update: my boss accused me of faking a panic attack to get out of a meeting

Remember the letter-writer last month whose boss accused him of faking panic attacks to get out of a meeting? Here’s the update.

I was shocked — in a good way — to see all the understanding and sympathy from everyone who commented, and there were tons of great pieces of advice! Thanks so much, to both you and all your great readers/commenters, especially JessaB and Katie the Fed.

Since everyone loves follow-ups, I thought I’d let you know how my situation has been going. It’s a good way to vent, too, and right now I really need that, unfortunately.

I met with the HR person for my department, and it didn’t go too well. They said that HR doesn’t get involved in minor disciplinary matters, and that this is one. Their other big point of contention was that I hadn’t gone through our company’s disability accommodations process…when I haven’t needed accommodations for my panic disorder before now.

They got back to me a few days ago to tell me that their investigation determined that my boss’ write up and concerns are justified. That wasn’t a surprise at all. My suspicion is that they simply don’t want to act because my boss is known as a rising star in our company. It’s a mystery why they’re sticking to this when everything I’m hearing is that he’s potentially setting them up for legal trouble, though. He’s risen through the ranks pretty quickly, but he’s not a leader or particularly well known, even in his specialized sub-field of our profession.

My therapist and I decided that requesting accommodations would be a good idea, so we filled out the paperwork to go through the formal accommodations process. I’ve been getting resistance from HR, because I now have recorded performance issues. This seems like an awful catch-22 to me: I didn’t need accommodations before, so I never requested them, and now that I do (because my boss is antagonizing me because of my condition) they’re giving me a hard time.

I’ve been here about three years (first job). I got along great with my old boss, but he left about six months ago, and the new guy became my boss.  (It’s worth mentioning that the new manager’s other two subordinates who he loves are women fresh out of college who he takes out to lunch almost every day. He only interviews 21-year-olds fresh out of college too. It’s pretty clear to me what his deal is.) He and I have never had a great relationship, and since the panic attack incident it’s deteriorated. He’s taken me off most of my current assignments: according to him it’s because I disrespected him and his boss with my panic attack, which he still maintains I faked. He canceled all of our regular meetings because he’s “way too busy right now,” so now I only get face time with him on his terms, usually completely unannounced to me. He’s also made a few nasty wink wink nudge nudge comments about mental illness and me being “unstable,” like “don’t have a nervous breakdown on me.” When accommodations came up, he said, “My other direct reports get by fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?” Unfortunately, very little of this is in writing, because he won’t schedule meetings with me, and insists on only responding to electronic communications in person (“it’s just my style, and no one else has a problem with it, plus you’re in no place to complain”).

All these things together mean I spend most of my time now sitting at my desk with very little to do, feeling overwhelmed by anxiety about what my boss is going to do next. It’s exacerbated my panic and anxiety issues (I’m also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder) to the point where I can’t focus at all at work and I’m having daily panic attacks. It feels like this situation has been set up by my boss to do just that.

While I’ve been writing down all the nasty stuff he says, he avoids email and formal meetings, so it’s my word against his. My last talk with HR convinced me they’re not going to do anything, so my next planned step will be to contact our compliance and legal department with all the notes I’ve taken. If they fail to look into it, I’ll be talking with a lawyer and the EEOC next.

Obviously I’m looking for a new job. But a big complication is how our completely destroyed relationship means I obviously can’t use him as a reference when I leave this job, and I’m a little loath to use a colleague or another supervisor in our department. What advice do you have on references and explanations for leaving for someone who’s fleeing a really toxic work environment?

Whoa, this is horrible. Your boss is horrible. Your HR people are ridiculous and probably exposing your company to legal liability.

I’d actually move forward on talking with a lawyer now, and possibly the EEOC. Talking with a lawyer doesn’t obligate you to take any action if you decide you don’t want to, but I think it would be smart not to wait any longer on that.

Fortunately, in your job search, you’re pretty likely to be able to get out of using your current boss as a reference; most employers understand that your current boss doesn’t know that you’re looking. It could come up in the next job search — the one after this one — but that gives you lots of time to line up other references to use instead (and that list should include your old boss from this job, the one who you got along great with before this new guy came along).

As for how to explain to prospective new employers why you’re leaving, fortunately you’ve been at your current job for three years. That means that you can reasonably use something vague like “excited about the opportunity to do X” (some skill that the new job would use) or “new boss is taking my job more in Y direction, when I’d like to focus on Z” or any other “nothing scandalous here, just normal job switching” reasons that wouldn’t really be usable if you’d been there less time.

Good luck.

{ 313 comments… read them below }

  1. videogamePrincess*

    Whoa. The way your portraying it, it not only seems like your boss has a thing with disabilities, but also is ageist and sexist. He only hires young people, and he has this favoritism for these women? Is it because of their looks/charm? I know that men often aren’t on the wrong side of this, but man, I would be pissed if I were one of those women and I were being favored simply because of my face/gender. Seems quite patronizing. Then again, maybe I am reading too much into that aspect.

    Anyway, your boss is a pig. Please talk to a lawyer.

    1. NGL*

      I don’t think you’re reading too much into it at all. Of course, those women may not be feeling it yet – there’s a reason this guy is hiring women fresh out of school, as they’re less likely to recognize his creepazoid behavior as well as less likely to have the resources to RUN when they do figure it out (see: the F— Off Fund article that was being shared like wildfire last month)

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        One of my worst bosses ever mostly hired people who were fresh out of school and/or desperate. He classified everyone as “independent contractors” and paid most people below minimum wage, while acting all “chill” and “fun” and boasting a lot about how ethical and progressive he was. I fell for it pretty hard at first.

        1. Terra*

          I had a boss like this as well. Demanded crazy hours, classified everyone as exempt when they clearly weren’t. Casually sexually harassed a lot of the women. Would blatantly blow clients off and then blame his underlings for it. Now whenever the majority of a company/department is young I look for the creeper.

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      It’s either their looks or the fact that young women just entering the workforce are less likely to push back against his crap than workers with more experience. What a creep!

      1. BRR*

        I worked at a place where the department head did this. He loved to hire women fresh out of college so he could hit on them, because they didn’t have the experience in our field to push back against his decisions, and because they didn’t have the work/life experience that would make them more likely push back against his creepy behavior. He would also promote them early on paying them far less than market salary and it was later reported that he slept with two who were promoted. This was covered up thanks to the old boys’ club.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          Ugh this makes me shutter. Those young women sleeping with the boss to get promoted and still probably making less than male equivalent workers. Old balls and still low balled :(

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Maybe not their looks but because they’re young and impressionable? That way he can mold them to his twisted expectations. Either way, so gross.

      1. MsChandandlerBong*

        Three years from now, one of those young women will be writing in to AAM about something, and we’ll all wonder how in the world she thinks the situation she’s writing about is in any way normal. It’ll be because this guy was her first boss, and she learned what’s “normal” in the workplace from him!

        1. alice*


          I don’t think there are a lot of managers who realize this. You’re not just being a jerk, you are potentially harming someone (or multiple people) for a long time even after they leave your company.

        2. Sarashina*

          +1. Different job, of course, but a couple years ago I was one of those young women. I thought I was in a fairly standard stressful job/difficult boss situation, and even when I jumped ship, I thought it was just because I was a poor fit for my boss’s personality. (And then at my new job I started casually mentioning the way I used to do things and my new coworkers reacted with horror.)

      2. Nervous Neil*

        Definitely the latter. Our entire team (the team of ~12 people whose reporting chains go through my boss’ boss, the screamer) was hired fresh out of college/grad school except for one person who was an internal transfer. It’s internally justified as “people usually ‘grow out’ of Wakeen’s team by 29 or 30.”

        My boss is just being a turbocreep and deciding to narrow it down further to only women.

    4. Nervous Neil*

      His other two subordinates are nice people and they’re definitely qualified. I have no clue what he looks for in women and I’m totally fine not knowing, but it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure he’s doing this because he gets off on having power over young women. We’re in engineering, so I’m totally sure this is the case and he just filters out all the resumes with male names, given how many there are. It’d be nearly impossible to prove this though.

      I’m only in my late 20s, and he’s within a few years of me — we were in college at the same time. HIS boss is definitely ageist, though; only hires people under 25. I’m 100% sure this is because we don’t have experience in gracefully saying “no” to bosses. The few people who’ve come through his department in their 30s, as internal transfers have fought like crazy with him, and haven’t lasted long.

      1. videogamePrincess*

        Oh, wow. I can tell you, as a woman in tech, I like when they make an effort to hire women. But FILTERING OUT RESUMES WITH MALE NAMES before even looking at the skills! :O

        1. JJ*

          Yeah, as if women in tech don’t have enough to worry about, now there’s the possibility that their interview invitation may be due to the same creepy motivations as this dude and not because it might be an opportunity to work somewhere where the culture is actually friendly towards women. Sigh.

          1. Biff*

            I’ve worked for two people that hired women for reasons less than honorable. I was so very glad to get out from under them. The reality is that someone who makes decisions this way often makes crappy decisions across the board. It might not fall as heavily on men, but they are never good bosses and they rarely set anyone up for success.

      2. KD*

        This could have some roots in affirmative action requirements for the company. Not saying it does but there is a possibility. Or an initiative to bring more women to the company in general. It sounds like these are entry level position and it is easier to fill a diversity requirement with people you have trained than to find that skill set at a higher level in a very specialized industry like engineering.

        1. videogamePrincess*

          Something is still telling me this isn’t legal though. I get affirmative action, but I had always hoped that hiring more women would mean something more like scanning for skills first, and then just making a point of hiring the woman, if you ended up with a woman and man with equivalent skills.

          1. animaniactoo*

            That is the definition of the affirmative action laws that have been passed. That IF you have two equal workers, you must hire the minority. Unfortunately, with some purposeful maligning of those kinds of laws/initiatives and massive misunderstanding and misimplementation of them, far too many people understand them to mean “hire the minority even if you have a better candidate”.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              IF you have two equal workers, you must hire the minority

              This isn’t the definition of affirmative action laws at all.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Affirmative action mandates that jobs must be open to all i.e. advertised openly, recruitment designed to reach out to excluded populations etc. It does not require giving preferences to minorities or women.

            2. Emmie*

              Affirmative Action does not require you to hire the minority candidate b/c that person’s race. In fact, giving a person of a protected class a hiring preference in this situation is illegal. It would be filling a quota.
              Affirmative Action means, to my understanding, that you must identify those positions in which minorities or genders are disadvantaged (either through recruitment or promotion), and then you make good faith efforts to build your pipeline to recruit or promote those types of individuals. But, you do not choose someone b/c of race or gender.

              1. literateliz*

                ^this, with the addendum that “a person of a protected class” is misleading because it implies that some races are “protected” over others, when the law is actually that it’s illegal to give preference based on ANY race, whether you’re giving that preference to white people or to minorities (as in this scenario).

                I was a work-study assistant in a Diversity Office at a lab for a little while, and most of what we did was carefully track employment data, present that data to the EEOC once a year, and reach out to various institutions (historically black colleges and universities, for example) to get them to send us candidates so we could increase the diversity of our hiring pool.

          1. Not telling today*

            That’s not how it’s supposed to work. In truth, that’s how it is implemented in many places. At PreviousJob, our group was expanding to take on more projects and HR told us that at least 3 of the 6 openings would have to be filled by either a female or minority.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s totally illegal. Federal law prevents hiring based on race or sex, unless you can demonstrate that it’s a bona fide occupational qualification.

              1. JennyFair*

                Now I am intensely curious about occupations that have that as a bona fide qualification! Although I did have a Native American friend who worked undercover for the Bureau of Indian Affairs so maybe that would?

