my resigning employee is spreading lies during her last weeks in the office

A reader writes:

I have a problem that is quite literally making me sick.

I manage a large medical practice. One of my leads gave her notice about two weeks ago. At the time, the other lead and I congratulated her because she has gone through some rough times lately at home and we were excited that a new job would give her a new outlook, plus a nice raise. At the time, she told us how much she loved her job and loved working with us and said she just needed a change.

Since the notice was given, she has done nothing but badmouth my director and me to other staff. I have a few staff members who have disclosed this to me – I have been stunned at some of the baldfaced lies she has told — most of which were witnessed by other staff, so it’s easy to prove the lies. It got so bad that I spoke with HR to find out if we could let her leave earlier then the notice. They understood but said to let it go and play out.

It became so toxic (to me personally) that I spoke with my director and decided to take three vacation days, the last three days she is in the office. I cleared this with HR as well, asking if they felt it better I be there to help control things, and they responded that it was better to avoid her and not be there as a target. When I left Friday, it was an hour later then she normally leaves, so I didn’t say anything (thinking she was already gone). Today I hear that was another thing she trashed me about to HR in her exit interview – I didn’t say goodbye to her.

I had planned to either call or text her tomorrow and wish her luck – I really want to do the right thing – but honestly it wouldn’t be sincere at this point. Should I let it go, move on on Thursday when I return – or should I send a quick “take care and good luck” text (so I have it in writing)? Also, do I just wait and see if HR says anything about the exit interview or should I address it head-on?

I totally get being frustrated by someone who’s behaving this way. Frankly, I would have talked to her about it and suggested that you wrap up her transition earlier than planned (while still paying her for her full notice period), so that she wasn’t sticking around causing disruption in the office. I’m not thrilled that your HR department stood in your way on that.

But. You’re the manager, and you should take the high road. That means that you say goodbye to an employee on the last day you’ll both be in the office before they leave. You do it because it’s the professional and mature thing to do, and you do it because there’s no reason to hand someone a legitimate thing to complain about to others. (And yes, “my boss didn’t even acknowledge me on her last day in the office during my notice period” is a legitimate beef, and it won’t make you look great to people who hear it.)

So yes, I would contact her this week before her last day. But don’t do it by text — that screams “not especially invested.” You should call her. You can frame it as wanting to discuss any final wrap-up items (which you should do anyway), and during that conversation you can wish her luck in her new job and thank her for her work while she was with you. (If you can’t stomach saying that last part because of her behavior these last couple of weeks, it’s fine to leave that out.) And if you really feel you need written documentation that the call happened, you can email her beforehand to schedule the call (“I’d like to touch base with you on wrap-up items and say goodbye before you leave — I’ll plan to call you at 3 p.m. today unless you tell me another time is better”).

Aside from all that, it’s also worth reflecting on what happened here. I take you at your word that what she’s telling people are lies, but do you have insight into why she’s doing that? Was there tension in the relationship previously? Did she have grievances that never got addressed? Were they legitimate? If they weren’t, did someone try to hash out the differences with her? Were you blindsided by her behavior these last couple of weeks, or were there signs of it earlier?

The way this has all gone down means it’s likely that one of these is happening:

1. She was always a problem employee and it was never addressed. That probably means that you need to manage differently in the future because you don’t want problems festering on your team.

2. She’s reflecting back to you real issues on your team that need to be dealt with. She might be legitimately frustrated by legitimate problems and expressing it poorly/immaturely. (If you had to guess what she’s really upset about, what would your gut say? Sometimes that can point you in the right direction.)

3. There’s some major misunderstanding/miscommunication somewhere.

I don’t know which of these it is, but you don’t want to just ignore this once she’s gone — take it as a flag that at a minimum there’s some reflection to do.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

    1. EmmaBlake*

      I would normally agree, but she tried to take the problem on and HR threw up a roadblock. I’m not sure what else she’s to do?

      Just taking everything on face value, why subject yourself to such a toxic situation that you already know, you won’t be backed up on?

      1. Cucumberzucchini*

        I’m not sure why she needed to ask HR. She should have just told them that problem employee was causing problems so Manager is ending problem employee’s notice period early but will pay it out.

        Taking vacation is avoiding and does make her look weak when she could have handled it directly by talking to problem employee or just sending her out the door early (with pay). Maybe her work place requires talking to HR about this kind of stuff, but it seems like something she could have done on her own. Sometimes people ask for permission when they don’t need to and then it inserts this type of chain of command roadblok when they didn’t need to ask permission and they had the authority all along.

        1. The Strand*

          I agree with you. It would have been decisive, taken this nasty person out of the environment, ended the poison, and let everyone move on – while still fairly giving the employee the money they are owed.

          This is exactly the reason why some people’s two weeks notice period is terminated early.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            Completely agree that taking vacation looks weak. If HR is truly proving a roadblock, then in OP’s shoes I would still stick it out, confront the person directly, and say that I would appreciate the courtesy of being spoken of in a professional way during employee’s remaining time. If the person seemed really thick, I’d also tell the departing employee that her behavior in the last two weeks is something I will absolutely remember if I am ever called for a reference.

            Taking the days off tells those who remain that OP can’t handle the situation, which is not confidence-building in a manager.

        2. Green*

          If it’s big giant corporation, you would probably need to run it by HR (who may need to run it by legal) before you send somebody off. I think the manager should have escalated the issue once she got initial pushback, but it is absolutely possible that she not have the authority to dismiss someone early.

          That said, she shouldn’t have taken the vacation days. If the harassment was severe and pervasive enough that it required her to take off, she should have been able to get more traction up the chain by advocating for herself.

        3. Manager*

          I had no choice about taking it to HR. Unfortunately we are given very little latitude on this issue. As for the vacation time – HR actually preferred I not be here as a target. While this is not a popular decision it is the way most of these things are handled.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I really don’t like the sound of that. That may have something to do with the cause of this situation right there.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yep. It’s not OP, it could be spineless upper management and OP is just an easy, reachable target.

          2. Ted Mosby*

            I’m sorry people are piling on you since it obviously wasnt your choice (and I’m sure many feel differently now that they know).

            That’s a really incompetent crap HR you got there. PE’s behavior is bad enough that they think it’s better if you not go in, but they refuse to let the person leave less than a month early? That’s insane. The way you deal with bullies is not get any targets out of the way.

          3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            That’s how I read it. You asked for assistance with a bad situation and HR said you were on your own. And more than being on your own, they are indicating that you are the problem and need to hide out. If they have a problem with you, they should tell you.
            I’ve been in this situation before. At least your person left. My person is still a nutjob and I’m still told to ignore it.
            I’d really talk to HR though, ask them why they made that decision.

