getting bcc’d on an unhappy email, keeping in touch with a horrible manager, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Employee bcc’d me on a frustrated email to her boss, who I manage

I supervise a team of staff, and one of the workers wrote an unhappy note to her direct boss and that person’s supervisor (I supervise them all) and bcc’d me. I did not realize it was bcc (Outlook!) and forwarded the note back to the lead and asked to meet with her, as I was concerned. She asked me how I got the email. I am not too technical, but at that point I saw it. So I called all three of them in and asked the person never to bcc, and tried to clear the air. Obviously both she and her supervisor felt a lack of trust, but I just can’t run an office with people complaining in emails to their bosses and bcc’ing me. It felt like she was saying, “Mommy, look what they are doing to me.” They were not doing anything out of the ordinary by the way, just asking her to account for her work responsibilities, which everyone does.

Was I wrong? This person and her supervisor cannot seem to get along, communicate — should I reassign them?

Is her supervisor competent? A good manager? Do you trust her judgment? If so, you should trust her to manage the situation with her employee herself. Reassigning someone who doesn’t like being held accountable (which is what the situation sounds like) would undermine the manager and reinforce problematic behavior. And actually, so does calling in the three of them to meet with you in response to that email. You should have met with the manager to find out what was going on, and once you found out that she had the situation under control, allowed her to handle it on her own.

Let your managers manage. If their staff bypass them and come straight to you, you should redirect them back to the manager, unless it’s something very serious, like reports of harassment, legitimate complaints about the manager, or other wrongdoing.

2. Do I really have to keep in touch with my horrible managers?

I left a job that I really hated about a year ago. Your columns helped me recognize that I was in a bad situation and gave great advice on navigating it until I found a better offer.

I had two bosses that owned the company (it was small – only 4 full-time employees, including them) and were kind of slave drivers who offered very low salary, almost no time off, and skimpy benefits. I also disliked them personally but never made that known and left the company on decent terms, despite some tension when I first gave my notice.

Since leaving, I’ve visited twice but don’t really have any interest in keeping in touch since the work environment was so awful. Should I suck it up and keep in touch anyway? I know that I’ll always have a great reference from my coworker, the fourth employee at the company, but also know it’s important to keep past manager contacts as well. The thought of having to talk to them again is just really unappealing, as the first two visits were pretty uncomfortable….one of my old managers never passes an opportunity to make a condescending verbal jab. The last day of that job was one of the best days of my life so far, so should I just leave that chapter in the past and rely on my coworker reference later on?

You shouldn’t rely on a coworker reference; most employers want references from managers and won’t put nearly as much weight on one from someone who didn’t manage you.

But keeping in touch doesn’t mean stopping by to visit the office! Good god, no. It means connecting to them on LinkedIn, and at most sending the very occasional “how’s stuff going / here’s an article that made me think of you” email. You don’t even have to do that though; you just need to be sure that you know how to find them in the future if they move on (which is what LinkedIn helps with).

3. Does HR need a private office?

I was recently appointed in our family business to take over all of the HR responsibilities. Previously, the responsibilities had be dispersed among multiple individuals. I have minimal direct HR experience but have worked in management for some large corporations, so I have a good idea about processes and procedures. I believe for me to be successful and do my job well, I need to have an office that meets the HR best practices. I have not been able to find any documentation about HR office “requirements,” but I was hoping to find something addressing the need for space for HR files to kept and locked and a place where an employee can speak to me in privacy. Currently, files are scattered about, some are locked, some are not. I do not have a private office where someone can come speak to me or even to fill out paperwork. I feel that these things are necessary to have.

My father (the boss) would like to grant me an office but thinks he is spoiling or giving his daughter “anything she wants”; I think he should be looking at it as giving the HR manager an office. He likes facts and if he can present the team with facts that supports HR needs, that would be a huge help.

Yes, it’s crucial for HR to have private office space because some of the work involves discussing sensitive and confidential issues. No one is going to make a sexual harassment complaint or discuss their plans to fire an employee in an open office in front of others. You also need room for locked files (there’s going to be tons of confidential employee information in there and those can’t be available to whoever wants to riffle through them).

The only way I could see HR not having a private office is if you’re really just doing benefits administration and that kind of thing — none of the people issues. If that’s the case, you could get away with just having locking filing cabinets somewhere else. But if you’re doing any of the people stuff, you need privacy.

I don’t have anything official I can refer you to that says this — but if your dad isn’t convinced by this, it might be a sign of likely future problems in working with each other.

4. Do reference checkers consider the possibility that a reference is lying?

I have a former employer who is deliberately lying about to potential employers about what kind of worker I was. I won’t go into detail about what the lies are because it’s not relevant and not pertaining to my actual questions. There are steps I’ve taken to try to get him to stop doing this and he has ignored them at every turn….. so I’m currently taking legal action against him.

The way I’ve been handling this is I’ve been tell the potential employers the honest truth. That this person is lying about me and if you call them you will get falsified negative information. I tell them I can prove the feedback is 100% false [and I can] and if they have any concerns, talk to me. I present myself in a very professional way when I do this.

….I’m still looking for work

My actual question is. When employers call to check for references, do they even consider the possibility that the former employer is lying? Is it always assumed that employers are saints and employees conniving liars? It just seems to me that when hiring someone, you might risk losing a really good person for the job by always ALWAYS siding with the former employer without doing any fact checking what-so-ever.

Good reference checkers aren’t overly swayed by a single reference. They look at patterns. If you have two or three other great references and then this one lying guy, a good reference checker isn’t going to take his word as gospel. I’d focus on coming up with as many other strong references as you can, to counteract whatever’s up with this guy.

5. Turning down an offer to return to my old company

I recently left my company after 12 years. There were ups and downs and two mergers in total that I made it through. Recently we merged again with another company that I was well aware had a reputation of overworking employees, too much management, etc. I decided to leave after just 3 months of the latest merger. I had a great offer in the same line of work from a competitor and decided to take the leap. It was a hard decision in some ways, but I really was miserable with the direction we were headed in.

Yesterday my regional manager from the old company emailed me and asked how I was doing and wanting to know if I would consider coming back. She admitted to mistakes management made and said she considered me leaving a big loss. I really have no interest in going back, but don’t want to burn a bridge either. She’s expecting a response. Any advice how to handle this?

It’s not burning a bridge to turn down an offer. Just explain that you’re happy here at your new job and want to fulfill your commitment to to your new employer, but that you really appreciate her reaching out, hope all is well with them, etc.

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. Chris

    Thanks for answering question 4. :)

    That’s kind of what I figured. So I’m not so worried about it anymore. If anything it might act as a good way for ME to weed out bad employers :) if an employer takes one bad reference as gospel truth and ignores all the other good references, I probably don’t want to work for that company anyways.

    1. La munieca

      I know you mentioned in your letter that you’re being professional as you convey this challenging reference to your interviewer, but the tone of your letter comes off as emotionally charged and I have trouble imagining some of that isn’t coming through in the way you communicate this, which can make you look defensive or that you’re angry with your employer (in which you are justified, but this isn’t the time). I would think about practicing your exact phrasing with a trusted, very polished friend until you can say it in a neutral tone and without words like, “lying” and “falsified negative information.”

      1. Mike C.

        but the tone of your letter comes off as emotionally charged and I have trouble imagining some of that isn’t coming through in the way you communicate this

        Lots of people say this, but I think it’s really reaching. There are huge differences between how people present themselves in a variety of places and situations and it’s much more likely that the OP felt this was a safe space to vent a little rather than being a leaking sieve of emotional outbursts.

        Think about how many times you see on the news the neighbor of some terrible criminal where they have said, “I can’t believe she was a killer, she was always so nice!”

        Same thing.

        1. P

          Yeah, I agree with this. I honestly didn’t even think the LW seemed that emotionally charged to begin with (if saying that someone is “lying” is emotionally charged, what would you even say in its place? “telling non-truths”?), but even if they were or if I’m off on that, that’s no reason to assume that they’re going to catch an attitude or show their grudge when they’re telling a potential employer.

          There’s a big difference in tone between when I whine to my friends about something and when I confront the person at work, and I’m not sure why we’d assume the LW can’t make that distinction too.

        2. Mr Robot

          I picked up on a bit of indignation in OP4’s letter, but what would concern me is that he’s taking legal action against the former boss. I understand that OP4 has their reasons for doing this, but – I think any potential employer who hears about it might have a few problems with hiring someone who is (I assume) suing their former employer.

          1. Mike C.

            What else should you do if you earnestly believe someone in a position to actually cause harm is defaming you?

            1. Anon in June

              Thank you for this. Earlier this year I won an unfair dismissal case in the UK against my former employers on all 5 counts put before the tribunal court. One of these was described as “wholesale and deliberate falsehoods” by the judge. The relief was something I will never forgot. Defamation by an employer (if it is) can do you real harm. One order in the settlement was to provide truthful references about me. I was temping and job searching but the proceedings were in low key as these things go and did far more good than harm to my job search.

          2. Chris

            I’m not concerned because I’ll win the lawsuit. Besides it’s an EEOC claim which is protected by the civil rights law. My former employer is also now retaliating against me for this….. which I’m gonna get him for that as well.

            1. Spooky

              Your last sentence is exactly the same kind of thinking that’s worrying people, though. “I’m gonna get him” makes it sound like a personal vendetta, and one that employers will want to steer far clear of.

              1. So Very Anonymous

                Again, what the OP says here is not necessarily what s/he would say in an interviewer. You’re kind of making it sound like the OP can’t say anything, ever, to anyone about what they think is actually happening. OP is asking for advice on how to talk to interviewers, which suggests to me that s/he needs help with scripts for that. You can’t come up with scripts unless you acknowledge what specifically you need the scripts to help you phrase.

                1. Chris

                  Exactly. I don’t have a grudge or anything. When I say “I’m gonna get him for this and this” what I am infact saying is “I am reaching out to my rights”.

                2. LBK

                  But how you react to personal things in a work context is part of professionalism. You can still mentally choose to treat something personal as a business issue and talk about it as such. Vindictive/vengeful phrasing doesn’t do that.

                3. nona

                  LBK – I think OP sounding angry here is understandable and doesn’t represent how OP would speak in real life.

              2. Melissa

                Well, it kind of is a justifiable personal vendetta. His employer is retaliating against him for asserting his legal right to not be discriminated against, under the EEOC provisions. Why would he not want to correct that?

            2. Student

              About 65% of cases filed under EEOC are losses for the plaintiff – ruling of “no reasonable cause”. Good luck to you, but the odds are against you.

              1. Chris

                Not in this case. I am 100% sure I will win. A lot of it has to do with how he’s responding to the EEOC, and him retaliating guarantees my win even if they don’t find discrimination.

                1. John B Public

                  The name “Chris” is so common that this comment is irrelevant. In fact, you can’t even tell what gender OP is from the name. I wouldn’t worry about it.

                2. Zillah

                  @ John – He originally posted all these comments under a full name – “Chris LastName.” Alison has since edited out his last name.

            3. bridget

              Keep in mind that a potential employer can’t know from the outside whether your suit is meritorious or not. From their perspective, it could be a totally deserved vindication of your rights, or you could be a person with a tendency to be vindictive and litigious to employers, or anywhere in between the two. Lawsuits are very expensive and a huge pain in the ass. If employers have a lot of good candidates, and some don’t have a pending lawsuit with their former employers, I can’t say I totally blame them from playing it safe(r) and steering clear.

            4. JHS

              If you’re using your real name, I hope you consulted with your attorney before doing so. If your former employer found this website with your name on it and printed it out, you are really setting yourself up here. I would ask Allison if you can remove your identifying information from the site immediately.