                1. Mike C.*

                  Say you run a Victoria’s Secret, you would have a bone fide reason to hire only women to deal with fittings. Acting and modeling is another area where this comes into play.

                2. Mike B.*

                  Also washroom attendants in high-end restaurants and clubs, though that line of work has for the most part been mercifully stamped out.

                3. EJ*

                  A friend of mine worked at a residential program for teen girls with behavior problems. Many of the girls had experienced sexual violence of some sort, and the staff had to do fairly regular searches for contraband, so they only hired female staff to work in the house. Apparently they had to keep pretty intense records about hiring decisions, though, in order to justify not hiring qualified male candidates.

                4. JessaB*

                  Actually the Victoria’s Secret thing may or may not work, some of the very best fitters I’ve ever met were male (on the other hand social mores can be an issue and it may depend on where you have the store.)

                5. Overeducated and underemployed*

                  To the best of my knowedge, BIA often does explicitly and preferentially hire Native Americans because of the long history of whites running Indian Affairs in damaging and ignorant ways, and because of the interest in supporting sovereignty. So I think that is really a special case.

                6. Marzipan*

                  Women’s shelters are a good example of a genuine occupational requirement – they generally only hire women to work with their clients (or, it’s certainly a common thing in the UK). I’ve also known situations where religion is relevant – working for specific church or faith-based organisations.

              2. ReanaZ*

                Women’s shelters are a classic example, as noted. In my current country, I also see job postings for things like educational or medical outreach into indigenous communities, where the job ad states (along with the relevant approvals/statue-cited) that the job is authorised to preference hiring people with indigenous backgrounds. Also, many medical clinics frequently deliberately staff both male and female doctors in fairly even ratios to best meet patient comfort levels, and I assume some sort of deliberate hiring decisions go into that.

              3. Miles*

                To be fair, it’s impossible to comply with federal law in the case of affirmative action because everyone has their biases, including judges, and nobody is aware of all of their biases. The only way to be sure you won’t be penalized by the legal lottery is to do everything you can to avoid getting sued or reported in the first place.

                For a particularly lawsuit-adverse company this means keeping the female to male ratio as high as they can. Nobody takes a man seriously when he thinks he’s a victim of gender discrimination so there’s no worry on that side of it.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  This is flat-out nonsense. Companies have legal departments, outside counsel and diversity programs for a reason – and that reason is not “OMG we are helpless in the face of random lawsuits!”

            2. Anonymous this time*

              Agreed. In my workplace there’s an unwritten quota system to try to improve the diversity numbers. Managers have a required objective to make diverse hires but there are no written quotas attached to it.

              Several years ago we had selected a summer intern and were about to make an offer when HR came back with a new resume pool and told us that we HAD to pick someone from that pool because that year’s intern group was not sufficiently diverse; the new pool consisted solely of candidates from a specific ethnic group. For entry level hires, the bar is slightly lower for women or someone who identifies as a minority, and the holy grail would be hiring a minority female – HR calls them “double diverse” candidates. Many times we’ve flown in such candidates for interviews even though on paper their qualifications are marginal. When we go to college recruiting events we’re expected to decide if a student would identify as female or a minority, and if so make a notation on the resume so that HR can put them in a special pile (many of us refuse to do so).

              I’m all in favor of hiring the most qualified person for the job. If that person happens to be female or a minority or both, GREAT. I feel like the way it’s implemented amounts to an unwritten quota system.

              1. Preux*

                What you are describing is not a result of affirmative action. Companies engage in quota policies usually when they have shut out minority candidates in higher level positions (usually by having a ‘good ol’ boys’ system going on) and have received criticism or negative publicity for it, and are trying to fix their image or prevent potential legal trouble by hiring diversely at lower levels.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Yep. And those companies will obliviously keep doing stupid things that keep their “numbers down”.

        2. Nervous Neil*

          Our company handbook explicitly states that the most qualified person should be hired, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other condition that isn’t “how qualified are they?”. I don’t know if the training given to someone promoted into management stresses that as much as the handbook, but I know that’s official company policy, and written as such in a completely unambiguous way.

      3. Honeybee*

        It’s saying a lot that anyone who has some life/work experience and has been in the workforce longer than a few years has fought like crazy with this guy. I hope you can get out quickly.

      4. Underemployed Erin*

        If no one else has mentioned it, get in touch with your previous boss, and use that person as a reference for the current job.

    5. LouLouBee*

      Ugh more needs to be done informing managers, HR, and company higher ups about accommodations

      I’m having hard time with mine. My previous department was ok about this. I have issues with the lights and the glare. My doctor filled out form after form after form. They wanted office visit notes from when he saw me testing results etc etc before they finally agreed having the lighting adjusted is medically needed for me.

      My office asked what lights I wanted adjusted, and even suggested a couple. Done. Yeah the “filter sucks” but they didn’t mind me taking a few minutes here and there to rest my eyes if needed.

      I get moved to a new dept. the will only filter “my light” which is actuall ahead and to the left of me. And the filter isn’t as dark as the other. I ask for the light behind me to be filtered. No…because it’s over another employees desk….could we ask if she’d be ok with it?…it wouldn’t matter because she doesn’t have an accommodation so we can adjust her lights.

      Then I ask about the very bright light next to me in the isle. No, because they’re isle lights?? Whatever that means

      So the office tells me to call workplace accommodation group that is where they’re getting the information on. I think they’re part of HR. Work place accommodations says my office said those changes would make it impossible for other people to work and create a safety issue so they’re supporting what my office says is correct.

      I go back to the office lady saying HR said this is all coming from you, i really need these changes done. I’ve tried working your way and it’s not working. Remind again that they were able to adjust the lights over other employees in my old department.

      She sticks with its coming from HR group nothing she can do

      Ugh! Sorry I got carried away…it’s just so frustrating

      1. Nervous Neil*

        Wow, that sucks. I’m really sorry. It sounds like we might work at the same company. The whole “this TOTALLY isn’t my responsibility, now go away so I can get back to slacking off” thing combined with doing the absolute minimum you can get away with sounds like a lot of the lifers in my company.

      2. Schu*

        Would a “cubicle umbrella” help? This is used by a few people in our vast cubicle farm. Just google cubicle umbrella…

        1. LouLouBee*

          It probably would but the one slightly darker plastic piece over the light bulbs is all they’re willing to do. They claim anything else is not possible.

          I work for a big Fortune 500 company

    6. My personal experience...*

      I was in a similar situation in my twentys. The Sr VP would not reassign me, nor did he have any meaningful conversation with the young up-and-coming man to whom I reported.

      When I consulted with an attorney, I was told that I had to go to the EEOC first. (I still recommend you speak with an attorney first.)

      The EEOC can review your case, and decide to investigate or not. If it doesn’t investigate, you’re probably left with civil legal recourse (IANAL).

      The cases that are investigated are then evaluated to decide whether the EEOC will bring charges, or seek a settlement / damages. The investigator told me that the cases that are pursued by the EEOC are going to be cases that will benefit the greatest number of people (there is probably a better way to say that in legalese). Think Lily Ledbetter.

      My employer was a nationwide corporate entity with many branch offices. The investigation was conducted (after I quit seconds before being fired – essentially for reporting to the EEOC) .

      The EEOC investigator, in reviewing with me the results of the investigation, told me frankly that while my statement that he took was under oath, the people at my former employer were not under oath when responding to his questions. This part really sucks!

      So, because I had kept a personal handwritten calendar with notes, and as close to verbatim exchanges as possible, and had an accordion file full of written evidence, the EEOC determined that I had been subject to harassment, the company did not respond to my reports of harassment, and I was no longer in the company’s employ because I had reported to the EEOC.

      Because I didn’t suffer any monetary losses (the job I left for was a large salary increase), and because the case wouldn’t be strong enough in trial, and because I didn’t want to have to endure the re-living of the details yet again – publicly – I agreed to a very small monetary settlement, with the stipulation that the Corporation would put a serial harassment policy in the employee manual and train supervisory personnel in responding to reports.

      Now, at this point I could have decided to pursue civil remedy. Two years into my new job? I don’t think so.

      Keep seeing your therapist. I’m in agreement with the F— Off Fund.

      Did you say you were in a state where there did not have to be two party consent to record conversations? Consider a voice activated recorder if it is legal where you are.

      Your attorney may be able to secure you an equitable “severance ” package, with agreement about what they will say when contacted for references, and you won’t have to go through all of this. Again, IANAL.

      Keep us posted.

  2. Kyrielle*

    “I’ve been here about three years (first job). I got along great with my old boss, but he left about six months ago,….” – If you haven’t, and you can, reach out to your old boss. He’ll be your best reference. (And he was your boss longer than this one has been, so he’s even a better reference in that sense, even after you’re no longer at this job and can’t use the “please don’t contact my current manager” duck out of it.)

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Bingo. Find your old boss and use that person, not the gigantic ass-hat currently serving as your supervisor. I’m sorry you’re going through this and that they’re using the accommodations process to beat you down. Document EVERYTHING.

    2. Amber T*

      Came here to say just that! There are lots of legitimate reasons that aren’t “my current boss sucks” for you to use your old boss as a reference. And yes, I think your next step is definitely lawyer. I work in compliance (granted, I’m relatively new), but I can’t think of a situation where I would be handling anything employee related like this. Maybe your lawyer will tell you to talk to legal/compliance, but they’re definitely the ones to give you the right next step.

      And your boss sucks. 100% sucks.

      1. Bibliovore*

        Alison, you asked for the name of the advert video that bounces readers up to the top. This one just did it to me USA: NY: Asia Fashion Collection Fall / Winter 2016 – Runway – New York Fashion Week: The Shows

          1. Development professional*

            Similar, but a different one:

            USA: NY: Jeremy Scott – Runway – Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week: The Shows

          2. After the Snow*

            USA: NY: Tommy Hilfiger Women’s – Runway – Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week: The Shows
            3 times in the last 5 minutes.

    3. BRR*

      I was thinking the same. At least the LW can use their old boss who was their the majority of the time and leaving your first job after three years is perfectly normal. I would prepare though just in case they insist on speaking with your current boss. Some employers insist on it.

    4. Nervous Neil*

      OldBoss is still at the company, just not working for the screaming guy (jackass boss’ boss). He still sits in the exact same personal office he had when I started! I’ll talk to him privately: I know he and new boss were good friends, so I’ll leave it at “You hired me and we worked together much more closely than NewBoss, would you have any issues with me using you as a reference? I’ll let you know whenever I expect any hiring managers or reference checkers.”.

      The worst thing is how my current, jackass boss gets people to like him. He’s perfectly nice to young women and people above him. He only turns on the nightmare boss act towards people who can’t get him anything, like me.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I hate to say this, but I would not approach your old boss at this point. If he’s still at the company *and* friends with your current boss, he would have a reason to give current boss a heads-up about your job search, unfortunately. And that could go very badly.

        However, after you have given notice (either because you have a new job or because your lawyer has helped you work out another departure), that might be the time to approach your old boss. (Are you on LinkedIn, and are you connected to him there? You will want some way to reach him in future, if he also leaves the company some day.)

  3. badger_doc*

    You said you had an old boss at that company who left 6 months ago – use him! Does he still work at the same company or somewhere else? Definitely reconnect and keep him in your network. Also, do you volunteer or have any college professors that can maybe vouch for you? I get that it isn’t the same thing, but I am assuming you are 3 years out of college if this is your first job. It might be another avenue.

    That sucks you have to deal with this…

    1. junipergreen*

      Ditto! I hope you can reach out to your old boss and have a chat, if appropriate (meaning if your old boss isn’t still at the same company). If you had a good relationship, you can do more than just ask for a reference: share your general career aspirations and get his opinion on different directions you could take your job search. At this stage in your career it’s nice to have some “blue sky” conversations and look at options adjacent to your current field or even to try something very different.

