update 2: my boss accused me of faking a panic attack to get out of a meeting

Remember the letter-writer in January whose boss accused him of faking panic attacks to get out of a meeting? We had one update in February, and here’s another one.

Right after I wrote my last letter, I ended up going on FMLA leave because I couldn’t function at my job. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a help because I knew that the leave wouldn’t last forever, and I’d be back to dealing with my manager taunting and sabotaging me, but being away from them for an extended period did relieve my anxiety problems a little.

I went back about a month ago. First thing I noticed is that my boss (the stealthier bully — the one who’d randomly pull me off into his office and blow up at me behind closed doors, make up projects he’d never assigned me and yell at me for not finishing them, call me “unstable,” etc., not the guy who screamed at me in front of my boss) did calm down a bit. He didn’t do a complete 180 and become a saint, but he became a lot more bearable.

His boss, the screamer, didn’t say a word to me for the first couple of weeks after I returned to work. Not even a “hi” when we passed each other in the hallways. I had a bad feeling about that, and I was proven right.

One morning, I felt a panic attack coming on, so I walked to our medical office (I work for an enormous company, so we have nurses on staff at all our major offices) and told them I was having a panic attack, and asked them to inform my department’s management that I went down there. I was feeling intensely awful, so I spent most of the morning down there.

That afternoon I had a meeting with the department VP, aka my boss’ boss, aka the screamer, plus a few of my other colleagues (around my level, not his). He started off by asking me if I felt better. I said yes, and that I felt well enough to continue handling my assignments. VP kept asking me this over and over, and I just repeated something like “Right now I feel fine. If you have any questions about my well-being, let’s pick a separate time to sit down privately, or with HR, to discuss them.”

After I repeated that line a couple of times, VP relented and let us get on with the meeting. Once we were done, there were still a few minutes on the clock, so I asked VP if we could speak privately. He didn’t want to, but I pushed and mentioned that we hadn’t used up all the time we’d scheduled our original meeting for, and he said okay. I admit I may have handled this poorly, but I was really angry and embarrassed over him making a point of bringing up my personal health issues in front of coworkers.

I said something like “I understand if you’re concerned, but please try not to bring up my health in front of other people we work with; it’s really not their business,” and he EXPLODED. He didn’t get physically violent, but if I didn’t back down when I did, I think he would’ve taken a swing at me. What he did do is get up and start pacing and screaming (in a closed office, but still) about how I have “no right to accuse him of anything,” because I “disappeared for a month without saying anything,” and he “had to tell everyone I was sick because I didn’t give him any other options,” and all sorts of complete insanity along those lines.

I was really freaked out, so I just said “I think we’ve spent enough time on this” and he said something back along the lines of “you better not waste any more of my time, because you’re on thin ice” and I left. I was honestly terrified, but I managed to get up my courage and immediately went to HR about this.

They came down on his side (he is a multi-decade veteran of the company, which may have something to do with this). They gave my concerns about this being FMLA retaliation a boilerplate “well, this is very concerning, but we don’t have the full story here” response, and insisted that I was in the wrong because I disrupted the office by going to the medical office for my panic attack, without telling anyone. I pushed (again, realize this might’ve been a bad idea) and said that he was retaliating against me because I took FMLA leave, and that I was worried about going back to work for someone like this in case he blew up at me again or just up and fired me.

The next day, the HR rep called me into the office to tell me I was being put on an indefinite leave, because they were worried about my mental health after my “behavior” the day before. I told them I’d be willing to go under any sort of evaluation they wanted, because my mental health wasn’t the complaint, it was my department VP’s legally questionable (at best) threats. Then they changed it to the primary reason being that they didn’t want the VP retaliating against me while they investigated.

It’s been a few weeks since then. My lawyer has said to hold off on doing anything until they get back to me, but I’m getting pretty worried since they stopped contacting me (we had set regular status update times in the meeting when they kicked me out) after the first week. I haven’t gotten any response when I’ve tried to contact them, and I’ve given up on that. I’m on a “paid suspension” so if they try and quietly fire me without communicating with me, after I brought disability discrimination and FMLA retaliation (I took printed copies of my emails to HR documenting the complaints home with me after I sent them), it would make things even worse for them.

On the upside, I’ve had a few interviews! This is great, but whenever I get an offer for an interview, I start worrying about my reference situation. I’ve thought of saying something like “full disclosure: I’m looking to leave MegaCorpX because I went on FMLA leave for a family health issue, which is thankfully cleared up now. After I came back, the head of my department disciplined me in front of coworkers, and privately threatened my continued employment at the company, because I’d taken completely legitimate FMLA leave. Their HR doesn’t seem very concerned about it, and I just want to get out of there as quietly as I can. I can offer you the contact info of a previous boss I’ve had at this company, who transferred out of the department long before this incident. Is that enough, and if it’s not, what else can I offer you?” This is my first post-college job, so I don’t have any previous jobs to use. I’ve also considered contacting some of my old professors and seeing if they’d be comfortable serving as references, but I haven’t seen any of them for 4-5 years at best.

What should I do about the reference situation? I don’t want to contact anyone I know who’s still at the company because they’ll probably use that against me.

Well, the good news here (in addition to your interviews — yay for that!) is that most employers understand that you won’t want them to contact your current employer, since most people don’t want to let their employer know they’re looking until they’re ready to resign. So you might be able to simply say, “My current employer doesn’t know I’m looking and I need to keep it that way, but I’d be glad to put you in touch with a previous manager from this job who no longer works there.” If that’s not enough for them (but it probably will be), at that point you could say, “I want to be up-front with you that the reason I’m looking to leave this job is that my boss threatened to fire me for taking family medical leave for an issue that’s cleared up now. Having him learn I’m job searching on top of that isn’t something I can risk, and frankly I don’t think he’d give an accurate reference. Let’s figure out who else I can put you in touch with instead.”

Alternately, your lawyer could probably help you negotiate a good reference with HR (who will have an incentive to play ball, since they’ll probably be relieved that you’re leaving and making this all go away). It would need to be one that includes no access to your manager or his boss, and would probably have to be the dull HR “we don’t give references, but just confirm dates of employment” variety, but that’s an option to consider too if you need it.

{ 225 comments… read them below }

      1. AF*

        Yep – I had panic attacks totally induced by workplace bullies at a former job. I wasn’t even able to get HR to return my email to discuss the problem until I decided to talk to a lawyer, and then told them (HR) that I had. They still sided with the bullies because they brought in a lot of revenue, and I ended up quitting and getting unemployment because my sympathetic supervisor didn’t fight my claim, and verified that I quit because of panic attacks. That company no longer exists, so I can sort of take a little solace in that :)

    1. OP*

      They’re a very big company who you almost certainly hear about every day. At least if you’re in America. That’s all I’ll disclose.

      I’m pretty certain this insanity goes down in orgs of any size, in any sector, profit or nonprofit. Honestly, the one thing I’ve learned here is to protect yourself. Both in terms of caring for your own health and in terms of your job and reputation.

      1. OP*

        Alternatively, what AlyInSebby and Merry and Bright said. Same idea, more words used by me.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m so proud of you for sticking up for yourself. I probably would have gotten depressed and given up.

        1. OP*

          Thanks, buddy! I can’t say enough good things about finding a good therapist if you’re prone to such things.

          1. BTownGirl*

            I wouldn’t be surprised if your anxiety level plummets once you’re away from this turd!! Sending you lots of good wishes :)

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              That’s usually how it works – all of my many physical ailments went away on my last day in my old job. That’s happened every time I’ve left a toxic job.

            2. Clewgarnet*

              Agreed. I didn’t even have to change employer, just manager, and my depression improved beyond belief.

              Best of luck, OP.

              1. OP*

                I was considering a transfer, but honestly with the way this has been going I’m kinda worried that my superiors would trash talk me to anyone looking to hire me or something like that. Maybe paranoia, maybe not.

          2. Jeanne*

            When I had a boss bullying me, a good therapist was an incredible help. Glad you have one.

    2. Michelle*

      I know a certain home improvement store with headquarters in Mooresville, NC that operates this way. Their local HR manager warns new hires about a employee who has been written up for harassment (so documented history) and that employee’s manager protects him.

    3. Anonsie*

      A ton. If you changed the disability from panic attacks to mine, this exact same thing played out in the exact same way at my last employer over the fact that I have to take a sick day about once every other month or so.

      For extra fun I had actually preemptively tried to get it set up as a disability accommodation before management had any issue with it as far as I knew, and was repeatedly told there was no way for me to do that. Then after they got upset and started punishing me for it and I said that constituted discriminatory practices, then they pulled the “well you didn’t go through our process for disability accommodation so it doesn’t count” thing. When I countered that they had been telling me such a thing didn’t exist for over a year, they said I couldn’t prove we ever had those conversations.

    4. Vicki*

      And why haven’t these managers been fired long before they get to be multi-decade employees and VPs!

  1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


    I am so sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. This guy is a mega-jackass, and frankly your boss isn’t much better. I hope you get a great new place where they know how to behave like grownups.

    1. OP*

      I’ve got some very in-demand skills and I live in a big city. In that, I’m lucky. I use it as a source of confidence, because this is a pretty bad situation.

      From day one, it’s always been in the company’s best interest to just quietly tell these two managers to cool down, and maybe transfer me. Or even just agree to give a positive reference and a small severance (again, I am fairly young, and this is my first 9-5 office job).

