boss is angry that I missed a meeting for a medical emergency

A reader writes:

I have worked for my present company for 6 years and my current boss, who is the current Chief Executive Officer, for the last 5.  A month ago, I had to have emergency dental surgery. My office generally has a very liberal leave policy for salaried employees and this normally would not be a problem if the date of the surgery hadn’t fallen on the day of a very important meeting. I discussed the situation with my boss and he stated that it shouldn’t be a problem and that they could work around my absence as long as I got all my prep work done on the days leading up to the meeting. Even though I was in a ton of pain, I worked the entire three days  leading up to the surgery in an effort to make sure that the meeting would be a success in my absence. I had my oral surgeon write a note stating the necessity of the surgery, got the sick time approved by both my boss and the Human Resource Office, and checked in with my boss regularly on the days leading up the meeting (and my surgery) to make sure that my prep work was up to standard and that my absence would not cause a huge problem. He stated that all was well and that, as a true team, everyone could work together during the meeting to help a coworker who needed to be absent. I thought everything was fine. I even showed up early the morning of the meeting before heading to the surgeon’s office to make sure everything was set up and in working order.

After my return to work a week later, nothing bad was said about my absence and my boss stated that the meeting had been a success. However, a week or so ago I heard from a few co-workers that my boss had been complaining about my absence for an “elective” surgery. I thought that my co-workers must have misheard so I sort of just brushed it off as work gossip. I thought surely he would have told me in our initial talk or any of the subsequent talks leading up to the surgery that there was going to be a problem with my absence.

A few days ago, he called me in his office for a surprise performance review, where he included me missing an important meeting as one of the reasons for the review. He stated that he felt I had abandoned him at a crucial time and that I had known about the meeting months in advance. Although I had known about the meeting in advance, I felt that my reason for missing it was legitimate and necessary. I tried to make my case with him and asked him why he hadn’t brought it up when I first came to him requesting the day off. I apologized for my absence causing him or the company any problems and reiterated my love of the job and dedication to the company. He seemed angry and ended the review early, stating that he needed to think about things.

I am unsure of how to proceed. I really wish he had voiced his concerns prior to my absence. It is really hard to go back and fix a situation like this once it has occurred. How should I proceed? Why would he talk about it before approaching me directly?  I usually have a wonderful relationship with my boss so the sudden is a bit disheartening and actually very scary. Did I do something very, very wrong in this situation?

I don’t think you did anything wrong in this situation. Your boss is in the wrong for telling you that it wouldn’t be a problem, when in fact he clearly did feel it was a problem.

I would say this to your boss:  “I’m really concerned about our discussion the other day. I feel terrible that you felt I was irresponsible in missing the meeting. I think I have a track record of reliability and showing that I’m here when you need me, and I hate to think this situation wasn’t aligned with that. But I’m also really confused, because when I initially approached you about it, you assured me that it would be okay and that you understood the necessity of the situation. That’s why I proceeded. It sounds like now you wish I hadn’t, but I’m not sure how to respond to that, because I felt you’d been very reassuring to me about taking the time off. I also really tried hard to mitigate the impact, coming in early the morning of the meeting before my surgery. It’s clear to me now, though, that you really wish I had handled this differently. I want to make sure that we don’t have this type of miscommunication in the future, and I’m hoping you can figure out how to avoid that.”

If he says that you can avoid it in the future by not missing important meetings, say, “Understood, and I won’t. But I also took you at your word that it wouldn’t be a problem, and I want to ask that you tell me ahead of time if you don’t like something I’m doing, so that I know and have the opportunity to change course before it’s too late.”

Throughout this, you want your tone to be concerned but neutral — not accusatory. You don’t want to make him feel defensive by pointing out that he contradicted  himself; you just want to neutrally lay out the facts and focus on how you can avoid this going forward.

It’s also worth asking yourself if there might be something else going on. Could your boss be frustrated with your reliability overall, not just in this situation?  Are you generally reliable and responsible?  (You certainly sound like it from how you handled this situation, but it’s worth asking.) Could your boss be frustrated with something else? If so, that doesn’t excuse the way he handled this, but it might give you insight into what’s going on. Alternately, is your boss not especially rational? Does he have a history of saying one thing and meaning another, or of changing his mind? If so, that’s useful information to keep in mind about him.

But your best bet is to have an honest, direct, guard-down conversation with him. Good luck!

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. Slaten*

    **** flows downhill. I’m more than sure HE is in trouble with his boss for something and he’s taking it out on you.

    I would suggest pulling all the approved absence paperwork (emails, forms, etc) and keeping them with you at HOME. If things get worse with this particular boss (he escalates the situation) then you need to go above his head to HIS boss and HR. HR people LOVE phrases like “hostile work environment” …

    1. Confused*

      She said that he is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Who exactly do you think is HIS boss. Near as I understand, that would only be the board of directors. Now if you think she can schedule a meeting with them to get them to tell him he is a jerk, that just ain’t gonna happen. And HR sure ain’t going to reprimand a CEO.

      Basically, your boss just showed he is a jerk. My guess is that something went wrong at the meeting. And since you were not there, it is automatically your fault. What got him so mad at the performance review was that you dared to tell him that he was wrong, sounds like he is not used to that happening. My advice is get paperwork ready, because he has already made up his mind that he cannot depend on you.