      Sending you lots of good luck vibes. I really sympathize with your situation and know just how tough that can be.

  4. neverjaunty*

    This is awful, OP. And what AAM said: you should NOT wait to talk to a lawyer. Compliance and Legal are there to protect the company – not you.

    1. Jade*

      Yes, definitely get a lawyer. It could help get your boss of your back if you ask your lawyer to send notice to your workplace stating that this is now a legal matter and any discussion of the matter of your disability should be handled directly with your legal counsel. Maybe they don’t have to adhere to that, but it will sure put the fear of god into them enough that they probably will. As far as the “my word vs. his” issue, are there any coworkers who have witnessed your boss making these statements to you that can attest to it? I would think the mere fact that you tried to address the issues in writing but never received written responses could make him look suspicious. The fact that you’ve been assigned less work following the panic attack seems like pretty good evidence of discrimination, too.

      On another note, as someone who works in mental health I’ve seen how the stigma of mental illness alienates people. I wouldn’t doubt if your boss’ treatment toward you has something to do with the stigma surrounding anxiety disorders, especially for men. Maybe he thinks that men are supposed to be the stereotypical strong and unemotional type, so maybe that’s why he has a hard time registering that you could even be capable of a panic attack. You deserve to be in a work environment where people have more than a 19th century understanding of mental illness.

        1. AnonAttorney*

          Please find a lawyer and talk to the lawyer before doing this. I almost always advise clients not to record conversations if they ask me before doing it. There are other ways to “prove” what was said in a conversation, including following up with written communication if necessary. The OP needs a lawyer for lots of other reasons that others have addressed, but I wanted to just throw this in as something to talk to your lawyer about first.

  5. Sharon*

    In addition to the OP’s boss being a horrible piece of work, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what being pushed out looks like. So unfair and so ridiculous! Alison, I’m curious, once one starts getting pushed out like this, is there any way to fix the situation? Or can you only “let them win” by finding a new job (even though it benefits you also in the long run, it feels like letting them have their way.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If there’s someone above the people who are the problem, and that person is reasonable and has good judgment, sometimes talking with them can solve it. But otherwise, your best path is usually to get out of there.

    2. Beezus*

      I survived it once. A few things helped me – I had worked there for a few years before reporting to BadBoss, so I had some rapport with people outside my team and periodic contact with people who thought I was awesome; our turnover was high and we were always understaffed and everyone was always new, so firing an experienced employee was a hard sell to upper management; and BadBoss was being managed out herself, so all I had to do was outlast her, and I did. I was still job hunting the whole time, though, and I would have jumped ship if the right thing had come along.

    3. Nervous Neil*

      I am almost entirely sure that this is what it is. Jackass boss has been on this team since before I started, and we never got along. It was just much easier to ignore when he wasn’t above me on the chain of command. I had a bad feeling about being reassigned to work for him, and now I’m kicking myself in the ass about not acting on it.

      Boss’ boss’ boss (guy who the screamer reports to) is nice, however we’re kind of in a massive project, and I don’t have faith in him to resolve this even if I talk to him, because I’m leveling a pretty serious complaint against two people higher up than me: one who’s been with the company for about 30 years, and another who averages a promotion a year. I don’t know him very well, but I’m being cynical and assuming he’ll assume I’m an acceptable loss.

      1. Terra*

        If you did go to the Boss’boss’boss you could easily frame it as a concern about the legality of the situation which is something he should be concerned about and frames it less as a you vs them situation. That way it’d be less him assuming you’re an acceptable loss and more him having to weigh the other two’s worth against the potential cost of various lawsuits and such. That being said, I’d still talk to a lawyer before talking to anyone else at your work. You can always mention to the lawyer that you have someone in the chain of command you could still potentially speak to and see what they think.

        1. Nervous Neil*

          Sounds solid to me. I’ve found a lawyer I’m going to speak to, so I’ll mention this to them.

          1. Alston*

            I’m glad you’re going to talk to a lawyer, let us know what happens/what the lawyer says! And good luck.

    4. A Non*

      I survived a situation like that once, but only because there was turnover in upper management. The old CEO who had been protecting the ex-boss left, and the new CEO had zero patience for his shenanigans. I actually didn’t find out until afterwards that the ex-boss wanted to fire me and upper management had said no – his reputation was bad enough, even with the people protecting him, and mine was good enough that they didn’t want to lose me. And the VP of HR was firmly on my side the whole time. I would have been out of there so fast if not for that.

      So yeah, in my experience, it only resolves when someone leaves. Unless you have good reason to think the boss is the one on the way out, start job hunting. It sucks, but it sucks less than staying.

  6. Elizabeth West*

    Holy jerkface, Batman.

    I hope somebody (not necessarily the OP) does end up filing a complaint against this company. They suck. Really, truly, giant octopus-level sucking. And if they keep up this crap, it will happen.

    I agree–don’t wait on the lawyer/EEOC thing. They might be able to advise you how to deal with the place until you can leave. And I hope you find a wonderful job VERY soon. *fingers crossed*

  7. animaniactoo*

    To be blunt, your boss is also a dumbass. In any legal context, it becomes immediately clear what is going on when one side is e-mailing many things and the other consistently has nothing documented as a response.

    At best, it looks like he is ignoring you, at worst, it looks like he is doing exactly what he’s doing. And almost everyone will assume something in the middle.

    On the other hand, a mini tape recorder may be your best friend. There are ones that are voice activated and small enough to sit unobtrusively in your pocket. You don’t need to rely solely on handwritten unsubstantiated notes. :)

    1. videogamePrincess*

      That actually is not legal in a lot of consequences, without first letting the other party know.

      1. videogamePrincess*

        Another correction–I meant circumstances, not consequences. Apparently sheer rage is affecting my ability to write.

    2. Christy*

      If you are in a single party state! (So don’t do this in: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or Washington)

      1. animaniactoo*

        It depends. In some of those states I think there are exceptions, so neverjaunty’s advice to run it by a lawyer first is best.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          For different circumstances I’ve run this by a lawyer. Federal law says only one-party notification is required (you). Delaware is the same as Federal. Maryland and Pennsylvania require all parties to give consent. I don’t know about other states.

          1. Terra*

            Even in states that require 2 party or multi-party consent the law doesn’t prevent you from recording it just means the recording cannot be used in court without a warrant. However, many companies have started adding a section to their employee handbook forbidding employee recording so they can discipline or fire you for it so that’s definitely something to look into.

            If you can bypass the company/state hurdles there’s also software that allows you to have your webcam record automatically or with a single button press if you have one or can get one.

            1. neverjaunty*

              No, the recording itself can be a violation of criminal laws.

              Again: this is something to run by a lawyer who practices employment law in that state.

      2. Ann Cognito*

        At my last job (in California) we terminated someone for recording a meeting without letting the others involved know. We ran it through our attorney so knew we were on solid ground, so that’s definitely the way to go before you record anything.

    3. Nervous Neil*

      I work in a one party state (meaning that only one party needs to consent to having a conversation recorded, nothing about politics), though there may be something in the employee handbook. I’ll look into it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        “Single party” has to do with recording phone calls, but state laws may vary about recording conversations generally. This is absolutely not something to mess around with or rely on Google Esq.

        1. A Non*

          Agreed. Talk with a lawyer before doing this. Until then, you can write down as much of the boss’s nastyness as you remember verbatim. Having a written record is way, way better than just pulling it out of memory.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I also wonder if the old boss would have some good advice here. Or maybe just some extra insight that would help OP.

  8. Kyrielle*

    Also, yes re this is horrible and they are horrible – and yes re talking to a lawyer *now*. We can say document, document, document. We can say “maybe record if it’s legal in your state”. We’re…people on the internet. You need a lawyer, not to sue them (though that may come), but just to advise you what you need to be doing, now, to keep yourself in a good position re handling this.

    Also, I assume you are continuing to discuss this mess with your therapist? Since presumably this horror-show is going to impact what you need to do in self-care in the short term.

  9. Chantal*

    Wow, this is really awful. I’m so sorry. I hope you find a good lawyer and take it from there. Also : Glassdoor.

  10. videogamePrincess*

    One more thing–I hope to high heaven that you haven’t given your legal department the only copy of your notes, and if you have not, keep other copies AT HOME. Another commenter on this site was talking about a story where she avoided getting fired after some documentation she had left at work was suddenly “missing”, because she had kept papers at home.

    1. Nervous Neil*

      No way! No, no way. I don’t trust this guy at all. Everything goes in my backpack as soon as I finish writing it down. I’ve considered directly emailing it to my personal email, but I don’t want any of it on company property, electronic or physical.

      No contact with legal dept. yet, but I’m going to drop that idea and talk to the EEOC instead. The last few people here I’ve talked to have totally killed any trust in anyone here. That includes someone who handles ADA and accommodations in our HR department, too. If I hear “well, managers can choose how to discipline their direct reports” again, I’ll scream. I understand that they want to reward high performers, but they’re falling over themselves to defend this guy. It’s really incomprehensible to me, as he’s not very high up in management due to our company being absolutely massive.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Don’t drop talking to a lawyer yourself! Your lawyer doesn’t necessarily have to be helping you by contacting their legal dept, they can help you by advising you what steps are available and helping you with the route you choose. Even when dealing with somebody like the EEOC who is supposed to help you, having a lawyer on your side to help guide you through that process can be invaluable. They may be aware of what words mean “quicker action”, how to route things so that they get taken more seriously/move faster, etc.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m so sorry you have to deal with this utter bs. Good for you for documenting and taking everything home!

      3. Green*

        Go get your lawyer first, and they can open negotiations with your company on accommodations and your treatment.

      4. DMC*

        Honestly, the EEOC is unlikely to be a ton of help. Sure, they can take your complaint and issue a charge, and the company will have to respond, and at that point it’s all downhill from there. An employment lawyer will likely be much more helpful, and most of them do work without fees up front because many employment-related statutes call for the recovery of attorney fees. That being said, your employer can play Devil’s Advocate. They’ll probably say they had no record of any disability or accommodation request from you until after you were disciplined, and then all of a sudden you needed accommodations. So, be prepared for that. A lot of employees DO abuse the interactive process and disability as a way to avoid discipline for genuine performance issues, so you should make sure you can document issues you had related to your disability (and your boss or former boss’s knowledge) prior to the discipline.

        1. Nervous Neil*

          Thank you for this! It may not sound it, but it’s relieving. My anxiety often manifests as a fear of being doubted and seen as a liar. Knowing that it’s not unheard of for employers to be jackasses and bullies over accommodations makes me feel like I’m less alone.

          1. DMC*

            No problem. You do have to go to the EEOC, generally, before filing a lawsuit on these type of matters, but a lawyer can help you with that, too.

          2. Elaine*

            Your situation sounds extremely similar to that of a male friend of mine. I had to check that the details didn’t match and that you weren’t him. His boss was horrible to him over anxiety issues as well and so many of the aspects of the situation are similar. He ultimately ended up getting pushed out and resigned in lieu of getting fired and is now a stay-at-home parent. He’s much happier now that he no longer has to deal with that toxic boss, but the whole situation was just awful.

      5. neverjaunty*

        Seconding what everyone else said – talk to a lawyer FIRST. That doesn’t cut you off from an EEOC complaint.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Yeah, and a lawyer might be able to help you negotiate a departure that’s beneficial to you. This is what happened to my friend’s dad. Long story but he was able to get a lawyer to negotiate a good deal on an early retirement.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            Or they can negotiate you being moved to a different department wile you job search, or they can negotiate a payment for your “layoff.” Also, they can ensure the company will not give a bad reference.

