update: my boss made me leave a work note at a grave

Remember the letter-writer with the worst boss in the world, who made her leave a note about work at the grave of a bereaved employee’s relative? Here’s the update.

Thank you again. The updates you have posted on your site reminded me I should update you on what happened. I went back to the cemetery because I felt so bad, but the note wasn’t there and I felt sick to my stomach after that. I was hoping the gardener or someone from the cemetery cleared it away but either my coworker or someone in her family found it. I was going to tell HR but I didn’t get a chance because it was found first.

My coworker was so mad. She emailed other people at work to tell them what happened and came in to the HR office even though she was still on leave and made a scene. She left in tears. The note was clearly from our boss but he denied leaving it there and said I delivered it. He had emailed me about going to deliver something and I said “okay” but nowhere in the email did it say what the note was. He only told me when I went to get it from him.

He denied threatening my job and the HR department was angry at me for delivering the note to the grave instead of bringing it to them and telling them what happened. I never confronted him either or told HR about it. I was going to but my coworker went to them first. Someone else we work with (I don’t know who) told my coworker it was me who delivered it. She sent me an email saying I’m a horrible person. There were no threats in it and has been no other contact from her so there is nothing I can do about the email. She sent our boss a similar email. Besides telling people at work, she called a few of our clients and told them too. There was so much backlash from both my coworkers and the clients. I was fired along with our boss. No one from HR or any of my coworkers supported me and they blamed me as much as my boss.

I couldn’t get unemployment because I had not worked for a full 12 months and also because I was fired for misconduct. I have been looking for a new job but I haven’t found anything yet. I have been temping in a field that is related to the field my old job was in but is separate enough I feel I can make a new start. The field is also relevant to my degree. I am planning on leaving my old job off my resume after what happened and because I was there for less then a year. Even though this was my first job ever, I did an internship each summer when I was in college and between those and temping I’m hoping it’s enough experience to find a job. Given how the economy and job market is, I am hoping it won’t look strange for someone to have not found a full time job a year after they graduated. I don’t want to go back to the same field because my coworker told so many people from inside and outside of the company and every single person supported her and blamed me and our boss. I still live at home and feel fortunate that my parents have said I can stay until I can afford to live on my own.

I regret what I did and I’m still upset with myself over my actions. I wish I had not been fired but I realize there is nothing I can do about it no matter how I feel. I hope to make a new start in a new field. Thanks for being gracious with your answer. Thanks to all the people who left gracious comments.

Me again. This is not on you. Like I said in my original answer, you are brand new to the work world and were scared of being fired. You are not to blame for the fact that your boss was a terrible person. I hope you’re able to move on quickly from this.

{ 559 comments… read them below }

  1. Foreign Octopus*

    Hey OP,

    I’m sorry that you lost your job over this. Just to reiterate Alison’s point – this really isn’t your fault. Your boss sounds like a hideous person and HR really should have looked into things deeper but that doesn’t really help you now. I’m glad that you’ve been able to find a temp job to keep you going and I wish you the very best of luck in your career.

    1. Jesca*

      GOD! Talk about taking advantage of someone new to the work world! This was manipulation all around to set this poor LW up for a scapegoat. I remember such instances when I was new to the work force. Just take this as a learing opportunity if nothing else, OP, that if it feels wrong and you are still being pressured to do it, get that ish in writing and then refuse! I know you feel awful, but rest assured it is NOT ON YOU! Just take away from this that now you are all the wiser. There are people in this world desperate enough to manipulate the uninformed! I feel so sorry this happened to you!

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, all of this. OP, please believe us when we tell you: your boss is like some kind of Dickensian horror show, and he put you in a position that was untenable. You’re not a horrible person, you were put in a horrible position by someone who is probably a laundry list of personality disorders.

        1. Look, a bee!*

          I mean this kindly, but being an awful person like this boss doesn’t indicate having a mental health issue. I’m pretty sure the commenting rules ask we don’t armchair diagnose people, and suggesting someone has a personality disorder simply because they’re a terrible person or have done something awful is kinda stigmatising towards people who do struggle with personality disorders. All the best.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yes, thank you – I have several mental illnesses and none of them make me think that leaving work-related stuff at a gravesite is acceptable. That’s not a disorder, that’s just being a horrible person with no sense of boundaries.

            1. Look, a bee!*

              I’ve noticed a real trend lately for people throwing around labels like personality disorder in a way I’m not sure they’d be so quick to adopt were they talking about depression or anxiety (woah grammar). Personality disorders are real, distressing problems and it does people experiencing them a real disservice to propagate the idea that anyone who’s acting terribly has one. I hope my comment was taken in the way intended by Snark, but I also felt compelled to make it for anyone reading who maybe hasn’t thought about the issues raised by this usage.

              1. Indoor Cat*

                I wonder if part of the problem is that, on the one hand, people using a mental illness label to hyperbolically (in an attempt to be funny) a frustrating personality trait. Like, “I’m so disorganized, I must have ADHD! Ha!” and then part of it is a misunderstanding of the disorder itself, whether it’s from pop-culture misconceptions (for instance, handwashing is a compulsion with many fictional character with OCD, but in real life, compulsions can widely vary, and can even include unsanitary things like hoarding food or personal body sheddings) or from a misunderstanding based on this disorder’s name itself. So, for instance, dysthemia (sp?) was recently re-named “chronic depressive disorder”, because in contrast to “major depressive disorder,” people were thinking that dysthemia wasn’t a big deal or didn’t require a long-term treatment plan.

                So, personality disorders are like a triple whammy: they’re used intentionally as an insult in a joking / hyperbolic way, their portrayal in pop culture is very narrow, and the term “personality disorder” seems like a clinical way of saying “has character flaws.” And since they’re rarer than disorders in the depression and anxiety categories, there are fewer irl people with those disorders one might meet to change their impression.

              2. Snark*

                Of course I wouldn’t talk about a mental health issue the same way I’d talk about a personality disorder; they’re two very different things that operate in very different ways. The behavior of this boss is so outrageous that it suggests massive empathy deficits, and pointing that out should not reasonably be taken to stigmatize those suffering from depression or anxiety.

                1. A Social Worker*

                  I’m a social worker who specializes in treating people who have personality disorders. They are absolutely mental health conditions.

                2. Jaye*

                  Umm, personality disorders are mental health disorders. Look into the DSM if you need proof.

                3. Look, a bee!*

                  Yeah, I’m a licensed Psychotherapist. Personality disorders are absolutely mental health issues and we should treat them and people experiencing them with as much respect, empathy and understanding as we’d use when somebody has any other mental health problem.

                4. Look, a bee!*

                  PS I took it reasonably as stigmatising those with personality disorders. I brought depression in to help make my point.

                5. Snark*

                  “we should treat them and people experiencing them with as much respect, empathy and understanding as we’d use when somebody has any other mental health problem.”

                  I will concede that personality disorders are mental health issues, but having grown up with a diagnosed narcissist in my family, but I will otherwise respectfully disagree. I think that some degree of stigma directed specifically at the Cluster B personality disorders that impair empathy and interpersonal relationships isn’t unfair. These conditions are fundamentally different from mental illnesses like depression, compulsive disorders, or anxiety in that they make those so afflicted an amoral and malign moral actor.

                6. PDAnon*

                  Hi, Cluster B sufferer here. Thanks for telling me I’m a horrible person who deserves everything that comes at me.

                  Because that is pretty much exactly what you said.

                7. Trust Your Instincts*

                  As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, I also take offense that the stigma is deserved. I was once told I should not have been allowed to have children, because I would ruin my sons’ life. Because people with my disorder are incredibly hard to treat, and often have difficult relationships with others.

                  Despite this, I’m in treatment, and I work my ass off to try and not hurt others. Hearing that a personality disorder like mine makes me hopelessly immoral and deserving of stigma, and thus bad treatment, makes me feel inhuman.

                  Back to the topic at hand…is it possible that boss has a personality disorder? Yes, it’s possible. It’s also just as possible that they’re just a butthole. We don’t know the boss personally, so we don’t know if their overall behavoural patterns indicate a personality disorder. It’s dangerous to label everything as a mental health issue because it minimizes the actual problems those afflicted face, while painting us ALL with a negative brush.

                  Op, you will get through this. No matter how bleak it looks now, this too shall pass. Let it be a lesson learned. Don’t let anyone put you in this spot again.

                8. Look, a bee!*

                  What, no. They don’t make somebody an ‘amoral and malign moral actor’. That’s such an awful thing to say. Personality disorders don’t ‘make’ anybody act in a certain way, that’s pushing the view that people with them have no agency over their own actions and are therefore inherently dangerous, damaging to others and other awful things. Others who’ve replied (PDAnon and Trust Your Instincts) have pointed out how it makes them feel to hear your view, does the experience of people who have a PD not change your view in the slightest?