      I do wonder, if you could make it three days without the oral surgery, why could you not wait a few more hours for the meeting to be over? I think that is why he considers it an elective surgery. You elected to wait three days for the surgery and scheduled it for the day of the meeting. I think that is what chafed him. Why couldn’t you dope up and wait till day 4 to choose to have the surgery.

      1. Anonymous*

        Well, there’s also the issue of scheduling things with the oral surgeon. Sometimes it’s really hard to get an emergency appointment, and she may have had to take what she could get.

      2. Lyn*

        They didn’t say they waited to have the surgery, they might have had to scheduled the surgery on that date because of their dentist’s schedule and that being that was the earliest they could take them. You can’t just walk into the dentist and schedule emergency surgery like you can a regular check up. There’s a lot more prep that goes into it. Even with “emergency” surgery at a hospital, unless it’s life threatening in the regards if you don’t have the surgery this very instance you will die, they too can schedule emergency surgery in the regards if you don’t have this surgery soon there will be complications and you could die so let’s schedule you for next Monday.

        How better would it have been to have them there “doped up and in pain” then to not have them there at all?

  2. Anonymous*

    A few things here…

    My pet peeve is when people throw around the words hostile work environment. This in no way qualifies as a hostile work environment unless the surgery was related to a protected class. So let’s all stop screaming about illegality and get educated about what these terms mean.

    That aside, I agree with Allison’s advice. I’d approach this from an “I want to understand what I should have done differently so I can avoid your disappointment with me in the future.”

    He sounds like a jerk in this instance but you referred to your previously track record of working well with him and I’d try to leverage that to better understand his frustration. Perhaps there was a piece of information that wasn’t prepared for the meeting and he was caught off guard? Perhaps he assumed you were handling research for something rather than him and that led him to be underprepared. There might be something behind his anger that he didn’t bring up.

    Or as Confused mentioned, perhaps he considers it elective since you waited three days before getting it done. I understand with dental work, sometimes you can’t get necessary work done immediately (perhaps your on antibiotics or something needs to heal before it can be fixed) but he might not understand the reasoning behind the scheduling.

    1. Joe*

      It depends on the nature of the emergency. If it was potentially life-threatening, the dentist would have seen her immediately. It sounds like she might’ve had a serious toothache that would necessitate a root canal or extraction, in which case the dentist would prescribe meds and book her at the next opening.

      I’ve experienced both of the situations, myself. Fortunately, my bosses have been very accommodating to me in both situations.

      Sounds like the OP is working for someone who needs someone to pass blame onto or is just not “all there” to begin with.

      1. Kat*

        Because the OP stated that she was going to an oral surgeon, this would have nothing to do with a mere cavity/root canal. I’ve had plenty of dental work It is indeed more difficult scheduling your surgery with an oral surgeon. They may not have openings for a month, so squeezing in what day you can get, when you’re clearly in pain, as the OP was apparently, is what you have to do.

    2. Anonymous*

      I agree with the “hostile work environment” comment. People tend to toss that around with no real understanding as to what it actually means. “Whistleblower” is another that falls into this category.

      I agree that is likely that he was simply caught off guard by something and is making the assumption that of the OP had been there, things would have gone better.

      With that said, the boss sounds a little unstable and is not a great communicator. It might be a good idea to dust off the old resume. I had a boss become a bit unglued by stress a few years ago and it lead me to leave for a much better company. Sometimes it’s good to get a kick out the door.

  3. Joe*

    It’s possible she may not have had an option to go on day 4, but instead had to settle for whatever openings they had. The dentist was probably booked solid and the next available opening for the next week or so just happened to be that particular time on day 3.

  4. fposte*

    A possibility I see here is a boss who got caught between the policy he’d like to have (I support my employees! Of course surgery is more important than a meeting!) and the emotions he actually feels (It’s the one big thing of the year and I need all hands on deck or else they’re not committed!). I have some sympathy for that, though not for his taking it out on his employee.

    That might be a way to approach the topic, too–to treat it as a process that the office had wanted to work but that turned out less successfully than hoped. That way you’re avoiding the “But you said I could!”–which is true but nonproductive–and focusing on the “So I’m hearing that though we tried to be flexible, the price ended up being higher than expected. I’m very sorry about that, I thank you for being willing to try, and it’s understood now that this is an occasion that doesn’t provide leeway.”

  5. Chuck*

    AAM continues her no-hitter with another GREAT answer!

    I would also advise that our reader should update his/her resume.

    The next surprise from this manager may be a pink slip and one must proactively prepare for that.

  6. Naama*

    Does anyone here know what some of the potential FMLA implications might be here (assuming this is a large enough employer)? I’m a nerdy soon-to-be law student and I’m curious :)

    1. fposte*

      Interesting question. My understanding is that the problem described isn’t likely to rise to the standard of FMLA (though things have been a little wigglier on this end of late), but it’s not completely impossible; we just don’t have enough information about the treatment and absences. The FMLA covers “serious health conditions” that require inpatient care, at least initially, or bigger-deal incapacitation with several serious outpatient treatments (“The condition must result in a period of incapacity lasting at least four days with at least two treatment sessions, or one treatment session and a continuing treatment regimen”). If the dental condition was part of some larger illness–like a sequelae of cancer treatment or something–that would make eligibility likelier. It’s also worth noting that some states have greater coverage than the federal FMLA (can’t have less), but usually that’s about duration of leave, speed of eligibility, and business size for eligibility. (Note: not a lawyer, just an interested manager.)