      6. Engineer Girl*

        You really do need to talk to legal. I’ve been in situations where HR was absolutely in the wrong. I emailed legal and let them know and suddenly HR was backpedaling so fast it was funny. A good HR person should see your situation and know that what is happening is illegal. A bad HR person can mess things up in so many ways – remember the “baby-momma” thread?

        1. Kyrielle*

          Except that if legal is in the boss’s pocket also, or is otherwise bad, it could be another layer of awful.

          I agree legal probably needs to be approached, but I believe it should be done after the OP has a lawyer, with that lawyer’s advice and/or involvement.

          Just in case, because so far, the folks who should have been handling this well have been /awful/.

        2. Green*

          Agree with Kyrielle — Don’t talk to legal without talking to your own lawyer first. Legal does not represent you; they represent the company. They may need to later defend the boss’s actions in the event you filed a suit, so they’re really not your next step here.

          HR and/or Compliance is where you should go first if you have an issue with your boss for an investigation of the circumstances. Legal is where you should go after talking to your own lawyer.

      7. Mimmy*

        It is stories like these that really give HR a bad rap. And even the ADA Coordinator isn’t being of any help??! Wow….so sorry you’re dealing with these people :(

        1. Nervous Neil*

          What the ADA coordinator said was something along the lines of “your boss objected to the accommodation request because he thinks you’re faking it to get out of work”, using the standard euphemisms like “expressed concern.” In other words, more trying to shame and embarrass me. He didn’t straight up reject it, but said it’s unacceptable as is — for example, he insists he’s way too busy to schedule his meetings with me officially through our calendar system (like the one where his boss started screaming and triggered a panic attack in).

          I wouldn’t criticize this person. The worst thing they could’ve done is not be assertive enough with him, and honestly I don’t think he’s going to listen to anything less than someone with the authority to fire him threatening to.

      8. LouLouBee*

        If you do talk to the eeeo please let us know how it goes. I’ve been told I may need to file but when I called them they wouldn’t take any info over the phone. Well there was a 4-5 question test to see if you potentially may be eligible for the services.. But they only do intakes in person which you should set 2 hours aside for.

        My thing is I’m not convinced filing a complaint is the answer now and I just wanted help on what to say in order to get this worked out

        1. My personal experience...*

          My interview with the EEOC investigator took all day. They were also located in a city that had a Federal Court. I think I’d call in sick – one day for the appointment, and the next day to relax and breathe.

          And yes, Corporate Legal or Compliance is not there to protect you.

          Remember that even if you are using a private email account, if it goes through the company server they have copies of it. Also, if you call an attorney or EEOC do so from your private cell, or from your doctor’s office. They have phone logs.

          And today’s copy machines store a large number of copies in memory – so make your photocopies at Staples. A local government office here was able to run a copy of everything printed in the past X number of days – it doesn’t matter what key number you use. In this instance they did this on all government copiers, including the library – and used the copies as evidence against the individual.

          There may even be surveillance cameras, so I’m really glad you have an attorney to see. Video of you putting things in your back pack could be used against you. But if your attorney gets the videos, you then have proof of the creep answering you in person, stance too close, and other harassing behavior.

  11. HR Jeanne*

    This HR Department is appalling. I’m shocked at their treatment of you. At this point they are neither working for the employee or the company.

    1. JustAnotherHRPro*

      HR people like that give the rest of us a bad name. And make me want to leave HR and become a baker, or an Uber Driver. Or anything else…

      1. Kyrielle*

        Please don’t…there are lots of good HR people, and we need all of you. It’s the ones like this that we need to get out of it…. (Sad that there’s no magic wand to make them do so.)

  12. Bend & Snap*

    A company can’t withhold accommodation due to performance right? It sounds crazy that you’d have to be a proven high performer to have a disability accommodated…especially if that change would increase performance…

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, I don’t think that’s legitimate at all, but nothing these folks are doing is. Especially not when the writeup was for “faking” the condition that your doctor’s paperwork *confirms you have*. The entire Internet does not have enough horrified emoticons on it for a proper reaction to this train-wreck boss/HR/company….

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah do they really think they have a leg to stand on when they say “oh he just happened to get diagnosed after we had to write him up”?! Pretty sure that won’t hold water. These idiots are taking a big risk.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Especially since he had the diagnosis before, he just didn’t think he needed formal accommodation…although even if the diagnosis were newly-discovered _as a result_ of that incident, their ongoing behavior wouldn’t be okay or allowable.

      2. Honeybee*

        Yeah, I don’t understand why the boss would go the route of assuming you faked a symptom of a disorder that you are already known to have and that you have already confirmed with him and had informal accommodations for. Even if you didn’t have formal disability accommodations, he’d look like a complete jackass in court. Like what is his defense going to be once people know he knew about your disorder?

    2. Laurel Gray*

      Sure can’t! Accommodation and performance do not work together in the workplace.

      “I broke my leg over the weekend and now require an ottoman or similar to prop my leg up on for blood flow, doctor’s orders” – Worker

      “Sorry, you’re still on your PIP for another 23 days and until then, we can’t make any reasonable accommodations for you.” – HR

      Yup, this would NOT fly.

    3. hbc*

      Yeah, it’d be one thing to say that they won’t “expunge the record” or whatever for a disciplinary action that took place before there was an ADA accommodation request. I can understand the logic there, whether or not I agree with it. But businesses don’t get to say “Hmm, no, we don’t feel like putting in a grab bar in the bathroom because you were late four times last month.”

      1. Nervous Neil*

        I wonder how much of this is about it being a psychological condition, and thus not so readily visible. There’s also the fact that I’m a 6’4″ man who comes into the office in a leather jacket every day. I could very easily imagine at least one person involved in this process thinking “what the hell does a huge tough guy like him have to be anxious about?” and thinking that I’m up to something, but that may be the anxiety speaking.

        1. LCL*

          I’m sure you are right regarding what they are thinking. But they still have to act right, and they are not.

        2. A Non*

          People are special kinds of jerks about psychological stuff, you’re not wrong. It gets harder when you don’t look like the stereotypical anxiety-haver. That doesn’t make your anxiety any less real, or any less deserving of accommodation. Be prepared for them to be total jerks, and have fun siccing a lawyer on them.

          1. Anna*

            Stereotypical anxiety-haver looks like a trembling Chihuahua? I’m just wondering what people think it looks like. Or at least what it *should* look like so they can be okay with it. Those people are jerks.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Probably a delicate, meek, shy young woman. They’re imagining fainting couches and smelling salts, that sort of thing.

        3. TL -*

          Lots of people don’t believe anxiety is a thing, regardless of looks. My tiny 5’0″ roommate gets flack from people who have seen manifestations of her anxiety from back when it first started. :(
          Some people are just jerks.

        4. AnonEMoose*

          I just wanted to offer you (((hugs))) if and only if you want them. Either way, I do want you to know that you are not alone. I have a friend who is not exactly a small guy, and is quite muscular. He also lives with PTSD and a bunch of other stuff due to what you might call an interesting childhood. This can, for him, involve hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and so on.

          It has nothing to do with how “tough” you are, physically or mentally. And if you manage to make it through every time it happens, if you ask me, that makes you pretty damned tough, anyway.

          Hang in there, talk to that lawyer, and do what you need to in order to take care of you.

        5. BRR*

          I’m a similar build and have anxiety issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they thought but it’s your anxiety talking too. But don’t let that cloud that they’re wrong.

          1. Anxiety Adjacent*

            ^^ What BRR said. They’re completely wrong, even if you can comprehend how they can justify their wrongness.

        6. Jaydee*

          Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with it being a psychological condition. I think employers (and other entities that are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities) have a harder time with mental health and intellectual disabilities than they do with physical disabilities. For one thing, they are invisible. I can literally see why the employee who has a prosthetic leg needs a cubicle closer to the main entrance. I cannot literally see why the employee with ADHD needs a cubicle that is away from the main entrance, so I’m just supposed to believe that they are distracted by people coming and going and carrying on conversations at the front desk. There is also stigma around mental illness, so you end up with the types of witty commentary that your boss seems fond of (“don’t go having a nervous breakdown now”). The stigma I think also keeps employees from asking for accommodations up-front when they might be less reluctant to ask for an accommodation for a physical disability. An employer should treat the need for screen reader software the same for a person with a visual impairment as they would for a person with dyslexia. But my guess is many employers would react differently to those requests. Finally, I think the nature of a lot of mental illnesses is that the types of limitations they cause are going to have a more direct impact on performance. So if an employee was reluctant to disclose their disability because of the stigma of mental illness and tried to just do their job without needed accommodations, they probably don’t finally decide they need to ask for accommodation until they realize their performance is slipping. Which may mean they have already been disciplined by their employer. That doesn’t negate the need for accommodation; it should underscore it.

          1. Terra*

            In a possible, slightly less awful reasoning, it might also be that mental illnesses tend to have a greater variation of accommodations which confuses people or makes them wonder if the accommodation is really necessary. For an example, two employees that break their legs are going to need the same or very similar accommodations in terms of propping up their legs, minimizing movement, etc. I have two co-workers with PTSD, one can’t have a phone in their office because the loud ring if he’s not expecting it can cause a startle reaction and potential panic attack. The other is perfectly fine with the phone generally, and even has some phone duties, but she has to leave the office during lunch because hearing the phone ring and not be picked up immediately starts to stress her out and she’s prone to picking it up anyway even though she’s non-exempt. Some people probably don’t “get” why two people with the same diagnosis have different responses to the same situation.

            1. Tuckerman*

              This is a great point. Also, since we all feel some level of anxiety it can be hard for some people to understand how it can be a disability. Nobody questions the need for a seeing eye dog for a blind person because blindness is such a foreign experience for most people.

          2. Hexiva*

            Getting accommodations for physical disability is a nightmare. People will accuse you of faking it, say you just need to try harder, agree to accommodations and then just utterly fail to provide them . . . nightmare. I have both mental illnesses and (invisible) physical illnesses, and honestly, in my experience, authority figures (and other people) have more trouble with physical illness than they do mental. I’m kind of baffled by this narrative that people with physical disabilities easily get accommodations and it’s mentally ill people who have the biggest issues there. I’m not saying mentally ill people aren’t subject to ableism, just . . . they’re not the only ones.

            1. Nervous Neil*

              I’m so sorry for that. It was pretty oblivious of me to assume that those with physical disabilities have it “easier” somehow.

        7. JessaB*

          And I’m sure this boss is the sort to tell a 6’2″ former military member that they don’t have PTSD either. It’s idiotic that we treat psychiatric disorders so shabbily in this country.

        8. Lauren*

          Are you on medication for it? Daily or as needed? If yes, this a big plus on your side that you are being treated for anxiety when you file a complaint with EEOC.

        9. hbc*

          It probably enters into it, Neil, but I hope an example like this would make them realize how ridiculous they’re being. And it’s not as if you’re asking for massive accommodation–a little flex time for appointments, and to be able to excuse yourself from the room occasionally, particularly when someone is yelling at you? That’s something I’d do for anyone, disability or not.

          And as far as stereotypes go, why would they think the big tough guy would fake having an anxiety attack? You’re supposed to be threatening to take the yeller outside and settle it like Men. These idiots can’t even stereotype consistently.

    4. Green*

      They cannot withhold accommodation due to performance, but they do not have to consider your condition for any performance issues for which they were not aware you had a condition requiring accommodation. However, there’s not a specific accommodation process you are required to follow in order to access your legal rights. (The best way is of course to reference the words “Accommodation” and “Americans with Disabilities Act” in your request to make it completely unambiguous, but it’s not required that you do either.)