      2. LBK*

        When you’re the manager, you don’t get to opt out of toxic situations. Dealing with them is part of your job, especially if the toxic situation is being caused by one of your employees. Imagine if this letter had been written by another one of the OP’s coworkers: “Jane is destroying the morale in our office during her last 2 weeks and my manager is letting it happen – in fact, she took vacation days just so she wouldn’t have to deal with it and left the rest of us to clean up the mess.”

        I realize I’m coming off as really harsh in my comments and I hate to kick the OP while she’s down after dealing with what was clearly a stressful situation. But I can’t help but feel for the others involved since the OP was the one who should’ve been playing defense against this employee.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I agree with you 100%. Deciding the whole thing is just too much to handle is not an ok response from a boss.

        2. Barefoot Librarian*

          You make a good point about the morale in the office too. I think the OP may want to consider addressing it with his/her employees in some way once the offender has left, even if it’s just something like “my door is open if anyone wants to discuss their concerns over Jane’s complaints over the last couple of weeks.” Sometimes a seed of discontent blooms into a garden even after the original propagator is long gone. Better to nip it in the bud.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            Although the issue of why OP acted this way has been resolved above, I still think this is a great idea.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, I was thinking this. As a coworker, it’d be hard enough to spend two weeks around someone who was lying, badmouthing the company/specific people, and generally spreading their unhappiness around with a big shovel. That’s unpleasant. But it would reflect more poorly on the leaving employee than it would on the company or my manager, in my eyes (unless, of course, I had significant issues with management of my own already).

          But if my manager went on vacation the last three days, leaving the rest of us to deal with the unpleasantness without support, then that would reflect badly on them in my eyes. (I suppose if the others affected by it were given warning and the option to take the days off too, that might help, but….) I might even begin to wonder if the employee had a point–maybe a badly-made point, but a point nonetheless.

          As you say, this is not intended to pile on the LW, but when reading the letter I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of the other people affected by it, who got the last few days’ worth of negativity without managerial backup.

        4. AW*

          Oh, that’s a really good point. Presumably the OP didn’t go around telling people (outside of HR) that Jane is the reason she took PTO but the “manager is letting it happen” still applies.

          1. Manager*

            Unfortunately the staff here believed everything that was said. I have emails and witnesses that can attest to the lies – but I’m not sure that would accomplish anything other than make me look defensive. She also threatened (indirectly) my director (I want to beat the sh-t out of her) so her mental stability is questionable.

            1. fposte*

              How are you hearing about their belief–are they coming to you saying “Why are you treating Jane so horribly?”

              In general, I think if an org is treating its employees well, there might be a flurry of excitement during the period while the resentful departing is resentful but not yet departed, but it’ll die down once she’s gone because it won’t have much to take root in; they’re really not likely to believe every horrible thing said about an organization they like and respect. But if they’re already concerned about the org and its management, that’s when fiction can stir people up. So this goes back to Alison’s “don’t ignore this when she’s gone” point–if it’s seriously revving your people up, there’s more going on than just her.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I am not clear on why no one is able to say this is unacceptable behavior from any employee.
              If it were me, to save my own sanity, I would watch out for broad statements such as “the staff believed everything that was said”. Usually this type of statement is not true. What it does do though is pull me down to lower levels of discouragement.
              I take statements like that an pick them apart. “Staff”- which staff? Name names. “Believed”- really, are they that gullible? Did they listen to the gossip for entertainment purposes? Did they kind of believe it but found it irrelevant? “Everything” – what is everything? Okay, so you have a list of items 1-20, let’s say. And people believe every single one of those items? I find that incredible. Pick any article in the news today and go around the work place. I can almost promise you will find someone who does not believe the article. People are a very picky bunch and everyone has their own tilt to every single topic that comes up.
              But this is what I do, I make myself analyze statements like that. It helps me to keep my wits about me and my thoughts collected. Those types of statements only serve one purpose, they cause everything to unravel. Not what I want to have have happen.
              I have to wonder if you have weak upper management that leaves you not very effective as a manager because your hands are tied all the time. And that is the real problem- she just found you very easy to kick.
              These people that are feeding you this information. What is their motivation for doing so? Generally, someone comes at me bad-mouthing the boss I handle it myself. I tell them to back off, I don’t want to hear it. I have have food on my table and a roof over my head like everyone else. Or I tell them to talk the problem over with the person who can fix it. So what is up with these folks, why are they telling you so much detail?

            3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              Now THAT is beyond the pale. Again, first person experience:
              Hey supervisor, that coworker made a threatening statement about you yesterday.
              Coworker was met by security and escorted out that morning.
              your HR dept sucks.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I agree that it’s a bad look. If this situation is truly affecting OP’s health, then I guess health comes first. But my gut tells me OP is taking this situation too personally.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah this is concerning. As a manager, you need to be able to roll with all kinds of things without them making you stressed to this extent. I would lose a lot of respect for a boss who responded this way. OP – suggest you develop some more effective coping mechanisms.

      2. Merry and Bright*

        Agree about taking it too personally because OP says the employee has been badmouthing the director as well.

        I sympathise with the OP but I would just tough it out for those last 3 days because “Hey, it’s coming to an end!!”

        1. Manager*

          I did that this morning. It was a very professional meeting – to the point – to which there was no response – at least not yet.

    3. Erin*

      I don’t think we need to leap to that. Sometimes it’s better to remove yourself from the situation to avoid conflict and tension. And in this case, she discussed this with HR beforehand – she didn’t call in day-of being like, “Oh, I’m coincidentally not feeling well today, on the last of so and so’s days here…”

      1. fposte*

        With a co-worker, sure. But as a manager you’re the captain. You can’t just opt out of being on deck when you don’t like the crewman who’s driving you toward the rocks.

        1. LBK*

          On a random tangent, your metaphor made me think of the captain from Below Deck (one of the slightly less trashy Bravo reality shows about the crew of a private charter yacht) whom I’m always enamored of as a manager. He’s a bit gruff but very direct and fair in dealing with his employees, even within the constraints I’m sure Bravo’s producers put on him (ie “you can’t fire the most dramatic employees because they make great TV for us”). And he always makes sure they get recognition and time for relaxation as long as their work is done well.

          1. fposte*

            That’s much better than what came to my mind, which was the Costa Concordia. Which would have been a vivid image but is also much too drastic to be a legit comparison.

            (I’ll have to look for that show–sounds like I might like it.)

    4. AndersonDarling*

      I had a boss that would take a vacation day so she wouldn’t have to say good-bye when her employees left. It was a backstabbing, sabotaging environment and it amazed me that the manager could stab and run-over people but didn’t have the guts to be there on their last day. I remember her a terrible boss and a overall pathetic person.

      1. no name here*

        A former boss did the same. He would make people’s working conditions really frustrating, say bad things, and the day of their last day; “poof!” hes’ gone.
        Everyone in the company resented him for doing so. It did in fact make him look like a weak leader.
        Again, not piling on the OP…. especially if HR suggested it… but if my manager did that, I WOULD inevitably judge her for not being here. Plus, three days seems like a lot…
        Sorry but that is how I would view the situation as someone who’s experience something similar.