  7. Jeff*

    It sounds like the meeting did not go as well as the OP may have heard. And, as others have pointed out, the fact that the OP was able to come in to work just hours prior to this big meeting probably gave the CEO the (wrong) impression that the surgery was elective.

    What worries me is that it sounds like the surprise performance review was held weeks after the meeting. If the CEO is angry enough weeks after the fact to not be able to get through an entire one-on-one with the employee, that’s a red flag that something major is going on. Rightly or not, the CEO is holding this against the OP in a big way. I would get the resume up-to-date, and begin preparing for the possibility of leaving.

    The OP mentions that “missing an important meeting [is] one of the reasons for the review.” I’m curious to hear what other reasons may have been discussed.

    1. Joanna Reichert*

      This is bizarre.

      As someone who has been through tons of dental issues – don’t fall off your bicycle, folks! – to the tune of $20,000+, it’s a scary place to be in. You’re at the mercy of your dentists, no ifs, ands, or buts.

      I don’t remotely understand someone who would say, “It’s fine, it’s fine, no worries, no problems, thank you very much” and then turn around and complain to their co-workers (inappropriate!) as well as call a bogus performance review to reiterate simmering anger.

      This is way out of line and personally – though I don’t see this happening – I’d be asking for a heartfelt, formal apology from this CEO. But that’s in my perfect world – unfortunately, that likely won’t happen and even if this CEO is being pressured by other people/situations, that fact that he’s so blatantly 2-faced and taking it out on this employee is alarming.

      If it were me, I’d renew my resume and look for a company with good, solid management.

      Looking forward to the OP follow-up!

  8. Anonymous*

    “my boss had been complaining about my absence for an “elective” surgery”

    HIPAA anyone? Just because she disclosed that she is having a surgery, does not make it OK to break HIPAA, it’s still protected information.

    1. fposte*

      HIPAA doesn’t likely apply here (unless the OP works for a health provider)– it doesn’t mean that your medical information is confidential for everybody. Additionally, this is information that the OP him/herself has shared with the employer, so it doesn’t even emanate from a health care provider.

      Tacky, maybe; illegal, probably not.

  9. Original Poster*

    Thanks so much for all the wonderful advice! I spoke with him today using nearly the exact words you suggested in the appropriate tone. Unfortunately, he was very dismissive, stating he would come see me when he was ready to talk about the issue. The waiting is the worst part because I feel that the issue needs to be addressed quickly so that both parties can move on and learn from the situation.

    I wanted to fill in the blanks a bit and hopefully answer some questions. I am normally a dedicated employee and my boss has never voiced any concerns with my performance prior to this situation. During the review when he stated that my recent absence was one of the reasons for the meeting he voiced no other issues that the absence. When I asked what other issues I need to work on to make myself a better employer he gave a vague explanation about me not being a team player but wouldn’t elaborate. I wasn’t sure how to respond without a specific example.

    I was unable to reschedule the surgery because of my surgeon’s schedule. It was either do it then or wait two weeks. Of course, I could have found another oral surgeon office but it probably would have taken a week or so to get seen there. I had a very severe infection for which I was on antibiotics for the days prior to surgery. I would have toughened it out and merely taken some pain medication if my situation had allowed for it. I should add that I am pregnant. I was unable ( backed up by the stern advice of my OB) to not take any pain killers. I was also scared of the infection and waiting and how that might have affect the pregnancy. Perhaps I am being too sensitive about it but this is my first pregnancy so everything is very scary and worrisome. I did not consider it elective because of the amount of pain and swelling in my face. I was obviously in pain and I am sure my boss was aware of it.

    Although, I was unable to get a any sort of response out of my boss what exactly had gone wrong at the meeting, I was able to listen to the minutes of the meeting (we record all meetings) to see if I could discover any issue. I heard nothing unusual noted by any of the attendees.

    I know that arriving early the morning before my surgery to make sure everything was set up for meeting might have made it seem like I could have elected to do the surgery earlier. It bothers me that it appears this way when the intent was to show that I understood how important this meeting was and I was doing everything in my power to make sure it was a success. My instinct is to jump in and try to defend myself but I thought all the talks and paperwork from the surgeon were enough to show that this was not quite as elective as it might appear. The talks with my boss included the possibility versus the impracticability of rescheduling.

    I fear that since my due date falls on another big meeting day that even if I make it through this situation I might still have to face a boss that feels that I am just not being a team player because of my absences.

    Right now I am just waiting to hear my fate while trying my hardest to keep my thoughts on the tasks at hand.

    Again, THANKS so much for all the advice!

    1. fposte*

      Thanks for weighing in, OP; good luck. If you’re FMLA-eligible, pregnancy is covered, so you’ve got a better shot at legal protection there. I know that’s not necessarily a consolation when you just want to be thought well of for the work you do, but it’s at least something to consider.