      So this is OK:
      “Mark, you’ve been very unreliable at work and you have received a poor rating for this period.”
      “I have a condition and I need this accommodation.”
      “We will engage with you about what accommodations may be appropriate, but we do have a current performance problem we need to resolve based on these issues that arose before you requested accommodation.”

      This is not:
      “I have a diagnosed panic disorder and may need to step out at some points.”
      “Mark, you’ve been very unreliable at work and you have received a poor rating for this period.”
      “That was due to my medical issues that I disclosed, and I have a condition and I need this accommodation.”
      “I think you’re faking it.”

      The work environment here is likely a hostile environment, a violation of the ADA, and there would be a possible case for constructive discharge if OP leaves. Now’s a great time to chat with a lawyer before taking next steps.

    5. LouLouBee*

      Sorry to hijack. What about employee transferred to new department which means new, desk on a new floor. New Department aware of employee coming for 2 months and that equipment needs to be ordered.

      Manager in old dept had part of the equipment modified in a way that it can be used anywhere but the temporary training room for the new department

      Employee goes to day 1 in new office after reminding new office several time about the equipment and no equipment it was ordered yesterday….went be in to set up until Wednesday. Today is Friday

      Employee expresses that this is not ok, new office has had 2 months to get equipment and needs it to work well. Employee requests extra time between calls as needed no more than 5 minutes until equipment is received and installed.

      New office say no that is unreasonable. If employee cannot work at 100% then employee cannot come in. Employee needs to say home 3 days without pay

      Also add in that this is the one the job portion of the training for the new job. Employee will not receive extra time with a coach to make up for it

    6. Marzipan*

      Yes, that seemed really bizarre to me. Are they basically saying that you can’t ask for accommodations for a problem now it’s actually started having an impact at work? And that you should have asked before it was a problem, and because you didn’t, lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry? I mean, I’m not familiar with US law on this, but I doubt it says that.

  13. danr*

    Yes, talk to a lawyer, and make sure that you talk to someone who specializes in labor and employment law. Fortunately most lawyers have websites these days and you can look at what they’ve done before you call.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Your local area may also offer a service for free or low-cost legal consultations (which may or may not be available only to people below a certain income threshhold). Could be offered by the city, county, or state where you live. I went this route many years ago when I was having landlord-tenant issues and was able to see a great lawyer for only $25.00 for the initial appointment. Good luck!

  14. Laurel Gray*

    Stay strong OP! Please, stay strong! Your boss puts the eep! in creep. If you want to explore the legal route, I recommend taking some time to read the EEOC’s website, particularly for your state. I also recommend you take a gander at the press release/news stories of their cases going to court or that have been ruled on. Lots of goodies on there and scumbag employers having to pay large amounts of money for all kinds of ridiculousness. If for nothing else, I hope it will empower you. Your boss is an ass, your HR department is spineless scum and I hope you find a better job with understanding colleagues and management.

  15. BearWithMe*

    You may never actually have to use this toxic boss as a future reference, depending on your circumstances. Like Alison said, you wouldn’t be expected to use him as a reference in your current job search as most prospective employers understand contacting your current supervisor is out of the question (as it’ll expose the fact that you’re actively looking to leave). In the job search after this job search (which hopefully won’t be for a while) you could instead use your first supervisor at this company (the one who left before being replaced by Jerkasaurus) who I presume you have a better relationship with and who could be a positive reference from your time at that company. And of course since this will be happening years in the future, it won’t be surprising that this boss from your past company has also since moved on.
    And I hope when you’re experiencing one of your daily panic attacks there is someone you can call for support, and you can think to everyone supporting you here to get through it. Good luck to you!

    1. Nervous Neil*

      I plan on never giving him as a reference, ever. It came up because I filled out an application that requested my current boss’ name and contact info, and I went “oh hell no.”

        1. Amadeo*

          I guess this marks my sense of humor but if I were a hiring manager and saw that on an application and everything else was sound I’d totally want to talk to that person (we won’t get into whether or not it would be a good decision).

    1. Nervous Neil*

      Have you been reading my texts? That’s basically half of them since my first crappy HR meeting.

      1. The Little Prince(ess)*

        Try to hang on until after you speak to an attorney. You may be able to start a course of action/a discrimination claim, resign and still recover damages.

  16. I'm Not Phyllis*

    This is awful – I’m so sorry this happened. I agree with another commenter in stating that they are likely trying to push you out. I’m glad you’re already searching but yes – please don’t wait to speak with a lawyer.

  17. Amber Rose*

    Another use for the “survive your time by pretending you are studying aliens just prior to their demise” advice I think.

    Please take really good care of yourself, dealing with lawyers and shitty bosses can be All The Stress. But try to distance yourself emotionally. This guy is a freak occurrence. If it weren’t so damaging it would be laughable so I’m hoping you can still laugh a bit.

    1. I can't even*

      Dunce cap employee here. I’d nominate OP’s boss as worst of the year…makes my place look like a damn party in comparison.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I wanna see OP’s boss wear a dunce cap. Why is it that the people who actually earn a dunce cap don’t get one?

  18. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

    I’m so sorry your boss is a jackass. I’m glad to hear that you’re working with therapist as I know how a crappy workplace can take a toll on someone when you have GAD (or any mental health issue really). Have you thought of emailing your boss about meetings, projects, etc? Even if you don’t get a response, you can show that you were trying to address the situations and he’s just ignoring you outright. You can also use it as a way to detail and frame his inappropriate conversations/remarks with you? Sending lots of good thoughts your way!

  19. justcourt*

    I would talk to a lawyer who specializes in ADA. You might not have officially made your disability “known” until now, but the EEOC or other adjudicatory bodies might find your employer “knew” about your disability when you told your boss and made unofficial accommodation plans.

    1. justcourt*

      I did a tiny bit of research, which indicated notice to employer of a need for accommodation is definitely not as cut and dry as filling out an official sheet with HR. I don’t know all the facts about your problem, and I’m not qualified to say your employer is in violation of the ADA, but I definitely think you should contact an attorney.

      Also, please update us! I recently had to deal with someone implying I was a “delicate flower” because I have suffered from depression in the past, and I didn’t feel comfortable to stick up for myself. I wish I had, though.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Actually, from the second they started treating OP like she had a disability, they made themselves liable:

      “The ADA protects you if someone discriminates against you because you have a record of disability in the past. The ADA protects you if someone thinks you have a disability, or treats you like you are disabled, even if you are not limited in any way.”

      So as soon as bossman started making fun of her panic disorder and refusing her accomodations, he put himself and the company in a world of legal liability.

      1. justcourt*

        I don’t think it matters that a company treats someone as if they have a disability if the condition does not actually qualify as a disability.

        I think OP’s conversation with old boss and new boss about his anxiety provided notice to the company even if he didn’t fill out an official form with HR and provide documentation per company’s policy.

        1. justcourt*

          Or at least being covered because OP was regarded as disabled wasn’t my original point. My original point was that the employer did receive notice.

          1. Stephanie*

            You are right, the conversations would provide sufficient notice based on the information we have, however, Katie the Fed is also correct. Being “regarded as disabled” puts employees in the same protected class as if they were actually disabled. This is part of the ADAAA.

  20. GOG11*

    This is ridiculous, OP! I don’t have any advice, but know that you are not the unreasonable one here. Your boss is being ridiculous.

  21. Employment Lawyer*

    Short and sweet:

    Lawyer up.

    Right now.

    I don’t have time to list the many reasons why, but you need to do it right away.

    Search your local “yourstate employment lawyers association” and also search the NELA database (national).

  22. Gandalf the Nude*

    So, my worry is that the first meeting with HR may not quite qualify as attempting to resolve the issue through company channels, at least not in any kind of open and shut way, since you hadn’t “officially” disclosed your disability prior to the first incident. To have a stronger case, you may need to attempt HR again and report the new developments. They’ll probably blow you off again, but at least then no one can claim they were ignorant of your disability. Talk to a lawyer first, but don’t be surprised if they suggest something like that before going to the EEOC.

    Also, your HR people suck. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

    1. Nervous Neil*

      I’ve concluded that our HR sucks, yeah. You’d think that even if they were worried about pissing off a “high performer” like my boss they’d just quietly transfer me (I work for an enormous Fortune 100 so there are plenty of other teams who could use someone with my skill set) to prevent any liability. I’m thinking my boss may seriously have some high-grade bribe material on someone in senior management.

      1. BadPlanning*

        Since you’re at a big company, do they have any kind of policy about going to other managers when you’re having problems with your own manager? My company has a “open door” policy that you can theoretically talk to another manager if you don’t feel comfortable with your own.

        It may be too late for that, but just wondering if there’s a different manager you could at least get support or advice from — perhaps some “secret” code words to use with HR/etc to remind them they should do their job. Or maybe help facilitate moving to another area.

      2. A Non E. Mouse*

        Since it’s a large company, any chance there is an Omsbudperson on staff?

        I agree with the others that a lawyer is the first stop, but you might discretely check to see if an Omsbudperson is on staff as well, that could be an avenue to pursue.

      3. catsAreCool*

        Seems like transferring you would have been a reasonable solution for you and for the company, and why would it hurt the jerk? Wonder why they didn’t do that.

      4. Meg Murry*

        There may be policy or bureaucracy in place from simply transferring you, however, are there any internal postings you are eligible for? If it’s only been 6 months since you’ve been reporting to jerk-boss, I would highly encourage you to apply for any internal positions now before jerk-boss has the opportunity to write you a negative annual review, because all the Fortune 100 companies I’ve worked for have requested your annual reviews as part of the internal application process. At a minimum, you may be able to make an internal position transfer now away from jerk-boss and screamer team leader, and then work on making a transition out of the company altogether.

  23. LD*

    I haven’t read all the comments so apologies if this has already been mentioned: Retaliation is another avenue to consider when you consult with a lawyer. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that many inquiries and suits win on the retaliation claim even when they do not on the original complaint. It sounds like your boss is retaliating and perhaps HR is enabling that. Again, not a lawyer. But keep track and continue to document the changes in assignments, conversations, and when everything occurred. And I wish you luck with finding a new job!

    1. Hobbits! The Musical*

      + 1 I want to chime in on this too. My anxiety started as an offshoot of my depression, one part is *avoidance* of potential stressors. I want to say KUDOS to you for searching out and *wanting* work to do in that toxic situation. I admire you.

  24. Adam*

    Pretty much everything about this situation feels gross. If the universe doles out job hunting luck in servings I hope you get extra helpings until you can beat feet out of that mess.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      This is what happened to me in my last position. Former boss was a major asshole who retaliated against me when I posted out of my division for another job (which I didn’t get). I wound up getting two job offers about two to three months later, and the look on my former manager’s face when I got hired internally by another division (with a promotion to boot!) was priceless.

      Nervous Neil, I pray something similar happens to you. Your company sucks ass, and your manager is going to bring all kinds of bad juju down on his dumb ass.

      1. catsAreCool*

        And this manager is going to bring a lawsuit against himself and his company sooner or later. HR should have the sense to realize this. HR is supposed to protect the company and isn’t doing a good job. You protect the company by taking care of the hard workers and not allow jerks to browbeat them or take advantage of them or hire based on age and gender.

  25. Myrin*

    Don’t you love how OP disrespected his boss and his boss’s boss by having a panic attack yet boss’s boss didn’t in any way disrespect OP by screaming at him in a meeting? >:|

  26. Stephanie*

    My heart dropped when I read your update. Being in HR myself, it is very hard to hear when HR fails someone so completely. They have failed you and they have failed their company. A lawyer is the right call. Discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, I think you’ve got the whole gambit. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

    I would recommend not mentioning this to any potential future employer. Avoid the topic completely. If possible, find a new job before your company knows you’ve spoken to a lawyer so that they can’t mention it if they are contacted.