    5. Ella*

      Where I work holiday leave is common practice whenever issues come up. It really slows down and frustrates the whole process of simply dealing with it. Our HR department have stated they exist for management not the other employees so I wouldn’t be surprised if they instructed the managers to do this since it happens so frequently!

  1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    OP, I think Alison is right that you should make one final contact with this person, but I’d also be prepared to keep it very brief and professional – maybe rehearse the conversation beforehand – but also be prepared to hang up hastily if things go downhill. Depending on all sorts of things, this could be seen as a reconcilitory gesture, but it could also be seen as harrassing the employee after she complained about you.

    I would also take an opportunity to talk to your other staff and sound out how they’re feeling – both about the office generally and after this incident.

    Good luck!

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m struggling to understand how an employee goes from saying that, “[she] loved working with us and said she just needed a change” to badmouthing all of you in her last few weeks.  Although you say you were “stunned” at the content of what she said, you don’t say that you were blindsided at her behavior.

    Is something missing here?  I’m genuinely asking.

    I totally buy that this employee could be disruptive and harmful to your office, but there’s also a huge chunk missing here: her side of the story.  Even if she was a terrible employee, that doesn’t render her grievances invalid either.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I definitely feel like we’re missing out on important information here. And it’s possible that’s because the OP herself is missing some key details. From the letter, it sounds like OP learned about the situation second-hand, so there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation or flat-out omission.

    2. Erin*

      Yes, there is a whole chunk missing. I’m sure OP isn’t being intentionally deceptive, but just trying to avoid turning her question into a novel.

      This other person might just be nuts, and that could be the other part of the story.

      1. steve g*

        I don’t think they are intentionally deceptive, I think the missing part of the story is the part that explains how the gossip is 100percent false, and the OP is foregoing the chance to find out why the leaving person is making stuff up.

        Personally I don’t think people just make stuff up, so I’d want to know where the info came from. Maybe that’s my personal “bias.” I’ve been the “change agent” on many things on past jobs and have been publicly proven wrong a few times, only to be proven right later on in a more private setting. So there are probably people out there who still think I’m wrong or a trouble-stirrer out there. So it would be 100 false if they gossiped about me now and said I was wrong on xyz, but there reasoning does have some logic to it.

    3. LBK*

      Well, given that she apparently had lots of issues with management that she’s now sharing with the world, I’m guessing “I just needed a change” was a cover because she didn’t want to say “I’m leaving because I don’t like you” to the OP’s face. I am curious about her general behavior beforehand, though – I can’t imagine someone who was otherwise a paragon of professionalism would self-destruct like this. Perhaps I’m reading into this too much but I wonder if the fact that she was having personal life problems meant the OP has been giving her a pass on otherwise questionable work behavior.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed, that’s a really good point. The OP does mention that the new job would give the employee “a new outlook”, so maybe this awful behavior is just an extension of the outlook she already had.

          1. sunny-dee*

            It’s also possible that the OP has been ignoring feedback from the employee and chalking her frustration up to her personal problems. I have a manager and a director who straight up do not realize that when I am telling them that something is a problem and it is impacting my teams negatively, that I’m not just being “dramatic” or “emotional.” And we have 3 people in our team of 8 actively looking for other jobs, and they’re completely unaware that it has anything to do with their poor management — despite EVERYONE bringing those problems up.

            Everything is either a personal problem or a sign of poor communication.

            I could completely see myself being the employee — I legitimately love what I do, I love my project teams, but I cannot work in the environment that my director and manager are creating. (Like, literally — one of my teams has 4 writers, and they gave them all PTO or training for the same two week period. Without telling me first. How do they expect work to be done when literally everyone on a team is gone?)

            1. TL -*

              Yes! That’s my workplace to a t.

              (My boss actually sent an email saying “other department is less than responsive. I’ve noticed this, so have others. How do we set a system in place so that they handle our stuff in a timely manner?”)

            2. Changed my name*

              ^ This.

              I work for a completely toxic and completely clueless boss. She is late with everything, doesn’t understand the basic responsibilities of her job, and flips out on me when I accidently point that out. Literally, I asked a question the other day and I saw the look of panic on my teammates faces because they knew I had stepped in — she would actually have to demonstrate working knowledge.

              I was put on a PIP (yup, I’m looking) because I don’t effectively manage my boss’s time and because I have pointed out delays or *major* problems.

              HR won’t do anything because we have so many openings, but what they don’t realize is that all of us are trying to escape as quickly as our personal circumstances allow.

              I could totally see her telling people “I was bad mouthing her” if I raised concrete examples in my exit interview.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Exactly, if you are going to put in a notice period, you generally don’t go off on your manager when you do it.
        I wish we knew what some of these “boldface lies” were. Was the employee saying the manager was stealing paperclips, and is having a soap opera affair with the CEO (obviously wild accusations)? Or was it about being promised a promotion and it never materialized, or about raises that were forgotten (things that could have happened and the OP doesn’t remember)?

        1. The Strand*

          If anything, you kill them with kindness. I wasn’t too pleased the way my last boss acted when I gave notice, but I didn’t go around seething. If there was ever a time to walk the high road, on your way out is it. It’s the last time people will remember working with you.

        2. steve g*

          I want to know this too. The op could potentially do some good damage control by going into the office. For example, maybe the OP didn’t meet any of the criteria for the promised promotion, but coworkers are only hearing it as a “I was never offered a promotion that was promised” type story.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Right on about damage control. Sometimes the very thing we don’t want to do is the exact thing to do.

        3. Sunflower*

          I’m also curious about these lies. In my last position, my boss would ask me to lie to vendors. He would phrase it and ask me to do it in 100 different ways but at the end of the day, it was the definition of lying. Maybe in his head he really didn’t think he was asking me to lie since lying was kind of company norm. But I’m sure if I told someone that and he found out, he’d be baffled by what I said. Also of course I played it off like I liked him but I thought him and bunch of other higher ups were huge scumbags. I wouldn’t have said any of these things but that doesn’t mean they weren’t true

          I’m also wondering why OP never spoke with the employee about these things since the lies were so obvious.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        +1 to your last point. It’s possible that the employee has been behaving poorly for a while, and that the OP just chalked up the behavior to the problems she was having at home. So when employee got a new job, OP assumed that the problems in the workplace would begin to dissipate, as NewJob represents a relief to those personal problems. Employee, however, doubled down instead.
        This to me says that either the poor behavior before was due to more than just issues in her personal life and she’s letting things loose now that she knows she’s leaving, or that NewJob is not going to be solving the personal problems the way OP assumed and employee is still in crisis mode and vomiting anxiety and unhappiness all over her workplace in the form of exaggerated complaints and lies. /endtheory

      3. Manager*

        She was an amazing employee – at least I thought so. I promoted her – orchestrated a fair raise that she was thrilled with and would have continued to push her forward. I had complete trust in her abilities. Yes there is a piece missing and I have yet to figure out what it is myself. It is almost like a dual personality. Stunning was the only word I could come up with. I did have to give her a verbal warning several months ago on attendance – but she received that as well as could be expected and worked to correct the issue. I told her how much I appreciated her efforts – both with attendance and with everything else.

