Remember the letter-writer last month whose boss accused him of faking panic attacks to get out of a meeting? Here’s the update.
I was shocked — in a good way — to see all the understanding and sympathy from everyone who commented, and there were tons of great pieces of advice! Thanks so much, to both you and all your great readers/commenters, especially JessaB and Katie the Fed.
Since everyone loves follow-ups, I thought I’d let you know how my situation has been going. It’s a good way to vent, too, and right now I really need that, unfortunately.
I met with the HR person for my department, and it didn’t go too well. They said that HR doesn’t get involved in minor disciplinary matters, and that this is one. Their other big point of contention was that I hadn’t gone through our company’s disability accommodations process…when I haven’t needed accommodations for my panic disorder before now.
They got back to me a few days ago to tell me that their investigation determined that my boss’ write up and concerns are justified. That wasn’t a surprise at all. My suspicion is that they simply don’t want to act because my boss is known as a rising star in our company. It’s a mystery why they’re sticking to this when everything I’m hearing is that he’s potentially setting them up for legal trouble, though. He’s risen through the ranks pretty quickly, but he’s not a leader or particularly well known, even in his specialized sub-field of our profession.
My therapist and I decided that requesting accommodations would be a good idea, so we filled out the paperwork to go through the formal accommodations process. I’ve been getting resistance from HR, because I now have recorded performance issues. This seems like an awful catch-22 to me: I didn’t need accommodations before, so I never requested them, and now that I do (because my boss is antagonizing me because of my condition) they’re giving me a hard time.
I’ve been here about three years (first job). I got along great with my old boss, but he left about six months ago, and the new guy became my boss. (It’s worth mentioning that the new manager’s other two subordinates who he loves are women fresh out of college who he takes out to lunch almost every day. He only interviews 21-year-olds fresh out of college too. It’s pretty clear to me what his deal is.) He and I have never had a great relationship, and since the panic attack incident it’s deteriorated. He’s taken me off most of my current assignments: according to him it’s because I disrespected him and his boss with my panic attack, which he still maintains I faked. He canceled all of our regular meetings because he’s “way too busy right now,” so now I only get face time with him on his terms, usually completely unannounced to me. He’s also made a few nasty wink wink nudge nudge comments about mental illness and me being “unstable,” like “don’t have a nervous breakdown on me.” When accommodations came up, he said, “My other direct reports get by fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?” Unfortunately, very little of this is in writing, because he won’t schedule meetings with me, and insists on only responding to electronic communications in person (“it’s just my style, and no one else has a problem with it, plus you’re in no place to complain”).
All these things together mean I spend most of my time now sitting at my desk with very little to do, feeling overwhelmed by anxiety about what my boss is going to do next. It’s exacerbated my panic and anxiety issues (I’m also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder) to the point where I can’t focus at all at work and I’m having daily panic attacks. It feels like this situation has been set up by my boss to do just that.
While I’ve been writing down all the nasty stuff he says, he avoids email and formal meetings, so it’s my word against his. My last talk with HR convinced me they’re not going to do anything, so my next planned step will be to contact our compliance and legal department with all the notes I’ve taken. If they fail to look into it, I’ll be talking with a lawyer and the EEOC next.
Obviously I’m looking for a new job. But a big complication is how our completely destroyed relationship means I obviously can’t use him as a reference when I leave this job, and I’m a little loath to use a colleague or another supervisor in our department. What advice do you have on references and explanations for leaving for someone who’s fleeing a really toxic work environment?
Whoa, this is horrible. Your boss is horrible. Your HR people are ridiculous and probably exposing your company to legal liability.
I’d actually move forward on talking with a lawyer now, and possibly the EEOC. Talking with a lawyer doesn’t obligate you to take any action if you decide you don’t want to, but I think it would be smart not to wait any longer on that.
Fortunately, in your job search, you’re pretty likely to be able to get out of using your current boss as a reference; most employers understand that your current boss doesn’t know that you’re looking. It could come up in the next job search — the one after this one — but that gives you lots of time to line up other references to use instead (and that list should include your old boss from this job, the one who you got along great with before this new guy came along).
As for how to explain to prospective new employers why you’re leaving, fortunately you’ve been at your current job for three years. That means that you can reasonably use something vague like “excited about the opportunity to do X” (some skill that the new job would use) or “new boss is taking my job more in Y direction, when I’d like to focus on Z” or any other “nothing scandalous here, just normal job switching” reasons that wouldn’t really be usable if you’d been there less time.