  27. Realistic*

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. At least now I know where my former boss went after he left Old Company. I had, in writing, a schedule which allowed for telecommuting (this was 14 years ago when it was Just.Not.Done) at least part time. Things went fine until New Boss decided agoraphobia was just “laziness by another name” (exact quote). Short version of the story? I handed him my resignation while wearing a t-shirt that said ‘People like you are the reason people like me need medication.” He got canned the very next day for the way he opened the company up to massive liability and really bad PR. I opted not to pursue either option but it could have been lucrative, to be sure.
    I’m sorry you’re going through this, OP. Good luck!!!

  28. Monday*

    Tangential but related: what would be the best way for OP to proactively address the possible need for accommodation for panic disorder or anxiety at their next job?

    1. Not my usual name*

      My previous job was throwing fits about accomodation for migraines (they hadn’t been a significant problem, then I got moved to an open work space with lots of background noise and overhead lights I couldn’t control and … yeah. 6 months of unrelenting migraine aura is not good.) As one of my friends said, repeatedly: “Does your job not actually want you to do work?”

      I was already job hunting at that point, and I basically looked hard for work spaces where it wouldn’t be a big deal. “Can I take a look at the space this position would be working in?” “What’s the usual work flow like?” and some other things that helped me figure out if the space would work. My current office is lovely – there were already filters on the lights, there’s very little background noise, I can have music on to buffer other sounds in the building. I didn’t explicitly talk about it when I started here (I have gradually let people know I have migraines, so no one is suprised when I occasionally call in sick with one when I can’t drive).

      With something like anxiety, I might have gone for a “I want to give you my best work, so you should be aware that I’ve had panic attacks in the past. I’ve worked closely with my doctor to help make sure it won’t cause difficulties in the usual kind of day to day work. If something does come up, I usually excuse myself quietly, and come back in a couple of minutes when I’m able to focus on the task at hand again. If that would be a problem for particular tasks, can we talk through how to handle those situations?”

      And then have a short summary of the things that are more likely to cause problems handy (“It’s happened in the past when we were in a hectic meeting, someone got upset, and there was shouting” is the kind of thing that a lot of places you want to work would find a reasonable time to be upset, y’know?)

    2. A Non*

      Given how much stigma there still is about mental issues, I’d suggest not disclosing the issue until/unless it actually becomes an issue. Being proactive won’t stop an organization from being a jerk about it, and talking about it after it’s an issue won’t be offensive to a reasonable company.

      If you know up front that it’s going to be an issue and you need XYZ, that’s a different kettle of fish. That’s probably best addressed with HR during on boarding, I’d think. (Not totally sure.)

  29. Mimmy*

    Haven’t read through the comments yet but wanted to jump in. I can personally relate to the catch-22 you describe of only realizing you needed accommodations until a performance issue arose. I think it can be hard to determine your specific needs until you’ve been in a job for awhile. When I started at my one post-MSW job, my supervisor did voluntarily tell me to let her know if I needed any accommodations. At the time, I only anticipated needing slight adaptations due to sensory impairments. However, as time went on, my anxiety and multi-tasking issues began getting the better of me; by the time I realized that I’d need more help than I initially anticipated, it was too late. I was able to keep my head above water but barely. I was out within less than a year.

    So long story short, I can really only commiserate with you. Luckily it was a smallish nonprofit, so there was no separate HR department to contend with and it didn’t get to the level that the OP is experiencing.

    That all being said, I agree with Alison – at least consult with a lawyer. Sometimes taking action is more hassle than it’s worth in my opinion, but it’s good to at least know whether you have some legal standing should you decide to pursue the issue.

    Glad you are job searching – that’s what I would’ve done too. Good luck!

  30. Katie the Fed*

    “He’s also made a few nasty wink wink nudge nudge comments about mental illness and me being “unstable,” like “don’t have a nervous breakdown on me.” When accommodations came up, he said, “My other direct reports get by fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?””

    Wow, OP. I am so, so sorry you have to deal with such a jerk who clearly doesn’t understand his obligations both under the law and as a member of society.

    Definitely talk to a lawyer soon. If nothing else, I think it would help you knowing that you have some recourse in whatever happens and that they can’t actually act with impunity.

    Did you talk to HR about these latest comments from him? Wait until you talk to a lawyer, but you might need to reengage on that.

    I’m so sorry. I think this guy is a dirtbag who doesn’t know how lucky he is to never have dealt with the awfulness of living with mental illness.

    1. QualityControlFreak*

      “My other direct reports get by fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?”

      (Very coolly): “Oh, I agree it looks bad. I just wonder if you realize you’re the one it reflects badly on.”

      Not advice per se….

  31. wellywell*

    It sounds like your boss is just trying to drive you to resign. I am sorry you’re going through this, OP. I’ve been there and it is no fun.

  32. Kassy*

    Can I point out one super gross thing in the glorious, gross mess that is this boss in this update?

    “My other direct reports get by fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?”

    Like, if you needed a wheelchair ramp, would he say “My other direct reports use the stairs just fine. Do you realize how bad that looks for you?”

    (I know wheelchair access is explicitly required under the law, but humor my example.)

    1. OhNo*

      Lol. As someone who uses a wheelchair, this example gets my full support. People think that the only “real” disabilities that are “worth” accommodating are the physical ones, which is nonsense.

      OP, I hope you get a lawyer and get the chance to rain legal hellfire down on these jerks.

  33. Mimmy*

    By the way, this thread is so timely because I’m currently taking a class in disability law and policy. Too bad the ADA material isn’t for several weeks though :(

  34. Paloma Pigeon*

    As someone who works with a population that seeks access to mental health care, this is a nightmare scenario. Also it reinforces a common stigma, that men, and specifically ‘tough’ men, should not need mental health support. It’s awful. So sorry for you OP. Hang in there.

  35. CADMonkey007*

    Heavens, even if this resolves for OP, it bugs me to think that screaming at employees to the point of triggering panic attacks is acceptable for anyone, much less someone with a documented disorder!

    1. GISMonkey008*

      If the boss knows that person has panic attacks and still yells at them that’s deliberately trying to provoke someone and a whole other level of asshattery.

  36. Engineer Girl*

    and insists on only responding to electronic communications in person

    This is standard for people that don’t want to be held accountable. So here is the strategy: document back in email. “This email is to document the conversation we had on Date. We discussed this and you said that.” Be very, very, very factual. No opinions, no suppositions, just the facts. Conclude the email by stating – “if any of this is incorrect, please correct me by email. Thank you so much!

    By including this in email it then becomes discoverable evidence should there be a lawsuit. It forces the person do rebut via email. Your boss may tell you not to document via email. Document that via email. “this final email is to confirm that I have been given direct orders not to document via email.” He may write you up for insubordination, but really, that makes him look like a loon. And lawyers will have a field day with it.

    1. Kyrielle*

      If you go this route (and I’d talk to your lawyer first, just to be sure, though I suspect this makes sense), either bcc your personal email, or forward a copy to your personal email immediately. The company’s email servers are, after all, still under their control. (Do not, unless you have a lawyer and your lawyer advises it, cc – only bcc – so that your boss is not being ‘threatened’ by your sending it to yourself; this is being done for your later reference, not for any impact on him now.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          Point! But if so, get it off the printer ASAP…the forward/bcc to self (if policy allows it) does avoid the chance of someone else seeing it. (Unless IT does a deep dive on your email through the server, but they’re not likely to do that for fun.)

      1. sam*

        Just be careful that you’re not violating any company rules regarding sending things to personal email. In my company, we are generally prohibited from forwarding emails from our work email to our personal email – not because they are trying to prohibit us from doing what you suggest, but because we work with highly sensitive/confidential information, AND in certain parts of our business email has to be logged for review by various governing bodies, and a blanket rule is much easier to enforce.

        But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t print those emails and bring home physical copies each day if I was in this situation.

        1. JennyFair*

          Emails can be saved as files, as well. You can drag an email from Outlook onto a thumb drive. (I only know this because my predecessor found this easier than saving the attachments, I guess!)

          1. Shelby Drink the Juice*

            But there are some employers that don’t allow outside thumb drives. If they won’t let you forward to a personal email, then it’s likely using a thumb drive would be forbidden as well. Where I work using an outside thumb drive could get you fired and all instances of files going to a thumb drive are recorded by IT.

            1. sam*

              yeah – even more than that, we can’t even plug external drives into our machines – if I plug even my iphone into my computer *just* to charge it, I get a big flashing warning that it is an unauthorized third-party device and the connection will be disabled, and it won’t even allow me to charge it, much less add files. Thumb drives are strictly verboten unless you get very special dispensation on a case-by-case basis and only use special drives formatted by our IT department.

      1. Terra*

        Be careful with read receipts. Their legality is questionable depending on the jurisdiction and has been argued to be a breach of privacy.

    2. A Non*

      At the very least, you can keep a notebook and write down the more ridiculous conversations as accurately as you can remember. It’s not as good as emails, but much better than having to rely on memory.

    3. Chameleon*

      Urgh. I…really like this idea, but I think it would make it abundantly clear to the boss that you are setting up for a lawsuit. Which you may be, but I fear it will invite a whole new level of retaliation and bad behavior. (Which then might increase the chances for a settlement…)

      Basically, it’s good advice but go into it with awareness of probable consequences.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        You need to do it nicely. “I just want to make sure that what was said was said”. “Just confirming for my own understanding”. Etc. Which you are. You are echoing back what you were told. Except you are doing it via email. This is a fortune 100 company so they should be careful about directing you to keep it off the books.
        Also – do you have an ethics officer? They can help when HR had a major fail.

    4. SAHM*

      +1 at last job my boss was trying to get me to quit before I went on maternity leave, I think, one of the many unpleasant things she did was send me an email forbidding me from taking lunch. It was something along the lines of ‘we have to skip lunch all the time to see our projects completed’. Except I was an Admin and the paperwork Never Ends, also I was hypoglycemic due to my pregnancy and I NEEDED to eat at certain times, which I’d already informed her of. Anyway, I knew the email was massively illegal so I saved it and almost a year later I used it, the look on her lawyers faces when they saw that email. Omg. Priceless. There was a definite “OMG, she actually WROTE this?!?” Level of shock. It felt pretty darn good.

  37. AnonAcademic*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I watched someone close to me go through the same exact thing except with ADHD instead of anxiety, down the the boss making disparaging comments about his disorder and HR being really cagey (they forbade him from discussing his diagnosis with anyone but them, for starters). He made the difficult decision to accept being laid off and taking severance rather than bringing a legal case against the company because life circumstances made that the best choice. For the sake of him and all others who have been treated this way with no repercussions, I wish you all the luck in the world suing the sh*t out of these a-holes. And please remember that you are not “less than” because your anxiety is making it hard to cope – a “normal” person would probably develop depression and/or anxiety if put in your shoes, so the fact that you are coping well enough to reach out to AAM and stay forward thinking is admirable strength in the face of adversity.

  38. Num Lock*

    This sounds like my story, except female with a female boss.

    Step 1 is to just leave, I think. If HR is on his side then nothing short of a lawsuit will bring change (and even that’s iffy if they try to settle as I’ve worked for a jerk who’s had multiple lawsuits and still works there). This place is done for you.

    Step 2, lawyer up if you’d like once you’re out. But get out so you have the mental space you need to keep this from aggravating your symptoms further.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, this is really key. If nothing else, you’re going to want to nail down the reference, in addition to dealing with damages.