                1. Chris

                  I did, and I asked Alison to remove my last name. Not sure what was going through my head.

                2. Katie the Fed

                  Good – I’m glad she did. She’s good people. Please take this as a warning to STOP posting and talking about your legal case though. If you’re this open here I shudder how much you’re saying elsewhere. Anything you say can definitely be used against you.

          3. JenGray

            I as an employer wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with an employee who is suing a former employer but only because in the state of Montana we have a blacklisting law (related to references) and we are not a “free will” employment state at least when it comes to firing employees (Employees can quit at any time but to fire someone you have to go through a process first). These laws are very specific so I would talk to the potential employee first before I completely wrote them off. If they have proof that what the former employer did broke the state law than that is different than the employee saying one thing and the employee another. You take a risk with anyone you hire.

          4. Observer

            It’s a bit of a catch 22. And, the OP really does need to put a stop to it. I’m betting that the former boss counts on your kind of calculation to protect him. In any case, it’s not clear to me that the OP is mentioning that part of it. I can’t see any reason why he would.

            1. Chris

              That;s the thing though. when I first filed I had serious doubts about winning the case. The former boss though has retaliated against me, I have reason to believe that he retaliated against the EEOC as well. When I had someone check my reference, he laughed when he heard my name, laughed at the person checking the reference and stated “he sues every employer he’s ever worked for”. No offense but how could he know that. Because of the way he’s acting I’ll win the claim and as a result this activity will stop, it will effect me short term, but not long term.

              Basically he keeps racking up evidence that I can use against him.

          5. Yep

            Exactly. Give them the heads up about the negative report they’ll get from the person, but do not mention the legal action.

            1. Chris

              good :) that’s what I did. I DID mention that he accused me of “suing every employer I’ve ever worked for” cause I wanted to give her some idea of what she might hear, but I didn’t say anything about the actual claim that’s against him, mostly because that’s none of anybody’s business.

          6. ITPuffNStuff

            this, unfortunately, is a stigma that gives employers one more reason to get away with anything, including explicit violations of employment law.

            it’s nearly never in an employee’s best interest to sue a current employer, even in those rare black and white situations in which the employer’s actions are both 100% illegal and 100% provable. the employer can, and will, find an excuse to fire the employee, and since performance evaluations are 100% subjective, it’s trivially easy to manufacture a convincing case that anyone’s performance is inadequate. suing a former employer is similarly not in the employee’s best interest, because even if the employee’s reasons to sue fell into one of those rare black and white situations, future employers will always view the employee as a liability risk.

            the takeaway? go ahead and do whatever you want, employers. it’s an (almost) completely open game, and employment laws are really just unenforceable suggestions.

            1. Kory P

              My guess is that you have fortunately never been sued. The legal costs of defending an employee lawsuit are astronomical. Even if you as an employer win (which most of the time is the case), you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in man-hours/retained council to reach that verdict. Settlements are almost always cheaper, but my employer defends EEOC suits as a matter of principle. These cases are a nightmare for all but the largest corporations that can afford litigation.

              I can also tell you from personal experience that good companies take employment law VERY seriously. I once had an employee make wildly false claims against me (HR investigated and confirmed this to me) but I was told in no uncertain terms that I would be in huge trouble if I so much as thought anything retaliatory against the employee. Also, the companies that I have worked for make you jump through all kinds of hoops if you want to fire an employee. Even if an employee is glaringly unfit for a role, it took months to terminate the employee. Unless they throw punches at you or something, it’s generally pretty difficult to involuntarily terminate someone’s employment.

      2. Chris

        Trust me :) when I talk with my potential employers, it IS very professional. As stated in a few posts down, this is a safe place so I felt safe to add a little more emotion into it.

    2. M-C

      Also, how do potential employers get to hear those lies? Stop giving out that person’s info. You get to -choose- who you give out as a reference. Most people can guess that you’re leaving your job because you’re working for a jerk, they don’t need to hear that side of the story.

      1. Mike C.

        Uh, lots of employers require such info, and it’s ready to call folks who aren’t on the list supplied by the candidate.

        1. Natalie

          Are you forewarning prospective employers that this reference isn’t going to be positive? I know Alison has written a column about this beforehand with wording suggestions that might be helpful.

      2. Zillah

        As Alison has said on multiple occasions, though, good reference checkers will often go outside the list the candidate gives them. And, there are plenty of reasons to leave a workplace other than your boss being a jerk.

        1. KJR

          Exactly. I rarely call the people on the reference list provided to me, unless they also happen to be a former manager or supervisor.

        2. CAA

          Yes, it can happen (and it’s perfectly legal for me as an employer to call up anybody and ask what they think of you), but it’s really not common. 9 times out of 10, when I’m looking at a resume, there’s no obvious connection to anyone I might know, and I’m not about to call up a stranger to see what they think. The point of making calls outside the reference list is to reach out to people whose judgment and opinions I respect, and a random stranger doesn’t qualify.

          When you give a list of references, those should only be people who will say good things about you. If you can’t provide three managers, that’s ok. Give as many of your former managers who you believe will provide a good reference as you can, and use former colleagues, preferably those who supervise somebody, even if it’s not you, for the others.

          When you fill out an application and give a list of former employers, just provide the info without commentary. If this is for a white-collar job where you’re also providing a resume, I would even say you don’t have to check the box that says it’s ok to contact the former employers. Honestly, the hiring manager is mostly looking at the resume and cover letter you attached. I glance at a couple of the application fields (expected salary and U.S. citizenship status) but otherwise, I never read it. Not checking that box might raise a red flag in retail or fast-food type jobs though.

          1. Natalie

            If this person is the OP’s most recent supervisor, I could see a prospective employer calling them specifically *because* they aren’t listed as a reference. That would be somewhat curious, and if OP isn’t clarifying why the supervisor isn’t listed, a prospective employer may assume they are trying to hide a (true) bad reference.

            1. Chris

              see that’s kind of what I think, that’s why I don’t want to hide it. My tactic in this whole thing was showing myself to be an up front and honest person. I feel like if I show myself to be honest about stuff, it will appear less like I’m trying to hide something, or that I did something wrong.

              1. LBK

                Your two options aren’t just completely hiding it or doling out all the details, though. There’s a middle ground that’s professional but still honest.

              2. Dove

                I don’t know — a lot of people (most?) in office jobs don’t list their current or most recent superviser as a reference because they need to be discreet in searching for a new job.

                1. NJ Anon

                  This. I left my old job and when job hunting purposely did not give my supervisor as a reference and I told the interviewers that I didn’t want him to know. They were fine with that. I had other solid references and it wasn’t an issue.

                2. Zillah

                  @ Natalie – Exactly. And, it seems like he may have quit without having another job lined up, which would raise questions all on its own.

            2. CAA

              I can only speak for myself here, but I can definitely say that there is zero chance that I will pick up a phone and reach out to a total stranger. I accept that there may be other employers who routinely do these types of random phone calls, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority are more like me. After all, there’s a fairly large fraction of employers (not AAM readers obviously) who don’t even check references at all.

              I can also state that despite having managed several hundred people over the past 20 years, I’ve never once been contacted by a stranger asking about a former employee that had not listed me as a reference. I have received emails and phone calls from people I know asking about some mutual acquaintance, and I have also sent those sorts of emails.

              Again, I am hiring for exempt professional roles. YMMV if you’re in some other type of role.

      3. MegEB

        You actually don’t, though, which is something Alison has discussed several times on this site. Many hiring managers will call employers not listed on the reference list, which is why having a bad reference can be so problematic.

      4. TootsNYC

        Also–work to buffer this person’s input.

        Was there anyone else at your company who outranked you and saw your work somewhat clearly? Put them on the list that you provide, and explain their work relationship with you. It might be awkward for them if they still work there, but they might be willing anyway. And if they’ve left, they may be more than willing.

        Also, put more than one person from that company.

        I often give references for people who were managed by a colleague, or for colleagues. I’m a great reference, even though I’m not their manager, because I go into detail, and I look at their work, and what I need to say, from a manager’s eyes. I talk about initiative, thoroughness, communication, reliability–and I give concrete examples of times that *I* personally saw those attributes and skills.
        Find the “me” in your company, and use them. Then perhaps say, not that this guy will lie, but that “there’s an awkward relationship, and I think this other person will give a more accurate picture of my time there.”

    3. MK

      I think you aren’t being 100% clear0minded about this. You talk of the hiring manager “siding” with the former employer and thinking them a saint and the candidate a liar, but the hiring manager has zero interest in your ongoing contentious relatiosnhip with your former boss.

      To begin with, your stil looking for a job may not be because of the bad reference. And, if it is, it’s not because the hiring manager believes your former boss is telling the truth, it’s because they aren’t sure that he might be. If they have another (or more) candidate that is as good as you, it makes sense to go with someone who isn’t a risk. And they really aren’t there to play detective and examine the evidence you have.

      Also, saying that someone is lying about you and if you call them they will get falsified negative information is not a very professional way to address this (I am assuming you are using this phrase). It would be better, for example, to say that your former boss are not on good terms and his reference is unreliable.

      1. Graciosa

        I want to echo this very strongly. When I read the letter, my first thought was “Oh, I don’t want to get in the middle of this.”

        It sounds as though the OP is (understandably) very upset, but the truth is that I don’t want to hire drama – even righteous indignation. I don’t want to have to examine evidence and judge the combatants. I just want to manage my team, develop my people, and get the work done.

        I am glad that the OP is taking this to court, where someone is paid to handle this stuff – but as a hiring manager, that’s not me. If it seems like a candidate is overly focused on recruiting me into this melee – or sees hiring as a proxy for a victory against the former boss – I’m going to politely decline to get involved, which means that the OP has just been crossed off the list as a candidate.

        Just to be clear, I do not dismiss candidates because of one bad reference from a former manager. That stuff happens, and I get it. I’m reacting solely to the way this information is presented by the OP before I’ve even called the former manager.

    4. James M

      I’m guessing a lot of readers are going to comment on your phrasing of “Old Boss is a liar-liar pants on fire!” Since you’re pursuing legal action, I think it would be sufficient to ask “Please don’t contact Old Boss since I am currently in litigation against him.”. I wouldn’t offer any more detail than that, and only the most obtuse employers would hold it against you.

      1. BRR

        That’s a good point, some way of pointing out legal action would likely stop a reference check with him. Although I think it needs to be worded carefully because if I was a hiring manager it would set off a warning you’re suing your former manager.

        Also, do you know your other reference are good? Unless you’re without a shadow of a doubt sure they’re good I would have a friend call and pretend to be a reference checker.

        1. Chris

          That’s how I found out about this bad reference honestly. All my other employers only give dates of employment, pay rates, ect [as per HR policies]. I have great personnel references though and will probably seek to grow that list.

          1. Zillah

            Wait – are these personnel references from supervisors? Bc if not, that’s a different problem.

            1. Chris

              a few are, but a few are not. I’m not concerned about it though because we live in the 21st century and luckily references are only 1 way to “deduce” a person’s character. It’s a big factor, but certainly not the only one.

              1. Zillah

                It’s absolutely true that references aren’t the only way to judge someone’s character, but… that’s not really what I’m saying.

                I’m not really sure what living in the 21st century has to do with this. It’s not about “deducing a person’s character” – that’s a very broad term, and IMO, it’s not a useful way of looking at it. References are a piece of evaluating a person for their capacity to perform a job – sure, you want your employees to be ethical, but as with dating, being a decent person is kind of the minimum bar that a number of people meet.

                If a few of your references are former supervisors, why are you still using references that aren’t? Usually all you need is three, at least in the US – not sure if that’s where you’re from as well.