      4. Anna*

        I think you’re spot on. The OP says she has “witnesses and emails” and all I can think of is “To what?” I sense the leaving employee was actually a problem.

    4. hbc*

      I would find it crazy for someone to go from *thinking* the manager is good to badmouthing her in that time frame, but not to go from *saying* the manager is good to her face to badmouthing her behind her back. That’s pretty standard office politics.

      It sounds like she’s been disgruntled (rightly or wrongly) for a while and just said what you’re supposed to say to managers. She’s just making the common mistake of assuming all of her backroom chat will stay in the backroom and OP will be none the wiser.

    5. Miss Betty*

      Sometimes employees will put on a smile and say what management wants to hear just so they can keep their jobs till they can leave on their own terms. I worked at a place like that once (I’ve mentioned my malicious, lying manager before) and while I didn’t run – and wouldn’t have – run around badmouthing anyone, I did tell HR my concerns at the exit interview I insisted we have. (It was supposed to be a requirement, but they usually skipped them.) HR refused to believe anything I told them. So I suppose there’s one former place of employment that thinks at least one employee was spreading lies before she left, if only to my HR exit interviewer. Thank God that job fell of my resume over 10 years ago!

      1. JGray*

        You bring up a valid point about possible future reference. What if this “fresh start” job isn’t what the coworker thinks it is (or she gets let go) and she is back to job searching. By leaving the way that she did she left herself open to not getting a good reference from this manager and/or company. I don’t think that a good reference is an excuse to not say something but many times if you have conversations that go no where best to just start job searching. I think it’s hard when you have been ignored and then you try to let the company know what has been going on and only get dismissed. Not that I am saying that coworker doesn’t have valid complaints or she went about this correctly. I think when you are in a toxic work environment (I have been there) it’s a balancing act of speaking up but not actually saying what is fully on your mind. You have to be careful as you job search.

    6. seisy*

      If her “need a change” was anything like my last “I need a change” what she actually meant was, “The change I need is to no longer have anything to do with this living nightmare of a workplace”.

      1. Anna*

        From what I’ve observed just reading AAM, usually people who are vocal about their displeasure are problem employees while the people who are in a bad situation are quiet while at work and just get the hell out. That the leaving employee is being vocal (and with some other clues from the letter), I think it’s more likely the person leaving is a bit of a bad apple.

        1. Mando Diao*

          I wouldn’t say that’s true across the board. There’s another class of vocal employees: those who know their local employment laws and who speak up in the face of valid grievances.

          1. Anna*

            Those aren’t typically the people being asked about here, though. ;) And even in those cases, they may bring them up once but as soon as they see it will do no good or they get a seriously negative reaction, they are usually fall in to the former category until they can speak anonymously to a third party.

    7. nofelix*

      Sounds to me like the employee was upset but didn’t feel she could give honest feedback safely. So she found another job, and maintained a happy façade until the new job was secure. As soon as that happened, the risk of speaking her mind was reduced and all these complaints flood out. If that is the case it wouldn’t be professional of her, but management would partly deserve it for not letting the employee raise these issues earlier.

  3. LBK*

    I’m a bit struck by the passivity here. Unless this is a highly bureaucratic organization where HR holds the reins, I don’t see why you couldn’t cut her early or why you wouldn’t even say anything to her about the lies – you’re the boss, she’s the employee. As long as your company is still paying her, that doesn’t change even if she’s already quit. You don’t have to sit back and let her wreak havoc on the office for two weeks to the point that you have to call out of work in order to cope with it (which would be questionable behavior for an employee and is alarming for a manager, who I would expect to be accustomed to navigating stressful situations as a requirement of the job).

    This isn’t to condone or excuse her behavior at all. I can understand being so taken aback by someone’s sudden change in behavior that it temporarily paralyzes you. But I agree with Alison that you need to regain control and wrap this situation up in a professional manner, otherwise she basically won.

    1. SnowWhite*

      +1 from experience in HR, it is usually managers doing stuff and us firefighting/loopholing it so it is legal and then advising managers…

    2. LCL*

      I don’t think the OP was being too passive. OP found out exiting employee was being a jerk, went to HR for help, HR basically told her to suck it up and avoid the employee. Since OP works for the kind of company that gives HR the power, and it was only 3 days, I think that was a reasonable response. Where I work this would play out the exact same way, unless exiting employees was stupid enough to threaten people or call names.

      It can be really frustrating trying to treat your employees with basic human courtesy, and they in return act like junior high students. That is the worst thing about management, that I was totally unprepared for, the level of maliciousness that some people resort to as their default way of interacting with people. OP is only human, and one’s first thoughts when someone turns into superjerk is wanting to hurt and punish them. To keep your professionalism intact, sometimes you need to take a lil’ bit of vac so you don’t kill someone. Especially if you aren’t getting any back up from the higher ups.

      1. Scot Anon*

        I absolutely agree with this. In the absence of HR support, what else could she have realistically done? Stay around just to show others how tough she is, all the while feeling physically sick at being trash talked by someone who sounds like they’re been indulging in bullying, ridiculous, horrible teenager-like behaviour. And this person HAS behaved horribly, even if she did at some point have a legitimate complaint. Noone should have to make themselves into a punch bag in the pursuit of some perceived ideal of the professional, steely, ‘above it all’ manager, except maybe if their CEO level salary helps cushion the mental and physical anguish of being put in such a situation.

      2. LawBee*

        I guess what struck me was that OP went straight to HR, and didn’t ask the departing employee directly about it first.

  4. OhNo*

    This is just a shot in the dark, but is there any chance when she gave notice she was actually angling for you to give her a counter-offer? Is there any chance she could have felt that you were pushing her out the door or glad to be rid of her?

    Honestly, this sounds more like the behavior of soneone who feels they were treated unjustly, or fired, than someone who is moving on to an opportunity they are excited about. Perhaps her sudden change in behavior is her response to some perceived betrayal on your part. (Not that any of that would make her actions okay, but it would help explain her mindset)

    If not, then it’s also possible that she always felt this way, but kept it under wraps for fear of being fired. Now that she doesn’t have to worry, she felt it was okay to let loose on her grievances. Which on the one hand, means you won’t have to deal with her anymore (thank goodness). On the other hand, it means you REALLY have to look closely at what she’s complaining about, because there might be some legit issues there that everyone else is to scared to point out.