      2. Steve*

        Definitely talk to a lawyer before quitting. How and when you quit may have repercussions with your ability to claim unemployment, disability, and/or to successfully pursue a lawsuit against the company. And you may need to take certain steps while employed (I am just making stuff up here, but you can imagine you might need to have made more than one attempt to seek accommodation).

  39. joygord*

    oh my. this is classic disability discrimination under the ADA, which ensures protection and accommodation. i have been through this under different circumstances – a lawyer and a subsequent separation agreement (with any luck, compensation involved for expected damages) are in order.

  40. Anananon*

    I went through a similar situation. I had a boss that was so nasty that I developed PTSD. I had been trying to work with my boss and with HR, and HR simply didn’t care. When I told HR that I was diagnosed with PTSD, they said I just need to get over it.
    I documented everything, quit and got an attorney. Two years later I received my settlement.
    If I had done it differently- and this is my advice- get an employment attorney now and they can negotiate your departure. Make sure it is a for real employment attorney, not one that does employment and real estate and traffic tickets and divorces and anything else people ask about. One call from an attorney to your legal department will get things moving. I’ve known people who negotiate “layoffs” and others who receive a flat payment to depart. And I’ve heard of people who are kept on payroll until they find another job.
    They want you gone, and you want to go. Embrace it, move on, and find a happy job!
    Best of luck! You’re not in this alone!

  41. S.I. Newhouse*

    I wish I had something productive to add to help you here, OP, but I just wanted to express my sympathies that you have to deal with something so horrible. I sometimes disagree when people suggest consulting a lawyer as a first course of action, but this seems to be a case where it’s more than warranted. And *absolutely* approach your previous supervisor regarding a reference. All the best of luck to you OP — in dealing with this situation and probably more importantly, your job search.

  42. 2 Cents*

    Big hugs to you, OP!

    If you’re in a state that only requires 1 person to know about a recorded conversation (i.e. YOU), then I’d use the recorder app on my iPhone. Obviously you’d have to be uber discreet, but since he’s not putting anything in writing, this could protect you when he’s making these disparaging remarks. And I’m not a lawyer, so this may not be completely legal or true.

    1. Emmie*

      Some states require 2 party consent to record. So, find out if this is permissible in your state before recording the conversation ;)

  43. LSP*

    I hope your next update is: found a great lawyer and she crushed them!!! got a new job, the panic attacks have greatly diminished, and you heard through the grapevine that old sucky boss got reprimanded. A girl can dream on that last one…everything else, totally possible!

  44. Meg Murry*

    OP, you’ve gotten lots of good advice here, and the advice to lawyer up is good.

    However, as much as it sucks to say this, it’s ok to decide that your mental energy is better spent getting away from these jerks than fighting them, and to instead focus that energy on finding a new job and getting out of there. Especially since you are so new to your career, I imagine you don’t have a lot of resources to fall back on if you get painted badly in this fight.

    Where did your old boss go? Is he still with the same company but a new division, or did he go to a different company? Do you think he would be open to having coffee with you and discussing an exit plan? Three years of work experience is a perfectly respectable amount of time to move on to another position, and if someone interviewed with me gave an explanation on the “why are you looking to leave” about 1) why they are looking forward to opportunity XYZ at new company and 2) after a re-organization they are now in a group where the team leader manages by screaming and that is stress they just don’t want to deal with anymore, I would totally understand.

    I’m not saying not to fight OP. But I am saying that you should discuss this with your therapist and that it’s ok for you to move on and decide not to fight this battle. After all, many Fortune 100 companies (and even smaller companies) employ the legal strategy of just stretching out everything forever, so that the complainant runs out of time, money and/or patience before they ever get near a courtroom.

    Again, I am not saying OP should back down – far from it. But I am giving OP permission (if that’s the right word) to not have to take on this fight alone, because a protracted legal battle isn’t good for anyone’s mental health.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Agree – and that is why OP should consult a lawyer immediately. There may be lots of options available other than a long legal fight, but he won’t know until he speaks to an expert.

      And, as a bonus, it can relieve so much anxiety to know you have a professional who is going to handle your way forward.

    2. Realistic*

      Meg Murry, THANK YOU for your comments. A lot of people thought I should have fought my Old Boss at Old Company, especially because he made really ignorant and discriminatory statements in front of witness. They were champing at the bit to “nail him to the wall” for me, and for the sake of Old Company. I just couldn’t take on the battle, even with their help. I was just tired, drained, discouraged and knew that I didn’t have it in me to fight. I think the “permission” to not take on this fight alone is a good one. Only the OP knows what he can and can’t cope with. When you’re in the middle of this all, sometimes even a phone call or email to an attorney is more than seems possible. If he chooses not to fight, but to walk away, that’s okay. He knows himself best. Besides contacting an attorney, there are mental health advocacy agencies who can help coordinate everything, too. But when you’re in the midst of it all, sometimes Google and a phone call is more than can be done. OP, good luck!!!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I was thinking just walk away, let them rot in their own sauce.

        The problem with lawsuits is that they cause us to dwell on things in the past. They keep an old wound open and bleeding. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but, OP, that potential is there.

        Collect up your information carefully, OP. Weigh it out, talk with people you trust. Decide what is going to benefit you in the long run. Is it better to stand and fight? Or is it better to put that energy into you? Only you can know that answer. Some people given their givens actually do have to stand and fight. Other people it’s more to the point to take good care of themselves. Think about this very carefully.

          1. Honeybee*

            Sure, if it’s a surgery that has a 40-50% success rate and often leaves the patient with side effects and deep wounds regardless of the success of the surgery. There are, indeed, surgeries like that, and sometimes doctors themselves caution against them.

            Seriously, nobody is telling the OP not to talk to a lawyer or to shy away from lawsuits. The message here is simply that whatever the OP chooses to do – whether he chooses to sue, or not sue and walk away quietly, or take a third option – is okay because only the OP can decide whether or not he’s up for a legal fight with a huge Fortune 100 company. There’s nothing wrong with that message.

            1. Liz L*

              Speaking with a lawyer doesn’t automatically end up in lawsuits. In fact, the point is to avoid going to court in case matter escalates. OP shouldn’t have a write-up in his record because HR didn’t know what they were doing. I think what most people are getting at with the lawyer advice is to collect as much information as possible in order to make the best decision going forward.

            2. neverjaunty*

              “It’s okay if you decide a lawsuit is not for you” (which I cosign 100%) is very different than telling the OP that maybe he should walk away or not fight.

  45. The Bimmer Guy*

    What a tool. And in fact, it sounds like the entire organization is toxic. Maybe that’s why your old boss (the one with whom you had a great relationship) left.

    1. Nervous Neil*

      Yeah, it’s endemic the entire sub-department or whatever you want to call it (the group of people reporting to my boss’ boss, the screamer– maybe even his boss since that guy’s letting it slide). I’m sure that whatever protection my boss’ boss is getting is being passed down to my own boss, which is why his harassing me over my panic attacks, and his creepiness with only wanting young girls to work for him, is being let slide.

      I assume a competently run organization would’ve started a serious investigation into this guy and done something other than shuffle their feet and meekly go “well, your boss does have some concerns so we don’t want to get involved…” but maybe that’s overly idealistic.

      The most anger inducing part of this is all the self-congratulatory stuff the company puts out about how progressive and ethical we are. I see an intranet posting or internal email about how seriously ethical concerns are taken, or how progressive our hiring practices are every other day at least.

  46. OriginalYup*

    OP, I feel you, on all of this. Alison and everyone else have you covered on the important points. I wanted to throw this out there as a coping mechanism–

    One thing you could do during the day (when you’re underworked and the anxiety is bad) is to start writing up your own version of an operational manual and transition plan. You probably have a ton of institutional and procedural knowledge that will basically vanish into thin air if /when you leave, right? So you can basically use the free time you’re faced with to write down all the processes and neat little things you know. Mentally pretend that you’re going to leave in 4 weeks — what would you need people to know? What files would you clean out? What little side projects that you’ve been meaning to do but never had time for? Have you fully updated your training records for the past 3 years? (It sounds like you’re already being appropriately cautious at the office, so please apply that same caution here, e.g. not naming the files “Plans for When I Quit.” Call them “Best Practices” or “Continuous Improvement Plan” or somesuch.)

    I did this once when I was in the middle of a horrifically anxiety-inducing work situation with no new job in sight. It honestly helped me to structure my days and keep focused. Having my own work plan gave me a small measure of control, and also was a positive reminder of the fact that I’m actually a competent employee, you know? Also, just the vague notion that someday you won’t work there anymore — whether it be in 4 weeks or 4 months or 4 years — can be enough to get you through the day.

    Good luck to you on all of this. And lastly, on those days when you have be pleasant to your jerk boss but are finding it difficult to maintain your game face, pretend you have “F-ck You” written on your front teeth and smile big. :)

  47. LQ*

    In addition to all the other things people have said I want to mention that should you (UGH) get fired or have to quit, make sure you have your documentation of requesting an accommodation (repeatedly, asking from your boss will be important for this too!) and file for unemployment. It will vary from state to state, but you absolutely want to file and give them (copies) of the information you have for that as well. Some states have medical exceptions for quitting for health reasons if you weren’t given accommodations. I’m not sure based on your state if this would fall under it. But most likely if you are fired it would, and if you quit you want to make sure to go through all the steps, including appealing if it doesn’t go in your favor the first time.

    For filling out the paper work give all the dates and time and information that they ask for, be detailed and factual.

    I really –REALLY– hope you don’t need this, but I want you to have it because I know it can feel like that net isn’t there, but you should try for it if you come to the point of not being employed.

    1. JessaB*

      This is a major thing. I worked for a company and when I got ill they were really horrible about engaging in the interactive process. There came a point where there was no leave left (FMLA) and I declined the accommodation of “taking more time if I needed it,” because I knew from past experience that they would run me out for cause within 3 months of my coming back (it was a call centre, and any good QA person can make the stats do whatever they want them to,) and I knew that leaving due to lack of leave would go over better in the future than “sent off for cause.”

      I had zero problem getting unemployment. So yes, if they run you out, document and apply for unemployment.

      And seconding, thirding, forevering, the “you do not have to spend your spoons on fighting this if you don’t want to/can’t deal with the agita.” The first and foremost thing in all of this is your own health. Take care of you before all else.

  48. Ad Astra*

    OP, you sound overwhelmed and a little discouraged. That’s completely understandable in your situation, but I want to highlight some of the positives Alison pointed out: 1. You don’t need your current boss’s reference now or maybe even in the future; and 2. Three years is a very natural moving-on point in your career, so you don’t need to worry about explaining the details of your situation or looking like a job hopper.

    You’re in a really great position to make a move, and you know everyone at AAM is rooting for you! Please remember that when you’re feeling trapped in this horrible situation.

  49. R2D2*

    I know folks with very fancy degrees and years of hard-won experience that don’t make the slightest difference, because they allowed themselves to become “poor cultural fits” by making their class obvious. On the other hand, I’ve seen people whom the market can’t touch — whatever awful habit they start becomes the new edgy trend because their ancestors were upper class. It’s not “unfit for the workplace”, it’s “peak disruption!” :-)

    So I guess my advice would be to be aware of your class, so you can tell whether this decision will put you into the “poor cultural fit” category or the “change agent visionary” category.

  50. Mr. Mike*

    This clearly looks suspicious and I hope you follow through with EEOC. I don’t know where you are, but here in WA we also have access to ADA education organizations that can help with these types of issues. You might look around for those resources in your area. While not an expert myself, I work in Voc Rehab and know that you are not required to disclose an issue if you reasonably think it will not affect your work.

  51. NDQ*

    OP, I too am sorry you are having to deal with this.