              2. neverjaunty

                Employers aren’t trying to deduce a person’s character so much as figure out if they are a good hire. I’m not sure what the century has to do with this.

                1. LBK

                  That’s…not really true. Being a good employee is a lot more than just being a good person (and I’d argue that you might actually be able to be really good at business without being a particularly good person in general. See: Steve Jobs).

                2. neverjaunty

                  A good character, whatever that means, is not by itself enough for a “good hire”. If a person lacks essential job skills or required certifications, it doesn’t matter if they’re otherwise a nice person with loyal friends.

                3. Judy

                  Also, being a good hire in a job that is 90% attaching handles and 10% teapot painting may not translate into being a good hire in a job that’s 100% teapot painting or 100% attaching the spout.

                4. Chris

                  the 21st century makes it easy to find resources to figure who what kind of person someone is. That’s kind of what I meant by that.

                  As for being a good person not meaning being a good hire? I…. am kind of shocked by that statement honestly. A person without skills can be trained but you can train person’s character. A person might be good at their job, and than steal from your company.

                  You can’t put a price on character and the idea that employers don’t care about character greatly concerns me on a very practical level.

                  I wouldn’t wanna work for somebody who doesn’t care about character.

                5. Kelly L.

                  @Chris, what is it you mean by character? I agree with Zillah above that in some broad strokes, it matters (like, you don’t want someone who’ll steal from the company), but really, really, most employers care if you can do the job more than they care if you’re a nice person.

                  Additionally, if you’re in litigation, I’m not sure you want to be all over these comments with what looks like your real name.

                6. LBK

                  I care about someone’s character as it pertains to their work – I obviously don’t want someone who’s going to steal from the company, but the kind of broad strokes it feels like you’re painting with about “what kind of person someone is” falls outside the scope of a job interview. I think people are also very different inside and outside of work (not necessarily on the extremes like stealing, but on a more personal scale) so using those 21st century resources may be doing yourself a disservice. If you looked at my Facebook you might see that I like partying on the weekends; that doesn’t mean I’m going to show up to work drunk.

                7. Ezri

                  I imagine that many good hiring managers do look at character… to an extent. But it’s probably not ‘so-and-so is a good person’ as much as ‘so-and-so doesn’t steal from the register and is capable of being enough of a team player to do the job’. For a lot of that they have to rely on firsthand experience, which is where references come in.

                  The problem isn’t that you are wrong in your assessment of the bad reference (people do lie). The problem is that by laying out all the details beforehand you are giving hiring managers a red flag that other candidates might not be presenting.

                  You said upthread that the ex-boss laughs at reference-checkers and says you sue everyone. I imagine that most reasonable people would view that with a grain of salt, or possibly a bucketload. If he’s that obnoxious, you should let him dig his own hole by being perfectly professional and providing other references with glowing reviews. By jumping the gun and giving loads of detail and bringing up the lawsuit, you are bringing attention to his drama. If you really want to say something, other commenters have given good wording options that are simple and professional.

                8. MK

                  Chris, employers are looking for someone who has both skills and good character. And usually they have plenty of candidates to choose from.

                9. Zillah

                  @ Chris – To push the dating analogy a little further –

                  Presumably, when most people are evaluating prospective dates, they’re looking for someone who’s a reasonably good person. However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to want to go out on a date with every good person they meet, let alone get into a serious relationship with every good person they meet. That’s because for most people, there’s a lot more they look for in a potential partner than just “good person.”

                  Employers are looking for additional characteristics, too. They probably don’t want to hire someone who will steal from them or sexually harass fellow employees, but that’s not where the list ends. They may need someone with good customer service skills, or someone who’s experienced with certain software, or someone with teaching experience. These are all skills that a person with “a good character” may not have, which would in fact make them a very bad hire.

          2. Sunshine Brite

            Gah, those policies. I’m not sure about my current job, but my last 2 are unable to provide references which are my only 2 previous jobs of any note/relevance. I have a list of coworkers ready and make a note that the agencies won’t allow managers to elaborate and really want all reference activity to be directed through HR only and cross my fingers that that’s enough.

            1. CAA

              Are all your former managers still working at those same places? Once they’ve moved on, they’re no longer bound by their former employer’s policy, and that’s when they can be good references for you.

          3. KJR

            Just from one HR person’s perspective, FWIW – I do not call personal references at all. I am only interested in your employment background, and am assuming that personal references will a) only be good, and more importantly b) will not necessarily be able to speak to your work habits/history. I would consider not putting your reference eggs in this particular basket. I wish you luck in this, it sounds like a very difficult situation!

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Agreed. I would never call a personal reference and would be a little put off if a candidate supplied them without being asked; I’d think they didn’t understand professional norms (unless they were brand new to the workforce).

              Chris/OP, please don’t use personal references; that’s going to turn off a lot of hiring managers. You need professional references — ideally managers, but if that’s absolutely not possible, then others who have worked with you.

              1. Chris

                I think I have confused my terminology. By “personnel references” I meant direct contacts with people I work with. 1 person is a manager, one person is an assistant supervisor, and the other one is a co-worker.

                I am assuming by these contact that “personnel references” are being meant by the idea of “people you know, but have never worked with/under”.

                Thank you for feedback :)

                1. Chris

                  I am assuming by these **comments** that “personnel references” are being meant by the idea of “people you know, but have never worked with/under”.

                2. Zillah

                  @ Chris – Yes. IME, personal references are very distinct from professional references, and are used to refer to people you know in a social context.

                3. TootsNYC

                  So you are consciously using “personnel” (meaning, “people hired for a job”) as a synonym for “professional” and not as a misspelling of “personal.”

          4. BRR

            THIS IS IT! Sorry I needed emphasis.

            In most industries, you need someone to speak about you as a worker. Having references only confirm information is hurting you. I’m going to attach some links to posts that will show up after Alison clears them from the spam filter.

          5. lawsuited

            Wait, do you mean *personal* references, as in, references from people who know you but not in a working capacity. Even in the 21st century, those are not adequate substitutes for professional references. It’s not that all your professional references have to be from employer supervisors – sometimes they can be from clients, senior colleagues, a supervisor where you volunteer – but having a friend of the family vouch for your character is not going to cut it.

            1. NJ Anon

              I once interviewed someone who’s references were her husband, mother-in-law and friend. I mean, yikes!

      2. Artemesia

        But this just shows how tough it is. In my experience what you find during the interview process is what you get. I’d be reluctant to hire someone embroiled in litigation with an employer since I would assume I’d be next. Hiring trouble is generally not wise. This means that people in the situation of the OP do get victimized.

        1. Anna

          I don’t understand why you’d assume you’d be next when you could just as easily assume that it’s an aberration based on the very limited information you’re given. It becomes this weird form of passive punishment for people recognizing and fighting for their rights. Sure some claims are frivolous, but how would you know?

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            Yes. Discouraging people from filing lawsuits because it might prevent them from being hired in the future means that employee protection laws are rarely enforced, which is terrible for everyone except bad employers. It’s terrible for employees, obviously, but it’s also terrible for good employers, because they’re forced into an unfair competition with employers that don’t obey the law.

            And very few people are going to file a frivolous lawsuit for the hell of it. Lawsuits require a huge amount of time, money, and grief. The few people who *would* file frivolous lawsuits usually file lots of them, and usually also have fraud convictions and the like – they’re basically con artists. (Anybody else remember Doctor Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?)

            Disqualifying prospective employees because they’ve sued an employer who violated employment laws should be illegal. Anything less outrageously stacks the deck in favor of bad employers.

          2. Marcela

            Yes. That worries me immensely. It’s not only about being unable to even recognize that the working experience of somebody can (and is) different from mine, and crazy and evil superiors exist. It’s literally telling somebody “allow yourself to be abused without fighting back”, which sounds absolutely outrageous if said for another situation where the law can and should protect us.

    5. Colette

      I’m concerned about your statement that you can prove the feedback is 100% false. Most things a reference says are not provable – that’s why references exist. If a reference says you were late four times a week, you can’t prove that you weren’t. If they say your work was sloppy, you can’t prove it wasn’t. If they say you didn’t get along with your coworkers or you swore at customers or you quit with no notice, you can’t prove you didn’t.

      You’d be better off providing other references who can speak to your work than saying you can prove your reference is lying (if that’s what you’re saying).

      1. Chris

        I CAN prove it though. It’s not as cut and dry as I’m making it and that is true, but I have a good reputation with basically every other person I’ve ever worked with in any job [which would negate any negative feedback]. If he says I broke any laws or anything, a quick background check would debunk that easily.

        1. Colette

          But having a good reputation just means there are other people who disagree with your boss. It doesn’t prove anything. And not having a criminal record means you weren’t convicted of a crime, not that you didn’t commit one. Again, it proves nothing.

          That doesn’t mean your former manager is telling the truth, but it’s not the conclusive vindication you seem to think it is.

          Your best bet is to provide references who will speak highly of you and allow the hiring manager to make up her own mind. You can’t “win” a reference check.

          1. Chris

            I would say that’s an unfair assessment. To take somebody’s word over overwhelming evidence? I don’t see that as being a smart move for either person and honestly not a good hiring tactic. I get your [and other’s point] though about it not being the person’s job to play judge and jury, but this is about finding the best candidate. If everything about you says you’d be a great fit for a job, and a former employer is the only thing that says anything bad about you and is the only point of reference where there is any negativity about you at all? And you don’t get the job because of that? I just don’t think that’s smart. I think people need to also see the “you might miss out on a great employee” perspective of it.

            1. Colette

              I’m not suggesting that the hiring manager should – or would – take one ex-manager’s word over other, good references. I’m saying that assuming your good references prove that the bad reference is wrong is not helping you.

              Are your good references former managers? If not, how can you work on getting positive references who have managed you?

              You’re coming across to me as if you’re approaching this adversarial lay, as if you think you can argue a hiring manager into hiring you. That’s not going to work.

              Life is not fair. In particular, job hunting is not fair. No one is going to swoop in to say “actually, you can’t consider the information this reference gives you because he’s a loon”. All you can do is control the parts of the process in your control. Write a solid resume and cover letter and provide contact information for former managers who will speak well of you.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yes, I agree. Chris, you’re saying things like you can “prove” this 100% — but in fact you can’t, which is what people here are pointing out to you. That’s indicative of you not looking at this the way an employer will, and that will harm you — you need to understand how employers will see this, not how you see this. And employers will not be interested in you providing anything, or trying to. They’ll be interested in you talking about this professionally, calmly, and briefly without hyperbole (and it IS hyperbole when you say you can prove things that in fact don’t fall in that category).

            2. LBK

              But with a glut of candidates available, the odds that they’ll have someone who’d also be great at the job and won’t also require an investigation are pretty high. I wouldn’t in any way encourage the interviewer to do additional research to prove who’s right or wrong – because realistically, unless you are otherwise an absolutely godsend, they probably won’t. They’ll move on to someone else who’s highly qualified and is less effort to bring in.

              I’m with Colette – I’d basically deflect around the issue as much as possible and provide some extremely strong references; ultimately it’s better for you to actually discourage them from even needing to call this manager rather than turning it into a he said/she said of verifying his statements.

        2. neverjaunty

          What do you mean when you say it is “not as cut and dry” as you are making it? I’m getting confused now because you were talking about this guy lying about you and now you’re saying maybe it’s not that simple.

          1. Chris

            circumstantial evidence is what I would have. circumstantial evidence by nature is not “cut and dry”. sorry for the confusion.

        3. themmases

          I see what you’re saying, but having a lot of references who disagree with your boss about your general character isn’t proof unless they remember a specific incident opposite from how your boss would tell it. It could just indicate that you and your boss really didn’t get along, even though people usually love to work with you. Then your boss and your other references would both be “right” even though they disagree.

