is my boss trying to get rid of me?

A reader writes:

I work as a paralegal.  My boss is the attorney whom I directly report to.  My boss called me into her office last week about a research project that I had been working on.  After we were done, she then proceeded to tell me that she promised she would pass the word along.  She said that an attorney (external counsel) who does work for our company asked my boss if I would be interested in a position that just became available at her law firm.  My boss told me that the position is for a legal secretary and would eventually turn into a paralegal position.  My boss told me that she thought it would be good for me because I am currently attending school to obtain my bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management and this external law firm handles employment law matters and labor relations.

I don’t like my boss.  I have always felt that she is a micromanager and that she tries very hard to find errors in my work.  Even though I directly report to her, I don’t do a lot of work for her because the work is outsourced.  I handle requests for information from the public.  (I work with another attorney and he is always praising me.  He has told me on several occassions that if I quit, he quits!)

I not sure how to take this.  First of all, is this ethical of my boss to let me know of another job offer with another company?  Could this be her way of trying to get rid of me?  Should I tell the other attorney that I work with? Or should I tell someone else, like HR?  This has really been bothering me and I’m not sure how to handle it.  Or am I just overreacting?

Sure, it’s ethical. I mean, if you’re a fantastic employee, she has a duty to the company to help retain you, but that’s more about the ethics between her and the company, rather than between you and her. In fact, as far as ethical behavior between the two of you, it’s possible that she just did something highly ethical — by not keeping from you the message that the outside attorney asked her to get to you. And it might become even more ethical if she truly believes that this is a better opportunity for you because it’s more in line with your interests.

After all, look at this the other way around:  If you found out that someone had asked her to tell you about a job opportunity and she had deliberately kept it from you, you’d probably be upset about that, right?

So at least on the surface, it looks like your boss actually did a nice thing — she told you about an opportunity that she thought would be good for you. I don’t think you should be bothered by it, unless there’s far more to this that we don’t know.

As for your worry that she’s trying to get rid of you … Well, there are way more direct ways to do that than to just pass along a message from a colleague who’s hiring.

And last, on the micromanaging and her tendency to look for errors in your work, it’s possible that she is indeed a tyrannical micromanager, but it’s also worth considering that — especially in legal work — part of her job is in fact to find errors in your work and you shouldn’t take it personally.

I don’t know nearly enough about your situation to have a real opinion on that aspect of the question, but it’s worth considering that while some people are more exacting than others, that doesn’t mean that they’re calculating villains engaged in the sort of nefarious activities that I think you’re worried about here.

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    Sounds to me like you don’t click with your boss and instead of dealing with it head on she’s killing two birds with one stone. She probably thinks you’ll click better with the other Attorney. Sounds like a win win to me.

  2. Beth*

    I’ve had several people work for me over the past decade with whom I’ve shared external job opportunities because I truly thought it was in their best interest. When I was working a nonprofit and the only way the person could grow would be with another organization, I made it part of their professional development to learn the skills necessary to take them to the next level. There’s no sense keeping a person who has outgrown a position, it’s selfish and in the long run will harm the individual and the organization.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly! Ideally you’d have a way that great employees could grow without having to go somewhere else, but that’s not always the case (depending on the company’s size, the employee’s talents and interests, etc.). And a really good manager will help great people grow no matter what — and it’s ultimately in the company’s best interest for them to operate that way, because that reputation will make other great people want to work for them.

  3. Michelle*

    As an attorney, I have to agree with AAM’s statement that it is her job to look for your errors. It may be difficult to deal with that type of criticism at first, but you have to remind yourself that it is not personal. She is protecting herself. Any mistakes fall back on her, not you.

    I wonder though, if you don’t like your boss, wouldn’t you be excited about this new career opportunity that is more in line with your interests, and that your boss supports? Some of us have to job search confidentially!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly. I’ve seen plenty of situations where an employee loved one boss and hated the other … because the beloved boss was fairly incompetent and didn’t notice/care about errors and thus never gave any criticism, whereas the other boss was competent and did.

      1. Paralegal too*

        I have to agree. Since the work product, even if you are the one drafting it, is being signed and/or delivered to the client/judge/opposing counsel, etc. by the attorney it is in their best interest to ensure that what they are putting their reputation on is correct. However, not knowing the OPs situation with this, I have worked with attorneys that were so nitpicky it bordered on anal retentive and that frustrated me to no end.

        I wish my boss would come to me with a job opportunity more in line with my degree since I’m not working in the paralegal field right now. I’d jump for joy.

        Good luck OP, whatever you decide.

    2. Paralegal too*

      My comment below…should have been attached to this reply, not AAM’s (although her reply too is spot on).

  4. Wilton Businessman*

    I don’t know enough about your situation to make an intelligent comment, but that never stopped me before. Sometimes people we don’t like do nice things for us. If she’s a bad manager, she might be trying to “promote her headache” and get you out of her life. If she’s a good manager, maybe she realizes you are not happy and would rather help out her associate (the prospective employer) with somebody she thinks is good but is not a good match.

  5. Nathan A.*

    I would venture to guess that more is going on behind the scenes than the poster realizes. Her boss and the person she does work for may share notes and her boss may actually praise the poster’s performance in private – which would lead to the recommendation for that posting.