                  I too grew up with a close relative with a PD, antisocial personality disorder in this case. He’s been the bane of my life and cause me more pain and distress than anybody else I’ve known. I’ve had therapy myself to try and come to terms with my relationship with him and the incredible impact it’s had on my life. I can still see how awful it is to have the type of worldview he has and feel empathy for people with personality disorders. People can’t help having personality disorders, so why would it be okay to stigmatise those who do?

                  Why do you think stigma isn’t unfair? Stigma makes it hard for people to seek treatment because of the type of views you’re expressing here. People are often terrified to seek help in case they’re labelled as having a PD and then seen as less than by society (understandable they’d fear this). Stigma isn’t going to reduce the instances of PD or make life easier for people with a PD or create the circumstances for them to feel comfortable seeking treatment.

                  Thanks for your reply. I suspect we may end up agreeing to disagree, but this stuff is important, as evidenced by the people who’ve replied who suffer as a result of society’s attitudes towards PDs.

                9. The Strand*

                  I don’t think Snark was intending to hurt someone’s feelings, or to invalidate their experience or humanity. Whenever two groups – people with an illness and those who have been abused by a person with an illness – discuss things, without “rules of engagement”, hurt feelings can happen.

                  I’m able to feel compassion and sadness for my narcissist mother, and I attribute that to a changing society; my older relatives on the other hand, including my siblings, are more likely to say “She’s just evil.” It’s a protective way of rationalizing their experiences. They don’t have therapeutic language or schemas to fall back on, to understand what they went through. At the beginning of getting help, I didn’t either.

                  Those of us who were frequently disbelieved about the behavior, the patterns, etc., have had many years of being targeted as a scapegoat, troublemaker, or the “problem”. So focusing on the language (“That’s cruel, that’s stigmatizing,”) can have the opposite effect: “here we go, someone is denying my experience again.”

                  An important aspect of being treated, when you are dealing with a narcissist family member or spouse, is accepting that they you cannot change them, and that they probably cannot change without a will to do so. So, you have to get past not only all the hurt visited on you, to the other side, where you can live with the fact that this person will never say, “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” “I hurt you,” or “I need to get better”. Getting over that particular hump makes some of us hard-headed and cynical about other people’s ability to change, after having a long held dream that they’ll “get over it,” .

                  Please don’t disengage Snark’s words from the fact that she experienced harm at the hands of someone with a specific Cluster B personality, and that she is, like everyone else around that person, figuring out what it means.

                  Personally I had to first feel validation as a human for my suffering, before I could understand the agency Look a Bee is talking about; I could then appreciate the personality disorder, and how my mother’s suffering led her to cause suffering for others. But that’s a long journey. First it can be a trial just to get someone to believe you, that the charming family member or spouse has been terrorizing you.

                  I respect and appreciate that some people with Cluster B – I know at least one personally – do try to get help and get better. I wish you all luck.

        2. Hills to Die on*

          Hang in there, OP. Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. When you get to the point in your career when you can impact other people’s jobs, remember this so you can treat them fairly and give them the chance your company denied you. Best of Luck to you!

        3. Observer*

          The existence or not of personality disorders is utterly irrelevant here, even if you had enough information to even begin to guess at a diagnosis – which we don’t.

          The boss is not hallucinating – he’s not hearing messages from god telling him to do this etc. He’s a functional adult who knows what the rules are and chose to NOT follow them. This was not a situation where, for instance, someone lacks empathy and therefore was incapable of feeling how someone would react, leading to an inability to recognize that this was not appropriate. He knew perfectly well that this is not appropriate, which is why he lied about it from the get go.

          He knew what the problem was, he knew what he needed to do and he CHOSE NOT TO DO IT. This is not about mental / personality disorders.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Not that I wish firing on most people, but … not too sorry that boss got the ax. I’m so terribly sorry that poor OP ended up as collateral damage, but the boss is a different story.

  2. Artemesia*

    I am horrified at this update. A young new employee acting on the boss’s orders should have been protected by HR even if they did something inappropriate on the boss’s orders. I would certainly have contacted the employee and apologized and made it clear I did this at the behest of the boss. I cannot imagine being the employee and blaming the minion for the actions of the boss.

    Yes you should have resisted the order, but it is totally understandable that you didn’t feel you could. And given this poor excuse for an HR department, it is not clear they would have protected you from the boss if you had gone to them. Horrible all the way around. Hope you find something good soon.

    1. Snark*

      “A young new employee acting on the boss’s orders should have been protected by HR even if they did something inappropriate on the boss’s orders. ”

      That’s what would happen in a perfect and objectively just universe, but if I had heard that my boss, aided by a new coworker, had placed a note at the grave of my grieving work friend’s deceased loved one…man, I can’t tell you my first impulse wouldn’t be to rage out on both of them. It’s just so outrageous, in the most literal sense of that word, that I’m not surprised the reaction was overwhelming and punitive. I don’t think it’s right! But I’m not surprised it happened.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Very understandable…but still, the OP doesn’t deserve all of the shit that came her way!

        1. Amber T*

          Yeah, I don’t blame the coworker for her reaction (goodness knows I’d flip out on anyone who was involved, though emailing clients might have taken it a bit too far?), but HR should have been rational, sat you down, and asked for your side of things. It sounds like they just panicked and reacted. OP, this all sucks and it’s not your fault. Good luck to you and your job search!!

          1. Snark*

            Honestly, working with that group, and particularly with the note recipient, may have been untenable moving forward. I still don’t think she should have been fired, but I can see an transfer (if there’s another office or group she could be moved to) or an agreement to resign with a good reference and severance, or something.

          2. The Rat-Catcher*

            I don’t think I’d have raged out on the coworker, though. “I was told I’d lose my job if I didn’t leave this here” probably would have just fueled my WTF-boss rage.

      2. Observer*

        Yes, it’s understandable from the co-worker. But HR?!

        By the way, HR knows perfectly well that the boss ordered her to leave it there – they would not have fired him otherwise.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Also the coworker going around afterwards and ruining OPs reputation in the field? So not cool.

          I get being mad, I get wanting to blast someone and being in a highly emotional state and feeling wronged after a tragedy (the stories I can tell you about my stepmother after my dad’s death).

          But what the grieving person is doing to OP is truly horrible.

          If it was a longer standing employee or ones she had had run ins with, yeah I could get her reaction. But OP is someone new to the workplace who logically either:

          1) feels they have no choice but to do their bosses wishes and can’t push back due to lack of experience in the work world


          2) was threatened with job loss because they’re so new they’d take it seriously and wouldn’t know to go to HR straight away – again due to lack of experience.

          After the coworker trashed OP so badly to clients I can see why they had to be fired from the company’s prospective. But it still feels so wrong.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            I don’t agree that the grieving person is truly horrible. What was done to her is truly horrible. Her crazy boss, aided by OP, did an awful thing when she was most vulnerable.

            OP, if your boss had asked you to do something more obviously immoral, would you have done it? There is a reason that people with those who commit crimes are often found guilty of the crime although they were not the primary perpetrator. Sometimes, you simply must do the right thing, the outcome could not have been any worse, and your integrity would be intact. Never let yourself be bullied like that again.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I didn’t say the grieving person is horrible, rather that their actions are horrible.

              If someone does one or two bad things they aren’t a bad person, they just made bad decisions. Consistently doing bad things though makes you a bad person.

              It’s like saying OP isn’t a bad person. They did a bad thing, yes but that isn’t the sum of who they are.

              1. #WearAllTheHats*

                No, when the grieving coworker called clients to tell them, she stepped out of line. Otherwise the grieving coworker would’ve been totally in the OK with her reaction. I think the grieving coworker crossed a line as well.

                1. The Rat-Catcher*

                  I agree with that. I know grieving is considered a free pass on a lot of things, but trashing someone’s livelihood is a big deal.

            2. sstabeler*

              I don’t entirely agree, actually. While it’s true that what was done to her was horrible, her reaction was wildly out of proportion. Specifically, her actions amount to a deliberate attempt to drive OP out of the field at a minimum, and possibly even to destroy any attempt to get a job at all.

              I can accept her not wanting to work alongside OP in future- she her going to HR was fine- but when she went to CLIENTS calling OP a horrible person, she stepped well over the line.

      3. Chris*

        I’m not sure how HR acquired the semi-mystical status of benevolent all-powerful protectors of employee rights and fair treatment that many of you on this site credit them with. The truth is, in many organizations, it’s a secondary hat worn by someone with no formal training, with little to no real power, that reports to and is answerable to, the regular management team of the organization. As such, when management makes flawed decisions, particularly upper management, even in organizations where this is less true, there is very little HR can do.