          Proof would be more like having saved performance reviews where your boss rated you highly at the time but is out there badmouthing you now. Do you have anything like that? I think that could really help you out, in your job search and probably your litigation.

          You also don’t have to give out your boss’s contact information for references, and you probably shouldn’t if you’re in litigation against him. Give out the information for your old company’s HR department, or your boss’s boss if your complaint isn’t against that person. If all else fails, don’t use colleagues at the same level as you if at all possible. Use people senior to you or people to whom you delivered a lot of work and would know about a large chunk of your performance. If asked for your direct supervisor, just say that unfortunately that person can’t be contacted for references for your job search but you can offer contact information for boss’s boss, HR, the project manager to whom you submitted most of your work, etc.

          I’m sure you have a good reason for saying that your boss is lying, rather than that your boss is just overly negative or something. I think this thread is more about the most *effective* way for you to present yourself rather than about whether you are right. No hiring manager can really judge your story from the outside (nor do they want to), so every detail about your relationship to your boss is one plot point closer to giving them the whole story. You never know when you’re talking to someone who made a terrible hire in the past with a back story that sounded a lot like yours.

          1. Chris

            He never gave performance reviews [that should give you an idea of what kind of place it was]. I have saved performance reviews from other jobs [one I even got promoted in] and considering I’m the same person no matter where I work….

            1. TootsNYC

              Actually–you may not be the same person no matter where you work.

              I can tell you from personal experience—as an employee, not a manager—that someone who is generally a great employee can change. Hopefully they can change back to being great; sometimes that change is prompted by the dynamics of that particular relationship, sometimes it’s medical/biological, sometimes it’s a form of civilian PTSD, sometimes it’s job fatigue….

              But you can have been the one who screwed up, not the manager. In your own situation, I’m perfectly willing to trust your account. But be aware that you’re proceeding in this discuss as if everyone agrees with that statement (“I’m the same at every job”), and most of us know that this is not always true.

              So I would treat this guy and his reference like a telemarketer. I.e., don’t let him enter the conversation at all. Find other references from that job, and tell people that

              1. Kelly L.

                I will agree with this. We had a thread about call centers and telemarketing a few months ago that made me think about this. I’m an employee who, in general, will have great attendance and will give you at least two weeks’ notice if I quit. At this one particular horrible job, I pretty much blew it off completely because the entire workplace was such a hot mess and I felt so spectacularly disrespected. Does that mean my behavior there was the sum of my character? Does it mean my good behavior at other jobs was the sum of my character instead? Neither, really–I have good and bad in me like anyone else.

                1. Zillah

                  Ditto. I had a PT job at one point that stressed me out that I was constantly sick during the six months I had it and I had to escape to the bathroom to cry multiple times because I felt that they were asking me to do things that would put others in danger despite my saying very clearly on multiple occasions that I didn’t feel like I was able to do what they were asking me to do safely. I told my boss two days before a two week break that I’d get in touch with her when my schedule sorted out, because I was going back to school. I never called her back.

                  Really poor behavior – and not at all representative of my performance as an employee in other positions I’ve held.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                But be aware that you’re proceeding in this discuss as if everyone agrees with that statement (“I’m the same at every job”), and most of us know that this is not always true.

                Chris, I would say that you’re doing a lot of assuming that people will see things the way you do on a number of fronts, when that’s not the case. This thread is full of people telling you that stuff that you’re taking as absolutes will not be seen that way by others. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to listen to the feedback that you’re getting here, and factor that into your thinking.

                It’s not about whether you’re right or not. It’s about presenting it effectively, and understanding that what seems obvious/correct to you isn’t necessarily going to seem that way to employers. Understanding that (not resisting it) will help you present the whole thing more effectively in your job search.

                1. Chris

                  ok. :) I do think there has been a lot of assuming here [and I might be partly to blame for it]. Honestly based upon the comments I’ve seen, I think I’ve handled it pretty well. Where I am erroring I think is not communicating that effectively on these boards. I think I’ll stop at this point. It’s turning counter productive.

                  Have a great day and thanks for the help!!! :)

                2. LBK

                  So you’re satisfied with what you’ve been doing and you think the problem is just that you didn’t make it clear what you’ve been doing here? That’s really disappointing and frustrating – assuming we all just don’t understand what you’re trying to say is basically washing out all the advice you’ve gotten here. If you’re not willing to understand that what goes on in your head isn’t always what comes out and that people won’t always read your actions the same way you intend them, you’re going to continue to come off poorly when talking about this situation. You cannot under any circumstances talk about proving things or truth vs lies in your job hunt – it’s never going to make you look good.

                3. Katie the Fed

                  I’m late wading into all of this – I found the initial letter concerning for reasons other people have pointed out.

                  Chris, I really urge you to try to see this from potential employers’ perspective. This isn’t a court of law – it’s all about opinions and presentation. It doesn’t matter if you’re right if they’re seeing red flags.

                4. AGirlCalledFriday

                  I’m having a hard time reading these comments. The OP has been willing to listen to the many many many comments about why he/she is wrong. At this point it just seems like major piling on and I hate to read that when the OP is being so transparent and communicative here.

            2. Kate M

              But somebody can be great at one job and terrible at another job. Not saying that you were terrible at all – I just mean that having successes in other jobs doesn’t necessarily mean that you were great at this one particular job (to a hiring manager). You might be the same person, but being a good person doesn’t necessarily earn you a good working review.

      2. Graciosa

        Just another note that the focus on “proving” you’re right and the criticisms are wrong is not something that will come across well to a hiring manager.

        Not only because of unwillingness to get involved in the drama (noted above), but also because it presents as unprofessionally absolutist.

        As managers, we have usually struggled with someone overly resistant to legitimate feedback about their performance. These people are almost impossible to manage – other than through dismissal – and we hate having them on our teams. I would definitely hire someone starting with a lower (but acceptable) level of skill who is very responsive to coaching over a highly skilled individual who insists he is always right.

        It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being. I’m not sure whether that’s what you intend, but it is the way it is presenting to me, as a hiring manager, based on the very limited information I’m working with.

        I would absolutely not hire you.

        Again, based not on the poor reference, but on the way you’re presenting to me.

        I hope you realize that I’m not posting this to beat up on you – it sounds like you’re having enough other issues as a result of the original situation and I certainly don’t want to make it worse. I am hoping to help you understand how this comes across to people uninvolved in the situation so you can alter your approach in ways that will help you get the job you deserve.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          “It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being. ”

          I don’t understand this comment at all. First of all, the OP already said that he phrases the situation more professionally in interviews, so you shouldn’t base your hypothetical hiring on the way he said it here. Second, are you really not open to the idea that a candidate can be right about a former boss being horrible, both as a boss and as a person? Why are you going straight to assuming the OP is someone who thinks he’s always right and not open to correction?

          My sister had a former boss who told lies about her after she left. Thankfully, a board member learned off it and told him to cut it out. He was a horrible, horrible boss. But she apparently couldn’t come here to get advice, and she couldn’t clarify anything with a potential employer, without her being someone who isn’t open to correction?

          I just don’t see where you are getting so many assumptions about the OP from his letter.

          1. Colette

            The issue is that the hiring manager has little information about the candidate. There’s no xcomoelling reason to believe them over the manager.

            1. neverjaunty

              Right, and a candidate who comes in with “here is my argument about why I am right and you should talk to personal references instead” is doing nothing to suggest the candidate is in the right and the hiring manager is not.

          2. Just Another Techie

            So in the comments here at AAM, we always assume the letter writers are accurately recounting their situations and try to read the letters as charitably as we can. That ethic absolutely doesn’t apply to hiring managers though. A hiring manager has a guy in front of him who is absolutely convinced that he is entirely in the right and that other fellow is entirely in the wrong, and as the hiring manager, I have no idea if the guy in front of me is (to pick a silly example) an evolutionist poking fun at the Creationist Museum, or a die hard young earth creationist. In other words, as the hiring manager, you have no idea if the guy convinced of his own rightness is *actually in reality* right or not.

            1. JB (not in Houston)

              Was that a response to me? I may not have been clear, but the point of my comment was that i did not understand why this comment was made: “It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being. ” And your comment, though correct, doesn’t relate to my point.

        2. Chris

          your entitled to your opinion. But I can say with absolute certainty that I am confident in the information I present? Why admit wrong when there is no wrong done? It’s not stubborn, it’s honest. It’s that kind of mindset that frustrates me.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            Confident or not and accurate or not it really makes little difference it’s all about how you want to be perceived. You could well be 100% right but hiring managers are not going to know that from the information you present and you risk turning them off to hiring you. Graciosa’s assessment is one that many reasonable, level headed hiring managers might come to that is why it it so important for YOU (and it really is all about you not anyone else) to frame this situation in the best way possible to minimise the impact it has on your future job prospects.

            I get the situation is frustrating for you but you can NOT give any hint of that whilst interviewing if it comes to a choice between you and another candidate you don’t want this to be deciding factor, there’s little you can do about the situation but you can control your response to it.

          2. LBK

            You’re kind of missing the point, though – whether you’re 100% right or not, a hiring manager that just met you 5 minutes ago has no basis to take your word on anything, and trying to bargain on the trust someone has for you usually has inverse results. That is, the more you try to push someone that’s basically a stranger to believe you, the less likely they usually are to do so. By contrast, being more nonchalant about it usually puts people at ease; if you’re not insisting on them fact checking every statement or even suggesting that they could, they’re actually more likely to just go with your version of the story.

          3. Artemesia

            The point people keep making is that hiring managers have little information about a candidate and how you present yourself is critical. We have all managed people who won’t take feedback who have to always argue, who are always right and we don’t want more people like this. So how should someone in your situation manage the process without projecting that you will be a PITA to work with? The fact that you are defensive here when given the manager’s point of view does not bode well for how this will come across in the hiring process. People really don’t want to hire people in a self righteous funk even if they are RIGHT. Fair? No. Reality? I think so. You have a difficult task — to project that you are a reasonable, employee responsive to critical feedback while presenting information designed to derail the former boss’s bad review. Not easy but you need to figure out how to come across as a non-defensive, effective and manageable employee and not a ball of resentment and defensiveness.

          4. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think you’re missing what a lot of us are saying to you. You can be 100% right. But that’s irrelevant. This is about how you present the situation to a hiring manager, and the way you’re presenting it here (and saying you present it to employers) is going to turn people off. I really, really hope you’ll listen to that.

        3. Sue Wilson

          I wonder if you would find it fair for me to question your competence in hiring if you can’t contextualize someone saying something here and someone talking to you in an interview from the limited information I have?

          1. Artemesia

            We have no idea how he presents this in an interview. We do know what would prevent us from hiring someone. Presenting this perspective is USEFUL to the OP if he listens and modifies his behavior in the interviews. Or it is useful to some other reader down the road in a similar situation. We see the OP behaving defensively here; why would we not assume this will come across in interviews?

              1. LBK

                Whether it’s your intention or not, that’s how you’re coming across; if it quacks like a duck, I’m going to assume it’s a duck.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            But the OP has talked about how he talks about it in interviews, and that’s what Graciosa (and I, and others) are finding so troubling.

            1. Chris

              I think a lot of that has been misunderstood [partly because of the way I have poorly communicated it]

        4. Mike C.

          It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being.

          I’m really sick of this attitude. Sometimes there is only one side of a story, the truth isn’t always in the middle and there are terrible managers that defame former employees out of spite.

          It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being.

          If someone is defaming me, I’m not going to be very concerned about their motivations for their comments, I’m going to be primarily concerned with the damage they are doing to me and my household by making lying. I’m not sure why I would have to balance that damage out by noting the person was a devoted father or he always tipped his prostitutes well or whatever.

