieth time this weekend, and this situation (and especially some situations mentioned in the Comments thread) sounds like a scene from it.

  25. Joey

    My advice is different. Before you o to HR ask your boss for some specific examples of the behavior she’s referring to. But do it genuinely, not as if you’re questioning her judgement. Go in and tell her something like, ” I was a little caught off guard by the ratings on my evaluations, specifically the ones about my attitude. Could you be more specific and help me identify some examples over the last year when my attitude was less than good? I really want to understand the areas you feel I need to improve”.

  26. donbab

    HR has a primary role of protecting the company, not the employee. We forget that. Even in my HR role for one of several US offices of an international company, situations like this and worse occurred on occasion. As long as this type of retaliation was performed per policy, it would not be viewed as such. Fortunately years after I left many corrupt management members were removed.
    These types of things happen everyday. I have never seen a case of an employee reporting an issue to HR wuthout there being an unknown labeling of or ramification for the employee, even when their issue was completely legitimate.

  27. Maria

    And what do you do facing a situation like this and you work in HR? Where do HR professionals without a union go to when they are being pressured in this way?

  28. Karen

    I was hired as a Medical Assistant at a local surgical office. My office manager as well as a co-worker did not like me. This co-worker would tell my OM of every single mistake I made. Then, my OM with this co-worker would come to me and reprimand me for my mistake. My OM asked me to partake in falsifying time cards as well as do some other “illegal and unethical” duties. I Refused. This happened only 17 days after my start. I was also give a Performance Evaluation after 15 days on the job. On the PE I was reprimanded for 9 mistakes I made. Problem is, I didn’t make any of said mistakes. During the next 90 days I was ostracized by my co-workers, I was put into an out of the way office alone where I couldn’t learn anything. I was terminated after the probationary period sighting Poor Performance. 17 alledged mistakes I made were noted. However, I only made 4. I had worked for 3 other offices during my employment with POSNJ. All 3 of the physicians I was sent to work for requested me from then on and 2 requested me to be transferred to their offices sighting my “exceptional skills”. My OM totally lied and fabricated Performance Evaluations that NEVER occurred. I DID go to HR as well as other OM to complain of her asking me to do illegal things and expressed to upper management my fear of being terminated because I refused to comply. Nothing was done to her and no investigation was done as a result of my complaint. Two weeks after I was terminated and it was the very day they received notice from my attorney filing suit for CEPA. How do I prove she is lying about me. She has ruined my Life. I was valor of my class for CMA. My final grade..a 96. I did nothing to deserve this other than follow the law, report her to management. I don’t want any $$ in this suit, I want my reputation restored and I want to work my job reinstated. Should I hire a private investigator?? My attorney is Lame. I have mediation next week. I don’t want to settle, I want to go to trial. I WILL WIN

    1. Karen

      I forgot to mention that my OM was TERMINATED the day upper management received the notice of intent to sue under CEPA. My OM even wrote a letter from one of our physicians computers pretending to be the Dr and sent the letter demanding my termination to HR and signed the Dr.s name as if he wrote the letter. ALL of the information she provided HR was false and I can prove it. I am stillll so distraught, upset and discouraged. I cannot find another job. I get a lot of interviews, however being 55 years old and being up against younger CMA’s I cannot seem to land a job. Any advise will be sooo very appreciated. Thank You

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