      1. Michelle*

        Really, really feel for you OP. I know someone else who is going through something very similar (bullying/taunting/ first job out of school) and the HR department is no help at all. The HR manager warns new employees about this person and they are still reigning terror down on unsuspecting new hires. What it is about bullies that management & HR protects them? Are they scared of them?

        1. snuck*

          “What it is about bullies that management & HR protects them?”

          I personally remind myself in these situations that HR isn’t there to protect employees, it’s there to protect the business interests… and while that’s not ideal thinking, it’s how some seem to take it on. The business REALLY wants to keep asshat manager on? Then the HR will do what it can to make that happen… do what it can to protect the company legally… do what it can to make these situations disappear with least notice.

          Call me cynical, but that’s how I rationalise the sheer crazy I see sometimes. And the bigger the company? The more likely it’s this than just a crappy HR person with a personality defect… I’ve seen a lot of rather unhappy HR people in big corporates.

          1. OP*

            Yeah, that makes sense to me. That’s how a mentor of mine who I mentioned in several other comments explained it.

            Someone with sufficient clout likes either boss a lot. Enough to make HR be wary of even quietly telling them to cut it out. And judging by the behavior VP (the screaming guy) has displayed…it makes a very unpleasant sort of sense.

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Not always, even if it seems like it. Coffeecup wasn’t fired for doing less work than I could do on top of my own job if I were slightly more caffeinated, he was fired for gaslighting and bullying a remote co-worker.

      2. AnonT*

        Seriously, I’m so confused why HR hasn’t just transferred you to another department or manager. Just putting you in a different line of supervision seems like it would be in everybody’s best interest – then at least they would still be able to get some work from you, instead of having you on what sounds like an extended paid leave.

        If you were a vindictive person, I’d say let them continue to pay you for not working as long as they like. At this point, it sounds like they’re basically paying you off so they don’t have to actually deal with the problem. If the company wants to subsidize HR not doing their jobs, then let ’em!

        1. sunny-dee*

          My OldManager was hemorrhaging employees; one person flat-refused a planned transfer to his team, three of us left in about 8 weeks, and another two tried to transfer and were blocked. Out of a team of 12. But HR wouldn’t just let anyone report to another supervisor 1) because there really weren’t a lot of other options and 2) it would have looked really bad and our (bad) director was protecting BadManager. HR made sure that Director and Manager didn’t do anything so overtly egregious that the company could get sued, but they flat out do not care aside from that.

          1. Anonymous in the South*

            We’ve had to hire 12 new employees in the span of about 2 years for the. same . position because the manager refuses to manager his bully employee. 10 resigned and stated in writing that bully was the reason they left and the last new hire quit on the spot after asking manager for help and his response was, quote, “What do you want me to do?” How about grow a spine, manage your employees and get rid of the bully if he refused to work civilly and professionally with other employees.

            I swear, I think as soon as some people achieve manager status they drink dumb kool-aid or something.

            1. pope suburban*

              That sounds a lot like my company. I became the longest-lasting person in my position when I hit nine months’ service. The preceding three years had seen seven other people in my position. They had all left because of a problem employee who was a bully, and most of them were not shy about saying it, though with varying degrees of diplomacy. One person left for lunch and then never came back; she later communicated through the staffing agency that she would not stand for that kind of treatment. While to former owners were mobilizing to do something about him, they got a good offer on the business (They’re elderly and wanted to retire) and sold it to someone who has only enabled the bullying. The cost in money, time, morale, and talent has been *staggering* and while the guy is a competent technician, he’s not the Doctor House of his field (nor would it be acceptable if he was; his behavior is atrocious). I don’t get it at all. I mean, I understand that bringing a new person in takes effort, but I’ve met at least one person who could do this job better, with much more tact, so…yep, I think it’s the kool-aid.

              1. Bibliovore*

                In one of my first librarian jobs, the department manager was bully and a screamer and a union lifer (she came to work late, left early, took long breaks, showed up late on desk shifts or not at all, scheduled back to back programming and did none of the departmental work) Management was aware of the situation and did nothing. No one lasted in my position for more than 6 months. I made it almost two years then left the system. To this day the old timers who I run into at conferences marvel at my longevity under that tyrant.

          2. Katie F*

            It’s always important to keep in mind that HR isn’t there for the employees’ sake, but for the company’s. At my previous job, our HR woman was a wonderful person and really supported us emotionally, but essentially was completely unhelpful because unless it was something that could get the company outright sued, she wasn’t allowed to do a damn thing.

        2. OP*

          Their explanation has been, almost literally, “we don’t do that. If you want another job here, you need to apply.”

          They have never given a good response to my follow up of “my manager and I have an extremely strained relationship, and that’s putting it really nicely. What’s to stop him from sabotaging any attempt at an internal move I make?”

          That just gets a “we have an anti-retaliation policy.” Which they don’t seem to be honoring here.

          1. sunny-dee*

            When I put in for a transfer and informed my manager and director, my director flipped his lid and went immediately to HR to put me on a PIP (and didn’t tell HR that I was interviewing for a transfer). When I found out about the PIP two weeks later and after I’d gone through all the interviews, I went to HR who basically shrugged and said the director must have good reasons and I should concentrate on improving myself. Until I asked him when they had gone to HR and forwarded him emails proving it had happened within a couple of hours of my informing them of the internal transfer process. All of a sudden the PIP was suspended and I was able to transfer out. I honestly believe that only happened because he was afraid they’d be sued. I think the phrase I read here was “tortious interference.” Not that I would have or could have sued and won, and I didn’t even mention it, but the risk of a suit was real enough that they were worried, so they let me transfer. When I read about tortious interference after the fact, I figured that or something similar was what had nudged them.

            1. Liane*

              I’ve mentioned before in comments that something like this happened to a good friend. The PIP wasn’t done by his manager, who liked his work and was supportive of the new opportunity; it was done by a manager he never reported to, and had forged signatures.

              1. OP*

                WHAT? That’s absolutely ridiculous. I hope they dropped the PIP. Why would another manager do that?

            2. Christopher Tracy*

              And see, something like this couldn’t happen at my current company because you have to discuss your transfer plans with your manager, apply for the posting, and HR then sends something to the manager to be approved before you can potentially interview. The process is too quick for a shady manager to do this, though I could totally see what happened to you happening at my last company.

              Also – I hope your former manager got a write up for that sneaky shit.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Hahahaha. No, of course not. Nothing happened to him or director, to my knowledge.

              1. Wehaf*

                The tortious interference is against the employee who was falsely put on a PIP, not against the company – this would be tortious interference in a non-contractual business relationship.

                1. Green*

                  The elements of tortious interference almost always requires a third party to the business relationship in tortious interference cases. Here, Corp A has potentially (but not actually) interfered with OP’s business relationship with… Corp A itself.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  FWIW, it was a transfer to a new department, so I had a new offer and title. I don’t know if that makes a difference? I also have invested stock so there would have been a direct financial impact if they’d wrongfully terminated me. My guess is it was just enough to worry HR. (Also, a woman at a technology company, which would have been terrible PR.)

                3. Wehaf*

                  There are cases where tortious interference requires only two parties; in particular, if one agent of Corp. A acted outside the scope of his employment or used improper methods or means to interfere with the first party’s overall relationship with Corp. A, that would count. Alternatively, if the transfer was to a different division within Corp. A, those two different divisions could be considered separate parties. It’s certainly not cut-and-dried, but it is definitely within enough of a gray area that any good legal department would be worried about it.

                4. Green*

                  It absolutely varies by state, but most states require a third party for tortious interference. Here the business relationship is with a company, not with a department. Another department within the same company won’t be viewed as a third party under these facts. [And, sunny-dee, “wrongful termination” isn’t just unfair termination — it typically requires a breach of a contract, a termination for a reason against public policy (retaliation related to civil rights, you won’t do something illegal), or a termination for an illegal reason (race, sex, religion…)].

                  While posters should absolutely consult their attorneys instead of relying on other commenters for legal advice (IANYL and most of the legal comments here don’t come from lawyers), it really doesn’t help to suggest that they may have causes of actions when that interpretation is certainly not mainstream. I obviously don’t know the law of all 50 states, but I’m not aware of a jurisdiction that doesn’t require a third party for tortious interference.

                5. Green*

                  Interesting; that’s not my jurisdiction, and I haven’t seen that before, but it is clearly a minority view (and thus not something I’d suggest bringing up on forums without qualification). Also, I think the requirement that the action not be due to a business-related motive and must “arise wholly from some external, independent, and personal motive” wouldn’t be applicable here because Sunny Dee’s manager’s motive appears to be to keep her in his department, which would almost certainly be acting within the scope of his employment. The case you cited was a pervy manager sexually harassing the employee.

        3. Christopher Tracy*

          Seriously, I’m so confused why HR hasn’t just transferred you to another department or manager.

          HR may not have the power to make that decision. When I worked at Evil Law Firm, our HR department could definitely do this if they wanted to because they were in charge of hiring/firing for all of the operations staff. The company I work for now? They can’t do anything regarding staffing without the approval of the business unit leaders. I very much doubt OP’s VP would give that kind of power to anyone else since he seems to take delight in making subordinates miserable.

          1. Retro*

            Seriously, I’m so confused why HR hasn’t just transferred you to another department or manager.

            Sometimes you just have to ask, they won’t just transfer you (if OP hadn’t already)

            My dad had something similar when he came back after battling cancer. His job was 30% physical 70% desk when he left but had become almost 90% physical when he came back and he just didn’t have the energy to keep up. He was getting written up repeatedly for “failure to perform to standards”. When they threatened his job (he was 1 year from retirement at that point) he finally asked if they had anything else he could do and within a week he had a new job that is 100% desk work.