          1. Mike C.

            Is prostitution even a tipped profession? They never seem to list it in those tipping guides.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t think anyone here is saying the OP’s side of the story can’t be right. We are pointing out how this kind of stance is going to come across to many hiring managers, which is useful information for the OP to have.

              1. neverjaunty

                There’s no catch-22 here. The issue isn’t whether OP is right, the issue is that hiring managers aren’t mind readers, and (as has been pointed out) OP needs to present in a professional way while also handling the fact that he has a sabotaging ex-boss.

        5. Erin

          There’s only so much the LW can say, and so, so many details we the commenters are not privy to.

          He shouldn’t have to add a disclaimer like, “Just for the record, I have in this job and others used constructive criticism from managers to reevaluate how I was approaching a project or a problem, such as when….”

        6. Marcela

          It doesn’t appear so far that you demonstrate any willingness to accept that there is anything accurate that your former manager could say about you, or that he has any redeeming qualities as a human being.

          This is absolutely unfair. I had a horrible supervisor once. He does NOT have any redeeming quality as a human being. Even the cats he has at home are the cat his wife brought. He was the main researcher of a project and I was hired to help him develop a website and search engine. But he wasn’t actually doing anything (and that came to the light later, in some internal review), so his best strategy to not being found was not to give me anything to do or help me in any way, while at the same time he accused me in front of our boss of never do anything. He claimed my work, design and code was cheap, while I was being getting very good reviews from our boss and people in a different project. He also didn’t want anybody to participate in the project, so he pushed out all other researchers supposedly hired to work with him. And there are many more things. In my group he was known as the Nazi and nobody wanted to work with him.

          And now I have to think that when he says I’m lazy and my work is low quality, he is possibly giving accurate descriptions of me? WTF?!

          I do not understand this attitude of “yeah, I’ve never seen a brown horse, so they do not exist and if someone tells me they have one, they are lying”. There are horrible people out there. Many are bosses. Obviously I don’t talk about my horrible supervisor in the interviews, as I had another supervisor who was excellent and he is my reference. But if put in the spot of having to use him or if I knew there could be some possibility somebody is going to call him (which doesn’t because the way academic groups work) probably I’d say something about being not favorable, all while you could see from my reservations, in contrast to my other references, that I do not like him.

          And another thing. I don’t think OP is talking to us the same way he will talk to a potential employer. So I don’t think it is fair to get conclusions such as “I would absolutely not hire you” from that.

      3. Sue Wilson

        You can absolutely prove those things enough to get a judgement against an employer for defamation. I know defamation is hard to prove, but I wouldn’t go around telling people it’s impossible.

      4. Erin

        I hear what you’re saying, but I took him at his word. There’s only so much the LWs can say in their limited amount of space, and understandably they don’t provide every single detail. We don’t know what accusations are being said. Also, he has a legal professional advising him.

        Like he said below, if they’re saying he’s doing something illegal that can easily be proven false. If they said he was turning in work late, maybe he has emails sending projects in proving otherwise. If they said other coworkers made complaints about him, maybe he has solicited documentation from HR proving otherwise. Etc.

        1. LBK

          No one is questioning whether he’s right or wrong, though, it’s that getting into a discussion where you’re trying to prove that is already a red flag during a hiring process.

          1. Chris

            most of the time if someone gives an employer a bad reference [justified or not] they don’t even contact the potential employee for clarification. To tell or not to tell? That’s the question here and honestly it’s kind of a hard one to decide. I understand that bringing this forth might come off as presenting drama, but it might also come off as being someone who’s forthright and honest. Also what’s the alternative? To let someone defame a me without a fight? What’s the better of the 2 bad scenarios? That’s kind of what I’m faced with.

            1. LBK

              I’ve given a couple suggestions on what you could say as have others. It’s not bringing it forth that’s inherently dramatic, it’s bringing it forth in the way you’ve been doing it. You can be upfront without having to give too many details or without phrasing it in a way that comes off as adversarial and unprofessional.

              I also think you’re viewing it as if the hiring manager is a) definitely, 100% going to contact this manager no matter what you do, and b) will be unable to come to a conclusion about what your former manager says without your input. If it’s so clear that these are lies, why are you so concerned about having to defend yourself? If the story your manager tells is wildly inconsistent with what your other references say and what your work history says about you, no sane hiring manager is going to put stock into what your old manager is saying anyway.

            2. TootsNYC

              I think your fight against defamation is separate from your efforts to provide a reference that will help you get a job.

              So absolutely, tackle the fight with him. But don’t bring that fight into your interviews with other people.

              Work -around- him. You said he was a one-man shop. Did you interact with clients, and could they provide a reference?
              Or, can you point to specific skills/achievements that are parallel to work at other places you’ve worked, and stress that, when they ask for references, and you’re saying, “Well, this particular manager and I ended up with an odd relationship, so I’m not sure what he’ll say, but I was particularly good, I think at Skill X, and built on the good job I’d done at Company Before This Guy. The folks at CBTG can speak about those skills in some detail.”

              As for checking with the candidate when you get a negative reference? Well, that’s a “he said/she said” sort of situation. I’d want a second opinion from yet a different person.

              Or, just a warning, “That job devolved into an unhealthy dynamic, so I’m not sure that anything he says is going to be a really accurate picture. I can tell you that I think I did a particularly good job of doing X and Y. I added value in this way. You might ask him whether I created good relationships with clients.”
              Suggest the questions they should ask him, ones that point to things that are clearly, factually successes for you.
              Because if they *do* call him, he may not be able to think fast enough to lie about stuff like, “Chris tells me he regularly got compliments from your client the Chocolate Teapot Company. Is that true?” Or, if someone from the Choc.TeapotCo. is also on your list, they can call there and say, “did you like working with Chris?” and the discrepancy will show up.

              Another thing I’m wondering–is there something that triggered this effort by him? Or, something you can blame (like, he got mad that you quit) as the cause

              And then you can come up with something similar to this, from HappyHedgie downstream:
              ““I am unsure how objective my former manager will be in providing a reference as they did not take my leaving amicably. I do however, have excellent references from x, y, z.””

              Or similar.
              Just a heads-up that the guy may not be objective.

              1. Chris

                This is great advice.

                As for your question. The reason he is acting like this in the first place is it’s tied to the lawsuit which I have decided not to speak further on.

        2. Colette

          A hiring manager isn’t going to be interested in investigating any of that, though, so presenting it as “he’s lying and I can prove it” (even if worded more diplomatically) is going to result in the hiring manager moving on to the next candidate.

          1. Erin

            Yeah. I don’t disagree you there. Bringing it up at all is risky.

            However, I believe Alison has in the past (correct me if I’m wrong) said that if you are certain a past employer is going to say less than great things about you, it’s best to give the interviewer a heads up on that before they make that phone call.

            1. Colette

              A heads up is a good idea – but not offering to prove them wrong. Let the hiring manager know they’re not likely to get an objective reference and trust them to judge what is true and what is not.

              1. Anna

                I didn’t read that he was telling the HM he could prove the reference wrong; I read it as what the reference is telling HMs is wrong and he could easily prove it, meaning it is in fact defamation. I think there’s some confusion between what the conversation is with hiring managers when talking about this reference and what the conversation is in relation to the lawsuit.

                1. Colette

                  Here’s what he said upthread:

                  When I talked to my last employer I said the following almost word for word:

                  1. my former employer is telling lies about me to other prospective employers
                  2. I can prove anything he says is false
                  3. If you have any concerns about anything he says, let me know and I will be open and transparent about anything you want to know.

                  It sounds like he is saying it to hiring managers.

                2. Chris

                  this is right on. I never said I would attempt to prove it, I said I am able to prove it. It was an attempt to create confidence. I don’t expect her to call me and ask for proof. I expect her to have a better chance of believing by me being bold enough to say I can disprove it.

                3. Chris

                  @Colette

                  The 2nd and 3rd statement were not stated jointly like you presume. The 3rd statement was said at the end and was more of an attempt to promote transparency. [and I strongly feel the employer took it that way]. Again as people stated there’s only so much that can be said here and text communication can be dicey anyways.

                4. LBK

                  What it doesn’t seem like you’re realizing is that preemptively stating you can prove it actually comes off as a *lack* of confidence. Weird as it may be, the more attention is called to something, the more we naturally question it; saying you can prove it makes me wonder why it even needed to be proven in the first place. Otherwise I would’ve just assumed you were telling the truth anyone and moved along.

              2. Erin

                That’s good advice. The “proving wrong” seems overly defensive (if not justified).

                I think we’re pretty much in agreement – I just think what Graciosa said was unfair, about an unwillingness to accept that something this person is saying might be accurate. If they’re lying and defaming to the point legal action is being taken, then yes, I would probably question everything negative they have to say.

                I don’t think that necessarily means the OP has a problem accepting constructive criticism or legitimate negative feedback.

                1. LBK

                  I don’t think Graciosa meant that the OP should consider whether the manager might actually be right about what he’s saying about the OP, but rather that presenting yourself as that absolutist about the truth (even if you are actually 100% right) usually doesn’t reflect well on you. Yes, there are definitely situations where one person is totally right and one person is totally wrong, but they’re less common than situations with grey areas, so I think it’s beneficial to portray yourself as someone who’s not overly concerned with making sure people agree with your view of events. Present the minimal amount of info necessary to outline the situation and then trust that the hiring manager can make the right call – if you don’t push it too hard, I think most aren’t even likely to contact the bad manager.

                  Personally, the more you tell me that everything he says is a lie and you have proof of everything, the more inclined I am to call him up and see what he’s saying about you.

                2. Colette

                  I think we’re mostly in agreement, as well. However, I think Graciosa had a reasonable take. When you’re dealing with someone you don’t know and they tell you they have a dispute with someone else, it’s hard (if not impossible) to tell who is in the right and who is not (or whether they’re both wrong). Even when there’s a lawsuit, that doesn’t tell you whether it’s a well-founded lawsuit or a grudge suit that will be thrown out of court (and bringing that up as a candidate makes you someone who will sue your employer, which is not good). It’s much easier just to go with someone who doesn’t bring that kind of drama to the table.

  2. Cheesecake

    I agree with Alison on 1, but i feel for OP because i hate bcc. Why not go and talk to the person in private? Never have i ever seen bcc actually helping anything and amount of people who didn’t notice they were bcc’ed is darn high.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady

      BCC is useful for mailing lists, as it can be problematic to have a whole lot of email addresses where anyone can see them.

      Emails to all staff is sent this way at the company I work at.

      But that is the only use! Nothing else!

      1. the gold digger

        No! You are so wrong! BCC is so your in-laws can email your sister in law and tell her what a bad mother she is but keep everyone else in the loop. If they didn’t BCC everyone else in the family, they might have to forward the email instead and that’s a lot of work. (And it takes time away from watching online porn.)

        1. Yep

          Yes this is certainly better than outwardly emailing family members stupid crap like that, which has happened with my MIL in the past.

      2. Judy

        But if you BCC all staff, and then sometimes only BCC the managers but expect them to forward things, you get a mix of two scenarios:
        – BCC managers only with information that should be communicated to staff, but managers don’t forward because it is not clear.
        – BCC all staff, and every manger forwards it, because sometimes only managers are copied.

        It was so confusing at PastJob, because they would BCC lots of company communication, but not make it clear when they expected managers to forward it, and when they didn’t. As I effectively had 4 bosses, sometimes I’d get things 5 times, sometimes I wouldn’t get it.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Right, this is why you should have group lists in Outlook for those types of internal emails, like “All Staff”, “HQ Staff”, or “Senior Managers”, so all the recipients can tell at a glance who received it without having to guess based on the individual recipients. (The way we have Outlook set up, it shows the list name, not the individual recipients.)