    2. Confused*

      Sorry to be a nay sayer, but your boss is most likely looking for a reason to fire you.

      I was not implying that you should wait for the surgery, but rather pointing out that in the bosses mind this brings up a question. As to having to wait for the oral surgeon, I am sure that you could have gotten your dr to put in the word with a colleague and gotten you in before waiting a week.

      As to why he is going to fire you, the vague “team player” and missing meetings is indicative of this. Never will he say it is for your pregnancy and never will he say it was because you chose your dental surgery over the meeting. We all know that is why, but if you are in an at will state, he is documenting things to can you and make an end run around FMLA. You would have to prove that he fired you for the pregnancy and he will have the paperwork from the write ups and will be able to show that he did not fire you for any protected reason. Sneaky? Yes. Dirty? Absolutely. Effective? 90+ % of the time. Get out while the getting is good, or document things that indicate the change in his attitude. Because your lawyer will need it if you even hope to have a chance of winning in court.

      1. Natalie*

        “You would have to prove that he fired you for the pregnancy and he will have the paperwork from the write ups and will be able to show that he did not fire you for any protected reason.”

        Actually, that depends. Pregnancy is covered by federal civil rights law, not just FMLA. Assuming the OP filed a complaint and it went to the hearing stage, the EEOC decides who has the burden of proof. It doesn’t work exactly like civil court.

        1. Confused*

          They have proof. They have the written review saying she missed key meetings. They have the review saying she was not a team player. They got their paperwork in order.

          1. Jenna*

            At the same time, she has paperwork to back up that she was assured this was ok, along with a Dr who would surely submit a depo stating that it absolutely was an emergency surgery. This is quite messy, for sure.

            1. Confused*

              Does she? She says she discussed it verbally with her boss and he STATED. That is not the same as having paperwork. Sure, she went on to say that she got the sick time approved, but again if it was a FMLA leave, then they had to approve it. Does not mean that she is not going to have not being at the meeting excused nor the not being a team player. They can say that “She came to work that morning” so we reasonably expected her to stick around for the start of the meeting but then we looked around and she was gone without so much as telling us she was leaving”. It goes into a he said, she said.

              The more I think on this, the more that I find myself agreeing with the boss. This was elective surgery. IF it was a medical emergency, they would have bumped someone. No, it was a medical necessity, but not an emergency. If it had been a necessity, they would not have given the option of we can do it today or wait two weeks. She ruled out the option of getting with another surgeon, which further tells me that it was chosen to be done this day; she would not consider someone else to do the work under the claim it would have taken longer. I have known people who have needed oral surgery- as a necessity- and to the one they were worked in immediately, not told to wait three days. We are given a story that she had to wait the two days for antibiotics and that she could not take pain killers on the firm advice of her OB. Well to this I say her OB is an idiot. For thousands of years pregnant women have take pain killers without endangering their children. In fact, I can name several things that would have helped, both medicinal as well as homeopathic. Then we here that she was scared that not having the surgery would have made her child more likely to have gotten the infection. If your child was going to get it, that would have happened BEFORE you bothered seeing the dentist. She, herself, says that SHE did not feel it was elective. That does not mean the dr. did not. Nor does it mean the boss should not consider it elective. She elected not to find another dr. She elected, from her own testimony, to not wait because of the pain and the swelling in her face. Pain and swelling that could have been helped with medicines but she ELECTED not to take any. Further, she took a week off to “recover”. Is she really, with a straight face going to say that she had this procedure done without anesthetic and took a whole week to recover with no drugs!?!?! No, she elected to take a week off. She even says in her post above that she thought that all the dr. stuff would make them think it was not as elective as it appeared. That tells me that an honest appraisal, done without emotion about the poor girl, would say this looks elective. Now she has trotted out her pregnancy as an excuse to get her out of trouble. No, the pregnancy is an excuse for bad behavior. She has y’all looking for crimes where none are.

            2. Natalie*

              @ Confused – You are making a lot of assumptions about what happened while clearly misunderstanding words. The fact that her OB told her not to take prescription painkillers doesn’t mean the surgery was performed without anesthetic – almost no surgeries are performed without anesthetics because patients have a tendency to go into shock. And you have confused “non emergency” with “elective”. Elective surgery refers to completely voluntary procedures like LASIK or breast implants.

              I have known many people that have been scheduled for “needs to happen soon surgery”, including cancer patients.

            3. Kat*

              This is to confused.

              Confusesd – have YOU ever had major dental surgery with an infection? I have. A surgeon cannot work on you until the infection is over so no, it did not seem that the date was elective, plus she is pregnant one of the other initial concerns is stopping the infection from spreading to her blood and other organs. And it is still not easy to just get referred to another oral surgeon. Surgery is surgery and just because another surgeon may have an earlier date open, doesn’t mean you want that surgeon operating on you without first having you in for a consult and THEN scheduling you for a surgery. Last, actually no, many a pregnant woman has been told that the only pain killers they can take is baby aspirin.