        1. HMM*

          I agree with you that most people don’t get training, and depending on the org, HR isn’t even a formal department or role but a big part of a good, functioning HR *is* there to be a foil to management and advocate for employees. Management isn’t always focused on the human side of things and it’s HR’s job to say “lets think about this from the employee’s perspective; how will this affect staff?”

          That’s not to say that many organizations get it right, or that HR doesn’t have to answer to senior staff who may have other agendas. It sounds like that’s the case for the OP, which is incredibly unfortunate. But at least for me, an HR person, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t *try* to achieve the ideals. Which, in this case, would have been to advocate for the OP because, fudge, her manager was godawful.

          1. Jadelyn*

            This. All of this, so much. This is what I keep trying to say when the old “HR isn’t there for you, it’s there for the company” gets trotted out for another round.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Maybe because due to the nature of the site there are a higher number of HR professionals present in the commentariat than in the general population, and many of us do see our role as including benevolence, fairness, and employee advocacy. All-powerful, no. Protectors of rights and fairness, ideally yes.

        3. G.K.*

          I have to agree with this. The idiot who is currently filling the role of HR Coordinator in our company was once administrative help (at the very bottom of the work ladder) yet has somehow made his way to the “top”, not due to education or experience, but by kissing the right asses.

          I will never, ever assume that HR (i.e., the office pencil pushers) have my back or give two flying f*cks about me as an employee.

          1. Miss Nomer*

            This bothers me. My dad is an HR director, and I can’t tell you how many times he came home concerned for an employee when I was a kid. His duties have been focused more on global benefits/compensation for a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take time out to solve problems for people basically every day. Just because you’ve had a bad experience does not make it cool to rag on everyone in a certain role.

          2. MHR*

            I got a human services degree specifically to enter human resources (Family life education and family studies). It honestly hurts that you feel that way about my profession since I got in specifically to help people, not to be called a pencil pusher.

          3. YeahNo*

            I’m “administrative help” “at the very bottom of the work ladder.” People have told me to my face that the help shouldn’t promote too far up, because it’s just somehow not right or fair, and those “helpers” who have moved into administration are ass kissers who never learned their place in the company.

            Bad optics.

        4. Winger*

          Also to be perfectly frank, workers simply don’t have a ton of protections from stuff like this. Absent a contract, as most of us know, you can be fired for nearly any reason as long as it’s not related to your membership in a protected class. The idea that HR can “fix” situations like this, as opposed to simply ensuring no laws are broken if and when people get fired, is pretty ingrained.

      4. Jaguar*

        So let this be a cautionary tale to take a deep breath and try to look at things objectively when you’re angry. That’s a baseline of decency we should expect from everyone. It’s a horrible thing that happened to the grieving coworker, and as some people have pointed out below, the letter writer isn’t completely free from blame in the situation. But going after people’s jobs or reputations is a shitty thing to do and it’s made worse when you do it without even offering them a chance to explain.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          I don’t agree. Take a deep breath and look at things objectively when anybody asks you to do a shitty hurtful thing to someone else. I refuse to criticize grieving co-worker at all, nope.

          1. sstabeler*

            Um, wow. Even though she more-or-less drove OP out of their field- and more-or-less said OP was equally at fault to the manager-she’s perfectly justified? I’m aware this is probably skirting the site rules, but I’m glad I don’t work with someone who thinks in that kind of black-and-white. Should OP have delivered the note? probably not. However, while going to HR was justified, complaining to clients was emphatically not.

            1. Mike B.*

              Agreed. Co-worker really crossed the line–grief and the callousness of others do not together constitute a free pass for one’s own awful behavior.

    2. The Supreme Troll*

      Artemesia, I completely agree with you on this. I haven’t read the original post yet (will do so), but HR should have had the decency to not throw OP under the bus, especially if HR knew what the situation was really all about and that OP was forced to do this because it was “on the boss’s orders”.

    3. Look, a bee!*

      I imagine that the bereaved colleague had enough on their plate and was suffering enough pain from this horrendous situation, I wouldn’t have advised the OP contact the colleague to protest their innocence. At that stage the coworker’s feelings are paramount. Further contact would have been rubbing salt into the wound.

    4. A Certain Party*

      I agree. The most that should have happened to OP was that someone from HR should have had a talk with her. No discipline, certainly not dismissal.

    5. AFRC*

      I was so hoping that the OP would have stood up for themselves, but totally understand why they felt like they couldn’t. OP, I am so so sorry. But please let this be a lesson to stand up for yourself and document, document, document, everything in the future. Best of luck on finding a MUCH better job soon!

    6. D.W.*

      Hi OP,

      I’m terribly sorry that you were taken out when stuff hit the fan, and I’m even more upset that you were targeted to do the dirty work. The bright side of this is that this happened at the beginning of your career. You will be able bounce back from this setback.

      And if you’re ever placed in a situation where you asked to compromise on your integrity and decency, take comfort in knowing that you won’t fall prey to that again.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely this. I feel really awful for OP. They were placed in a bad situation by an abusive boss who sold them out and lied about it (I think we all saw that coming), and instead of HR assisting OP, they chastised OP and fired them, instead. And the gossip tree that basically outed OP to the bereaved employee and then scapegoated OP? This was a system-failure on multiple levels, imo.

      OP, I know you feel terrible, but I really hope you’ll forgive yourself. I still believe your boss is the nastiest and most horrible person in this situation. Now you’ll know, in the future, to try to push back if you can in the moment. But the way you were treated was wrong on all grounds: from your boss’s nastiness and manipulation to HR failing to back you up / protect you to your coworker’s smear campaign. Please be kind to yourself. You weren’t entirely helpless or without agency, but you also did not deserve to equally shoulder the blame. I’m hoping you’re able to rebound, quickly, and I’m so sorry this was your first post-college work experience.

  3. Blue Anne*

    I am so, so, so sorry this happened to you, OP. There’s a special place in hell for your boss.

  4. Say what, now?*

    Oy, this is disheartening. Best of luck on your job search. I hope that your boss has learned a serious lesson about boundaries. I also hope that he learned that even getting other people to do your dirty work for you can still get you fired, maybe he won’t be so quick to push someone else to do something unseemly.

    But as Alison said, this is not your fault. This was a sticky situation and you got the worst possible repercussion for something that you obviously only did under duress.

  5. sunshyne84*

    That’s unfortunate. You were clearly targeted because of your naiveté. It is probably best that you aren’t there since the other coworkers are upset at you and may not be willing to see you as being taken advantage of for awhile. It would probably be hard to come back from this situation, but don’t give up on yourself. Go with your gut next time!

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, as much as OP didn’t deserve to be fired, I can’t imagine it would be a pleasant environment to work in after the grieving coworker spouted so much vitriol.

  6. Matilda Jefferies*

    Oh, OP. I’m so sorry. What a mess.

    I agree with Alison that your old boss is a terrible person. And I will also add that many of your old coworkers, and also the HR people, dropped the ball pretty badly here. It seems like a horrible case of Blame the New Person, without anyone – ANYONE – taking the time to listen to your side of the story, or find out what actually happened. The whole place just sounds like a toxic cesspool of awful.

    I know it’s hard to see now, but I hope in a few years you will have a better idea of how a normal workplace functions, and that you’ll be able to look back and realize how lucky you were to only be in this one for less than a year. Good luck in your job search, and I hope you land on your feet soon.

    1. Starkitten*

      I agree with this. I have a hard time respecting any company that shoots from the hip without taking the full story into account.

    2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

      I honestly am shocked at the company’s reaction. It’s not like OP signed the letter. If I were the bereaved and I heard that Juanita had delivered the letter I would ask Juanita why they thought that was appropriate to do, and as soon as they said, “I’m so sorry, I was afraid I would get fired if I didn’t do what Boss said,” I would be satisfied with laying all my anger at the Boss’s feet. Occam’s razor – What motive is there for OP to have conspired to do this, or to lie about it, and what could be more plausible of a scenario than a subordinate carrying out their boss’s orders?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Which is why a lot of us are reading here. We want to learn what to do to make this planet better, or at least our own square foot of planet.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Exactly! That’s what’s so bizarre to me. It’s obvious the OP didn’t do this of her own accord. She didn’t wake up and decide to do this. The boss did. The only plausible reason is that she did what he said because he threatened her job. Honestly, don’t people use logic anymore?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Seriously, how is it we all realize she’s new to the working world, which brings a certain amount of fear with it, but the coworkers, management, HR, and the bereaved employee never took that into consideration?

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            Compassion, empathy and logic. We’ve got it, they don’t.