        4. MillersSpring*

          Not all jobs are transferable to a different department or team. And the OP said that his skills are fairly unique. For many companies, they may have only one sales team, one marketing department, etc. (IT, legal, accounting, shipping, customer service…) So if your boss is inept and your grandboss is a tyrant, it’s either stick it out (risking your health and sanity) or move on.

          I know this is one reason why hiring managers value candidates with long stints at previous companies. It often means that you’ve endured a lot of BS, jerks and changes but didn’t bail.

      3. Anonsie*

        I know, it’s always so baffling isn’t it? It’s like, in all cases like this all they need to do is quietly tell some people to knock it off because it’s a potential liability and not only have they covered their own ass very well, they’ve likely presented any more problematic things from happening.

        But they never do! They always dig their heels in and do more and more clearly illegal/borderline illegal crap to try and pretend the original, more ambiguous crap never happened. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t benefit anyone least of all them.

  2. C*

    I’m sorry to hear this too, OP, but it does feel like there is a light at the end of that tunnel. I sincerely hope you’ll manage to get out and find a better situation, and AAM’s advice on the reference part is spot on and you shouldn’t worry about that. Best of luck, and hoping there’s a better update on the horizon.

    1. OP*

      Thank you. I’m probably not going to send anything in until the end of the year.

      Optimistically my plan is to find a new job within the next few months. I believe I can do this fine; again my specific job market is pretty healthy right now.

      Once I’m there and have a few vacation days I can use, I’m going to schedule a long weekend with some family across the country who I’ve been promising to visit for nearly a decade. Maybe I’ll write the update on the plane trip!

    1. OP*

      Thank you! I think with all the kind wishes I’ve received from friends and people I’ve anonymously complained to online, I should find an absolutely, staggeringly incredible new job pretty soon.

  3. Sharon*

    Jeebus. OP, you have my sympathy. All I can say is that if any boss ever acted that way with me, I’d… well, actually I don’t know if I’d make it my new personal project to document it to the ends of the earth and hold HR’s feet to the fire or if I’d simply quit on the spot. Nobody treats me that way, and they shouldn’t treat you – or anybody – that way. How in the world did that ass get promoted into a position of leadership?!

    1. OP*

      The screamer is the other guy’s boss. I think my boss (screamer’s underling) is taking advantage of a dysfunctional workplace.

      I think that the screamer has stayed on at this company for so long because he screens for people who will meekly put up with his crap. When I took my medical leave, I started a meditation program, plus working out. So my internal thought process for standing my ground when he blew up at me was “no, he’s behaving badly, and I have a point here. What is he going to do, punch me?”

      HR has insisted that this must just be a communication issue. I really have to wonder what HR’s thought process is.

      If either boss fires me, HR is going to have to build an absolutely ironclad defense as to why it was certainly not retaliation or discrimination. Even if they do, I have no incentive not to go after them in some way and cost them thousands (probably more like tens of thousands) in wasted productivity and lawyer fees. After all, submitting complaints to the various federal and state agencies is free.

      1. Ashley Dawn*

        I almost want to say that if I were in that situation, I would have let him hit me. I don’t know if I really would have, but I feel like that would have been so unbelievable that I feel like HR would have had to start believing you. Plus, hello lawsuit!

        Obviously, I’m glad he didn’t hit you!

        1. OP*

          If it happens again, I probably will, honestly. Considered it, but at that moment I had a little too much in HR’s fear of legal repercussions.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Right. This guy blows up over the dumbest things, and yet OP’s the problem. Okay, HR.

  4. kac*

    I’m not one for litigation, but I hope you sue their pants off.

    Congrats on the interviews!

    1. Kristine*

      I hope the OP sues them, too. And it sounds like that manager has Intermittent Explosive Disorder – a much worse thing to have than panic attacks. That is going to get this employer in real trouble sooner or later even if the OP does not sue.

      1. the_scientist*

        Although I’m not down with armchair diagnosing, it is SO interesting to me that OP’s boss is the one whose behaviour is so clearly unstable (as the boss so snarkily called the OP). He’s explosive and agressive, creepy (potentially) and has displayed a propensity for violence…..while the OP seems to have managed to maintain a reasonably calm and professional demeanor. OP, I think you should see how you’ve conducted yourself throughout this as a source of pride. You’ve got a lot to deal with, and you’re doing great!

        1. OP*

          Thank you. After all of this lunacy started, my therapy sessions have been just about entirely focused on managing my anxiety. It’s still around, but I’m way better at keeping composed in these really rough situations. I’ve seen serious improvement in that area. Again, thank you for your kind words.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            What is even worse here, is that if you had a professionally acting boss, you would probably not need therapy. This fool [insert other word here] could break the toughest of people. It’s really tough to deal with so much stupidity stacked so high. And I gotta say, OP, I think you are one strong person. I can’t believe you hung in for so long. You’ll find out that you are strong when you get that new great job that is just around the corner- everything will feel so easy to you after this.

            1. OP*

              I was going for other stuff before I worked for either of these guys. But I was doing a lot better BEFORE I started working for this one guy, and now that I’ve had extended time away from them I’m feeling a bit better too.

        2. SystemsLady*

          I’m not surprised at all. In my experience, people who get explosively angry like that always think they’re the ones, and the ONLY ones, who are being rational.

    2. art_ticulate*

      S-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y. OP, I am so sorry that you’re in this situation, but glad that you’ve stuck up for yourself and that you’re feeling well. Stuff like this makes me so incredibly angry (esp because I deal with depression & anxiety myself), I hope you do end up recouping something monetarily from them.

      1. OP*

        Stay strong. Good luck out there, it’s already challenging to navigate the world even if you have an ironclad psyche.

        1. art_ticulate*

          Aw, thanks. I got fired in March, but it was for the best. My boss was great, but her boss and I didn’t communicate well and she didn’t understand my introverted nature, and I refused to resign. I feel like myself again and I’ve had several promising interviews since!

          Hope you come out of all this on top!

  5. Armchair Analyst*

    Did you use your FMLA “just” to rest, or did you also concentrate on your mental health and self-help abilities?
    I know more than a few people who’ve gone to intensive outpatient therapy due to job & anxiety issues. It’s really helped.

    I’m really proud of you, standing up to crazy-making boss and HR like that. It sounds like you’re doing great! Good luck with the job hunt!

    1. OP*

      I doubled up on my therapy visits (i.e. 2x a week, usually Monday afternoon and Friday mornings) and began an exercise program based on my professionals’ advice.

      The FMLA was a step I took because I knew that with everything going on in my life I wouldn’t be able to perform at work at all.

      I didn’t actually know that there was a step between visiting a therapist and inpatient hospital stuff, which I definitely don’t need and can’t afford. I would have to research it and consider it in the future though. Thank you for that knowledge.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Good on you, OP. FWIW – I think even people who didn’t suffer from anxiety disorders would have a really hard time with this employer – they just sound so nasty! I’m glad you’re getting interviews and I hope you can get out of there quickly. I doubt they’d give you a bad reference, actually – they’re probably hoping you’ll find something else too.

        1. OP*

          They’re going hard on the “we only just verify employment” line. I’m pretty sure they just want me to resign so they can avoid legal fees, unemployment, and upsetting either of these guys.

          My case for getting them to guarantee a good reference, which they could just copy one of my performance evaluations for, is like this:

          A) This employee/employer relationship has been strongly damaged.

          B) I’m concerned that Anger Issues Jr. or Anger Issues Sr. would trash talk me, out of revenge, to my future employer if they found out I was leaving. Or a background checker would contact my current boss due to a low number of references. Again, this is my first post college job, and I’ve been at it for about four years, so I haven’t used my professors since I was right out of college.

          Now issue B doesn’t seem like an anxiety-driven negative fantasy to me, because look at how the one boss blew up at me for asking him to not talk about my health issues in front of colleagues.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Op, forgive me if I don’t recall all the details, but were there ever witnesses to this screaming? I know you said it was in a closed office but if nobody heard those are some awfully thick walls.

            1. OP*

              There were some witnesses, yes. They’re also young, first-job-post-college-kids too, so I think they may feel too frightened to corroborate my story.

              I’m not alleging that someone else was intimidated into saying I was lying, even though that wouldn’t be too strange considering the insane stories we’re hearing out of tech startups lately. They wouldn’t need to. They’d just need someone who was a little anxious about saying “yes, the head of my department, who controls my salary, blew up and screamed at a coworker.”

        2. Wendy Darling*

          Yeah, I think the vast majority of people would struggle with anxiety in that situation, because it’s legitimately anxiety-provoking! Only the coolest-headed among us would be able to deal without issues.

          I have an anxiety disorder that is mostly extremely well-controlled via ongoing treatment, but that business would send me into a death spiral. I actually had a somewhat similar experience in graduate school (PI setting me up to fail, berating me for mistakes SHE made, and ultimately forcing me to resign my position because I couldn’t deal with the totally unreasonable working conditions and she refused to make ANY accommodations). It took me like a year to get my feet back under me, mental health wise.

    2. NotASalesperson*

      As someone who is looking into taking FMLA to rest and build up mental health and self-help abilities to manage a mental health issue, it’s SO good to hear that others have done it too.

      1. OP*

        Good luck, my friend! It really is a good idea, as long as you have a fairly concrete idea of what you want to get out of it.