    1. Adam V*

      The counter-offer idea came to me as well. Maybe she thinks “if they valued me at all, they’d at least have offered”, so when an offer didn’t come, she got upset.

    2. Ama*

      I actually succeeded someone who did this. She was fond of “giving notice” every time the bosses wanted her to do something differently, and they finally got tired of her games and hired me instead. (To be fair, the bosses *were* big boundary pushers, but they were willing to hear other viewpoints if you could have a calm, adult discussion about their ideas.) They had her train me during her notice period, and she was pretty unpleasant — including trying to sandbag me on her last day to try to get the bosses to call the plan off.

        1. Ama*

          She asked for a private meeting with the boss she was closest to (the other boss was the one who had finally put her foot down about the threats to quit and insisted on hiring me), and told her she didn’t think I was really getting the job and she was worried that if she left now, I’d be completely overwhelmed and quit in a week. Thankfully by then that boss had figured out just how manipulative she was and brushed her off.

          I only found out about it months later when the boss was telling me how well I was doing and then laughed at how “Jane” tried to sell me short.

      1. Lindsay J*

        As did I. She gave notice and was thinking that my boss at that job was going to go, “Please stay, the department won’t run without you.” Instead my boss said, “You gotta do what’s best for you, I wish you the best at your new job.”

        The last two weeks (I was assistant manager and promoted to manager when she left) were awkward, and she was bitter about the whole experience.

    3. hbc*

      “I had planned to either call or text her tomorrow and wish her luck – I really want to do the right thing – but honestly it wouldn’t be sincere at this point.” More often than we would like, the right thing and the sincere thing aren’t the same. We send thank you notes for gifts that went straight into the trash, we compliment people on their horrible new haircuts, and we wish people well and tell them we’ll miss them even when we’re mentally doing a happy Snoopy dance.

      With an unhappy employee, it’s even more important. People will be more inclined to believe the negative stories she’s spinning if there’s an example of not-great managerial behavior right in front of them.

      1. LCL*

        I did all of the final paperwork for a retiring employee who never apologized to me for yelling at me twice over trivia. And wished him well. Still frustrated he never explained why he went so psycho over one situation, but I decided to leave well enough alone and be professional. One of my mantras is ‘People are crazy’

  5. SCR*

    On the employee’s side… A few years ago I moved to a new city with my company and when I arrived in the new city they changed team structure and I got a new boss who was new to the company. She was the worst boss I have ever had in 16 years of working — even like retail and restaurant jobs. I constantly wondered if she had a legitimate personality disorder. She would contradict herself while giving me tasks and then when I did what she asked for she would attack me for trying to takeover her job. Then alternately she would tell me that someone was too high level for me so she would do it and then berate me when I didn’t do it anyways.

    I got a new job and quit — it was one of the happiest days of my life. I’m not exaggerating. Working for this woman killed my soul. 3 other people quit specifically because of her. I was really polite to her as she somehow was the president of the local professional organization for our industry and didn’t want to burn the bridge. My notice period was awful though, she freaked out because the person who did all her work was leaving and she would yell at me for not doing 3x my work for 3 weeks to get everything she wanted that month done, done. I also was explicit with HR in my exit interview that I quite because of her. I finally snapped and 2 days before my last day I stood up to her and told her that I was not going to do x, y, and z because she had already specifically told me not to and I didn’t have time. That night I got an email from HR telling me not to bother coming in the next 2 days because the boss felt I was poisoning the well with other coworkers. I still got paid of course but didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to people I’d worked with for 3 years. It was so awful. And then a month later she was fired.

    She was just so unself-aware that I knew that me trying to be straight up with her on my issues was never going to work. I had to go through my email remotely before they turned it off to delete all the emails from my coworkers complaining about her. I was gonna be gone so I knew she’d get access to my email and comb through for evidence of how awful I was to her and I didn’t want anyone else to get in trouble.

    Now. That was an extreme situation but I felt very justified in telling people I quit because of her when they asked why I was leaving. Mature? Nope. Did it feel good? Yep. Could I have been more diplomatic? 100%. But there was 90% truth in everything I said.

    I’m not relaying this to make you feel bad but people make some broad happy statements about why they’re moving on but a lot of times it’s more personal and deliberate. The way you’re avoiding examining those statements and getting so upset that you have to take time off to avoid this person? That seems … really off. If my employee told me they couldn’t handle facing a former report and so had to take leave? I would very much have an issue with that. Maybe HR feels that some things are justified so don’t want to ask someone to leave when maybe you’re overreacting or refusing to really consider that feedback. There is a major disconnect here and my initial reaction to your letter was “wow, the OP really needs to work on some stuff” not the opposite way around and this is a letter that you’ve written from your own biased perspective.

    1. Cucumberzucchini*

      Just for anyone else who finds themselves in a similarly toxic situation. I think you also prep for not being able to finish your notice period before giving notice when you know there is no way in hell you’d stay. In your case deleting those emails in advance.

      Before I left my last place of work I scrubbed everything. Took copies of all things I might need for a lawsuit, backed up my email, got copies of files I’d need for my portfolio, deleted all emails etc… Then I worked out the notice period. I was prepared that I’d be walked out the door (I wasn’t) but it gave me such peace of mind knowing I was ready if that happened.

      1. SCR*

        Yeah, I had already removed anything personal from my computer, sent any work products for my specific job that I might reuse to my Dropbox and had thought through what emails needed to be deleted, and had already wiped out all my Gchats (we used Google apps for work). I had until the next morning to access my email so immediately went in and deleted anything questionable.

        Now that I’m thinking about the request to have me not do my last 2 days more… At the time I thought it was a retaliatory, mean move on my manager’s part but now I’m wondering if was avoidance. She should have been embarrassed about our last conversation. It was the closest I’ve ever been to screaming at someone in the office. She yelled at me for not doing something we had agreed I wouldn’t do and when I told her that she lied to my face that she really had said that, or that’s what she meant and I should have known. I got up in the middle of being berated and just walked out of the office. I’m now thinking me standing up to her finally made her realize I wasn’t going to put up with the abuse further so she wanted to avoid me.

    2. Changed my name*

      Did I inherit your boss?

      This sounds like the woman I am currently desperate to escape from.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am thinking she got my ex-boss that left. Describes her to a tee. “What, I never said to do x!” “No, I don’t have to look at proof you did your work, I know you did not do it and that is that.” When she escalated to “our big boss wants you to leave”, I said “oh, okay.” She really lost it then.

  6. Bend & Snap*

    I think I was this employee in my last job. I quit with all the right words but then was so upset about all the crap my boss pulled that I didn’t keep my mouth shut about why I was really leaving.

    I didn’t spread lies but I was more brutal in my exit interview than I should have been, and more transparent with my team about why I was leaving and tips for handling my difficult boss.