          1. Natalie

            In my experience, even with that list 3-4 managers will forward the email, spaced out over about 2 weeks.

            On the plus side, it gives me a sense of who is on top of their email.

    2. MattRest

      #1 is why I haven’t used bcc in years. If I need to escalate issues I simply forward an e-mail I’ve already sent. No chance for a reply-all error.

    3. Another English Major

      I use bcc for people who were originally copied to see I am handling so they don’t keep getting copied when they don’t need to be. I also bcc ppl I am training.

      Most ppl on my organization use it that way.

      1. AnonAnalyst

        Yes, these are the times when people in my company use it. We also use it at times for emails where someone else needs to know the info but the person originally sending the message might get confused when more people are added to the email list. An example of the former might be that a client sends in a request that will ultimate affect the workflow of a separate internal team that the client has never worked with directly.

        We could just forward all of those emails, but BCC works just as well in those situations for us (and saves a step of having to forward the emails separately).

      2. Cheesecake

        But your recipient that you so carefully protect from getting cc’ed, will receive an email anyway in his already full mailbox. Still didn’t see a point on bcc’ing.

          1. Another English Major

            Yes this. By bccing my colleague only gets the one response from me instead of all of the follow up responses.

    4. nona

      BCC prevents reply-all bacchanals. It’s also good if you need to contact people about something private (for example, a newsletter for LGBT students at my college was BCCed).

    5. ITChick

      Our HR uses BCC to send out reminders about certain insurance plans with disease management requirements and programs without divulging who is in those plans and programs. It has it’s uses but people have to realize they are being BCC’d and also that many email applications do really weird things when you try to reply or reply all to a BCC email.

      1. tired mgr (writer of #1)

        Thanks for all the input!!! In the situation I outlined please consider that this is not the first time this person has tried to undermine their own supervisor, and has been counseled about communicating. SHe resents authority and basically wants to choose her own job duties. Her supervisor handles her well, but is younger than she is and becomes overwhelmed. I want her to learn through her experience, and I also want them to work out their own problems without coming to me. My door is open to those that have a valid issue not just want to whine(harassment, violence, managers who are abusive) and want to talk to me privately. The email system I use does not clearly define bcc, and I am not even sure how to do it, I only know that when I have seen it, there have been problems, so I ask that staff communicate problems in person rather than use that type of system. They all sit within 20 feet or each other, and we all could use the exercise! btw, we work for the government, so discipline is usually difficult, unless you commit a felony, and even sometimes then…..I probably should have spoken to her supervisor in private and let her handle it, but I have tried that before and it was effective for a while, but it doesn’t last. Thankfully I retire in October!

  3. Apollo Warbucks

    #4 I think in this sort of situation you want to keep it really low key and not draw attention and avoid the perception of any possible drama. Its been said before that during the hiring process companies have such little information about you that anything that raises the slightest red flag will only harm your chances of an offer.

    If the situation is as clear cut as you say and they are outright lying about you then say as little as possible with as much neutrality as you can, let the facts speak for themselves, don’t get sucked in to trying to prove your point or vehemently defending yourself , I understand why this might be hard to avoid, but it will only do you more harm.

    Like Alison says people will use their judgement and hopefully see that one poor reference, is not indicative of you as an employee, epically if you give it the right context and background.

    Maybe you could say something like “Here are the contact details for my references, Bob was my last manager, and I should let you know that he took it badly when I left and I hear from others that he has been saying xyz….. I was very surprised to hear this because abc….. I hope you can balance what he has to say against the other the positive references you will get for me from others. I’d also be happy to put you in touch with some of my former colleagues from my last job they’ll be able to tell you more about my time at the company / skills / work ethic (whatever your former boss is disparaging) ”

    None of that is meant to suggest that you should be subtle and discreet for you old bosses sake, if they are lying about you and defaming you then you should be able to call it out and tell them they are a jerk and to pack it in and tell anyone who will listen what they are like but, it wont do you any good.

    Good luck with the legal action, I hope that it puts an end to the defamation you’re suffering

    1. LBK

      Totally agreed. Maybe it’s from watching too many reality TV shows or from dealing with my fair share of dramatic employees who constantly threw out unfounded accusations of lying, but I’d definitely wonder if there were any truth at the core of those lies if someone were so vehemently defensive about it. I’ll take OP’s word for it though that they’re less emotional about it in person vs. in this letter, because the way it’s phrased in the letter would definitely be a red flag for me.

      1. Chris

        I admit I was emotionally charged when I wrote it.

        When I talked to my last employer I said the following almost word for word:

        1. my former employer is telling lies about me to other prospective employers
        2. I can prove anything he says is false
        3. If you have any concerns about anything he says, let me know and I will be open and transparent about anything you want to know.

        I was a little nervous on the phone, but other than that it came off as very professional. I made sure not to bash my former boss.

        There WAS probably better ways to say this, but I’ve never had a situation like this happen to me before so I wasn’t sure what to do. That’s why I appreciate the comments everyone has and I’m taking notes.

        1. KJR

          I would have no issue with how Apollo Warbucks as worded it. I would be more open to listening to what you have to say if approached in this manner. The way you worded it puts out some red flags as others have pointed out, no matter how truthful you are actually being.

          1. LBK

            Yeah, agreed. “I can prove anything he says is false” sounds overly defensive to me. The phrase “telling lies about me” also doesn’t sound great – it still sounds like too much of an interpersonal dispute rather than a legal workplace one. I’d say “I just want to give you a heads up that I’ve been hearing from other people checking my references that one of my former managers has been giving out inaccurate information about my performance; I’d be happy to put you in touch with a coworker/other manager/client that can vouch for my work there instead, as well as these managers from other places I’ve worked.” I think anything more specific than that risks coming off as too defensive and ergo dramatic.

            Note that this is all in service of making you look like a professional; it’s not that you owe it to your old employer to downplay what they’re doing by any means, but without having an existing basis for trusting you and having very little other info to go on, you don’t want to give the interviewer any reason to suspect you’re in the wrong or that drama follows you in any way.

            1. neverjaunty

              Yes, exactly this.

              “And I can prove it” = “I don’t think you will take me at my word, so I need to reassure you.”

        2. Zillah

          Your last employer, or your last interview/reference check? I know you said employer, but the context makes it a little unclear to me.

          Regardless, though, if that’s what you said word for word or nearly so, I’m not sure I agree that it came off as professional as you seem to think it did. I’m not saying that your case against your former employer isn’t strong – I have no idea – but this presentation would make me question your judgment. It’s providing way too much information in a defensive way that would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

          Part of being professional is being able to talk in code. This is not code. It’s the equivalent of telling someone on your first or second date that your ex is a liar who stole money from you and constantly accused you of being unfaithful, and you can totally prove that she stole the money and that you were faithful. It’s not about whether or not it’s true – it’s about your judgment in getting into those details rather than just saying “I’m just getting out of a bad relationship” or “I’m not on great terms with my ex.”

        3. Just Another Techie

          Yeah, agreed with all the other commenters. This does not sound professional to me. “My former employer is telling lies about me” definitely sounds adversarial, and “I can prove anything he says is false” (emphasis mine) is really over the top. Apollo’s wording is good, really good, and you should use that.

    2. Artemesia

      This is a great way to word it Apollo. The OP’s suggests approach is defensive and adversarial — you don’t want to be ‘proving anything’ to the interviewer. A sort of ‘sadly he took my leaving personally and I hear. . .’ said in a tone of sorrow rather than anger works much more effectively.

  4. jag

    HR at my office is great and they do not have private office space. Or rather, they do not have private office space just for them: there are private rooms available for discussions by anyone. HR uses them all the time, as do other people. It works fine. And certainly there are times when other staff need privacy too.

    HR has locked files, as do others in my organization.

    No one in my organization has a private office.

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      There are 200 people in my office and only 2 people have their own office. The whole office including HR is open plan with small private meeting rooms that can be used when needed. It works pretty well.

    2. Jen RO

      The same applies for my office. HR has a separate open space of about 30 people (all in various areas of HR), but for confidential discussions they book a meeting room, as do all of us.

    3. LBK

      The only thing I’d be concerned about then is the optics of being seen walking to a conference room or sitting in a room with an HR person. I can’t put my finger on why but it feels like if HR has their own space, it’s easier to get there undetected, which may be desirable if you have a sensitive issue to discuss with them.

      1. jag

        Depends how common an HR person talking with one other person is. If it’s only done for crises, then it’ll look bad. If people do it all the time, then it doesn’t matter.

        Where I work, it doesn’t matter – the private rooms are also quieter so people them for all sorts of reasons.

        Note also, in our space, these rooms are not all big conference rooms – we have them at various sizes in our current office, which we helped design with architects. And did the same with our previous office.

      2. Beancounter in Texas

        I was also going to suggest having access to a private space, but if the LW is a place for employees to report something going on in the company, it may be more inviting to an employee if they can just slip into HR’s office and discreetly close the door. Case in point, at a former employer, (where I was also HR) I had my own office and twice, employees came to me discreetly to inform me about the inappropriate behavior of another employee. It was a small business full of gossips, so they had to sneak in and tell me when they knew that other person was distracted or on break.

        If the LW doesn’t get a private office, perhaps access to a private space will be a good bandaid until it is apparent that a private office is necessary.

        1. TootsNYC

          Also, it might be sensible to let employees know that if they want to have a truly confidential conversation with the HR person, there’s an offsite place to go (a coffee shop that’s not on the normal rotation?).

          1. Just Another Techie

            Maybe OP can hold regular closed-door office hours in a conference room. Something like, every Tuesday from 2-4pm she’ll take her laptop to the most discreet conference room the building has and work from there, and people can drop in with questions? It doesn’t help with truly urgent situations, but does provide some privacy.

      3. Just Another Techie

        I’m confused though. How is it easier to slip into an office undetected than a conference room?

        1. LBK

          Depends on the layout of the building, I suppose – for me, HR is on a totally different floor, so it would be easy to get in the elevator as if I were going to lunch or something with no one being the wiser. By contrast, the conference rooms are much more visible and I’d have to walk by my entire department to get to them.

    4. Cheesecake

      In our org that would not fly. One thing is employees coming over but another one is when you talk to candidate/talk to another office about sensitive stuff like salary. If we didn’t have private office space, we might as well just keep this meeting room forever!

  5. Workfromhome

    #1 BCC used internally within all companies should be banned! Its not even needed to send email to a large # of people without showing addresses. A distribution group that shows simply “allteapotcompanystaff” can be used. It may some some very limited use externally but only to preserve the privacy to the email adrsses /keep the to line from becoming huge.

    I have coworkers who continue to use BCC to inform me of things without letting both internal or external parties that I have been informed. I have politley and repeatedly ask them to stop. Nothing good comes of it. I’ve seen people reply all and end up creating a hornets nest. As in the OPS comment I’ve seen people miss that it was BCC and behave as if everyone knows.

    If you want someone to see an email without others being involved don’t use BCC. Take responsibility and forward the email saying “I wanted to discuss with you privatley but wanted you to see what was said/context”.BCC is as was said a cop out.

    I now have outlook rules that automatically delete BCC from certain people. If its not important enough to send directly to me its not important enough to read.

    1. jag

      I use BCC all the time. Someone will write to me and a several colleagues about something me and the several colleagues can answer. I reply to that person and BCC my colleagues so they know I’m dealing with it, but any follow-up from the originator of the issue will tend to only go to me. It turns a four- or five-person conversation into a two-person conversation, which is all that is needed if it drags on.