        The flaw with my strategy was that I didn’t. I just knew I could no longer function at work, so it was best for both my employer (not bosses, they can go to hell) and myself if I took some time away to recuperate. If you have professionals you wish to see or see more, or some form of medication or alternative therapy (meditation retreat maybe? My own therapist is a tough old ex-New Yorker but he advises mindfulness before any anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants) that’s even better.

        1. NotASalesperson*

          Thanks for the well-wishes! I’m actually slowly building an action plan, but I think part of it is that my mental health issues are drastically exacerbated by burnout. Essentially, I’d take the time to rest, get back in shape (I’ve been struggling to fully recover from an injury), and work out a detailed plan with professionals beforehand (ideally frequent therapy, using the time as an adjustment period to medication if that’s an option I choose).

          I haven’t been at my employer a year yet, so I’m going to use that time before the year point to get all my ducks in a row (get the FMLA paperwork filled out and sorted, make sure I have all the professionals’ recommendations in writing, figure out if disability is an option, etc) and develop a plan so that I’m as recovered as possible before I return to work.

          1. OP*

            Just as a random aside, but iirc there’s also an hour requirement and a number of employees requirement beyond the “has been employed by company for over a year” requirement. Get everything hammered out, and then go get yourself strong, buddy.

            1. NotASalesperson*

              Yep, I fit the hours requirement and my company fits the employee number requirement. Thanks, I really appreciate you writing in to AAM and for the support you’ve offered today.

          2. Semi-nonymous*

            Just as an FYI, when I went out on leave due to anxiety, depression and panic attacks, my initial short-term disability claim was denied. I wasn’t fired, and my employer was self-insured so I think they just paid me out of pocket instead of continuing to fight the insurance. But it a lot of going back to my doctors and saying “they want more paperwork” that did not help my stress levels at all – especially when I started to flip out thinking the company might want their money back (I was being paid at 60%).

            I’m not trying to scare you, if you need the leave, you need it – and it’s definitely better than being fired – but mentally prepare yourself if you don’t get paid for the time or it requires a lot of paperwork.

            With the “recovering fully from an injury” piece – any chance you could take FMLA to do intensive physical therapy instead (and also go to mental health therapist appointments in addition to physical therapist appointments)?

        2. MamaSarah*

          I wonder if your job was the source of your anxiety??? Panic attacks are the worst and I would not wish them on anyone,not even your super jerky boss! Hugs and happy healing. Many of us have dealt with anxiety. I did a combination of talk and art therapy that, along with some deep breathing techniques, has resolved the issue. It’s been almost a year since an attack had occurred.

          1. Green*

            For me, my job wasn’t the source of my anxiety. My anxiety is the source of my anxiety. But the job stress did exacerbate my anxiety, and I haven’t had a full blown panic attack since leaving my previous job (3 years ago) and I’ve been able to decrease my number and dosage of medication.

  6. LisaLee*

    It’s good to hear you’ve got some new opportunities! Hopefully getting out of this crappy environment helps your mental health, too.

  7. Kate M*

    OP – I know in your first update, you mentioned that you got along with your first boss before he left and this guy took over. Could you reach out to that former boss to be a reference?

    1. OP*

      They’re still friends. Not sure how it’d pan out.

      I did talk to another superior of mine about this, because he told me that he also has anxiety and panic disorder diagnoses. His response was basically “I’m not surprised, but please be careful. Your boss has friends in high places.”

      I think he was right.

        1. OP*

          Yes, I’d like to use them. They got along with my current boss — the bad boss — very well, but they did not seem surprised at all when I came to them for advice. Basically went “hate to say it, but Wakeen can get that way when he’s convinced he’s right or he’s put on the spot.”

          I believe if I presented it from the “I’d just like to quietly leave here and move on with my career” angle they’d be open to considering.

          I’m contemplating ways we could set up a more discreet meeting. Maybe discuss it over drinks after business hours. Or pizza. Everyone loves pizza. I personally love pizza more than non-caffeinated drinks.

  8. neverjaunty*

    Your lawyer needs to be communicating with you better about why she is giving you the advice she is, and what you can expect to happen. Best of luck in dealing with these loons, OP.

    1. Annonymous*

      From the letter, I wasn’t sure if OP meant the legal/compliance dept from letter #2 or not. If this is a lawyer you are paying money to, they do need to communicate better, if only to tell you when it’s reasonable to get in touch with them.

      It’s a balancing act, because you don’t want to pay for more hours of a lawyers time than you need to getting “no status” updates, but lawyers are human and occasionally forget things, and you don’t want to miss a statute of limitations deadline if you can possibly avoid it.

      If it’s been a few weeks, I would send them an update by email with bosses’ recent shenanigans and if they don’t respond in a few days with at least a “got it, thanks!” I would ask for my file and go shopping for a new lawyer. If they respond, that’s a good time to ask when would be a good time to check in in the future.

      If you haven’t paid them anything yet, it’s reasonable for them to focus on paying cases and for you to keep them updated so they can speak up if anything actionable happens.

      1. OP*

        I do not have a lawyer retained. I’ve got enough money saved up that even if this company cuts me loose, I can go for a multi-month job hunt, but lawyers aren’t cheap.

        Most of the lawyers I’ve spoken to maintain that they usually can’t take cases like this on contingency until there’s evidence of a loss of money (phrasing may be off). Which has made me consider either name-dropping a labor agency at my next HR meeting and seeing how long it takes them to fire me, or just not backing down and hoping that the screamer boss actually gets violent with me.

        1. Annonymous*

          That makes sense. It’s hard to prove damages that aren’t financial and contingency arrangements shift a lot of financial risk to the lawyer.

        2. E*

          I’m no expert, but could you file a Dept of Labor complaint? Fact Sheet #77B says that your employer cannot “use an employee’s request for or use of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions”. Even if you wanted to raise this after you leave because you’re feeling forced out, you have up to two years to file a complaint with the DOL.

          1. OP*

            Honestly I’m probably going to make some barely veiled threats of that next time I speak with HR. I know that the DOL, EEOC, employment lawyers and those types can smell the blood in the water from something like “I mentioned the DOL, then the next day they fired me.”

  9. Jane*

    It’s scary to me that HR isn’t more concerned about the person with the explosive temper, but unfortunately does not surprise me. I think people in positions of power often get a pass on things like this (and I think they are able to hide these tendencies or least not reveal them to their bosses as they make their way up the ladder). I can almost guarantee that OP isn’t the first or the last person that this guy will explode on and that HR is aware of his tendencies (my theory is that its often not a secret when people behave like this, as its unlikely they have not received complaints before for someone like this, but its something that is tolerated by their employers for some reason).
    OP, I hope you get a new job and get out of here fast – way way too much drama for work.

    1. Corporate Drone*

      Like you, I am disgusted but not surprised. The only way that type of behavior can be halted is by directly calling the bully out on it.

      1. OP*

        Yes. He hires geeky (engineers and related knowledge work fields) young kids who he can. It’s probably been many years since anyone called him out.

        In hindsight, I think it may have been a better idea to actually keep pressing him on this. If he actually took a swing at me in the middle of a busy office, that’d be pretty hard to hide or blame me for, wouldn’t it?

        1. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

          It’s hard to hide a big bruise on your face actually… And way harder for HR to “make it all go away”.

          1. AnonT*

            And even if they tried, you could legitimately call the cops and have the boss arrested for assault. That way even if HR did try to sweep it under the rug, there would still be consequences for the jerk.

        2. neverjaunty*

          You’d think, but it’s also pretty hard to blame someone for a boss screaming at them when he’s angry. Your HR department sucks. This is something a lawyer needs to fix; they clearly have no intention of fixing it on their own.

    2. Althea*

      I remember reading quite a long while ago an article about why a woman was pushed out of a top editing position at some media company. Maybe NYT? Don’t remember. She was gone, and some of the reasons cited related to her being difficult to work with/get along with. In the story, they wrote about an editor, a man, who would sometimes blow up and punch the wall to the extent that he once punched a hole in it. I was like, what? I’m reading a whole article about this woman being hard to deal with, when this bozo is violent in the workplace and he’s still a-ok? Why is it integral to the company to protect him, but not her? Or in this case, why is this manager so important that they view him as essential for protection, at the expense of everyone else?

      1. OP*

        “Friends in high places.” That’s what I’d bet it is.

        That’s why a friend/former coworker advised me to be careful about this when I came to him for advice. I almost wish I listened.

          1. Jinx*

            Sometimes people will give difficult men a pass then turn around and judge women for “being hard to work with”, because women are supposed to be nice. In Anonsie’s example it could have also been that the guy was protected by connections, but I don’t think that kind of gender bias is unheard of.

        1. OP*

          Let’s pass on discussing gender.

          For one, everyone in my own account is a man. I’m in particular a tall, skinny, young blonde guy (one of the reasons I was very hesitant to disclose this and say “I think I am being discriminated against because of my psychological condition, because I’m very nondescript looking and there is nothing visibly physically off with me — there are many things I’ve slightly changed in my emails and comments), so for all we know there could’ve been some youth/appearance/whatever resentment.

          For that NYT case, it could just as easily, or even more easily, be some really dirty office politics, which anyone can play. Wall puncher could’ve gotten his boss’ kid a job or something like that. House of Cards? Or just extreme, extreme, extreme dysfunction. Silicon Valley people often think the show, Silicon Valley, isn’t actually that ridiculous.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            Silicon Valley season 2 had this ongoing problem where every time they had some ridiculous plot point, something slightly more ridiculous had happened in real life in the preceding few weeks.

            My SO and I both work in tech and we loooooove that show because it’s Portlandia-level painful-funny because it’s accurate.