            I can imagine that this happened really quickly and management was scrambling to get a handle on it, but there’s no excuse for not hearing OP out. And if they had to fire her, because the bereaved employee contacted clients, then at least give her a reference and don’t interfere with her unemployment.

            1. Not this time*

              Who says the company interfered with her unemployment? OP herself says she is not eligible because she didn’t have 12 months of work experience yet. So even if they had not given misconduct as the reason for firing her she still would not have been eligible. It’s a sucky situation and I feel for the OP and think she was wronged. But the company doesn’t control unemployment law. What were they supposed to do, let her work until she hit 12 months and then let her go? I feel for OP but there is no evidence the company did anything to interfere with her unemployment.

                1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                  Not this time – Replying to my comment because I can’t reply to yours: Thanks! I re-read the post and honestly don’t know where I got that idea from. A combination of being appalled and conflating it with something else I’d recently read, probably. Hope you have a good day :)

          2. Jadelyn*

            Even if OP weren’t new to the working world, people are often in a position where they desperately need their job and so regardless of work experience don’t feel that they can push back on things, lest it risk the job that’s barely keeping them afloat. The OP’s newness to the work world may have contributed to them not knowing what to do in this situation, but there are plenty of people who are career professionals who still would feel like they had to go along with the boss because losing their job is an unthinkable alternative.

          3. Merida Ann*

            I am a little confused about these two lines: “He denied threatening my job and the HR department was angry at me for delivering the note to the grave instead of bringing it to them and telling them what happened. I never confronted him either or told HR about it.”

            Did the LW ever actually tell HR that she didn’t want to deliver the letter? I can’t tell, since it says both that the boss denied threatening her, but also that she didn’t tell HR what really happened. If no one in HR was aware that she even tried to push back, I think that would factor in to their decision, too, unfortunately.

            1. Not this time*

              I read it as OP didn’t tell HR about it until after her coworker came in and complained. She said she was planning on going to HR after she collected the note back from the grave, but the note was already gone and her coworker had already come in.

              I think she only talked to HR once her coworker complained and they were trying to sort it out. So she didn’t go to them first and only tried to explain once HR asked her about it.

              (For the record, I agree OP was wronged and HR and her company are horrible. The above is just how I read the situation)

        2. Soon to be former fed*

          OP did not exercise good judgement. Perhaps the company did not want someone on board who could be so easily persuaded to do wrong.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            “I’m going to fire you if you don’t do this” isn’t “easy persuasion”. Her livelihood was threatened. And as much as we don’t like it, bad bosses get away with this kind of behavior all the time, so I can understand the fear.

            1. JLF*

              Agreed. As someone who is also new to the working world, and had a similar but slightly less extreme scenario happen recently, I completely understand where OP is coming from. When I initially tried to push back, I was told that I was being insubordinate and could be written up or fired. When you have bills to pay that can be incredibly scary. Especially, if you think you have no recourse. I thankfully had people in my life who encouraged me to talk to HR and also an HR department that was really understanding and supportive of my situation.

            2. aebhel*

              This. It’s easy to feel righteous and say, ‘well, I would never do such a thing no matter what I was threatened with, because I am a Good Person, but when it’s your job on the line, things might look a lot different.

              What the OP did was not okay. But ‘I’m going to fire you if you don’t do this shady thing’ is a whole lot different, persuasion-wise, than ‘Hey, why don’t you go do this shady thing.’

              I can see disciplining the OP, but frankly, I don’t think that the company fired her out of moral condemnation; I think it was an effort to sweep the whole thing under the rug and not deal with the underlying dysfunction. Things like this do not happen in a functional workplace.

      2. BRR*

        I would imagine the note, or reasons to leave a note, would make it pretty clear who it was. And I’m so sorry LW. I don’t have positive thoughts about anybody else at the company.

      3. siobhan*

        I mean, OP is young, new to the workforce, and was afraid of losing her job. Going to HR can be really scary when you’re afraid of blowback from the person who directly manages you. So I’m not saying what she did isn’t understandable – it absolutely is and I wish her all the best going forward. She’s obviously a good person, her dbag boss was clearly taking advantage of her inexperience to pressure her into doing something she wasn’t comfortable with, and she should never have been in this position in the first place.

        But I hope what OP takes from this is that when your boss asks you to do something so completely unethical, you should listen to your gut and take it to HR. It’s their job to manage the situation and protect employees from retaliation. In many cases, “I was told to” won’t fly when you’re told to do something so completely, beyond-the-pale inappropriate. In terms of whether firing is too harsh, I think it’s pretty severe, but unfortunately, retaining both OP and the bereaved employee may not have been an option. I am sorry that OP was ever involved in this mess and I hope she has a great career ahead of her.

          1. Tweet*

            This and the only time I went to HR at my previous job they ignored me and played nice with the supervisor that terrorised me. I won’t ever go to an HR rep again without doing some research of my own. Once bitten twice shy.

            1. Gov Worker*

              HR did something very similar to me too. I’ve never ever ever trusted HR ever since. This was also in my first job this happened (18 years old and the private sector).

      4. Susan1*

        The logic is that OP should have had more common sense, which I’m sorry to say, I understand. If the boss told the OP to bully a coworker and s/he did it, wouldn’t they be complicit?

        1. Toph*

          I can see if feeling like a damned if you do/don’t sitch. If boss says “do horrible thing or I’ll fire you” and you’re weighing the options of…boss will fire me if I don’t go along with it…but also “a reasonable company would fire me for doing horrible thing”…I personally would err on side of not doing horrible thing, but I can see how out of fear they’re taking the gamble on whether they’re going to do the horrible thing, not get fired by horrible boss and if it somehow doesn’t get tied back to them vs don’t do the horrible thing, get fired for insubordination by horrible boss vs do the horrible thing get fired slightly later when people above horrible boss find out and agree about its horribleness.

        2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

          I actually…did something very similar in an early job I held. We had secured a summer intern who backed out a few days before she was supposed to start, and my boss told me to write her an email raking her over the coals for going back on her words. I am not a “rake over the coals” kind of person, and my early draft was actually rejected by my boss as “not assertive enough,” so I wrote a meaner one. I felt terrible the whole time but I didn’t feel I had the capital I needed to push back, or wasn’t sure how to do it.

          1. Susan1*

            I haven’t read the email, of course, but I think your example is somewhat milder.

            Leaving a note at a grave is heinous :/

  7. Snark*

    I’m distressed, but not surprised, to hear that OP was fired along with the boss. He’s the massive, reality-bending asshole here, but acceding to the demand to put the note at the grave put you too close to his actions to avoid getting splattered when he finally hit the wall.

    1. Snark*

      That said, please don’t take that as tarring OP with the same brush her scenery-chewing Dickens villain of a boss should be liberally slathered with. She’s an innocent here, no question, but being his cats paw, she was just this side of his blast radius.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I just have to express my admiration for the phrase “scenery-chewing Dickens villain of a boss.”

      2. Soon to be former fed*

        I just don’t see OP as an innocent. She’s an adult. The bereaved co-worker is the only innocent here.

    2. MK*

      Frankly I don’t blame the company for letting the OP go, because the situation as it escalated sounds untenable. But they should have been ore sympathetic to her position and handle her leaving better.

      1. Observer*

        It’s their fault that the situation escalated. And they could have de-escalated, as well.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          Yes. I know that HR ultimately (and unfortunately) works to do what is best for the company and not just an individual worker. However, if the truth of what happened to the OP was exposed, practically no lower or mid-level employee would feel safe at the OP’s old workplace, and there could be a strong chance of a mass exodus and high turnover.

          1. c-saw*

            “However, if the truth of what happened to the OP was exposed, practically no lower or mid-level employee would feel safe at the OP’s old workplace”

            Uh…no. I’d feel MORE safe knowing that I could take ethical concerns about my boss to HR and they’d take it seriously, and that incompetent and/or unethical people are dealt with appropriately. Anyone who would be concerned about what happened here is probably someone who shouldn’t be employed.

            1. The Supreme Troll*

              C-saw, I meant that, if other employees at the OP’s old company knew how she was treated by HR (being thrown under the bus by HR, even when they knew the truth about why she left the note, which of course was because her boss threatened to fire her if she didn’t), I don’t think that they would trust HR at that company.

              Ultimately, OP was treated horribly by HR, and she absolutely didn’t deserve to be. I’m speculating here, but her old boss could have taken her down as he himself was being terminated, and HR believed him. The boss was fired because (understandably) his outrageous decision making would be disastrous to the company, but, in their decision to terminate the OP, they also showed how incompetent and untrustworthy they really are.