              Anyway I’m now more concerned for the OP if she is still at this job once she has her child. If the boss can get this bent out of shape for a surgery that was scheduled, including surgeon notes – one that he agreed to beforehand, essentially encouraging her to go ahead and get what was medically needed for her to get…then what’s going to happen if she needs to take some time off for check ups, etc. Unfortunately, this does not sound like the type of boss who will be happy having a new mom who may possibly have to take random time off during the work week. Especially this mom since he decided to have an impromptu review for behavior that HE all but encouraged.

            4. Anon y. mouse*

              Confused – I can vouch for the extreme difficulty of scheduling oral surgery. My husband’s wisdom teeth were starting to move and became quite painful, his face was visibly swollen. It took two months of fighting with our insurance company to get the surgery scheduled, during which my poor husband lived on soft foods and over-the-counter painkillers. Every time we called to ask if this fell under our medical insurance or dental, they gave a different answer. I finally asked the HR lady who handles our insurance to help us make the call before we could get a straight answer.

              Then they referred us to an in-network surgeon, my husband went for a consultation, and then it took them weeks of talking to our insurance before finally coming back to say no, they weren’t part of our network after all. So we did the whole thing again, with another surgeon, who fortunately turned out to be wonderful (and covered!). The number of hoops to jump through was unbelievable. I actually delayed switching jobs so we could stay on that same insurance until the surgery was over, rather than try to start it all over again with a new company.

              For any surgery, really, if it’s not imminently life threatening, you work around the surgeon’s schedule, not the other way around. They’ll fit you in within a few days, but you’ve got to take whatever time slot they offer. And ‘the next opening was two weeks after that’ as the OP reported doesn’t necessarily mean ‘it can wait two weeks’, it may have meant ‘no, we really have to get you into this specific slot, there aren’t any other feasible options’. Because oral surgeons inhabit a no-man’s-land between dentistry and ‘regular’ surgery, it’s even harder to make things work with them.

          2. Kat*

            Actually I should clarify my first sentence to Confused. I’ve had major oral surgery. I’ve also had an infection prior to that. My dentist sent me home with antibiotics to kill the infection BEFORE surgery took place. He also scheduled me for a time after all my medicine had been taken and the infection was eliminated to actually have the surgery. Not at that moment, and not before the infection was gone.

            Incidentally, I did have dental work with an infection. The dentist did not know I had an infection because I really hadn’t been in pain. He gave me novacaine and started drilling and….WORST PAIN OF MY LIFE. The infection kept eating the novacaine so I was never numb. It freaked him out, it freaked me out and an hour later I had antibiotics for the infection, tears streaming down my face with the occasional shudder from the pain, and an appointment to continue the root canal after the infection was gone. So yeah, siding with the OP on this one.

    3. bob*

      I’ve been through a couple of head scratchingly idiot bosses and the first thing I would do is make sure your fellow employees know you busted your @ss to get things done before the surgery so they know for sure you didn’t flake out for some lame reason (and I’m sure they do) because you might want one of them for a reference in near future. Like some of the other posters I also know that when you have to escalate to the endodontist or oral surgeon you have to take what you can get for an appointment.

      Obviously I have no idea when your due date is but if it’s relatively soon how about just planning on not going back? It pains me to say that after being out of work for 2 years but since I’ve been in similar work situations with irrational idiots for bosses I also know the peace of mind of not hating to go to work everyday. The sad part is your boss will probably never realize what a jackass he’s being after he told you it was okay to be out for the meeting. Usually they don’t get it although I did get an apology once about 6 months later from one of the idiots I worked for but holy hell was that bridge burned!! Good luck and if I were you I would also follow another posters advice and make backups of your emails from the boss when he said it was okay to be out and anything else that might be relevant just in case.

    4. Sevenmack*

      It’s unfortunate that you are working for a chief executive who is a poor example of a corporate leader and a human being. He doesn’t deserve the job he has. And yet, he will keep it until God (and Karma) comes knocking.

      If I were you, I’d begin exploring a new job, and move forward on this as soon as you take maternity leave. The boss is ready to fire you, and not just because of this matter; he has long ago perceived you to not be a “team player” and a “bad fit” for the organization.

      Get your references ready; explore your options; and save, save save all your money. Because, as others have said, the next surprise this guy is going to pull is one of those “360-degree reviews” that lead to getting PIP-ed and sacked. You and your family will be in my prayers.

  10. Mikey*

    I’m glad you came back to tell us how it turned out! But it sounds like, not very well. I guess if I were in your place, I would tough it out until the baby comes, and plan on taking the maximum leave you can then. Plan on returning to work, only at another employer. It doesn’t sound like you really have a positive future there, for whatever reason.

  11. Nichole*

    Be very careful OP! Just curious, how long before this incident did the CEO learn of your pregnancy? I have to wonder if this brought a fear to the surface that you’ll no longer be at the CEO’s beck and call. I’ve had an infected tooth before, and two weeks without painkillers is not an option. Two weeks *with* painkillers would be torturous. And I’d have been concerned about having a raging infection that I could expose my baby to, too. You did everything right, and I think your boss knows that, but he also thinks that now that you’re pregnant, your days as his worker bee will be over, so now you’re suddenly not a “team player.” Unfortunately, it sounds like his true colors are coming out, and what’s worse is that the better you handle this situation and the more of a model employee you show yourself to be, the more uncomfortable you make him- a case of killing him with kindness. I’d drop it and quietly start job searching, as hard as that may be.