  6. fposte*

    I’d feel shady if I *didn’t* tell one of my employees that s/he’s been mentioned for a job opportunity. It sounds like the OP is in a “bad marriage” situation–where the bad stuff controls the story to the point that good stuff can’t be seen as good. I’m interested to see that the boss is also pretty knowledgeable about the OP’s ongoing education and possible career trajectory, too, so she sounds like she’s paid a fair bit of attention to her paralegal there. If you want to stay, you might take this as an opportunity to recalibrate your relationship with her.

    On an additional point–unless you’ve got a contract that makes the hierarchy different, it is actually perfectly ethical for her to get rid of you if she thinks somebody else would be a better fit. And if that is what she wants to do, this is one of the nicest ways I’ve heard to achieve that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “It sounds like the OP is in a “bad marriage” situation–where the bad stuff controls the story to the point that good stuff can’t be seen as good.”

      Well said!

  7. class factotum*

    “she tries very hard to find errors in my work”

    If I am paying a lawyer $700 to write my will, I want it to be letter perfect. I want my name to be correct and my husband’s name to be correct (Class Factotum and Serious Honey, not Cindy Factotum and Serious Robinson). I want my bequests to be correct (half to SH’s nieces and nephews to be held in trust until they are 30, not until they are 27). *

    Is she finding errors in your work? If she is, that’s the real problem, not that she has to proof your work. If she’s nitpicking about style, that’s different.

    I would expect she’s trying to find the errors so the client does not. It does not make a client happy to find mistakes in a legal document.

    * Yes, these examples are based on a true story.

  8. Anonymous*

    From personal experience, it might be a way of your boss hinting to you that “you are a great worker, good enough to have you stay with the company but you would do MUCH better in a different position. If you don’t want it, fine you can stay at your current position, but you better make improvements, or take this new position that is being offered.”

    1. Long Time Admin*

      Several years ago, one of the secretaries I worked with decided she knew how to do the purchasing (in a large manufacturing company). After she was laid off, she started calling herself a Purchasing Agent and got a job in another company. About a year later, I got a job in that company and found out that she had been fired because she didn’t know how to do that job. She wasn’t as good as she thought she was.

      The OP’s post reminded me of her, and I think could very well be the situation.

  9. Kathy*

    I think you’re overreacting. Your boss is essentially saying she’s paying attention to your development as an employee (the fact that she’s knows what you’re going to school for is pretty big) and is suggesting a new opportunity for you that sounds like a step up. If you were a sucky employee then it might be considered “passing along a headache” but you don’t sound like that (based on the other attorney’s comments of you). Wouldn’t it be a good thing to get away from this boss if you don’t like her? I suspect that you don’t like her not because she’s a bad manager but because you have a style difference with her, which you are taking too personally. I want to know more of the story because this reaction of OP’s just seems weird to me.

    1. Marie*

      Agreed: very well-said. Since the OP does’t like the supervisor, this new opportunity could be the best way to make a fresh start.

  10. wits*

    I am kind of surprised at the responses to this letter. To me, the letter writer’s boss may not be actively trying to get rid of her, but going from a paralegal to a legal secretary would be a step-down, even if the new position is supposed to be changed to a paralegal.

    1. Sevenmack*

      I actually have to agree. On one level, the manager is handling the situation in a more mature manner than what often happens in these workplace disconnects (i.e. PIPs, firings, force-outs). At the same time, the new job is clearly a step down from the position the OP currently holds. She also can’t count on this job leading to a promotion back to paralegal.

      On one level, I do think the OP isn’t exactly behaving in a mature manner; she needs to realize that the problem is a disconnect in work styles and perhaps, she needs to improve her performance. At the same time, the “opportunity” isn’t exactly the opportunity everyone else on the board thinks it is; it is a true step down from which she may not recover if she leaves the organization for another. The better solution for her is to begin looking for another job; either way, she might be on her way out. And to step back and learn some lessons from this experience.

  11. Legal Eagle*

    I’m very late to the discussion but my advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to:
    – feign interest and find out more about the position – is it really a step down? Would a step down ever be worth it to get into an elite company, competitive field etc – you have to decide that for yourself. Ask all sorts of people about this position, the company etc.
    – look seriously at your work performance – are you confident that any manager (even a real nitpicker) would be happy with your standards?
    – ask the manager more about the position and try hard to read her facial expressions and what she’s saying for clues if she is sympathetic to you or not
    – casually mention it to the “nice manager” but if you do, be very very careful to be absolutely nice and neutral – you don’t want to get caught saying that your boss is trying to get rid of you, whether she is or not!

  12. I'mjustme*

    To the OP, just a thought and an observation- you posted this:
    “I not sure how to take this. ”

    I know it seems like nitpicking, but I would just try and be more careful in proofreading, based on your situation, as this gives a micromanager/nitpicker reason to call you on your spelling/grammar. Sorry, don’t mean to sound anal, it’s just an observation relating to your post.

  13. officepolitics*

    I had a conversation with my boss asking about my promotion options. Today she came back and told me that if I want i can look for job opportunities within another department within the company and she will support me in whatever way she can. Does this mean that she wants to get rid of me? Shouldnt she try to retain me? I am a good employee.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, it sounds like you were asking about opportunities for promotion. If there aren’t any she can offer you, it makes for her to say what she said. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Comments are closed.