            2. Observer*

              I wouldn’t because it’s clear that HR won’t handle things with any level of fairness or competence. Basically, the lesson here is that even though HR knows that the boss is problematic (they already had to over ride him on the leave in the first place), I, a low level worker, can be fired for not listening to the boss or FOR listening to the boss – for the same action.

        2. Mike C.*

          This right here, it didn’t actually have to get this bad if management were actually competent.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed, Observer. Everyone fed into the upset of the coworker. I understand the coworker’s upset, I get it. However, it looks like HR did not spend even a few minutes listening to OP. They plowed right over her. And she had just gotten done being pushed by evil boss.

          OP, you got railroaded on this one. I am so sorry. Small consolation, I got railroaded in a situation when I was younger. I never got railroaded that badly again. I hope you can find it in you that to still believe there are good people out there who work hard at trying to be fair.

          Let us know how the job search is going in the open forum on Fridays. It might be a small gesture but we can cheer you on.

      2. Been there*

        As much as I think the Boss and HR are ridiculous and wrong in this situation, I kind of agree with your statement.

        From HR’s perspective I think they were in just as much of no win situation as the OP. They obviously had to back the note receiver (NR). It is unlikely that the OP would have been exonerated by her peers or NR. I’m going to make the assumption that NR was a valued employee, who they feared losing. Unfortunately OP while I’m sure was a great employee was also pretty new.

        I can’t imagine there would be any team cohesion after this. I don’t know how HR or a new boss would even influence that or make it better.

        1. Been there*

          Replying to myself, because I wanted to stress the fact that I think the OP was screwed by both the Boss, HR, and even the note receiver.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            I don’t understand the hostility toward the “note receiver” who was actually a GRIEVING HUMAN BEING, for heavens sake. Have you ever lost a loved one?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think we can have sympathy for the note receiver and still acknowledge that it is not ok to go on a campaign to smear someone when you (1) don’t have the full story, and (2) are in the throes of extreme emotional angst because something horrible has happened to you. Certainly the note receiver is not the most blameworthy in this situation. But aside from telling OP they were a horrible person and complaining to HR, and with the caveat that our information is very limited, I don’t think the other behavior was reasonable.

            2. aebhel*

              I’m sympathetic to the note receiver; I’m not sympathetic to the idea that any amount of retribution is justifiable as long as you were wronged first, or as long as you’re legitimately hurt and grieving. Losing her temper with the OP, complaining to HR–that’s completely understandable. But she took it too far.

            3. Noobtastic*

              The Note Receiver was hurt, and in response went nuclear.

              She didn’t just tell off the OP, or report the OP to HR. She told EVERYBODY, including people who have absolutely nothing to do with the situation, that OP is a terrible, awful, no good, horrible, hateful, heartless sub-human who deserves to die in a fire. Possibly not those exact words, but that’s the gist of it.

              And this is without even asking the OP if the OP knew what the (presumably sealed) note even said. The boss at first said that it was a condolence card, and that means that there was a possibility, however, small, that the OP could have believed that statement.

              Had it been a condolence card, then would the OP have been a no terrible, awful, no good, horrible, hateful, heartless sub-human who deserves to die in a fire, for leaving the condolence card on the grave, rather than putting it in the mail?

              NR had every right to retaliate. No one here is contesting that. However, that retaliation ought to be proportionate. NR was hurt, so it makes sense to do a bit of hurting in return. NR chose to completely DESTROY OP.

              1. Noobtastic*

                And yes, I have lost multiple loved ones, and had multiple insensitive twits say/do insensitive things.

        2. Mike C.*

          It doesn’t really matter if the OP would have been exonerated by her peers or NR, the facts of the situation should have taken care of that.

          1. Been there*

            Facts don’t always mend hurt feelings and grieving people don’t always think and act rationally. Add to that protective mob mentality and I’m not sure that anyone would have gotten past that in a hurry.

            1. Mike C.*

              As someone who got to watch my 50-something mother die in an ICU a few months ago, grief doesn’t make someone irrational. Everyone grieves differently, but we aren’t delicate little flowers that just can’t understand complicated situations. Even then, HR wasn’t grieving and they somehow weren’t able to carry out the most basic of investigations and fell back to “whoever told us first is right”.

              1. Been there*

                I’m sorry for your loss.

                I certainly wasn’t trying to say that grief = irrational. But I have seem people who are grieving fixate on something and react stronger than they normally would.

                I agree that HR didn’t handle it well at all. But the reality is even if they did handle it well and the OP was not fired, I don’t think that the coworkers would have accepted the OP after this incident. HR can’t ‘make’ the OP’s teammates accept them. They can’t ‘make’ the teammates work well as a team. The whole thing is a nightmare for everyone involved. I

                Boss-Got what he deserved

                OP- Wrong place, wrong time, didn’t make the greatest decision, but let’s be honest, she was doomed from the start. Had she gone to HR originally she had no guarantee that HR would have her back. They could have reprimanded Boss but left him in the position. This would have left OP out to dry.

                Note Receiver- Understandably upset

                Note Receiver’s coworkers-Rallying around Note Receiver

                HR- can’t win, made a decision, but from their perspective they have a chance to put this behind them with a new boss and OP replacement who doesn’t have the baggage to overcome.

                1. sstabeler*

                  and yet, that doesn’t mean that grief means NR is innocent of wrongdoing for going as far as to complain TO PEOPLE EXTERNAL TO THE COMPANY about what happened. In essence, NR’s actions in doing that meant that there was no longer a way to handle the situation that was fair to everybody.

        3. BF50*


          HR is there to protect the company, not the employee. The only thing the did wrong was to fire her for “misconduct” and block unemployment.

          OP – you might be able to fight that. It’s worth at least attempting to file and, at least in my state, if the company initially blocks, you can dispute that without hiring an attorney, at least on the initial stage. It’s only when it escalates that you need legal counsel and I’d push it up until that point, but not further.

          1. BF50*

            Also, you are better off not working there. If you hadn’t been fired, you would have been in an untenantable situation with your coworkers. Also, I suspect there was more disfunction that you hadn’t noticed or hadn’t been exposed to yet, because I doubt your old boss just became awful overnight.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, there is more going on here than the hot mess of a boss. Maybe, OP, you will find out in years to come that it was good you parted ways with this company anyway.

          2. Not this time*

            How did they block unemployment though? I agree with the rest of your post but OP says she wasn’t eligible because she didn’t yet have 12 months of working experience. The company doesn’t control unemployment law. I agree the company sucks and they were wrong to fire her, but they had nothing to do with her not getting unemployment.

            1. Soon to be former fed*

              Yeah, I don’t think OP should have been denied unemployment, that was a bit much.

              1. Not this time*

                I don’t think she should have been either (she actually should not have even been fired) but the company is not responsible for the unemployment laws in their area.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I agree, but it sounds like even if she had qualified based on the 12-month requirement, she would have been ineligible because she was fired for cause for misconduct. (Depending on the state, that may have been appealable, but I think the misconduct comment is why so many folks are picking up on the idea that the employer made it difficult for OP to access unemployment.)

                2. Not this time*

                  Right, but it is a moot point since the company actually had nothing to do with denying her. I’m not defending HR or the company at all, they handled this terribly and should not have fired OP. But they had nothing to do with her not getting unemployment.

  8. AnonEMoose*

    I’m sorry, OP. You may be better off not working for that boss, who it seems used you because of being new to the work world, etc., and then threw you under the bus (or tried to, anyway, although it doesn’t sound like it entirely worked). But that doesn’t help you now, when you’re trying to find a new job. I hope you find a much better job very soon.

  9. Rainy, PI*

    Oh, OP, I’m so sorry to hear this. You were not to blame and it is really unfortunate that you were fired. I hope that you find a much better job soon.

  10. SometimesALurker*

    I am so sorry this happened this way, OP. People have come back from worse situations, and it’s not likely to affect your career long-term, but oooof. There was an ask-the-readers a while back about the ways in which bad work environments haunt you and give you weird or bad habits and expectations in the future, and I can imagine this place haunting me if I had been in your shoes. That part’s not your fault, either, and things will get better in time.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, after a year or two the co-workers won’t remember the OP’s name and they will just remember the terrible boss. I’m sure the OP feels like this will haunt her forever, but she will find a good job and she will probably never run into any of those folks again. Life will move on, and hopefully she will be able to tell the tale of the Worst Boss Ever to her future co-workers.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It sure would haunt me. It would be the loss of power that would do me in, that inability to defend myself and my voice not being heard.
      Again, OP, there are many good people out there and work does not have to be this HARD.
      Take Alison’s answer here, print it out and tape it to your bathroom mirror. Read it out loud to yourself every day.