      1. SLG

        I think this can be a good use of BCC, and I’d like to add a suggestion for anyone doing it this way: announce it at the top of your email so everyone knows what you’re doing. As in: “(Gandalf to BCC) Frodo, there’s documentation on the ring’s powers at this wiki page: ______”

        1. Mints

          Yup, this is exactly how I use it too. My job is the same as two other people, and we’ll get questions that are to:individuals. Once one of us answers (a pretty boring, routine, question) we BCC the rest so we all know who answered, and the question-asker knows who’s dealing with it

      2. sunny-dee

        That’s clever. I may start that.

        I use BCC when I’m working with junior writers or someone on a PIP and their manager has asked to be informed of whatever I’m telling them to do as part of their project work. I will interact with the manager outside of my communications with that person, but I’ll also BCC them on things like edits or change requests. They’re informed, but I’m not throwing it in the writer’s face that their manager is monitoring them like a CC would.

        1. Anna

          I really only use BCC in the volunteer work I do. It’s a fairly involved volunteer gig (like, if they could pay me they would be paying me a lot) and I have to respond to somewhat high level emails. Sometimes I’ll use BCC when dealing with an outside organization to let someone know, “This came up, this is how I’m handling it.”

          I do also use it in my actual job to send out a press release to multiple media outlets. Because it’s easier that way and I don’t necessarily want them to know who I’ve reached out to.

      3. Cath in Canada

        I use it when I’m emailing a group of trainees who all applied for the same grant, for example to request that they send me their final files, or to share an update that they all need to see. They might not want to share the fact that they’ve applied with the people who are effectively their competition, but it’s too much work to email them all individually. The group is different every time, so there’s no point setting up a distribution list. So I email myself and bcc all of them.

        Yes, bcc can be abused, but there are legitimate uses for it and it certainly shouldn’t be banned!

    2. Jackie

      I have found that BCC is incredibly useful. It’s yet another tool. I can believe that some people use it badly, but other people use it well.

      I’m a teacher. I used BCC recently when replying to an upset parent. I didn’t feel that it would be productive to openly include the principal in the conversation yet, but I wanted him to be aware that a situation was potentially brewing. Sure, I could have replied to the parent and then also forwarded the e-mail chain to him. But that would have meant using the crappy e-mail program to get to the sent mail (which isn’t really doable using the mobile version so I would have had to log into a computer) and then forwarding it. Or I could take 5 seconds and add him as a BCC. Then, when the parent decided to escalate the situation and called the principal, he had some context.

      I use BCC in my contracting job too. Or – my client who I subcontract for uses it. It’s a very easy way for me to be privately included in replies to his clients where he is promising work that I am then going to do.

      I use it in my personal life. Sometimes I will be coordinating something with someone and I want my husband to be aware of my possible plans. But it would be weird to openly include him. So I BCC him. Then he can see the details for something I’m planning.

      If people are messing up with their replies and the actions they take, then that’s a sign that they need to slow down and pay more attention. It doesn’t mean the tool is bad, just that more care needs to be taken.

      1. jag

        “If people are messing up with their replies and the actions they take, then that’s a sign that they need to slow down and pay more attention. It doesn’t mean the tool is bad, just that more care needs to be taken.”

        This.

        1. tired mgr (writer of #1)

          See my reply above. BCC yes I agree is good when you want to send a group email to 400 people. We just switched email systems, so yes, I was going fast, but the bcc function is hidden so I didn’t know until the subordinate asked how I got it. This is more about this particular worker trying to undermine her supervisor by coming to me. I have asked her to deal with her supervisor herself and take responsibility when there are issues, but she tries anyway she can to make her own supervisor look bad to me, ie. the email bcc. It probably was not the best idea to call them all in together but it made it transparent what she was trying to do. I have tried other tactics and this behavior – very passive aggressive and sneaky – continues. There has been counseling. WE are fed govt and union so not going to dismiss for this reason. The person is so smart and such a good worker, it is a shame. She does not respect authority and wants to do what she wants to do.

  6. ITPuffNStuff

    #3 — i get the impression dad and/or daughter are concerned about how other employees perceive the fact that daughter gets an office, particularly if they are working in cubicles.

    i guess i have different thoughts on this:
    1. someone working in a cube is likely to envy someone with a private office, regardless of whether there’s valid reason to be or not.
    2. to some extent, when daughter works for dad, people are always going to speculate about nepotism, regardless of whether there really is nepotism at work. this is a down side that goes with the territory of working for a parent.
    3. only daughter and dad can know whether there really is nepotism at work, but it’s probably unrealistic to presume the family connection had absolutely no effect whatsoever on the daughter’s odds of getting hired. the ability to be completely 100% unbiased just isn’t in human nature. there’s a reason many companies would view this as a conflict of interest.

    1. Zillah

      As I read it, though, this is a family owned business – I feel like terms like “conflict of interest” don’t quite apply here, because it’s very normal for family owned businesses to employ the owners’ family members.

      1. ITPuffNStuff

        hi zillah, thanks for responding!

        forgive me if i’m misreading you here, but i sense that you’re pointing out that a family is completely within their rights to hire whomever they want, including family members, and indeed doing so may be integral to their business model. if that is what you’re getting at, you’re 100% correct, but that doesn’t preclude a conflict of interest.

        in a family owned business, as with all businesses, the best interest of the business is to award positions to the most qualified candidate available within the scope of time / location / salary the company can offer. the personal interest of the dad is to hire his family members. the conflict is that the most qualified candidate may not be in the family. that is just as much a conflict whether the business is family owned or not.

        it is perfectly within the family’s rights, if they own the business, to hire whomever they wish, and nothing requires them to consider non-family candidates. no law requires the family to consider applicants outside the family, but that does not mean the best interests of the business coincide with the personal interests of the family members.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’d argue it depends on the purpose/mission of the family business though. Some family businesses exist in part explicitly to provide jobs for family members. There’s nothing that says that making the maximum profit possible must be their only guiding principle — it’s legit for them to decide they have other priorities.

    2. KJR

      Actually, I don’t envy her one bit in this situation. Being in HR is tricky enough without adding to the fact that you’re the boss’s daughter. I wonder if people will feel free to speak to her freely about certain issues?

      1. sunny-dee

        Really depends on the family.

        I haven’t worked professionally with my dad, but in volunteer things (church, youth sports), my dad was always scrupulous about not showing favoritism. Unless dumping extra work on me counts as favoritism.

        It could be like that, that the dad is very professional and has good boundaries in place and expects the daughter to do her job and is just hypersensitive about favoritism.

        1. KJR

          That is highly possible, but I’m thinking more along the lines of “perception = reality.” Regardless of how unbiased Dad actually is, I’m wondering if the employees will really be able to trust that. I know I wouldn’t.

  7. Dawn

    Re #5:

    Personally, I have never encountered anyone (either in person or on the internet) who was happy accepting a counter-offer- and this is pretty much what this is, an “Oops they left and turns out we really need them let’s beg them to come back”. Never once have I heard anyone say “You know what? All that stuff that made me consider leaving in the first place just up and disappeared when they gave me a counteroffer and I decided to stay! It’s a miracle!”

    It’s like a personal relationship- they’re your ex for a REASON!

    1. Fuzzyfuzz

      For what it’s worth, I have. A friend (and former colleague of mine) was counter-offered with a promotion and good raise (in our profession), which set her on a real path of advancement at her company and in her field. Three years later, she still works for the same boss in her higher position and is very happy. Not saying this is typical, but it does happen. Plus, it benefited me because I ended up in the job she turned down and I love it! :)

      1. TootsNYC

        Of course, if the thing that was making her want to leave is that she wanted more money and more responsibility, then that counteroffer *did* erase the “reasons to leave.”

        So I’m w/you–sometimes it works. It just depends on what the reasons for leaving were.

  8. Hope

    #2: I have so many bad managers in my past jobs that I keep in contact with loosely. I doubt any of them know I think they were horrible…and when I see them at industry events, they often want to hug me and reminisce. Can’t imagine why I would stop by the old office, though. AAM is SO right…keep up with them on Linked In and move on to people who are helpful/professional/nice.

  9. M

    #2 – could anyone link to the articles a about navigating a bad job situation until a better offer comes along? I tried to do a search but wasn’t successful in finding anything.

  10. K

    #3
    I realize that none of this is helpful, but I take issue with this situation. First, you have “minimal direct experience in HR” and you’re dad is putting you ion charge of the department; it’s probably going to look like favoritism to at least some. Second, I think this is a major conflict of interest for this company. What if an employee comes to you with a complaint of sexual harassment against your father? Are you going to be able to be objective in your investigation? I think this is a mess.

    *Unless maybe you only have family members working at your company.

    1. JC

      Yeah, these issues also jumped out at me as more problematic than HR not having their own office.

      For the record, when I have worked places where most people had cubicles, HR also had cubicles and used private meeting rooms when necessary.

    2. Bekx

      I completely agree with this. I come from a background of family owned businesses — both my parents worked for my grandmother, and my first job out of college had a mother-son team that was similar. Son would always ask me how I liked the company (I hated it) and promised it was “confidential” but I never, ever, was honest to him. Not once.

      I liked him better than his mom, but I never for a second believed it would not be shared with his mother.

      My point is, I’m not saying that you would break confidentiality OP, but I know as an employee, I would not trust you. No matter how nice you were and professional. If someone has a complaint about your father, I doubt they would feel comfortable telling his daughter.

      1. Yep

        Ugh, this is probably true. All the more reason to have a private office with locked files and super professional attitude.

        I’ve been in job situations before where someone has said, “If you have a problem, go to this person. If you’re not comfortable going to them, you can also go to this person or this person.”

        If possible OP maybe you could set up something like this where there’s a network of people to reach out to, so if someone had to complain about your dad they wouldn’t necessarily have to go to you. Although hopefully that won’t come up!

      2. Judy

        HR’s job is to protect the company, not help the employees. There is no reason to expect that anything you tell HR is “confidential”, ever.

    3. SevenSixOne

      yeah, there’s no way I’d feel comfortable talking to my boss’ kid about a serious problem I had with her dad.

    4. No Longer Passing By

      Not the OP but I will jump in here as part of a family-owned company. I have held an HR position in the company, like OP. This was because the company could not afford to hire HR personnel and it’s hard to find people willing to work certain positions part-time. HR and IT are some of those positions. Plus we probably couldn’t afford it anyway. So I learned HR on the job and by visiting forums like this and hiring consultants at times.

      The company has been in existence for a long time and probably has hired over 30 family members or close family friends during its recent history since I’ve been here. I have received complaints about family members who worked at the job, including owners. The complaints ranged between frustrations with someone’s avoidance of their responsibilities, which then impacted the complaining coworker (or subordinate), environmental issues, to insubordination (disrespectful family member) or inappropriate comments. If anything, I was more annoyed at the family member who created the problem than the complaining person. I have placed family members on PIPs and have terminated others due to an investigation that was initiated due to such complaints.** I did not realize that this was unusual in any way as employees who do well here tend to know that we are able to balance these roles. Some of us better than others. As HR is a small part of my responsibilities, I also have been disciplined in my primary role by a parent/owner. I’ve had to suck it up and take the hit, just like anyone else. I’ve also had people complain about me to a parent/owner due to an issue in my primary role. Clearly, too, there are some protected positions. For example, I can’t fire a parent/owner. But I have re-assigned certain categories of work from family members that can’t be terminated or that can’t be terminated yet. I’ve given raises and promotions to productive individual while leaving problematic family members who cannot yet be fired twiddling their thumbs being unproductive. I think that it’s clear what’s happening. It’s a schizophrenic existence, to be sure.