            1. OP*

              My dad worked in tech, and some of my best friends do too (I do… other math heavy, engineering-related stuff). Dad worked at a bank in the ’90s, made some good investments, and retired in his forties, but the younger folks I know say it’s pretty accurate. They managed to get some great writers and actors!

          2. Jinx*

            Old-school sexist concepts can negatively impact men, too. There is definitely an idea out there that anxiety and panic attacks are mostly restricted to women (which is sucky and true). I’ve heard of men behaving very dismissively and/or aggressively to other guys who go to therapy or seek treatment for things like anxiety, including accusing them of faking it or needing to “man up”. I guess it’s threatening to some old-fashioned idea of masculinity.

            In your case, the only thing that really matters is that your bosses are assholes who get away with it. The causes behind it are speculation at best. I’m glad you are getting out of there.

            1. Jinx*

              I meant sucky and UNTRUE in that first parenthesis… please ignore my lack of proofreading ability.

            2. OP*

              My immediate boss, once he was promoted to management, started only interviewing and hiring young girls, and all with the same body type. There’s plenty of armchair psychology we can conduct from that. But that won’t help my job hunt, unlike a couple of books I got on important industry trends.

              1. Observer*

                Yes, but it WILL help your legal case, if you bring one. Because that speaks to gender discrimination and there is an argument to be made here that you are being discriminated against because you don’t meet gender stereotypes.

                1. C*

                  That would be onerously hard to prove, and not worth OP’s time I’m guessing. Better to go after the other stuff.

                2. Observer*

                  C, I’m not so sure. And, if the EEOC decides they are interested, they have the resources to go after it and the clout to make the employer cough up hiring records.

    3. OP*

      Makes sense. Let’s take a moment for clarification.

      The screaming guy is the head of my department, or my boss’ boss. The other guy is just my boss.

      Screaming guy/department head has been with the company for like 30 years. I am absolutely sure this has happened before with him.

      For one, he only hires people under 25, for two, everyone who comes through is gone within a year. One lady who worked on our team left like a month after she returned from FMLA for her newborn. Would you be surprised to hear that she was also the most competent and professional person I’ve encountered in our department?

      1. the.kat*

        Woah, did you work for my old boss? I could swear I worked in a department with exactly this power structure and hiring scheme. Good luck with everything! Mine was a pretty poisonous situation and I didn’t realize how bad it was until I left.

        1. OP*

          Unfortunately I think it’s actually a pretty common thing. Unfortunate for the employees because it screws with them, and unfortunate for the orgs because it’s really not a good way to create and retain quality talent.

      2. Aurora Leigh*

        Wait a minute, are this boss’s and the “baby daddy” boss from awhile back the same person?!?

        1. OP*

          No no no. Creepy guy is my direct boss, who “inherited” me when my old boss left. Screaming guy is creeplord’s boss. I maintain that King Creep realized how dysfunctional this workplace is, and is sufficiently unscrupulous to take advantage of it.

    4. designbot*

      I also think there could be a gender bias at work there. When men yell and scream people make excuses about what high performers they are, under a lot of pressure, etc. but when women have emotions at work it’s A Problem.

  10. Dirk Gently*


    Best of luck with the job search, OP. I also just wanted to mention that I started having panic attacks two jobs ago that almost completely went away about a month after I moved to a less toxic office. My toxic job doesn’t sound anywhere near as bad as yours, so it might take a bit longer (and maybe some therapy or whatever works for you), but one day the job will be far behind you and hopefully you’ll start feeling a lot better.

    Take care of yourself!

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Dirk! This situation has been pretty unpleasant, but I find I’m in an infinitely better place when I’m not dealing with these psychopaths on a daily basis. I still have a ton of “issues” to deal with, but I’m in a better place now that I’m not seeing their faces every day.

      Even with this I’m still a lot more relaxed, because now my employer is in a difficult position of their own. Again, filing complaints with the EEOC and other agencies is free to me.

  11. Althea*

    This letter made me curious about how people respond to screaming bosses. I’ve never had one, though I’ve had a few board members I’ve thought might lean that way, had I ever disappointed them. I have a chilly demeanor when I am unhappy, and I’m kinda wondering if people have put a chill on screamers successfully?

    1. DoxieLover*

      I used to get pretty shaken up when yelled at (reminiscences of childhood at play), but when my current boss screamed at me for the first time, I was so shocked that I just stood still, staring at him, impassive and emotionless. Since then, it seems to be my natural physical response every time he screams at me, although I’m truly shocked and shaken (seriously, in what universe is yelling an acceptable behaviour?!). It also seems to profoundly annoy him, I’m sure he would prefer to see me cry or respond in any other way. So he yells at me less than at my poor coworkers. Not entertaining enough , I suppose.
      Good news is, I’ll be out of there in a few months!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I go into total shutdown when yelled at. I’m terrified, but I just stand very still and look completely unmoved because I had a lot of past experience where showing emotion was potentially hazardous (thanks, bullies!).

        It made my middle school band instructor apoplectic with rage. He could scream at me for five straight minutes and I’d just stare at him. He generally only stopped yelling when he made the student cry but I refused to cry so he’d just wear himself out shouting at me and then give up. It was miserable, but I always felt a little bit powerful when I did it.

        As an adult I mostly quietly refuse to deal with people who act like that. Hell, one time in high school a fellow student went off on me and I just stood up and walked out of a classroom. I’m very fortunate to not have been in a position as an adult where there was a shouter I couldn’t promptly escape, though. I don’t know what I’d do if my current boss started doing that except quietly start looking for a different job.

        1. OP*

          Honestly, I’m very glad to hear it when someone else says they’ve never experienced something like this. It sucks. I’m in a pretty good financial situation, there’s a very healthy job market in my area, but it still sucks. Take care of yourself!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I just walk away without a word. If they come after me and try to grab me, I whip around and give them a look that I’ve been told is extremely scary.

          1. OP*

            If it ever gets to that point anywhere, I’ll try that. I don’t know how well I can pull off a nasty look, but I’m a big tall guy so I might as well use it to my advantage.

      2. LW #4 checking in*

        I’ve only had to use it once, but the impassive, emotionless response can be successful. I just stopped speaking, blinked a few times, said, “Let’s continue this conversation later,” and left the room. The screamer never apologized, but he also never screamed at me again. It helped that I knew going into the conversation that he is a screamer, so I thought about what my response would be ahead of time and practiced my face in the mirror.

        1. LW #4 checking in*

          Whoops, I’m not LW #4 today! That’s leftover from a different post. Oh, well.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      A former manager underwent a dramatic personality change for a variety of reasons, going from someone I was pretty comfortable with to someone I avoided as much as possible, turning on staff in a heart beat, screaming at people over the littlest things and completely overreacting to many situations.

      While I wasn’t usually the direct target of the screaming, it completely stressed me out and I’d retreat emotionally, because it provoked negative memories. Head down, no eye contact. A couple of times I excused myself from group meetings to go to the restroom to cry and compose myself, or if I overheard the manager screaming at someone else and could hide in my office, I did.

      It was time for me to move on professionally anyway, but the final straw was one morning when I walked in and she started screaming at a colleague out of nowhere, and talking to him like she was disciplining her child. That day, I decided I was done.

      1. OP*

        I don’t blame you at all. At least here, there are a few people who’ve stopped treating their subordinates with respect once they reached Director/VP level.

        Regarding that last incident, did you immediately walk out or just double up on the job searching? I saw something similar once, so I can totally understand. Colleague had a big important meeting with the screamer, which went like an hour over schedule. I ran into him after work, and he just seemed so dejected because the screamer trash talked his efforts on a project which he’d spent like a month on. This coworker was talking about how he was going to leave the company. And this is a person who I’ve always had an unbelievable amount of respect for. Unfortunately that guy’s still working for the screamer. And that makes me feel awful.

        1. Chocolate lover*

          At the time, I stood there staring at her in shock for a few seconds, then ran into my office, hoping she hadn’t seen me (I think she had, but don’t think she cared – I just didn’t want her directing any of it at me). I warned a few coworkers to keep their distance. I hadn’t applied to anything up to that point, because I was comfortable and really liked most of my coworkers. I had been on the fence for a long time about figuring what my next step would be, but that day I decided I was absolutely going to take action. Once the distress of that particular day passed, and in my head I said “I’m done here,” it’s like a weight lifted off my shoulders, for finally deciding to DO something about it. I applied to a new position maybe a week or two after that happened, and a few months later, I accepted it. But even in the interim of applying for a new job and waiting, I felt such a sense of relief, because I was taking positive action to move myself forward.

    3. The RO-Cat*

      My one and only screamer boss appeared late in my career, at a time when I’ve already been gaining my daily bread as a freelancer (this was a temporary gig where they called me specifically for that position), so I just laughed and lit up a cigarette, waiting for him to end. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rounder and bigger eyes since then.

      To add insult to injury, he was screaming about a lady colleague whom *he* decided to hire, didn’t pan out as he hoped and was blaming me for the hire. The mildest of the expressions he used about her was “she’s a whore”, yelled at the top of his lungs.

      No, he didn’t last long there.

      1. OP*

        Holy crap. Sorry I don’t have anything more intelligent to say about that psycho, but Jesus Christ.

        Glad you had your own position of power there. I’m hoping to reach the level where I don’t need to grin and bear bosses from hell like this and I can just laugh/brush it off and move on, and that’s the one good thing I’ve gotten out of this insanity.