  11. AMT*

    I misread OP’s “temping in a field” as “camping in a field” and had a much grimmer image of OP’s life after firing! I’m really glad OP was able to find a temp job. I might still list the old job, even though it was under a year — it’s one of OP’s only work experiences, there’s a ready explanation for her departuer, and future employers will likely be understanding about it.

    1. Ursula*

      > future employers will likely be understanding about it.

      In my experience, no. They won’t.

        1. Amelia*

          Well, that’s a shame. I hope most hiring managers have empathy and try to look at all sides of a situation before judging potential hires.

          1. Ceiswyn*

            Hiring managers aren’t judges, they’re just people who want a competent new employee.

            1. Bella*

              They make judgements, which I’m guessing is the point. Hiring managers should be reasonable. Should an employee who was fired because she put a note on a grave after her job was threatened never be employed again? Nothing in the OP’s conduct suggests she’s incompetent.

              1. President Porpoise*

                OP can’t fully explain her circumstances without either badmouthing her previous employer or seeming overly dramatic. In the interest of presenting herself in the best light – leave the job off the resume.

                1. Natalie*

                  Eh, I think she could potentially come up with some wording that explains it – “don’t badmouth your employer” sometimes gets taken to mean you can’t talk about anything bad that happened even if you can describe it in a factually/emotionally neutral way, but I don’t think that’s true.

            2. Noobtastic*

              A competent employee learns from their mistakes. OP has learned a valuable lesson here. If OP volunteers the information, and says, “And I learned X, Y, and Z from it,” it might actually impress the hiring manager. And if one of the former co-workers should ever get hired on, and start telling people about OP’s situation, it would look better if OP had already confessed.

              As for “likely” to be understanding, I would not use that term. But some may be understanding, and those are the ones OP needs to find, because those are the ones worth working form.

          2. c-saw*

            Let’s say OP is qualified for a job you’re hiring for.

            The overwhelming majority of the time, your options are:
            -Qualified candidate who was fired for misconduct.
            -Qualified candidate who wasn’t fired for misconduct.

            Not a difficult decision and not worth seriously examining “all sides of a situation” when others were never in any “situation” to begin with.

            1. Bella*

              Of course it is, because if you take a minute to find out why they were fired for misconduct, you might learn that in their first job their boss told them to deliver a note to a grave and threatened to fire them if they didn’t follow orders. And then you’d be able to ask them what they learned from that experience, and assure them that not all managers are batshit crazy.

              1. AMT*

                Right — it’s not like you have no info other than “was/wasn’t fired for misconduct”! Of course a good hiring manager would inquire further about it. I think we’ve been scared to talk about issues like this in interviews because it’s been drilled into our heads that we’ll come off as negative or vindictive about past workplaces, but there are situations that call for it. I’m not sure if this situation necessarily qualifies — OP is really the only one who can judge whether including it in her work history will help or hurt her — but I wouldn’t rule it out.

                1. Noobtastic*

                  If I were a hiring manager, and a qualified applicant told me that they were fired for misconduct, I would ask why.

                  If they said that the misconduct was something like, “Refusing to give my boss’s brother my kidney,” then I’d say they were a good candidate to work for me.

                  I am a firm believer in asking 1) Why? and 2) What have you learned from your experiences?

                  “I learned that it’s actually illegal to force your employees to give up body parts for your relatives, but even if the law stops you, it’s still not a good environment to spend 8 hours a day there, and a good worker is worth more than that!”

                  Also, some former employees NEED to be badmouthed.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Then I sincerely hope you never get caught up in anything crappy and find that attitude coming back to haunt you, when suddenly *you’ve* got an undeserved smear on your reputation and nobody will look past that to see what you still have to offer.

              1. I woke up like this*

                I actually think c-saw’s advice makes a lot of sense–it has nothing to do with lacking empathy. Alison usually gives people brief scripts for the “why did you leave?” question–rarely longer than a sentence or two. The full story would take up quite a bit of interview time and would likely be the lasting impression rather than the OP’s qualifications. Not to mention, if OP includes this job on her resume, then it’s fair game for the hiring folks to contact the company for a reference–even if OP doesn’t list anyone there as a reference. Given how horribly this HR and her coworkers reacted to the situation, I wouldn’t trust anyone at this job to verify OP’s side of the story and/or give a positive reference. There are too many dangers, which is truly unfortunate for the OP, as this wasn’t her fault.

                1. Natalie*

                  This is a really good point – this is the kind of story that people remember and share so there is a reasonable chance someone else will hear about this (whether in a job interview, a networking context, at a future job, etc). OP would be wise to think of a couple of lines that a) explain what happened without eliding the mistake they made and b) express regret without wallowing or self flagellating about it.

                  Minor point of fact: your interviewer can contact any previous job you’ve ever had, whether or not you list in on your resume. Not including it certainly makes it substantially less likely the job will be contacted, but not impossible.

                2. Noobtastic*

                  So, short and sweet: Why did you leave your last job?

                  “I was too naive, and when my direct supervisor threatened to fire me if I did not do his heinous bidding, I believed him, and did it, and was thereafter fired for doing it, because the company did not support the heinous action. I have learned to trust my instincts when something feels wrong, and to check with HR first.”

                  If they want more details, they can draw them out, but that’s pretty much the situation in a nutshell, and it only badmouths the direct supervisor who was responsible, in the first place.

              2. MacAilbert*

                It doesn’t matter if it’s fair, though. Of course it isn’t fair. The hiring process isn’t supposed to be fair, it’s supposed to serve the company’s best interests. Those are served in taking the qualified candidate with no questionable incident on the record over the one who’s been fired, because the company hiring can’t well dive in and figure out whether the firing was wrong or not, and the candidate has every reason to put themselves in the best possible light.

              3. Soon to be former fed*

                Its not totally undeserved though. There are people who would have said no to asshole boss.

                1. Noobtastic*

                  Usually the people who would have said no are the ones who have already learned the lesson some other way.

                  Very few people stand up against evil without ever having learned 1) that they even can stand up against it, and 2) when, where, and how to do it.

                  OP was naive. OP is no longer naive.

                2. MerciMe*

                  Yeah, but… it’s a pretty extreme measure of character to demand that people be willing to risk their jobs over an ethical question like that. Boss may be a raving jerk, but if obedience keeps a roof over my head and food on my table, I may not ethically feel able to thwart Boss, especially if other people depend on my income for theie survival and well-being.

                  Whistleblowers are a rare lot, and the consequences for whistleblowing can be severe. It isn’t reasonable to expect everyone to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice over relatively minor things. And in the big picture? This is appalling, but set alone, I wouldn’t have staked my career on disobedience either.

                  I’ve never seen significant success with reporting one-offs like this. Document and record everything, establish and be able to objectively frame an ongoing pattern, and you might have a hope of the right thing being done in time.

            3. LBK*

              I’m with you on this, as much as it sucks for the OP – hiring is about the simplest path to the best candidate. If the OP were my top choice, I found out she’d been fired and then I heard the backstory, I would obviously be able to make a judgment call that it was an unfair firing and I’d hire her anyway. But if it were a toss up between her and another candidate, the one who’s got some weird dramatic history that will require research isn’t likely to get picked over the one with a clean record. What’s the advantage to me as the hiring manager to spend the extra time on that, all other things being equal?

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Gratitude. Sure, not everyone has it, but some people do. Give a person a chance and they might pay you back many times over. You win, they win.

                Not a solution for everyone and not a solution for every company. But you asked the advantage of hiring someone who has been in OP’s type of setting. Some one might hire her just to give her a chance. OP now has a very deep understanding of how valuable a good boss and a good workplace is. A good company hires her they could end up very, very glad they did.

                1. Soon to be former fed*

                  I wish people had this attitude toward hiring the long time unemployed. They would likely be very grateful and loyal, but often get passed right over. Life just ain’t fair, is it?

                2. Noobtastic*

                  A grateful employee who has had difficulty getting hired on elsewhere is much less likely to leave the company. Low turnover means less sunk costs in training, hiring, on boarding, exit interviews, etc.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Then perhaps it’s time you did some self-reflecting on why that is, and whether refusing to extend human empathy to applicants is actually helping you to make good hires or not.

          1. LBK*

            To be frank, I don’t know that empathy really has a part in hiring, and if anything you should strive to be more objective when you hire rather than just hiring the person you feel the worst for.

        3. AMT*

          Can I ask why? I stayed only nine months at my previous job and the hiring manager at my current one was understanding when I explained my (justifiable) reasons for wanting to leave. I don’t think my experience is that unusual or that short stays are automatically a red flag absent other signs of concerning behavior.

          1. c-saw*

            I was referring to being fired for misconduct, not short employment periods (which you’re 100% correct there are numerous and common perfectly acceptable reasons for).