    Of course, I am going to join the rest in telling you to find a great employment attorney. I will also slip this in: most states have their own non-discrimination employment laws on the books (http://www.ncsl.org/documents/employ/Discrimination-Chart-2015.pdf) that somewhat mirror the ADA in terms of the disability protection. While the ADA is a federal law enforced by the EEOC (for employment claims), you may get a faster resolution by filing a complaint through your state enforcement agency which may be your state’s Dept. of Labor or a separate state agency that operates independently. An attorney can guide you on what’s best for your situation.

    Your state government website likely lists the agency and they might even have their complaint forms online so that you can at least see what information you will need in order to file.

    I wish you all the best. This is a terrible situation to deal with and please make sure you have your doctor’s help in managing the stress and anxiety. Keep us posted, please!


  52. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I made the suggestion upstream somewhere, but I think it got buried. Maybe your old boss would have some advice/insight on all this. Can you touch base with your old boss?

  53. JessaB*

    Oh my I’ve been mentioned in despatches, thank you.

    I steen millionth – call an employment laywer and call the labour board. But cover your rear first – print out or forward (if you have the ability to email out of the building) every email about this. Second, even if boss comes in person I’d suggest a return email “You came to my desk regarding email x and said y,” at this point you’re already adversarial, also make sure you’re telling your therapist in a timely manner their records which are time stamped will help. And I know it sounds silly, but you’ve been telling us here also, and that’s a time stamped record of asking Alison for help etc. Lawyers love records, let them decide what they need to go forward for you.

    And I would totally tell HR even if they don’t DO anything about the further harassment. This is retaliatory now. That’s a big, huge, ginormous legal thing over their heads, because, non accommodation is bad, retaliation is hundreds of times worse for the company.

    But yes talk to the legal department at your company.

  54. HugsFromPhilly*

    Hi OP,
    Just wanted to send you some hugs and support from Philly. I hope you at least speak with a lawyer, and wish you well in whatever course of action you choose. Remember you can control your reactions to his vitriol, and you can control what you choose to do next!!

  55. Auntie*

    Ugh this update makes me sad!

    I’m so sorry LW! That’s disgusting on Boss and HR’s part. Stigma and jokes about mental health problems really really need to be abolished. We treat people so horribly for these things. But we don’t act this way about most other illnesses.

    Can you get in contact with old boss who left 6 months ago? They could be a valuable reference.

    Kindest regards and hope job search produces FRUIT quickly. In the meantime, I would TOTALLY follow up with legal advice and formal complaint. This company needs a kick in the ass.

  56. Liz L*

    Yes, please seek independent legal advice — not from the company legal department who are there to protect the company — but a lawyer who will be your advocate. My sister is a labour & employment lawyer, and often it just takes one carefully worded letter and suddenly people can’t backpedal fast enough. The company may not end up disciplining your evil turd of a boss but your HR just screwed themselves. Good luck and stay strong! You’re doing really well given all that has happened.

  57. NW Cat Lady*

    I was in a similar situation, but it was HR who refused to respond to me in writing. So after every conversation, I would send the HR rep an email, recapping our conversation. Basically, “Per our conversation today, blah blah blah….Please let me know if your understanding of our conversation differs.” And then I’d print it out and take it home. When I finally got to the point of contacting a lawyer, it wasn’t just my word against theirs. I had a paper trail of everything we discussed, sent to HR with no responses from them.

  58. Rahera*

    I’m so, so sorry to read this update, LW. Wishing you all the best in your job search. Hope you can get out of there and away from that horror of a boss soon.

  59. Schnapps*

    Well, your boss sounds like a right douchebag.

    WRT him not responding to your emails about accommodating your medical needs: take notes while he’s talking to you and then when he’s done send him an email with what you recorded along the lines of:

    Hey D:

    I just wanted to make sure that I have absolute clarity on what we discussed regarding my medical accommodations. This is what I got out of our conversation:
    – [you’re a douchebag]
    – [you’re a douchebag]
    – [you’re a douchebag]

    Please let me know if this is correct. There’s no need to reply if my understanding of our conversation about my medical accommodations is correct, preferably by email since I don’t want to take away from your schedule.


    Letter writer.

    (Note, I’m Canadian and accommodating medical needs is ok here. You may need different language. Also, I’m not sure if “douchebag” is a uniquely Canadian term or not)

    BCC that email to yourself, save an electronic copy somewhere, and print it for your file. If douchebag responds, print that too. If he responds in a meeting (in person) do another email like this, save and print it. I know it’s a pain; you need documentation. And give a copy to your counselor/therapist for your file.

    And get out. If this guy’s a supposed “rising star” in the company/org, then you don’t want to work there.

    You have a medical condition that requires accommodation. If you had diabetes, they’d let you take breaks to take your insulin, right? (mental health stigma makes me really angry)

  60. Former Retail Manager*

    All great advice from Alison and the others above…just had to say that I DETEST people who won’t put things in writing and respond to e-mails in person or via telephone. I soooo feel your pain. Soooooo annoying.

    And even with legal involvement and the HR department as you say they are, I foresee them trying to get rid of you sooner rather than later. In this situation, I don’t think a harshly worded letter from a lawyer is going to help. In fact, I think it will encourage them to move more quickly in documenting your “performance issues” and getting rid of you. Best you beat them to the punch and get a new gig ASAP using the original boss as a reference. Good luck and I hope karma comes for all the individuals involved in your situation.

    1. Nervous Neil*

      Man, I hope you’re wrong, but this crap is making me more cynical by the day. When I first went to HR I thought it was pretty straightforward: my boss’ behavior is opening up the company to legal and PR headaches, and he’s not particularly high up. I expected them to either tell him to back off, or to transfer me to a different department if they were really worried about upsetting a “rising star” or whatever.

      Either way, I think it’s important that I fight this in some way. I don’t necessarily mean “spend years of my life in a nasty and miserable legal battle,” but to stand up for myself — this can be hard for people with anxiety like me to do, especially when we’re dealing with someone skilled in manipulating the system like my boss. I think some of HR’s intransigence may be them hoping that I quit so they don’t have to do anything, but either way, I think it’s an important step in fighting my anxiety to at least talk to a lawyer and file an EEOC complaint.

      1. SAHM*

        Go you! One of the reasons I even bothered with continuing my complaint via the Labor Board was because I *really* didn’t want another Admin stuck with her BS illegalities. Of course the poor person who took my role after me would have to deal with nasty bosses personality, but at least she wouldn’t be able to pull all that other illegal shit again. Just cause she owns the company doesn’t mean she’s actually Queen of the Universe.

      2. Laura Renee*

        I just have to say I’ve been reading all your comments, and your attitude in all of this is SERIOUSLY inspiring me. I am so moved by your determination to be treated right, rather than seeking the easiest out. I am rooting for you as hard as an internet stranger can!

        (Also, this whole story is a great example for how Fortune 100 companies can be really, really not ideal workplaces.)

  61. Kate*

    Maybe you can give your old boss at this company as reference? He’s managed you at this company and from the looks of it, you had a good relationship with him.
    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. The thing is, lots of people still doesn’t understand mental illness should be treated the same as physical illnesses: with empathy. Is there any way your doctor can give you a notice and you can use your sick days? While at home, you can recharge your energy and make plans and apply for jobs.
    Best of luck!!!

  62. Sarashina*

    Oh LW, this is awful. I have GAD and panic attacks too, and I can’t even imagine how terrible this must feel. I’m afraid I don’t have any advice, but I hope you can get out of there really, really soon.

  63. Middle Name Jane*

    To the Letter Writer: I missed your original post but wanted to let you know I have some understanding of what you’re going through. I suffer from depression, anxiety attacks, and PTSD. I was able to act “fine” for awhile at work, but this past year I’ve been out sick a lot more than usual and my manager has gotten on my case a bit. The quality of my work hasn’t suffered, but I think she feels I’m playing hooky when I call in sick. I haven’t wanted to disclose the nature of my illness to anyone because I don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business and because I don’t have a great relationship with my manager. But I have been looking into whether I should go the whole accommodations route with HR. It’s awful, I know, and I’m sorry you’re in this terrible environment. A toxic work environment is the last thing people need when they suffer from anxiety attacks.

  64. Vince_389*

    One thing that I can relate to is how you declared your disability to your boss to make an informal “reasonable adjustment”, he appeared understanding, and then when you actually needed the “reasonable adjustment” applied, he goes and makes a subjective performance excuse to get you in trouble and HR is on his side.

    Not all, but many people “appear” to understand, but really they have no idea with mental health/”invisible” disabilities. Physical disabilities are relatively easier and visually obvious to accommodate.

    With “invisible” disabilities, it reminds me of the South Park episode when the naughty “N” word is used to describe “people who annoy you”, and African Americans are offended. The contestant tries to apologize repeatedly, but it goes nowhere until he says “I don’t get it. I’ll never truly understand how it feels to be called …”. Relate this back to “invisible disabilities” and appearing “understanding”.

    I declared (“invisible”) to multiple supervisors over several years, all were “understanding”. My informal reasonable adjustments, to accommodate a different learning style, were “more time to get to required work level when faced with new tasks/technologies/methodologies” and “leave early to manage anxiety”. Line managers were okay with it, but on some days I got anxious and left early, and it frustrated them when I asked more questions than others to understand new tasks. This created a risk averse mentality, and instead of trying to encourage my career advancement to help boost self esteem, they always used small negative examples in referee reports/performance reviews to hold me back.

    More closely monitoring/holding back a person with “invisible” disability is always going to backfire and make their performance worse. Your boss shouldn’t have wrote you up for that meeting, and it disappoints me to see that HR’s only solution is to side with the boss and throw it back on you to go through the whole awkward formal “requesting reasonable accommodations” process, and to work unfairly extra hard to change the boss’s vague subjective misinformed opinion about the impact of your condition on your performance. All of that is effort that could instead go into regular work achievements to make the meeting disruption seem like a long lost memory.

    1. Nervous Neil*

      Indeed, I believe it’s largely a matter of perception.

      For example, the employee who is on crutches whose manager moves them to the furthest cube away from the door when there’s free ones right next to it is very clearly, and very visibly antagonizing the employee by way of using their disability. There’s really no other way to interpret that situation.

      The employee who tells their boss they’re having panic attacks, whose boss starts subjecting them to surprise meetings where they pull the subordinate away from their desk, then force the subordinate to guess what the meeting is about doesn’t have as clear a visual indicator of their condition, unless the observer has also suffered from panic attacks. They’re both getting treated horribly, but the way each one’s being treated appears completely differently to outside observers.

      1. Smelly anon*

        I had a panic attack at work the other day. My boss and team lead know I suffer from severe workplace anxiety after being physically attacked at work and I don’t react well to being shouted at either. They could see I was starting to panic but kept raising their voices and speaking in very harsh tones (as in “stop this now or else”). I could hardly breathe and I was shaking so badly I could barely stand up but they kept shouting at me. It was so horrible. And the worst part was, these people are supposed to be skilled in dealing with people in crisis. My complete sympathy to the OP.

  65. Interviewer*

    “Unfortunately, very little of this is in writing, because he won’t schedule meetings with me, and insists on only responding to electronic communications in person …”

    Yeah, I’d call him out on that, because only his 21-year olds understand that this is not a “culture-changer” but rather his way to avoid anyone having proof.

    But we’re older and we know better, right? So you send follow-up emails confirming everything you discussed, and BCC a home email address, because by the time the company figures out what’s really happening, you’re going to need it all.

  66. Smelly anon*

    OP, I’m sorry you have to put up with this crap. Please find a better job ASAP. Your current boss is not only an ass and a douchebag, he is also an eary candidate for Worst Boss of the Year.

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