        1. The RO-Cat*

          Well, my first job out of the college was with the local office of a multinational where the BigBoss came to us, peons, in the first month and told us “I keep my people like mushrooms: in dark, in sh*t and whomever raises the head gets it chopped off. So you know how I work.” Verbatim. I learned a lot about management from that guy – mostly, what *not* to do. That was the first time I envisioned a boss-free future for me. It took 12 years for that future to come true, but yeah, here I am.

          1. OP*

            That’s… very nuts. The only other responses to it I can come up with are pretty much just cursing. Christ.

      2. Observer*

        Well,, at least he didn’t last long there. That sounds like the system is working at least a little bit.

    4. Aurion*

      I had a supervising grad student (I was an undergrad) yell at me. Straw that broke the camel’s back as he had been putting increasing pressure on me and undermining me over the course of a couple of months. I said one sentence in defense of myself (at a reasonable volume to boot), and he went berserk. Actually started screaming at me and swearing and the whole nine yards. He got right in my face while screaming too (and he had like 7 inches and 80 lbs over me).

      I walked out on him, reported him to the professor, and was transferred to a new project the next morning. That professor wasn’t the most empathetic person I know, but he knew I worked hard and he knew the particular grad student had a reputation. I doubt anything was done to him officially–academia and all–but I didn’t have to suffer him any longer. (I had worked with this grad student before; professor asked what happened between that time and this one. I simply said I was younger the first time and let a lot of things slide that I shouldn’t have.)

      Actually, I have to amend my comment from earlier today: I actually have employed the cut direct exactly once, and it was against this particular grad student (I’d forgotten until now!). I passed him in the hall once, looked him in the eye, didn’t respond to his hello and just kept walking. Never regretted that one. (But like Engineer Girl and others pointed out in the earlier thread, that carries with it a lot of professional downfalls, unfair as it is.)

      That said, I could do that because I didn’t need this reference and he wasn’t in charge of my paycheque. I knew about his histrionics through long experience, and the instant he started screaming at me it was a burned bridge and I knew I wasn’t going maintain this relationship professionally or personally. If he had been a boss I would have frozen up.

      My fullest sympathies with the OP for this.

    5. Bwmn*

      I used to have an intense screaming boss – and it could go on for hours. The most ridiculous case being when in the middle of a 2 hour rant told me she was giving me a significant raise.

      This was not in the US and I am American – so for a while I often was told “this is the way things are done in X, you just need to yell back”. That being said, once I realized that yelling back in no way made me feel better, I would just sit there, give the yes/no/I don’t know answers as appropriate and wait for the storm to pass.

      This was my chosen method because it felt better for me, but in this case I also have to say that it made the ranting go longer. My boss was the type who thrived on brief yelling fights between two people, so if someone wasn’t responding it made her more and more mad. So while in many cases it may escalate a confronation, I also think there are cases – especially with professional screamers – where not feeding into it aggravates the screamer more and does prolong the rant. That being said, I was so much happier just sitting there and taking it than trying to yell back which felt both unnatural and then just made me mad as opposed to resolving anything.

      1. DoDah*

        I worked for a screamer and was told it was her culture. My favorite fit was the time–in the middle of a yell-storm–she blurted out, “I HAVE A TEMPER!”

        My response was, “Yes, you do.”

        Calmed her right down.

    6. Alienor*

      I’ve only had one boss who would openly scream, and on the few occasions when he directed it at me, I would just go icy cold and expressionless. He was proud of being able to make people (especially women) cry, so he didn’t really know what to do with that response, which perhaps is why he didn’t scream at me very often. I actually wish I had been able to scream back at him and tell him what I thought, but the icy-cold reaction was involuntary.

    7. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I have a very strong “fight, flight, or freeze” response to screamers. It varies according to the situation, but I will always either leave the area, freeze in terror… or start screaming back. Fortunately I’ve never had a screamer boss, though I did have a couple of awful bosses who made me cry every day.

      1. SH*

        I’m the only woman in my office and some of my male colleagues have attempted to verbally abuse me because no one is watching. I immediately report that stuff to the office manager and she shuts it down very quickly.

        1. OP*

          I’m glad that your office manager laid down the law! We need more people like that.

  12. Corporate Drone*

    The last time a colleague screamed at me, I looked at him and very calmly said, “You need to go away now. You can come back and speak to me when you have regained your self-control and can speak to me in a professional and courteous manner.” When he came back later, I asked him if he had control over himself, and whether he thought that we should conduct our subsequent conversations “in the presence of a disinterested third party, like someone from HR.” From that point forward, he was totally sheepish.

    Screaming is juvenile, bullying, harassment. I am sure that the OP’s grandboss manages to deal with customers without screaming, so there’s no reason he cannot conduct himself accordingly with employees, who are the PROFIT MAKERS of any company.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      In April 2014, someone screamed at me on the phone. I didn’t raise my voice or get upset; I just said something along the lines of, “I am not going to tolerate abusive behavior. If you can’t speak to me in a calm manner, then please call me back another time.” I haven’t heard from her since. I guess she hasn’t calmed down yet?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That happened to me at Exjob once, too. A client was very upset about something and when I answered the phone, he immediately began yelling. I said, “Sir, I cannot help you when you’re screaming at me. If you can’t stop, I’m going to end this call and you can call back when you feel better.” He stopped yelling and apologized and it never happened again.

    2. CR*

      As a former childcare worker, that is exactly how I would approach a tantruming toddler!

      1. AnonInSC*

        My ability to handle the crazy has improved since I’ve had practice with my toddler!

      2. Corporate Drone*

        I had a toddler at the time, which is exactly how I approached this situation! He needed a time out so he could calm down and be civil.

    3. Betty*

      “You need to go away now. You can come back and speak to me when you have regained your self-control and can speak to me in a professional and courteous manner.”

      Very similar to what I say to my toddler.

      1. Corporate Drone*

        Yes. You need to address the bully as the juvenile s/he is. The OP’s grand boss isn’t even a very sophisticated bully if the beat he can pull out of his magic bag of tricks is yelling and screaming. A more adept bully would be subtle.

    4. OP*

      That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing it, because I’m going to rehearse that in a mirror. Even if I have another closed office, just-me-and-him situation like this again, if they hear the superiors screaming constantly and nothing else, that can only look bad for them.

      Regarding the customers part, we’re a huge company and our function is entirely back office. No external customers, and grandboss (good term, btw) has been there for years, so I think that unless he starts shrieking racial slurs at people or gets physically violent, the company is probably just quietly waiting until he can retire. I wonder what the hell he was like when he wasn’t at the company for a few decades, though.

      1. Corporate Drone*

        Sadly, he will only get fired if he a) pulls this crap with a female employee who documents its pattern. This will instill a fear of expensive litigation. B) is caught embezzling from the company, DUI in company vehicle, or the like.

        1. i'm anon*

          I’m not sure why the gender of the bullied employee would matter here. Female employees are harassed by men who get off scot-free all the time.

          1. Observer*

            Because if a guy comes up with a charge, they will just laugh (unless the EEOC comes knocking, and then they are going to have a very hard time wrapping their heads around it.) But, if it’s a woman, they understand the concept.

            They are wrong, of course, but it’s pretty clear that HR is not up to date on current workplace law.

    5. Jen-nonamous*

      What’s hard is I work(Ed) for a screamer/bully, but he was our biggest boss. He wasn’t the CEO, but he was the new head of our division to which 600+ people report. The VP of HR reported dotted line into him and was someone whose role he made fun of as “fluff” at our weekly leadership meetings. His boss is our fortune 40 CEO and not someone to which things like this get escalated. If anything, the C-level HR, but it’s so far removed from our actual players at that point it’s moot.

      I spent a long time working with HR (the head of which in my division was a peer/slightly below me in tank), and basically, she said without saying/ didn’t write down that the company’s getting a bad rap and everyone in HR knows it, but they can’t well give everyone’s boss a warning for being an ass. He didn’t physically assault or obviously sexually harass someone (another peer did; they were warned and put on a crazy behavioral action plan basically banning them from drinking at company events at the threat of immediate termination), which is apparently the only thing HR can take action on.

      I hate him in a personal level. He laid me off to bring in his buddy, who then gutted my team of 50 down to 10, and 5/10 quit within 6 months. Last I heard they restructured again and the whole thing is a steaming $hitshow. But I got a years severance and I have glowing recommendations from our former division head, all my svp/vp level peers, and I got an extra $50k out the door by retaining council to threaten legal action because they terminated me while pregnant to replace me with a man under 40 with less/equal at best experience and I had 6 years of an all star track record. The HR rep that gave me my sev package called me from his house line to tell me the entire thing was “a goat rodeo” and would I be a reference for him. He left a month later.

      1. Annonymous*

        “Goat Rode” is now at the top of my vocabulary list. I am very excited about that.

  13. Clinical Social Worker*

    So glad you’re on paid leave and making the best of it with job interviews!

  14. H.C.*

    OP, yikes! (& I seriously would’ve considered bringing a recording pen after all those temper explosions & HR’s claim that it’s a “you said, he said” situation).

    Best of luck on your interviews & a (hopefully) smooth transition out of this job.

    1. Student*

      Depending on the state, voice recordings like that can get you in more trouble. Some places have laws requiring the consent of all parties to voice recordings.

    2. OP*

      Considered it, but company policy forbids it. I looked it up right after I returned from FMLA leave.

        1. OP*

          Correct, but we’ve already established that the HR is working in the boss’ interest rather than the company’s, so it’s a risk I’m unwilling to take. I’m a young guy with nowhere near as much money to throw around as a massive, massive, massive company like this one.