            1. JHunz*

              It’s certainly not impossible to get hired after being fired, either. But you need to be able to explain why in a manner that is short, pithy, and understandable (both in the sense of being intelligible and being something that can be empathized with). If you need to take two minutes to explain the context of the situation it’s going to overshadow the rest of your interview.

      1. Bobismeisbob*

        Maybe if you phrase it as a learning experience. Something like “My old boss ordered me to do something unethical and I caved but this is what I learned from it…”. That said all else being the same the future employer probably would take someone else.

  12. Granny K*

    Hindsight is 20/20. But I think the takeaway from this is when a morally bankrupt manager asks you to do something that is in bad taste, or simply a bad idea (I keep thinking, what if the wind blew the envelope away? What if someone else found it and there was propriety info in there?), take the ‘evidence’ to HR. But make a copy first in case it get’s ‘lost’. I’m sorry this happened to you in your first opportunity after college.

    1. Noobtastic*

      No kidding. There is a reason you put condolence cards in the mail, not stick them to tombstones.

      Now, it’s a federal offense to open someone else’s mail, if it’s actually gone through the postal system. But if someone hands you an envelope, and tells you to circumvent the postal system, entirely, then it is not a federal crime to open it, and see what’s up. Likewise, if someone asks you to deliver a package on an airplane, rather than simply send it through regular routes. You’re allowed to open and investigate those packages, or give them to someone else in authority to open and investigate them.

      Even if it really was just the condolence card the boss claimed it was, in the first place, OP would have been in the right to 1) check and/or 2) take it to HR, and say, “My boss wants me to hand-deliver this to a tombstone. Not to the person, directly, but to just place it out there on the tombstone. What’s up with that? Should we open it and see?”

      And now OP knows this.

  13. Marillenbaum*

    Oh, OP. I’m so sorry. I know you were really over a barrel, and didn’t have enough experience to know that going to HR was an available course of action. Hopefully, your job search works out. Best of luck to you.

    1. Adlib*

      Agreed. I am so sorry, OP, and am saddened by your update. I hope that you find something in short order and can move on. There are people who have been in the working world for a long time and don’t always know HR should or could be a course of action.

      1. Noobtastic*

        There are those who have been badly burnt by their previous HR people/department, and don’t trust HR, and won’t ever go to HR again.

        There are also those who have no HR available (small companies).

        However, the boss’s boss is an option, in such cases. If there is no higher rank to go to (the owner is the one doing the bad thing), then your option is to risk your job, and just stick with “no.” And that is a risk.

  14. AnonasaurusRex*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I wouldn’t worry too much about your resume looking like you haven’t had a job only a year after graduating. A lot of people are in that same position. You’re working and you’re getting experience and that’s what matters. Plus, you’ve now had the worst boss ever experience that some people never do, you will be better able to identify this type of jerk, and you definitely won’t make the same mistake twice.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is really true. Identifying jerky bosses is a great skill and unfortunately, people usually don’t learn it until they are mid-career and it can be very disrupting at that stage in life. It doesn’t make things better, but this was a powerful lesson to learn and will really help in future interactions.

  15. stk*

    Oh, OP, I’m sorry. In an ideal world maybe you’d have responded differently, but it’s entirely your boss’ fault that you were put under such terrible pressure in the first place. I hope things sort themselves out well for you.

  16. Yeah I'm Commenting!!*

    I’m confused about all the reasons you didn’t go to HR. You said you were going to go but the note was found first? I’m not sure why they changed your decision to got to HR. Am I reading that right?

    1. Myrin*

      It sounds to me like all of this ended up unfurling pretty fast – OP went back to the cemetery and saw that the letter wasn’t there, but it wasn’t there because the coworker had found it (probably not too long before) and went straight to HR. So by the time OP was back at her company, HR had already heard the coworker’s complaint.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        This was my understanding too – that this all went down within, like, 24 hours or less (note was delivered, OP felt bad and went back for it, Employee already found it and went straight the HR when she did).

    2. LibKae*

      Yeah, I read it as a combination of this and the usual new-to-the-workforce fear of doing something wrong and making waves that caused the OP’s initial hesitation.

  17. SideshowStarlet*

    Missed the original letter somehow. I’m sorry, OP! It does seem like, between this update and all of the employees (not just the bad manager) getting fired in the brewery/bullying update last week, more workers are having to take the fall for bad management practices. I guess this is yet another way that having a toxic manager can negatively affect your career.

  18. c-saw*

    I agree that the boss is the more culpable party here, but I don’t think that completely abrogates the OP of all ethical responsibility for the orders they follow. This action was about as common sense unethical and ill-advised as it gets. Quite frankly, they both deserved to be fired and I’m happy to hear that was the outcome.

    1. Sadsack*

      You are certainly in the minority here. Are you really unable to understand the position OP was in? I’d like to think I wouldn’t have done it even in my first job either, but I can recall some poor judgement I showed early on in my career and I am not so sure.

      1. c-saw*

        Having personally been placed in a much more difficult ethical situation at work early in my career and NOT compromising my integrity in spite of the consequences, I very much feel I understand the position that the OP was in, and I am not sympathetic to them.

        Note the way HR and everyone else in her organization responded to this. All she had to do was tell someone else what the boss was asking of her. I faced ethical problems that were systemic and institutional, which is much, much more difficult to deal with.

        1. feminazgul*

          We don’t all grow or mature at the same rate or have the same knowledge when we enter the workforce. It can feel absolutely paralyzing when your boss insists you do something – often the same way you feel when your parent tells you to do something, because you just don’t know enough yet to even know you can push back, much less how. This response is so lacking in empathy it breaks my heart. People make mistakes that are simple errors of judgement, and to act like you’re so above such errors is antagonistic and arrogant, quite frankly.

          1. c-saw*

            I never said I was perfect, but I believe in personal accountability, which is an unpopular concept here much of the time.

            1. feminazgul*

              Believe me, I think the OP knows they made a judgement error. Ignoring the context of the error is irresponsible and unhelpful.

            2. Archie Goodwin*

              I also believe in personal accountability. But I can understand how someone new to the working world might not feel they have any recourse when someone above them bullies them into doing something this unethical. It’s a question of the power dynamic, and some people are more at home pushing back on it than other people are.

            3. Trout 'Waver*

              It is quite easy to decry a lack of personal accountability from an anonymous microphone on the internet when you lack all of the relevant details. I don’t think anyone is saying the OP did nothing wrong. I believe most are saying that the punishment was disproportionate given the circumstances.

              Also, I’m failing to see how the OP isn’t taking personal accountability. OP is living at home and putting their career back together. That smells like personal accountability to me.

              Your complete and utter lack of empathy is noted and balanced against your claims of moral superiority.

            4. Jadelyn*

              Ah, yes. Because clearly, you are morally superior to all of us bleeding hearts here on the internet who believe in extending some understanding and compassion to people who’ve made mistakes – obviously, tarring someone who made a mistake as permanently tainted and calling that “personal accountability” is the moral high ground here.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  How exactly is it “virtue-signalling” for people to acknowledge that there’s a context to the OP’s actions that makes those actions understandable, and that the boss who coerced OP into said actions bears the vast majority of the responsibility for those actions?

                  And do you really not think your “Well *I* believe in Personal Responsibility, which none of you people seem to” is itself virtue-signaling?

            5. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Cut this out please. It’s unkind. I’m in the middle of a move today and don’t have time for more nuanced moderating, so I’m asking everyone to stop and move on.

        2. Temperance*


          I was raised in a blue collar family, in a blue collar community. It was bashed into my head since childhood that you can’t question your boss, don’t make a fuss, you have no rights, you’re replaceable, etc. I wouldn’t ever dream of going above my boss to talk to HR about a task I was assigned, because that was just Not Done.

          My parents punished me for participating in a sexual assault investigation against my boss at the time when I was in high school, and for requesting to switch departments after the investigation. (BTW, grown adult man was preying on teenage girls. It was happening.) So yeah, you’re really coming down hard on the LW for something that wasn’t her fault.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            Same here. Keep your mouth shut, head down, and do your job. You see something unethical? No, you didn’t. Eyes down, do your work.

            I’m sorry your parents punished you. They should have stood up for you and supported you. For what it’s worth, I’m so glad you took part in the investigation and stood up for what was right.

          2. RVA Cat*

            How sad. I’m wondering if these experiences might explain some of the political situation in the U.S.

          3. Anon Accountant*

            Same here. HR was only for insurance enrollments and if you complained you were signing your own pink slip.

            You NEVER questioned your boss no matter what they did.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            Likewise for me, younger me could have been that OP. You do what the boss tells you, period.