    1. Golden Yeti*

      I was wondering if this might be what happened here, too: the employee was trying to be polite in the exit interview, and then started reminiscing about all the (perceived?) wrongs, and wanted to vent.

      I agree with Alison’s 3 point summary; it’s got to be one of those things (or maybe a combo?).

      OP, it might not be a bad idea to sit down with the remaining employees and find out if anyone else feels the way she did, and if so, how it might be corrected in the future. Make sure that you give the other employees a safe space to be honest, though. If you assure them you are open to feedback and then penalize them for it (or hide from it), things won’t go well.

  7. Sarahnova*

    OP, I am truly sorry you are having such a hard time with this, but like others, I feel an awful lot is missing from your narrative here. For instance: why did you feel the need to fall in line with HR’s passivity rather than dealing with this situation direct? It doesn’t appear that you are a large organisation with paralysing bureaucracy; HR are there to support you, but unless you are going to break a law or expose the company to major liability, they’re not the boss of you. I understand going to them for coaching, but from your narrative, this was a straightforward situation you should have been able to deal with. I was wondering if you were lacking confidence in exercising your authority as her manager. It does seem like you are taking this to heart too much – and as your employee, I would not be at all happy if my manager *took holiday* rather than addressing a toxic presence on our team.

    Unless I am missing a great deal, I think there is a larger problem here in your ability/willingness/confidence to manage your team.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe management does not let OP manage. A person who feels second guessed at every turn might do what OP did.

  8. MLT*

    I would like to add a fourth possible reason that the employee is behaving this way, and that is that sometimes people have difficulty separating from a job, and working themselves up to some self-righteous anger sometimes helps them get out the door without feeling sad, guilty, or whatever other emotion they are struggling with. I have seen it happen, though in my experience, it does usually seem to happen with people who are prone to drama in the first place.

    While I agree with others that taking days off at this time probably hurt you more than it helped, I can understand how difficult this is. I had an employee implode like this while I was out of the country following a family death. It was disheartening, but somehow being angry with me seemed to make it easier for her to go. Once your employee is gone, you may find that her coworkers are relieved, as the negativity she is causing is not making anyone feel good.

    If the opportunity hasn’t passed, you might reconsider your time off and go in for her last day. Bring her flowers, wish her well on her new job – whatever you would do if an employee you liked was leaving. You need to step out of your emotions, and think strategically because that is what leaders have to do. Good luck!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Definitely, step out of your emotions, OP. I do understand you are upset for valid reasons. Try, try, try to remember this is not your best friend or dearest family member. This is not an affront that would be on the par with having your favorite cousin rake you over the coals. I supervised a group of people that reported me for something about ten times a day on average. I loved the group, but I had to realize that they were not my best friends in life, they did not always have my back.

      Be careful about getting too much of your own self-identity wrapped up in your job title.

      Words can be like bullets, OP. Decide not to let them getcha. Your first step here would to autopsy what went wrong and why. What should you have done differently, what should you have done the same? When did you feel the best about your professional self? When did you feel the worst about your professional self?

  9. Small town reporter*

    When I left my last job (I’d been there 8 years and it had been pretty awful for the last 18 months), one of my co-workers (who had become my superior, at least by title) wouldn’t even stand up to shake my hand when I walked out. My actual supervisor (the other one’s mom, which explains some of the crappy situation) barely said goodbye, then tried to talk another co-worker (a good friend) out of taking me and my family to the airport when we flew out to move. My old boss said some nasty things about me to my friend, who was pretty shocked by the behavior.
    Now, I did not trash talk people on my way out and managed to bite my tongue, but I’m pretty sure my supervisor still thought I was being too negative, because she pretty much stopped talking to me once I gave my notice. Made for an awkward and uncomfortable last two weeks.
    I’m not saying the OP was doing this (I’m really not), but I will say it did sort of hurt my feelings that after almost a decade of working together, my boss was suddenly standoffish and wanted nothing to do with me. I didn’t make a big deal about it, at least not to her or in my exit interview. (I did, however, email her many months later and tell her some of the awesome things my new job had done for me, little perks and bits of support my old employer had stopped offering. But that was more of an update email that I knew would drive her bonkers by being so cheery. It was probably mean, but I couldn’t help myself.)

    1. Spice for this*

      Small town reporter –
      I love it! I think that was an awesome idea to send the email about all the perks of your new job!

    2. College Career Counselor*

      I wonder if some of the reactions you and others describe aren’t due to some combination of jealousy (that you get to leave and they don’t) and betrayal (you’re a short-timer, so you’re not entitled to basic courtesy anymore). No matter how obnoxious things were before, you were considered part of the “team” until you up and left.

    3. Rubyrose*

      Your story reminds me of my first professional job. I gave 5 weeks notice. My manager literally quit talking to me. He would give instructions to others, to give to me. He even asked one of my people if they wanted me to leave early. Very awkward.

      As it turned out, I was called for jury duty and was put on a second degree murder trial. So of those 5 weeks I only worked the first two of them. I’m sure it upset my manager, but you have to do your civic duty…

  10. justsomeone*

    My company actually has an unwritten, but pretty well known/understood “the day you give your notice is your last day” policy, and I think stories like this one are probably a contributing factor. It’s a little different at corporate, but even then you usually only get a week.

  11. AW*

    When I left Friday, it was an hour later then she normally leaves, so I didn’t say anything (thinking she was already gone).

    But why didn’t you say good-bye to her earlier? I’m not clear on why, if you planned on saying bye to her, the time you left mattered.

    1. SCR*

      I didn’t even think of that but good point. Why didn’t OP stop by earlier in the day and wish her well and thank her for her service or whatever? No need to hug or whatever but this makes me think there is something to what the employee is saying. OP is frustrated by what’s going down but if it’s all bullshit then surely you can rise above it and be gracious. The fact that they can’t? That concerns me more.

      1. Marcela*

        Well, once I just couldn’t. I worked 2 and a half years with a researcher who was very paranoid and selfish with the project we were supposed to work together. I did my best to support him, as I was hired to do. But by the time he left, having gotten a professorship position, our relationship was beyond repair, after months of abuse, of being told what I did was useless or refusing to answer my emails while complaining to our boss that I wasn’t talking to him or doing what he needed. I simply could not be gracious enough to talk to him one more time. I couldn’t even be in the room where the group organized a farewell party.

        And you know what? I was right. The guy is such a jerk that he killed a beautiful, interesting and important scientific project in less than a year. He doesn’t deserve graciousness.

        1. fposte*

          In some situations, that can be the calculus. But usually you’re not doing it for that person anyway–you’re doing it because that’s the culture of how you treat departing employees, which is important information for everybody else still working there.

    2. Manager*

      I was working in my office and had to take two phone meetings. By the time they were over (the second one ran longer than expected) it was after 4pm which would have been when she normally left.