          I’m willing to bait him into hitting me by not meekly showing myself out, but that’s a little much. I imagine in the pen recorder scenario they can just insist they fired me because I broke policy and get off due to that.

  15. Anananon*

    OP, I’m so glad you have a lawyer involved to help you along.
    I was in a similar situation with a crazy boss an an incompetent HR department. I actually thought I was going crazy because HR wasn’t doing anything to help in an obviously insane situation. In the end, I got an attorney, a new job, and I gained a brand new shinny set of confidence. Don’t let this situation get you down- this isn’t about you, it’s about a terrible work environment and you can leave that behind. There is light at the end of the tunnel! Interview with confidence knowing that a great job and new life is waiting for you!

  16. whatthehey*

    I feel for you, OP. I was in a similar crazy work situation once. Not quite as bad as this, but bad. For those who have never experienced workplace abuse like this, you’re lucky. It’s a horror. Good thoughts to you for the future, OP.

  17. NoProfitNoProblem*

    Hey OP. This sucks for you, and I’m sorry. I see some second guessing in your letter of “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this” or “this was a bad idea on my part” type sentiments. But it looks like you actually acted quite reasonably. Sure, if your goal was literally “keep my head down and take all the abuse they can heap until they push me out” then your actions didn’t align with that. But the situation you were in was untenable, and you politely stood up for yourself to make your situation better.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      Seriously, 1. nothing OP has done at any point in this saga warrants the way she has been treated by her bosses, and 2. the bosses’ behavior is totally not appropriate ever. Like, if OP accidentally lost the company several million dollars, it would still not be okay for her uberboss to act like he was about to punch her. Fire her, sure, but not scream at her.

      People are allowed to make mistakes. Being horrifyingly mistreated by one’s boss is not the appropriate punishment for making mistakes. There’s no rule that says your behavior has to be perfect for you to be upset at other people’s behavior.

    2. OP*

      Here’s what I’d say, regarding the second guessing.

      I may not have handled some things in the most optimal way, but I don’t regret that I stood up for myself. Not in the least.

      The only thing I regret is not standing up for myself sooner. There were some other questionable things my boss was doing before this whole big dumb saga, but I didn’t go to HR or anyone else because I wasn’t sure they were warranted. That’s the only thing I truly wish I had done differently.

      1. TCO*

        Letting the little things slide might have actually been the right choice. What would it have changed? HR clearly wouldn’t have done anything, given how poorly they’re handling the big things here. Self-preservation was a good tactic.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I agree–taking those to HR might have just made them think you were a complainer.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I had some screamers, also. Not as bad as yours, though. My wise friend told me, if we see a behavior three times that is considered a pattern. While I still have a tough time dealing with illogical people, at least I can identify them quicker and know what I have on my hands. One boss I did not catch on because it was so long between behaviors- a year or longer. As the years went by her behavior became a hot mess.

        My wise friend went on to explain that people test the waters, they try to see what they can get away with. If you can detect it early and call them on it, sometimes (not always) you can prevent some problems from occurring later on. The good news is sometimes it is easy to call them out. Something as simple as, “I am not sure I heard you correctly” can be enough to stop them.

        The sad thing I learned is that if we do not learn this stuff growing up we have to find ways and resources for learning it as adults. I was well into my 30s before anyone even started talking to me about it.

  18. AnotherChelle*

    Is it bad that I keep flashing back to the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton was beating himself up in the bosses office and ended up on permanent paid vacation with equipment.

    OP could have thrown themselves around the office a bit, cause some bruising/small cuts and then called security.

    1. Annonymous*

      I was thinking if it were me I would have been tempted not to de-escalated until after he hit me. The punch might hurt, but incontrovertible proof that the VP needs to go might be worth it.

      1. OP*

        Honestly, I’m probably going to do that if they reinstate me. I was in plenty of schoolyard fights as a kid, and I’ve had my share of running/bike riding accidents. It would suck, yes, but it would probably make HR change their tune real quick. This screaming VP seems to have a weird thing about height and “manliness” (I’m 6’4″, he’s 6’2″, and he’ll do things like stand on his toes in group photos so he can look taller than me), so he may actually try something if I just keep my cool and say things like “we need to discuss this like adults. Can you speak like an adult and stop screaming?”

        Of course, I’d never raise a hand or initiate anything. That would be the best way to ensure I never work in this industry again.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Oh God, a thing about height and “manliness”? Then I think the stuff upthread about how gendered expectations hurt men is verrrry relevant. Lots of sympathy for you, OP – and I really admire you for dealing with this so well.

          1. OP*

            Indeed. There was an observant dude who used to be in our department who couldn’t eat non-Kosher food (I’m not Jewish, no clue on it outside prohibitions on pork and shellfish) and he used to make a big show out of sitting next to the guy, ordering pork. and going “this is a man’s meal!” over and over at company events.

            1. Observer*

              These guys are going to get themselves sued big time one of these days. It’s not that this, by itself, would be considered “severe and pervasive”, but stuff like this is GOLD to any plaintiff’s lawyer, because it shows that the prejudice is active. Also that he was aware that the Jewish guy had restrictions.

              It’s one thing to argue that “I didn’t realize that meeting at Boar’s Head Inn was a problem” if you can pretend that you don’t know anything about the idea of Kosher and you can pretend away any objections the guy had. NO ONE is buying that, though, once you’ve made a show of sticking your ham in someone’s face and cackling about it.

              One of these days there will be someone who will take advantage of their stupidity and bring it home to them. I think you’ll enjoy the show. In the meantime, take care of yourself, and protect yourself from these jerks.

    2. OP*

      I mean, yes, I could’ve, but I could’ve also said that the guy started making racial slurs, death threats, promises that I’d never work in our city again, or anything like that. I just naïvely thought that a guy having a full blown meltdown because his employee dared to take FMLA leave would be enough for them to maybe consider saying “maybe we should play it safe here and set up this reference thing like OP is suggesting.”

      Even so, I wouldn’t do that. It would almost definitely make the situation worse.

  19. burnout*

    I’m shocked that you’ve stayed with this job as long as you have OP — but then, I don’t know the entire backstory. No job is worth your mental well-being, no matter what the circumstances or pay may be!

    1. OP*

      It was a great job under my old boss. I’m a fairly young guy and it was my first post-college job, but that guy was an excellent, excellent manager in my opinion. And up until very recently, I had more faith in the management and HR of this organization than was warranted. He changed industries, but if we were still in the same field, I would follow him pretty far.

      He listened, and he hit what I felt was an optimal middle ground between rolling over when a subordinate came to him with a complaint (he was young too, and I know other people who have spineless bosses like that), and shutting down anything his subordinates suggested, because how dare they, he’s the boss.

  20. TCO*

    Congrats, OP, for handling this really well, which I’m sure is very challenging to do when you’re also dealing with a severe flare-up of your medical condition. My workplace, while nothing like yours, has also managed to bring out the “worst” in me and several other people who struggle with anxiety or similar challenges. Conditions that are typically quite manageable just become harder in really stressful, dysfunctional settings.

    You seem like someone with a lot of professionalism, patience, and smarts. I’m sure you’ll find something better. I know that when it’s your first office job it can easy to worry that they’re all like this. But your workplace is NOT normal and there WILL be so much better out there for you! Best of luck.

  21. Anon For This*

    Ah the old FMLA discrimination BS.

    I went thru this about a year and a half ago. I went on to intermittent FMLA for a crappy chronic health issue that will probably be with me for life.

    Boss realized this gives me x amount of days per month that help me deal with my condition and stuff relating to it. Boss and Big boss had never had an employee on leave except for continuous occurrences (surgery, baby etc). Timeline is as follows.
    First incident: I got rather ill with an infection and called out to go to the doctor, get antibiotics and rest. Boss called me 4 times SCREAMING at me about how I needed to get my doctor to rewrite my excuse and release me to work that day. Backed down once Big Boss and I explained liability to her.
    Filed for FMLA
    Christmas Eve: Used my FMLA. Returned to work after the holiday and was informed I had to stay late just because I’d missed the day before. Got pissed. Informed Big Boss that it was against policy and another manager informed me, and was told that manager didn’t work for her. Wasn’t thrilled when I pointed out that the policy is the same no matter what part of the building your in.
    Boss changes my schedule by an hour after two years of me working with no issues because she wanted to make it so my ride wouldn’t be able to get me there under the guise of “you need to have a manager present”. HR advised me to get a doctors note since they were throwing my medication schedule out of whack. I got my schedule changed back and was asked to meet with Boss and Big boss.
    They tried to ambush me while on the phone with the new HR lady. I got so angry that I shut it down and pointed out that this behavior was discriminatory, and HR put the breaks on everything. My review that year was a “if you decide you don’t want to work with us we wouldn’t blame you” type of review.
    I said I was staying, I hadn’t done a thing wrong and I wouldn’t hold anything against them if they left me alone and acted right from then on out. Now there is actually a decent relationship between me and my boss and big boss. My FMLA doesn’t hurt anyone else or impact my work, and my reviews have been solid since then. I’m also pretty sure my bosses were written up by the way things went down, but everything is good now.

    I just wanted to point out that sometimes these situations can be fixed. And that this is the first time I’d ever stood up for myself as a grownup. Best of luck to you OP. Anxiety sucks.

    1. designbot*

      That’s amazing, and I’d love to know the other side of the story to know what got them to shape up!

  22. TootsNYC*

    Re: the explaining of why you want to leave, etc.