      I say that all to say, that while I can understand and appreciate your concerns, I guess that I never thought about it that way and I want to consider it further because I don’t want new employees to feel that they can’t complain to me/us about their concerns.

      ** Not going to lie: these disciplinary proceedings have led to meltdowns of epic proportions, including yelling (at me) in the hallway, tears, and recriminations (again against me). Family functions can be awkward but I pretend to not notice and continue to hug, kiss, and smile. And I’ve had employees, including the initial complainer, tell me that they can’t believe that I have the balls to deal with it (I don’t. I have ovaries ;-). So maybe that’s why they trust me, because I try my best to do the right thing and understand that it’s my job to navigate the politics of it all. But I can see how it can turn into a nightmare if the employer doesn’t trust the employee, refuses to seek training opportunities, and/or is just overly fearful of rocking the boat. I’m sure that I’ve made many mistakes but have tried to learn from them.

  11. Cruciatus

    #3 made me look up the difference between riffle and rifle. I don’t use either word often, but use riffle even less than that!

    1. Dana

      I had assumed she meant rifle but I just looked it up too. Very interesting! I don’t normally steal my own stuff, so I guess I will be riffling through my files from now on. :)

    2. Heather

      I think this was the first time I’ve seen it used correctly in years and I got pathetically excited about it :)

  12. Yep

    #4 – It sounds like you’re handling this as well as can be expected, but I would avoid if possible specifically saying you’re taking legal action against this person. Even though you’re in the right a potential employer might see that as a red flag.

    You mention you had a good relationship with other coworkers there – is there someone else in a supervisory position at that company that you could direct potential employers to?

    I was in a toxic work environment once, but had a good relationship with my boss. He left two months before I ended up getting fired – warning me at the time I should get out, and I should have listened. His boss ended up firing me. But, I use my original boss as a reference, so I assume (hope!?) that potential employers would be satisfied speaking with him alone, and wouldn’t feel the need to additionally call the company and speak to the other boss.

      1. Yep

        Too bad. Again it sounds like you’re doing everything that you need to. I’ll echo Alison’s advice and say build up those good references. Five glowing references and one bad one shouldn’t deter a manager from hiring you.

  13. ITChick

    Sort of regarding #4, I’d still like to know how to handle it when you’ve only ever had two managers in your professional career and one of them is the current manager which you can’t give for obvious reasons. I’ve been with my company for 15 years but in four different positions from an intern while I was in college through my present job. I only had one other manager in time, when I was an intern and in the semi-entry level job I had after I graduated. That manager is still here and I do still work with him, but would employers see that as an okay reference from a manager?

    Would it be okay to provide other managers that I have worked with or done work for their department?

    1. CAA

      You can use your former manager, and you can also use anybody who was in your supervisory chain who has left it, i.e. your manager’s former manager, etc. After you’ve exhausted that list, look for managers and supervisors of other departments you have worked closely with. Then move on to senior colleagues.

      When you hand the list of references to an interviewer, explain that you are still working for the same manager you’ve had for the past 15 years, and you don’t want him to know you’re looking for a new job, so you’re not able to provide a reference of someone who has recently managed you; but the people on your list do supervise others and are familiar with your work and can speak about it.

    2. Liane

      Your chances of getting a response will be better if you either email Alison directly (Ask a Question link is at the very top of the page) or post in tomorrow’s open thread for work issues. Alison usually puts it up very early on Fridays. Just don’t post in the open thread if you email today, because it may be in her queue to answer already.

  14. Anonymusketeer

    Is OP #4 still giving out this manager’s information voluntarily? I would stop that immediately. Obviously there are plenty of companies who might contact this manager anyway, but don’t make it easier than you need to.

    A lot of HR people/hiring managers would be turned off by the drama more than they would be by a single bad reference. I think OP might be better off not mentioning the situation unless a potential employer brings it up first.

  15. Merry and Bright

    I have often known potential employers to contact my referees by email so they know where the reply is coming from.

    On the point of contacting referees off my list, this has happened twice that I am aware of. Both times, although the people gave me good references, they both said they were disappointed at my lack of courtesy in not asking them first. I would have done had I known. So when you ignore candidates’ information it can do a little harm.

    1. Erin

      Really? I can’t see why they’d be disappointed in you when you never had them on your reference list to begin with. I’m sure you explained as much to them. Strange.

      I have never to my knowledge had a potential employer contact someone not on my list. I didn’t even know that was a semi-normal practice until I started following AAM. In fact, I’ve always been given the heads up that they’re calling my references, so I could let the references know. Just common courtesy.

    2. Sadsack

      Do you mean that they were disappointed that you did not ask them to be references? I can’t figure why they should be disappointed with you because a hiring manager took it upon himself to call without you having their names on the list.

      1. Merry and Bright

        I meant that they didn’t realise the hirers had just contacted them without my knowledge, and thought I had just provided their details to the employers without even approaching them first. Unfortunately I was not told beforehand. I smoothed things over but it was awkward. I have never provided referees’ details unless I have checked with the referee first, or if the person has offered to act for me.

        It is only since I began following AAM that I realised hirers sometimes find references “off the list”.

  16. SaltWater

    #3 – Definitely advocate for an office. Old Job had an open plan work site with conference rooms and phone rooms available. It was huge corporation and the conference rooms were rarely available on an ad hoc basis so the phone rooms were used by people needing a short notice conference room. I found out my manager was in trouble when a guy on another floor (but not in HR) who sat next to the HR guy said to me, “So your manager’s on a PIP, eh?”

  17. Artemesia

    For the HR daughter. Of course if she is dealing with people and problems (not just files and paperwork) she needs a private space. It would be a huge red flag for me if my Daddy didn’t want to behave professionally with me for fear of being accused of favoritism yadda yadda. It may be time to find a job where you are treated like a professional and not a daughter.

    1. LBK

      Totally agreed – it’s still factoring your personal relationship into making a business decision. Doing that negatively instead of positively is still unprofessional and potentially damaging to the business.

    2. No Longer Passing By

      If daughter is new to the company as a full-time hire, this is to be expected, however. She needs to learn how to manage upwards (dad). I’ve gone through this and it’s possible albeit frustrating.

  18. HappyHedgie

    #4, the next time you are in this situation I would say something along the lines of :

    “I am unsure how objective my former manager will be in providing a reference as they did not take my leaving amicably. I do however, have excellent references from x, y, z.”

    And do ensure that those additional references are excellent. I think this gives the interviewer the heads up that if they do choose to call the manager he/she may be harboring ill will towards you, so at least they go into it with an open mind and you sound professional not bitter/angry.

    I left a toxic workplace (my first job post-college) and this was my go to line in subsequent interviews and it served me quite well getting multiple job offers.

    1. Cheesecake

      I am happy and surprised to here this statement helped you. Because i agree with comments way above that this draws unwanted attention. A lot of managers call selectively or don’t call at all. If you point a bad reference out to me, i’d be drawn to call. And anyway if 2 glowing references stated “she was amazingly productive and enthusiastic” and one says “she was lazy and slow”..and i like the candidate, i wouldn’t dismiss her.

  19. Ask a Manager Post author

    Message to Chris:
    I received your email but my attempts to reply to it are bouncing back. What I sent you said this: I don’t generally delete comments if they’ve already been responded to (since that would leave other people’s responses to those comments standing alone with no context — and I don’t want to delete the entire thread, since that’s not fair to the people who put time into writing responses to try to help you). But I noticed that some of your comments included your last name and I’ll go ahead and remove that from those comments!

  20. No Longer Passing By

    OP#3: As 1 daughter in a family company to another, I want to reach out and give you some helpful tips as I bet the office is just 1 of many other frustrations. I’ve noticed that there also are other commentors here who work or have worked at their families’ businesses and have taken great interest in their perspectives even when I still was a lurker.

    You need to manage upwards. Your dad probably still sees you as a punk kid with big ideas that won’t work in his company (even if you’re 40). He may see you as idealistic and unfamiliar with the real world or the particular needs of his company. He may have weird ideas about protecting family members from discipline or termination (but where will they go???? What will they dooo? How will they pay their bills????). He doesn’t want to offend long-term employees either by letting his green daughter get all these “benefits” without proving herself. And, at the end of the day, it’s still his company so you’re going to have to adapt to his ultimate goals while slowly changing the system. These all are red flags that many people would avoid like the plague. However, as you know, this is par for the course in a family-owned firm. Ways that I’ve dealt with the problem:

    1. Negotiate certain non-negotiable just like another employee. Unlike other employees, however, your terms aren’t necessarily based on wage and benefits but authority. So you want to get an upfront understanding of your expectations and needs versus his expectations and needs. For example, how much authority will you be allowed as HR? Can you promulgate policy or do you just suggest? If you suggest, does he stick that in a drawer somewhere to die a slow death? Will he consider new ideas or methods that didn’t exist 20 years ago? You need to know what’s expected so you can anticipate where are the areas that you will be making certain secret changes. Trust me, you will make some changes under the cover of darkness for the good of the company and its employees. But you need to know your dad’s operational philosophy, the hills that he’s willing to die on, and other areas where he will throw you under the bus. You will re-negotiate often and on an needs be basis. Be prepared. Ex: today we deal with HR. What does he consider HR to be? Does he remember when he has encountered HR in the past? Where? How long was he there? Was it a positive experience? You’re essentially drawing the boundary line.

    2. Work in stages. Anything new is bad. Familiar is good. Small family-owned companies do not seek transformative changes. They say they do; this is a lie. Recognize the lie and work with it. So make slow changes. Turning again to HR, you have 3 wholly separate issues here: files, place for private communications/meetings, space for HR related computer activities. Are you able to deal with these issues separately or group some times with others. There were some good perspectives here about locking files but remaining in open work area versus private office. Scout about the office to figure out how these options will work in your setting.

    3. As you have discovered, written proof is key in supporting changes. Because until you’ve held your position for at least 8-10 years without single-handedly destroying the company with your new ideas, you are viewed as knowing nothing. This I know. So Google a search that includes the terms human resources records keeping, security, privacy, and your state: in case you’re wondering, that’s actually several different combinations of those words. You also may want to filter the results by date. I’ve also found that certain vendors essentially will train you for free by giving you access to recorded and live webinars.

    4. Although you will run into an overwhelming amount of information, do not, I repeat, do not give all this information to your dad. Avoid the mistake of giving him a stack of information to prove that you are right. It will be thrown to the side, it won’t be read, and you will get frustrated. That was me. More information is not good. Less is better. Pictures and charts, more so. The purpose of the documentation is to establish that someone, other than you, thought that this would be a good idea. “This” may be a 3-page summary of best practices plus a catalog showing locked file cabinets. You laugh, I know. But even the most sophisticated person turns silly when they’re running their own company. They don’t have time to read something that’s not their selected industry.

    5. Do all the preliminary work. Don’t suggest any idea that would require more than your dad’s approval. If you’re suggesting it, you better have a method of implementation ready. Do not expect his help or he would have done it already. This is your new motto. Be ready to move.

    6. Cost is important. Free is good. But not always. Try to balance free with not free. For example, if you have locking cabinets on-site, try to figure out if you can get some for your use. Use the dollars saved to pay for other things that you have to pay for, such as re-keying. But remember, you’re not saving money unless he knows about it. So you need to put together a written budget of what your change would look like and then show how you are saving money by reusing certain items that you have on site or that you otherwise procured for free, you also can obtained n approval to pay for other things. I mean, considering all the money that you saved.

    7. Timing is everything. If you get approval, move immediately. Because we don’t know if there’s an expiration date on that approval. You only find out after it’s expired.

    I have more to add but I’ve probably droned on way too much in a much broader aspect than your specific question. So I will stop here.

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