      1. Audrey*

        Okay. Sure, but: it was the last day you’d overlap. There are a million ways you could have, and should have, ensured that you could see your employee for two minutes during that workday, to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thanks for your work’. And at a minimum, even if you realized at the end of your second call that the employee was probably gone already, you should have dashed off a quick email. This was a manifestation of avoidance.

        1. catsAreCool*

          This seems like the kind of thing that’s clear in retrospect but at the time, when a person is busy with work, might not have been.

  12. A Teacher*

    Yeah, I worked for a company that as soon as you turned in notice, the supervisors-from your immediate to the top, I had started there when the company was 3 years old so I did know the CEO-would start bad mouthing you to everyone and would stop directly talking to you. If they needed something done, it went through a peer to you. It became the norm for all of us to do a “goodbye” email that didn’t bash the management per se but did allow you to tell everyone where you going and what your plans were. And then the managers would bad mouth you in department meetings and in monthly one on ones with your peers. Watched it happen too many times. When called on how they were acting and on why people wanted to move on pretty quickly, it was always the employee and never the company’s or management’s fault. Many of my co-workers could have been the OP’s employee–sing good praises while employed but when it was time to quit–the gloves came off.

  13. sam*

    I was witness to a situation like this once. The person gave a reasonable amount of notice, and then proceeded to spend their notice period bad-mouthing the entire department. They was told to not come back to the office a lot sooner than what was originally going to be their last day.

    The thing is, a few of their gripes were legit, but the pissy, nasty way they went about trashing the group to everyone was completely unprofessional. And why on earth would you burn your bridges (and your references!) like that when you’re already out the door?!

    1. Lamington*

      My boss did this when he was laid off. He had to complete 3 months and those 3 months were horrible where he bad mouthed leadership and upper management. I never joined or agreed with his comments, but I was fearful someone else might report him abd said I was there too and guilty by association.

    2. Totally Anon this time*

      Many large companies do not give references beyond basic facts: start and end dates, title, final salary (sometimes), whether the employee resigned, was terminated or was laid off. I worked for one such very toxic corporation. After putting up with years of abuse, I was finally laid off. During my exit interview, I flipped off my manager under the table the entire time. Unprofessional? You bet! But I was not going to get a reference from her anyway.

      1. sam*

        But even outside of formal company references, at our level, a lot of jobs (or at least job referrals) are found out about based on contacts and informal references. My company does job postings regularly, but my boss will regularly come to me and ask if I have any former law firm colleagues who might be interested in a particular post, and despite how many lawyers there are in NYC, the legal industry is ultimately a pretty small world. This is at least the THIRD job I have ended up in where one of my law school classmates (same grad year) was sitting right down the hall.

        I’ve told my worst work story here (in the straw that broke the camel’s back thread) and in a few “real life” places, but that’s more than 15 years after the fact, and that group is widely known in the industry as being a mess – to the point where friends in that line of business have been unsolicitedly and actively warned away from working for them because it’s so widely known. I basically write that entire 6 months out of my life. But even then, when I was changing departments AT THAT TIME, I gave a completely polite, “I came to the realization that this isn’t the work that I’m meant to be doing” reason for the change, despite the fact that everyone “knew” the real reason. But given the fact that, in particular, I was staying at the same firm (for several years afterward!), it allowed us to all be polite (and even friendly) to each other in the aftermath.

    3. Sunflower*

      This is so confusing me to. When I left my last job of course I told everyone how much I enjoyed working with them and would miss them but my whole last 2 weeks I was internally giving the middle finger to a more than a few of the higher ups. I had made it through years there and wasn’t going to risk anything when I FINALLY had my foot out the door.

      It seems like all of this stuff was heard through the grapevine so I’m wondering if the employee made one comment and it escalated quickly- esp if this office is one where there’s a lot of sneakiness.

  14. Brrrrump*

    I hate to speculate considering we know so little of the details, but this situation reminds me of the expression ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’. The direct report was really unprofessional to badmouth the OP. We’ve all had colleagues we don’t like, but you don’t go around slating people when you leave.

    That said, the manager’s also wrong, for the reasons others have outlined. And what’s this stuff about getting the goodbye in writing? That seems so odd and stilted, to the point that it makes me wonder whether there are interpersonal issues at play with the manager (possibly backed up by them avoiding the employee’s last day and being passive-aggressive with HR) Surely you should be looking forward to the goodbye, as it means the employee is gone from your life?! If the employee were horrible at the end, it shouldn’t matter as you’ll not see them again.

    It’s also concerning that there’s no actual examples (or made-up equivalents) of the employee’s bad conduct. So if you can’t find a single example were they as bad as implied, or was it more a case that the two fell out and things escalated? It’s curious the way that the OP talks about the situation: ‘toxic’, ‘baldfaced’, ‘target’ etc. These are very subjective words expressing emotional hurt rather than analytical, evidence-based reasons. It’s almost like the employee badmouthed the boss, but the boss is now, in a way, badmouthing her to AAM in exactly the same way.

    1. fposte*

      To be fair, though, she’s not required to present analytical, evidence-based reasons when writing to AAM. I love refereeing for academic journals, but this isn’t one.

    2. Zillah*

      It’s almost like the employee badmouthed the boss, but the boss is now, in a way, badmouthing her to AAM in exactly the same way.

      I disagree – I don’t think you can compare the two at all. The OP could certainly have handled the situation better, but writing a letter to AAM is not the same thing as being (at the very least) rude and unprofessional in your office. For something to genuinely be badmouthing, I think that it needs to have the ability to potentially harm the person’s reputation; that’s not really the case here.

    3. AW*

      The question is about how to handle the goodbye, not about handling the bad behavior, so it makes sense that the OP didn’t give specifics. They aren’t particularly relevant at this point.

  15. KMS1025*

    Several years ago I had an employee give two weeks notice. For the next week and a half this person lied, lounged around with feet up, on the desk, did little to no work, was loud and obnoxious, and generally disrupted the rest of the office. I asked him to leave three days short of his notice. I had no intention of paying him for those three days but my business partner felt we should. Just because someone gives notice, they are still expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Each episode of bad behavior was addressed with this guy as it occurred, and then he would go on to the next thing. Such a nightmare! I think HR really hobbled this OP’s ability to do her job and not sure how she could have handled things differently.

    1. SCR*

      She could have approached the employee to discuss the issues from a “hey, for you it’s too little too late but you seem upset and I’d like to make sure we’re parting on good terms so let’s chat frankly.” She could have told HR that the employee seems to be causing more harm than good during her notice so she’d like to process the separation early and she will let the employee know directly and in-person. She could have let this toxic situation play out but really consider the feedback and talk through it with her team and soulsearch on validity. She could have not taken leave to avoid this employee but instead treated them as any other exiting team member and risen above it so the employee has less of an axe to grind.