    1. Katie*

      I agree with everything Nichole has said. You don’t work for someone for 5 years before they suddenly realize you are unreliable. To me, this sounds like he’s starting to realize that you’re not going to be around as much as he’d like you, he’s trying to get rid of you while he still can, and this is a perfect opportunity…

      1. Susan*

        Have to agree here…he’s still simmering about this weeks after the meeting. There’s more going on here with your boss. Is he normally a control freak? Perhaps he was upset that there wasn’t fresh coffee every hour for the meeting. Sometimes there are just people who take one slight and it becomes a lifelong grudge of theirs and there is no changing their mind. No sense in beating yourself up about it or worrying about him behaving like a jackass.

        Definitely take the advice of earlier posters and print or email everything relevant to your home email account and keep on hand. You may need it to plead your case for unemployment, should it come to that.

        I believe you mentioned you received HR approval for the time off? So there should be someone you could talk to about this so-called performance issue…

  12. Donna Ballman*

    I was specifically asked to chime in on this (I’m @EmployeeAtty on Twitter), so here goes.

    Assuming the company is big enough and you’ve been there long enough, this should definitely be covered by FMLA. One way to qualify for a serious health condition is to make two visits to a health care provider within 30 days of the beginning of incapacity (the first visit must be within seven days of the first day of incapacity). Plus, the fact that the condition is coupled with pregnancy would also make it covered. Which means that they shouldn’t hold the absence against you. I’d suggest taking the evaluation where he criticizes you to HR and complain about FMLA retaliation as well as pregnancy discrimination and let them explain the law to him.

    Even if they don’t have at least 50 employees, the fact that this condition was a danger to your pregnancy should cover you under pregnancy discrimination. Because this would be in the category of “harassment” since it doesn’t hit you in the wallet yet, you MUST report it under the company harassment policy and give them a chance to fix it in order to preserve your right to bring a suit later if it comes to that.

    If you qualify for FMLA, then I’d definitely do what I could to stay until after your maternity leave is up because you won’t qualify elsewhere. Once you’re back, start looking if they’re still giving you a hard time.

    Good luck!


    1. EB*

      Please take this to heart and CYA. Document everything (write down what happened with as much detail and as factually as possible) and take copies of all your approvals home as people have said.

      Given the new info, it does sound a lot like the boss is trying to transition you out because of pregnancy, but knows he can’t get you for this so he’s trying to create a paper trail showing he’s not firing you because of the pregnancy.

      Go to HR and invoke FMLA and make sure they know this visit was necessary due to pregnancy ASAP.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Donna, thank you so much! This is super helpful.

      For those who don’t know, Donna is an employment attorney who writes an amazingly helpful blog on employment law issues here:

      She wrote that great post I linked to a while back, on rights you think you have but really don’t. I’m hoping I might be able to convince her to write a guest post here because she is awesome.

    3. Wilton Businessman*

      But understand that while reporting it to HR may be the right thing to do to CYA, you’re bringing this to a whole different level.

    4. EngineerGirl*

      I think it is relevant that the so called performance problems came up AFTER the OP reported her pregnancy.

      Its time for one last conversation with the boss, just to give him a chance. You might word it with: I’m really concerned about the recent issues we’ve discussed. Until a ago, it appeared that you were happy with my performance. Now you have told me that I am not a “team player” and have missed important meetings. Unfortunately, you have not really listed any specific instances where that is evident (with the exception of the last meeting). Could you please be more specific? I KNOW that you aren’t like this, but it appears to outsiders that you are harassing me becuase of my pregnancy. Could you please let me know what the real issue is so I can correct it? I want to protect you from misconceptions about what is really going on.

  13. Anonymous*

    F***! This is what’s wrong with corporate douchey america. No one is **allowed** to get sick. WTF! People are not god***n robots!!!! Life f***ing happens! This boss needs to remove the pole from his backside and slapped in the face with it.

  14. Erica B*

    Ohmigosh.. When I read the original post I was under the impression that the OP was doing all things possible to make things go smoothly. I was not under the impression that this surgery was elective. I empathize with the OP’s situation. When you’re pregnant there are just things that need to get done when they can as when you progress through pregnancy you are unable to do them later. I agree with Donna, head to HR and file a complaint. Update your resumé incase you will need to find a new job upon your return to work. Also, on an aside- congratulations! Update your resumé now- no matter how much time you think you may have until you have this baby. Things happen- Babies come early or there may be a complication and you have to leave earlier than anticipated.. or heck maybe your baby will come late in which case you will be able attend that other meeting afterall. Who knows. I’m not sure how far out your due date is, but do you know who will be covering for you while you are out? if you are second or definately third trimester, start talking and training them to your duties (if you need to) If the boss is already upset you don’t want to leave him in a lurch when the time does come for you to have the baby. You could even ask your boss if there is anything specific s/he would like you to focus on before you leave. Best of luck!!

  15. KM*

    I fall into the trap I think the OP is in, which is trying to make sense of a situation where logically, X should have happened, but Y happened instead. Based on everything the OP has reported here, logic and reason dictate that the boss should not have had a problem with the missed meeting; nevertheless, the boss had a problem with missed meeting. Unfortunately, one people are involved, logic and reason don’t hold much weight.