    As an interviewer, I wouldn’t want to hear the description you typed out. I don’t want that much detail, and it’s too much drama, not enough boundaries, etc.

    I’d try as hard as possible to say, “please don’t contact them; I don’t want them to know I’m looking.” And to rely as much as possible on a boss that doesn’t work there anymore (and, if that boss is friends w/ your current boss, to speak in person to ask if he can be a confidential reference, and to say, “please don’t let him know, even if he is your friend.” If he’s as awesome as you say he is, he will totally get it.

    Why do you want to leave? “Looking for something fresh,” “been there long enough,” “time to move on,” “looking for growth,” etc.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I agree. I think it suffices to say that they don’t know you’re looking and you can offer them reference from x instead.

      My boss just told me yesterday that they insist on speaking with an applicant’s current employer. I don’t think they did with mine (at least they weren’t one of the references I listed and everyone was shocked when I resigned, so I don’t think so). At my old company I got along well with almost everyone – except my old manager who was also the CEO. Our relationship was so bad that I’d neverinamillionyears use her as a reference.

      There are a million reasons why you may not want your current employer to be contacted – but your interviewees don’t need to hear them all.

    2. OP*

      I don’t plan on ever discussing it with an interviewer or future colleague. I know that once I’ve been away from this current job for a few months I’ll have largely forgotten about this nightmare. The only people who know “yes, this is OP, name John Smith, working as a Teapot Designer at Teapots Unlimited, who has dealt with this debacle” are a few friends, relatives, lawyers, and my therapist.

      I would be giving the “please be aware I’m looking due to FMLA retaliation at my current job, so please don’t contact my current manager. If this is unacceptable we can mutually move on” speech to HR.

    3. Snazzy Hat*

      How would I word that if I left almost six months ago due to a mental breakdown? I mean, I can’t simply say, “the work was great but I needed to get away from the people and the stress without properly resigning. But don’t worry, I’m medicated, and it’ll be easier if I’m treated with respect here.” If I were trying to avoid hiring a high-maintenance person, I would abruptly end the interview right there.

      1. Helen of What*

        I think Alison has advised wording similar to, “I had some health issues that are resolved now.”

        1. Snazzy Hat*

          I really like that. Actually, I’m really glad that’s a normal response. I keep thinking of “why did you leave your last job” as accusatory or searching for details. I know (from HTGAJ) the interviewer wants polite responses and not “I hate Bob”, yet I expect they’ll ask my old boss, “why did Snazzy leave your company? She said it was health issues.” I recall a thread from a few months ago asking about the back-breaking straw, and someone mentioned theirs was when they admitted vomiting was better than work.

          I’m crossing my fingers for a big chance that I really would not want to mess up in any way. No interview yet, but the posting is still up; if they call before taking it down, I’ll be surprised. Trying to get all of my ducklings in a row.

  23. Mimmy*

    Yay for interviews! I hope this leads to a new, much healthier job soon! I normally am not a name-caller, but your current employer is a whack-a-doodle! lol.

  24. PatM*


    What heck kind of company/people do you work for? No doubt this toxic environment is a trigger for your anxiety/panic attacks. Plan your exit. This will keep you focused on finding a better place working with SANE people.

    Oh and while you’re exiting this company…there’s a neat little web-site called Glassdoor :)

  25. MarinaZ*

    If you had a panic attack coming on in your first weeks back, and went to the nurse’s office, how can you say that this family health issue is resolved?

    1. Kelly L.*

      It’s a chronic condition, not an acute one. That instance of it was resolved. If you have a flareup of a “physical” illness*, it goes away, and then it flares up again a while later, does that make the earlier remission not real? If a disease can’t be permanently “cured,” but you still need to work, what then?

      *I use quote marks here because the brain is an organ too, but people insist on not thinking of it that way.

      1. Ivy*


        I broke a rib 19 years ago. It hurts occasionally, and I managed to break another one of the stupid things 2 years ago, but we can all agree that it healed.

        “Resolved” doesn’t have to mean it’s like it never happened and can’t happen again. Shit happens.

  26. CubeKitteh*

    OP, I feel your pain. I went through something similar right after college at my first job. My mental disorder is managed much more effectively now and I’m in a much better job that I really enjoy. But the situation, including what I now recognize as constructive discharge, was agony to go through. Best of luck!

  27. Deirdre*

    OP, I had a couple of thoughts:
    – did you receive anything in writing when you were put on suspension?
    – if it’s a large company, do they have an ombudsperson program? advocates?
    – if you are going to communicate with HR, I would encourage you to do it by letter with a return receipt. It may be worth trying to negotiate a severance directly with them if you don’t have legal counsel.
    – have you tried any attorneys who would defer payment until you receive a severance?
    – and I echo others, this is worth a call to EEOC. When companies get a call from the EEOC, it helps move things along, even if the EEOC doesn’t take the case.
    – last option, have you talked to your unemployment office? you may be eligible for unemployment for constructive discharge

    1. OP*

      Good questions. I will answer them all in order.

      – No. They have so far declined to give me any paperwork. They said they had “serious doubts about my mental health,” I offered to go to a professional of their choosing to have my mental health evaluated (something which has come up in some FMLA and disability cases I have read about), and they then declined and changed the story to me being a “disruptive element in the middle of an investigation” or something similar.

      – They are a large company, but they do not have any sort of advocate/ombudsperson. I Googled “company name ethics reporting” and on the first page was a story about a guy who got fired a few days after he reported something to ethics, so I don’t know if I want to go down that route.

      – I brought up the possibility of severance and a reference directly with HR, and they basically said “no, we don’t do that”. Unfortunately I think the only way that will happen is if they fire me, so I can get a lawyer to work with me on contingency or some other arrangement.

      – Since I still am employed there, none of the lawyers I’ve spoken to so far are willing to take it on contingency. This is because there has been no demonstrable financial loss. Again I think that I would have more luck if they actually fired me, but I really just want to find a new job and move on with my life. It is possible that they’re doing this as a subtle hint for me to go find something new, but them stonewalling me on the reference thing (“we can’t stop anyone from contacting your boss, but we do have a policy to only verify employment” — and what if current boss lies about me? That’d be very difficult to prove because I doubt the potential hiring company’s HR would want to get involved in all that) makes me doubt that.

      – I am doing that because it’s one of my few cards left to play. There’s been a lot of very unsubtle, but unprovable antagonizing and harassment going on, but them receiving an EEOC complaint should hopefully reframe things a little. I am also speaking with the DOL (who handle FMLA retaliation cases) and the state labor board.

      – I have not. I have considered constructive discharge though, but have been unsure on how to proceed. It’s an attractive option because again, I don’t care what the company does about either of these guys in the least. I just want to move on with my own life, which requires moving out of that job.

      Thank you for all these questions. They’ve made me think about what I want to do next.

  28. AF*

    OP, thank you so much for the update. I’m not sure how I missed your first update, but I just read that one and this one, and I think you are a total rock star for sticking up for yourself, documenting everything, and talking to a lawyer. I am sorry you’ve had to deal with such horrible people – it’s amazing what companies will do to protect sociopaths and bullies. Panic attacks and GAD are no joke – and good for you for taking care of yourself. I just wanted to send you a big e-hug and encouragement in your job search. Please let us know when you find a new job!

  29. I'm Not Phyllis*

    OP this is awful – I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. But I think getting out is the absolute right move. Good luck with your job search – may it be speedy and successful!

    For all those questioning HR … it is there to protect the best interests of the company (or I guess figure out how to minimize damage to it? That’s not exactly the same thing). But they are also employees of the company and are protecting their jobs. I’ve seen HR managers lose all power in the company for going against the “higher ups,” and then basically be forced out. Certainly doesn’t make what this HR team has done right, but it’s their reality.

    1. OP*

      Yup, I’ve unfortunately been seeing that very well over the last few months.

      I get the feeling that they would’ve come down hard if it was my own boss threatening me for going on FMLA, but when it’s a VP with decades of service at the company, I can see why they’re cautious. I am taking a little bit of comfort knowing that now that I’ve brought this complaint up, they have to tread very carefully on both sides.

  30. Jess*

    While many may disagree with me, I do have to wonder if some of what OP experienced felt stronger than it actually was because of the anxiety. To be frank, if someone said “He didn’t get physically violent, but if I didn’t back down, I think he would have taken a swing at me” sounds a bit melodramatic, as do a lot of the verbs used such as “screaming”, “EXPLODED”, etc. For example, in my experience when someone says that a person was “screaming” vs. saying they were “yelling”, that person is exaggerating. It’s pretty rare for a person to literally scream at another person except during sports and basic training.
    This phrasing (to me) suggests a melodramatic reaction. I only say this to share my gut reaction, not to suggest that this is the case here. Because this may be how HR is perceiving it, that the OP is someone who creates a mountain out of a mole hill.

    1. Annonymous*

      I have talked with temp agencies where they described a future boss as “a screamer”. He was a commercial real estate guy (in a different city than a certain presidential candidate, it’s almost like there’s a pattern in that industry).

      Some people learn to take advantage of the social contract and get what they want by being hyper aggressive and yelling a lot. Keep the drama at 11 and most people won’t know how to handle it, and won’t get a moment to regroup.

    2. OP*

      Check my last letters. The VP is a person who’s known for having some “social issues,” if you catch my drift. You know how most organizations have someone who’s really unpleasant to work with, but will stay around forever because “he’s a nightmare to work with, but he gets results” or nobody wants to put in the effort to fire him? He is that for our office.

      The guy below him, my direct boss, isn’t any less unpleasant, but he has never raised his voice or anything.

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