      There are LOTS of ways to handle this differently.

  16. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I agree with Alison … the best thing would have been to transition her out early – why your HR team wouldn’t let you is beyond me. I’d still send her that note wishing her well though – it might be an empty gesture, but it is still taking the high road.

    For what it’s worth, my last manager tried to leave without saying goodbye (and she did it on purpose). I literally had not moved from my desk all morning, but she left for a meeting that wasn’t in her calendar, and then sent an email saying “I’m out of the office now for the afternoon”, goodbye and good luck. It turned out that I was actually still there when she came back which made it super awkward. Obviously we didn’t have a great relationship – ha – but it was still very hurtful. I think it would have been a nice gesture for you to ask whether she was still in the office before leaving, but that’s water under the bridge.

  17. SCR*

    I’m wondering if HR didn’t agree to the early separation because OP asked them to handle it for her. So instead of giving them a heads up that this was going on and she’d deal with it but paperwork will need to happen or whatever. It seems as if she asked them to deal with it and they were like yeah, nope. Which makes sense. OP should have acted like the adult and dealt with it head on instead of wanting HR to do her dirty work.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t know about this – where I work, we can’t just transition someone out if we feel like it. HR has to be involved from the start. It’s not like we’d be asking them to do our dirty work – it’s their job to handle resignations and terminations.

      1. michelenyc*

        +1 I had to transition someone out early and had to go through HR too. I first went to my director and said anyway we can make today her last day. She was far too toxic to keep around for the remainder of her time. We both went to HR and just said the transition plan isn’t working and we need her gone today. Later that day I sat down with the employee and HR rep and said thanks but no thanks. Today is your last day! Best of luck.

    2. Manager*

      I went to HR and told them what was happening. I asked what process I needed to initiate (I’ve been there a year and never dealt with this before) to have her leave early. I even said that I knew we would need to pay her thru the end of her notice. They told me “that’s not done here”.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The whole things seems backwards to me. It could be just me, but if HR agreed that the company could do without me for three days so this toxic person could do whatever, I would be worried about my own job. I am not sure I would feel HR did me a favor.

  18. Zillah*

    OP, a lot of how I feel about your letter depends on how HR functions in your workplace. A lot of commenters have been saying that you needed to be more assertive because you’re the boss, but the fact that you were leaning so heavily on HR indicates to me that they may be a little more central to the process for you – or that you’re a pretty new manager who’s still learning how to handle these sorts of situations.

    Regardless, though:

    I think that HR steered you in the wrong direction. It ultimately didn’t help anyone for you to remove yourself from the situation, because it allowed the resigning employee to go unchecked and likely made you look weaker to the rest of your staff. It seems like there’s probably not much you can do about that now, but in the future, I’d suggest that when a situation arises that’s as toxic as you’re describing, you deal with it by addressing the issue rather than avoiding it. For the moment, though, I think that all you can really do is follow Alison’s advice.

  19. Chriama*

    I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention asking this employee what’s up? She’s making up blatant lies and spreading it to other staff? Why not call her in and ask? I would have done some combo of letting her go early with pay, telling the other employees that you paid through her notice period, and addressing whatever issues she brought up by letting them know how you deal with that stuff (don’t need to explicitly call her out as a liar, but let them know if they have any issues like that how they can expect you to help). I think ignoring her was the worst choice.

    1. LawBee*

      Yes! I was surprised as well – it seems like a textbook case for Alison’s usual advice to have a direct conversation.

      It really sounds like the OP is so shaken by this that she’s not thinking straight. :/

    2. AW*

      I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention asking this employee what’s up?

      The OP is already on PTO. The chance to ask the employee what’s up has passed.

      1. LawBee*

        Well, not really. The OP is home, and since this PTO was taken just to avoid this conversation, it can also be un-taken.

  20. Turtle Candle*

    Having read through the LW’s comments in the thread, it looks like part of the problem is a larger issue at the workplace. On the face of it, it seems… well, pretty odd: an employee who, although previously apparently excellent, begins badmouthing the company and its management as soon as they put in their two weeks’ notice; a HR department that prevents the manager from addressing the problem directly but that encourages them to absent themselves at the end of the notice period to avoid being “a target” (and implication that this may be a common way of dealing with problems?); accusations and badmouthing that are provably false but that are believed (without evidence?) by other non-management employees. It’s… well, like I said, odd, from my POV. Not letting you deal with the issue directly is one thing; not letting you deal with it directly and then encouraging you to absent yourself is much weirder, and if it were me, I’d be looking to see if there are other festering issues that aren’t being dealt with directly but are being avoided. (And, in fact, if that’s why you saw the otherwise-difficult-to-explain turnaround on this employee. Possibly they’d been being encouraged to ignore major issues too, but once they know they were on the way out, suddenly they didn’t have to anymore….)

    None of this is a slam on the LW, who can’t change their company culture singlehandedly, especially if those hands are tied by HR. But I can definitely see how this might indicate a contentious or us vs. them attitude in the company generally, and that can’t be making any of this easier. I’d go with Alison’s advice to make a single, polite-neutral call, framed as a wrap-up.

  21. voyager1*

    I have no words for this one other then the employee leaving probably could shed a lot of light on what the heck was going on… maybe.

  22. "Am not!"*

    So many people waste this “no filter” period. Companies spend thousands of dollars to find out what people (including employees) “really think”, and even then the answers are often a little inconsistent if there is anything remotely at stake.

    It doesn’t even matter if their complaints are logically valid — getting them complaining is a fantastic thing! They can often point back to larger issues. If a person is throwing a tantrum over something supremely petty, it is often not actually the thing itself that is the issue — it’s the thing that particular instance represents. If a person yells till they are red in the face about signing off on some standard CYA form, it’s probably not about the form — it’s about the workplace drowning in paperwork, or the culture of fear that requires every little decision to have a “not it” attached.

    It may be tough to hear an employee “spreading lies”, but good managers listen to those lies, study them, and are thankful that exiting employees deliver them. ;-)

    1. Jennifer*

      Well, that’s assuming that companies REALLY want to know the truth and actually do something about it…and a lot of them don’t. I laughed my head off at the “results” of the last employee satisfaction survey that went out, I’ll put it that way.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. I filled out a survey about my workplace honestly. An anonymous survey. We put down our department (because obviously different departments might have different perspectives or issues). The new president of our location asked my boss to track down who had filled out the survey that way and to fire that person. My boss refused.

        But obviously the desire there wasn’t for honest feedback.

  23. Goose*

    I worked in a large retail store for five years. On my last day, the district manager was visiting and about five of our eight managers/assistant managers were in the store that day. Only one of them said goodbye to me. When I said, “Well, that’s it for me” to the store manager, she said, “Okay, see you tomorrow.” I was so mad that these people all just forgot or didn’t care that a good, longtime employee was leaving.

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