    OP is looking to approach the situation reasonably, discuss the concerns the boss has openly, resolve it, lean from it and move on . The boss does not appear to be interested in that option.

    If I were OP I would be asking myself “Is my boss responding to me in a way that shows he views me as a valued employee and wants to keep me on board?” And the answer to that, I think, is “No”. I think OP is in trouble here and needs to document EVERYTHING as others have mentioned.

  16. Anonymous*

    As a working parent of two young children, I have to say that unless your parents live right down the street and are retired and ready to cover childcare, or unless your partner is going to be stay at home…you are going to be less reliable after your baby arrives, and in unpredictable ways. It seems almost inevitable that the night before a big important meeting that can’t be rescheduled someone wakes up with a 103 degree fever and throws up. Calling in works wonders, but there will still be sudden absences, and they can be frequent during cold/flu season. Most bosses understand this and will be sympathetic, especially if you go out of your way to demonstrate your commitment however you can, but it sounds like yours might not be, and this might cause you stress. I agree that it might be time to start looking, and perhaps plan to phase your maternity leave into a job search.

  17. class factotum*

    There is no pain like teeth pain. I needed a tooth pulled but my dentist wouldn’t do it yet because I was about to go out of the country. He gave me painkillers (which only masked the pain), but I ran out while I was abroad. I was looking for a dentist and then for a hardware store because I was willing to use pliers to pull that thing out myself, it hurt so much. Dental surgery really cannot be put off.

  18. Anna*

    I agree with the lawyers assessment of the situation. Trust me I wish I got a lawyer a few years ago.
    It’s hard to imagine that someone you worked with for years could do something like this but they will do it, so be firm with HR and protect your rights while you still have them.
    Next thing you know you will be fired for cause, or asked to resign WITH clause waiving your right to sue the company.

  19. Original Poster*

    I wanted to write in with an update on my situation. Things have improved dramatically since going to my company’s Human Resource Director this morning. She reviewed all the information with me and backed up a lot of what Donna said in her post. Almost immediately after she discussed the information with my boss he called me into his office and was more open to working out the problem. We both agreed that there had been some miscommunication on both sides and stated after a reviewing the situation with the HR Director that he and the company felt that I had handled the situation in a fair way congruent with the policy and procedures of the organization. He edited the performance review he had given me, attaching a letter stating that after some review he had found no problems with my performance. A copy was given to me and to the HR department for placement in my file. He personally apologized for going to the other employees about my absence and said he appreciates all the work I did for the meeting,adding that the meeting was a success and our board members had praised us for all our hard work throughout the year. for It has only been an hour since the meeting but I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted.

    Although, I am still put off by his previous behavior and do plan on finding a more employee friendly job after the baby arrives ( taking note of the suggestions that I take my full amount of leave and prepare for not being able to return). I feel terrible for the way things turned out. I did the best I could with the information my boss gave me and I still wish he had just let me know that day wasn’t okay to miss. That is the reason I go to him first so that he can let me know how I am to proceed. If he doesn’t lead, I don’t know how to follow or something like that. This has taught me to approach each situation with caution and make sure to back everything up. It really does come in handy should something not work out how you planned. I would like to note that although I still love the place I work and think my boss is usually a wonderful leader, I think that perhaps I might not be the best fit for the company and it might be time for to move on (ideally after the baby is born).

    I am really glad that I took the advice and went to HR. I am covered by FMLA and the HR made note of our very employee friendly sick time (we are a non-profit that deals with disabled and chronically sick). As an aside (and probably merely a personally note) , she also noted that she had been unable to attend that same meeting due to a sick child and my boss (who is also her boss) had agreed to absence as well. My wonderful HR department is always quick to act when they feel there is a problem. I guess that it helps that they are only a few doors down from my office.

    Gah! I hope I covered everything but if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask. Thanks so much for the great advice from everyone! It was immensely helpful. A special thank you to Donna and AAM! The information you shared was spot on!

    1. Anonymous*

      “we are a non-profit that deals with disabled and chronically sick”

      Knowing this makes the CEO’s behavior even more egregious to me. It is beyond me how someone could manage a non-profit that works with people who are “disabled and chronically sick” when pregnancy is considered a disability and forgoing necessary can lead to chronic illness or other pervasive health problems in some cases. Egad.

    2. Kat*

      Yay is all I can say. I’m glad things worked out in your favor by going to HR. Still think your boss is a jerk, especially after you stated what your non-profit does. Have a great rest of your pregnancy.

  20. Anonymous*

    Let’s be honest. He is trying to get rid of you and is using this situation to start a case for firing you. In my humble opinion that is what is going on. Sounds like the meeting wasn’t a success for him and my guess is, he looked unprepared and threw you under the bus for it. I hope I am wrong, but the way you describe it, that sounds like the issue to me. Things to look for would be increased micro-management, being taken “out of the circle” that you are usually in and people going around you directly to the CEO. Like I said, I hope I am wrong.

  21. Anonymous*

    My understanding is that gum problems can have really serious effects on pregnancy. Is it possible that what is normally an elective/routine procedure that could have been rescheduled is something that becomes much more serious during pregnancy? That might not be common knowledge.

  22. Donna Ballman*

    I’m so glad to have been able to help! I hope it all works out. If they do give you more trouble, contact a lawyer in your state who handles employment law to make sure you’re protected. A great place to find employee-side lawyers is, the National Employment Lawyers Association. You can search by geographic region.

    Thanks for letting me know my suggestions worked. You made my day!

  23. Susan*

    To OP:

    So glad you posted an update and that things were mutually resolved! It’s a shame it took a meeting with the HR Director to make him see the error of his ways, which tells me that he’ll still be keeping tabs on you and all of your faults to use against you in the future. Perhaps not, and I hope I am wrong. But you never can tell, esp based on how he reacted after your pre-appointment stellar performance (as it was completely senseless).

    On another note, it sounds like your company is very family/employee friendly and you have a nice ally in HR. Perhaps you may find an opportunity to stay with the company but move to that dept? :)

    1. Anonymous*

      “It’s a shame it took a meeting wiht the HR Director to make him see the rror of his ways, which tells me that he’ll still be keeping tabs on you and all of your faults to use against you in the future.”

      I’m sure he sees going to the HR department/Director a fault since he was proven wrong.

  24. Interviewer*

    If I had to guess, it sounds like the HR Director had a very serious conversation with the CEO about the possible exposure he created for a lawsuit based on pregnancy discrimination and FMLA violation, and that is why the CEO has done so much backpedaling with the OP. The CEO clearly was unaware of the ramifications of what he did before the HR Director had a chance to shake him down. It’s possible that this was a giant learning experience for him, that his turnaround in attitude is sincere, and he will be more open with you in the future about his expectations and your performance. Good luck to you.

  25. Mike*

    This is a tough situation. You did everything possible to mitigate the situation and acted in very good faith. My view is that there is something else going on in your relationship with your boss or he has another agenda. I would put together a short memo of what transpired and have a confidential meeting with HR to go on record.

  26. Anonymous*

    It also did sound to me as if the CEO was trying to terminate you due to your preganacy and was finding a way to do so. Good for you for going to HR to protect yourself. I agree how the CEO might have realized he wouldn’t be able to get away with this after speaking with the HR director. I would suggest proceeding with caution now with your job and maybe find a new position. Thanks for the update!

  27. SD*

    I find it hard to believe that people reporting to CEO could run into petty issues like these. So what if it was not a dental surgery but a death in the family. Do you think your boss would have reacted the same way? Perhaps missing that important meeting was just an excuse? How could HR overlook CEO taking this inappropriate action especially when everything YOU did was by the books? Just some questions to ponder about.

  28. Anonymous*

    When my hubby had to have an infected tooth pulled his dentist told him they couldn’t do so until after the antibiotics took effect else he would run the risk of blood poisoning.

    Dental issues are not something to be taken lightly. Andy Hallet, from the TV series Angel, developed cardiomyopathy after a tooth infection spread to his heart, which eventually caused his death from congestive heart failure.

  29. Mike*

    I was reflecting on the issue here and the many kind and valuable suggestions. It occurred to me as I was thinking about the importance of having a “trust based relationship” in effectively managing people that this is precisely what was missing here. this manager does not have a trust-based relationship.

  30. Vicki*

    Mike: “this manager does not have a trust-based relationship.”

    The really sad thing is that he did have that… for several years. And now it’s gone. And HR knows that. And, unfortunately, by going to HR and proving him wrong (and embarrassing him) you have very likely made an enemy.

    The CEO may have stress in his personal life. He may have been somehow caught short in the meeting. But he owes the OP an apology. And, sadly, I don’t think there is much future here.

    Fool me once, fool me twice…

  31. undisclosed*

    Unfortunately, employers, “management” and such like are becoming more unrealistic, uncaring, etc.

    You did NOTHING WRONG! Most people wouldn’t even have showed up the day they were having a procedure. Your boss went behind your back, LIED TO YOU by pretending everything was OK.

    Either the meeting was successful –with our without you–or it wasn’t.

    He’s the issue. As someone stated, maybe something happened that he’s NOT telling you. Maybe one of his BOD’s asked about you and he didn’t give an honest answer.

    If I were in your shoes, I would document ALL of the prep work you did with dates. You’ve already tried to talk to him and his response to me indicates that (in this situation–I don’t work for the “cat”), he is UNREASONABLE.

    I don’t know if you have an Employee Assistance Rep that helps employees with work-related issues. But for him to even call a surprise performance review CEO, COO “whatever,” seems wrong–I don’t care if he is the CEO. He’s abusing his so-called power (based on what you’ve shared).

    Maybe if you put this in writing and sent it to him via CONFIDENTIAL EMAIL (not to say that he or anyone else will keep it confidential, but at least you know you’ve done your part), then he may tone things down.

    If he uses this against you in a future evaluation, then you would have ALREADY had it documented in advanced and should file a grievance. Legally, he can’t fire you if it went to that level because then he’s retaliating which most jobs protect employees from such nonsense.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just a quick correction: Retaliation laws only come into play when the employer is retaliating against you for engaging in legal protected conduct, such as reporting harassment or discrimination. Retaliating against you for other stuff (like calling him out for bad management) is legal.

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