            I was well into my 30s before I learned how to push back without losing my job.
            I will say, though, this is something that we keep working on all our lives. We keep working at remaining ethical all the time.
            OP, it will never be this hard again.
            Congrats on finding AAM. Keep reading here, I have learned so much. I think you will enjoy it.

          5. pope suburban*

            White collar family here, but the career instruction I received in college was much the same. The overwhelming cultural messaging I received starting in the recession was that because of my age, I was nothing more than a spoiled, useless, entitled, stupid liability, and that asking for literally anything was bad form. That attitude largely continues; you can see it in the comments here whenever someone is seized by an overwhelming compulsion to insult recent grads or vent their personal frustrations they’ve chosen to blame on age. I’ve been through a real meat grinder employment-wise, and I’m acutely aware that even now, I am considered replaceable and as such I shouldn’t make waves. I’ve been on the brink of homelessness due to unemployment before, and frankly, the terror there renders me unable to seriously judge the OP. Being fired is a big threat to hold over someone and it can absolutely be the start of a chain of events that leads to a ruined life.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          She had no way of knowing HR would be supportive. We all hear horror stories of HR nodding and smiling and then as soon as you go back to your desk, they tell your manager who subsequently manages you out.

          1. Amazed*

            This ‘everyone is your enemy’ mindset seems pretty close to what comes up during abuse victim discussions… maybe there are other parallels?

        4. Observer*

          “I did it so you can, too. It doesn’t matter that I have no idea how our situations were alike or different.”

          Yes, I note how HR handled it – clearly with zero care for the truth or who was actually at fault.

      2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

        Yeah, the power differential between a brand-new employee and their boss is substantial.

        My first job out of college, some very unsavory/unethical things went down a couple months after I had started that led a large number of staff to resign in protest. I couldn’t afford to be unemployed, and I didn’t feel like those two months had given me enough experience that I could leverage it for another job. So I didn’t resign, I stayed for another year and made nice with the perpetrators even though I was disgusted with what had happened.

        It’s not exactly the same scenario but I can imagine OP feeling that disobeying the boss’s direct order might as well be the same thing as resigning, and feeling like they weren’t in a position to afford that. Think of how many letters we see from people who have no idea what their rights are in the workplace. There have been multiple over the years from people whose abusive employers weren’t even paying them and they were still showing up to work every day and taking the abuse because they thought they had to!

    2. Laney*

      I don’t think so, in this case the OP was incredible young and naive, clearly taken advantage of. She did not deserve to be fired.

    3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      This isn’t some seasoned worker with savings and experience under their belt. Someone with less than a year of experience having their job threatened? The OP is not nearly as at fault as the boss and didn’t deserve to be fired. Even if you agre she should have, posting about it without schadenfreude and with tips about how to do better in the future would be more constructive instead of just taking pleasure in her suffering.

      OP, I completely understand why you did what you did. Hopefully this gives you the courage to go to HR or a grand boss in the future should something like this occur (though hopefully nothing this bad ever happens again).

      Good luck in your job search. The commentariate is here for support and advice if you need it in your search! Open Threads on Fridays are a great place for that, as well as the archives

      1. c-saw*

        With 40 people telling the OP they did nothing wrong, I felt it necessary to voice dissent.

          1. c-saw*

            Because almost everyone here is doing a disservice to the OP (and others reading) by telling them that they can absolve themselves of personal responsibility and that they shouldn’t have to think for themselves and be accountable to their own decisions. That’s not the lesson that should be taken away from this.

            1. feminazgul*

              Nobody is saying that, because that’s not what happened. This was someone inexperienced that was manipulated and made an error in a tense moment. I think they know that they shouldn’t have done what they did, but again, that’s ignoring the larger context that allowed for this entire situation to unfold, aka the terrible boss. Saying you’re glad this person was fired is viewing this situation through a very narrow lens. This choice the OP made was not made in a vacuum.

            2. Temperance*

              I just don’t agree. This is a position of privilege that you’re taking here. If you aren’t in a position to be able to just walk away from a job without anything lined up and without a good reference, you can’t take the “moral high ground” in every instance. This wasn’t a nice thing to do, but it wasn’t a crime, either.

              1. c-saw*

                “This is a position of privilege that you’re taking here. If you aren’t in a position to be able to just walk away from a job without anything lined up and without a good reference, you can’t take the “moral high ground” in every instance.”

                Except the OP explicitly stated that they have parents who they are able to stay with for as long as they need due to their financial situation, which seriously undercuts your point in this specific instance.

                1. Amelia*

                  I know that if I lost my job, my parents would welcome me into their home (and from the OP’s letter it sounds like she found out after losing her job that they would be okay with her living with them temporarily). That doesn’t mean that I’m in a position to put my job at risk. It’s a job!

              1. Matilda Jefferies*

                YES. Obviously OP knows better *now,* but she wasn’t just born with that knowledge. She was deliberately manipulated by someone who chose her specifically because of her inexperience in the workplace. I doubt very much that it’s a coincidence that the boss asked her to go instead of someone else – he chose her deliberately because he knew she would be the least likely to push back.

                I’m sure there are some people in the world who would know that they could resist a deliberate, targeted attempt to manipulate them, but most of us have to learn that lesson as we go along.

        1. DCGirl*

          I don’t think everyone is telling the OP that she did nothing wrong. I think that they are expressing sympathy with her for being put in a crappy situation. Could she have handled it differently (gone to HR, not left the note, pushed back on the boss)? Absolutely.

        2. Jadelyn*

          There’s “voicing dissent”, and then there’s “maliciously celebrating that someone experienced disproportionate consequences for a mistake they made”. You fell quite firmly on the far side of that line.

        3. Observer*

          First of all, no one was saying that she did nothing wrong. Secondly, you went much further than “dissent”.

        4. aebhel*

          No one is actually telling OP that they did nothing wrong, though…? All the comments I’ve seen have been ‘Yeah, you messed up, HR handled it poorly, your boss was a nightmare, what a lousy situation all around.’

          I mean, I guess nobody’s going ‘YOU ARE A MONSTROUS BAD PERSON WHO DESERVES ONLY BAD THINGS AND WE’RE ALL DELIGHTED THAT YOU GOT FIRED,’ so I guess good on you for filling that deficiency.

    4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Honestly? At that age? I probably would have. I had literally no one to turn to about work problems (or any problems – not exaggerating, there was no one). An authority figure who controlled my money, insisting I do something like this? Chances are very high I would have done it. I would have been too paralysed with fear to do otherwise, and there was no one I could talk to and ask whether I could refuse or what my options were.

      Situations like this are why all young people need adults in their lives they can turn to when they need it.

      1. LibKae*

        Me too, unfortunately. I stayed in my first “real” job for three years because it didn’t occur to me that becoming physically ill at the thought of going in was odd enough to warrant leaving. (And though things close to as bad as the OP described were happening our HR was notoriously disinterested in addressing issues, so I wouldn’t have trusted that I could go to them anyway — there’s no mention of that on the OP’s part, but I will admit that I sympathize in her hesitation here)

      2. Oranges*

        There are also different amounts of effort that “no” takes. For me, saying “no” can be anything from impossible (I tend to “freeze” in the fight/flight/freeze response) to really hard.

        Because something is easy FOR YOU doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone else. Somethings that come easily to me? Computer logic and soft skills. Drop me in a room of people and I will be able to chat comfortably with 95% of people in the room. Drop me in a new programming language and I’ll pick it up with in a month and be fluent within 6-12.

        So obviously you can do the same, right?

        All we are saying is “You did do something wrong not out of malice but out of knowledge gaps.” We are giving them the common courtesy of believing the best of them. Especially since their note was full of self-reflection. We are not extending the same to you because your comments read to be full of smug vengeance and no perspective taking.

        1. Oranges*

          Sorry, I failed at replying to the correct comment… or I mashed my replies up…. not really sure.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Same. It took me a very long time to learn that I could quit, but it didn’t come until I was established enough in my field to have that flexibility. I’m very lucky I wasn’t faced with the same situation OP was early in my career. I’m not sure what I would have done in OP’s position, and I can’t even speculate on what I would have done without projecting the experience I have now on my younger, more naive self. Even thinking back on extremely difficult situations I faced, there were certainly times early into my post-college and immediate law careers when I did not speak up as quickly as I would have, now.

    5. Mike C.*

      You don’t get to claim “it’s just common sense” when someone doesn’t have much experience in the area in question.

    6. Noel*

      You’re glad someone got fired? Huh. You’re glad that someone new to the work world was fired for following an order that her boss told her she’d have to follow or she’d get fired? Huh.

      You’re a really…interesting person.

      1. Soon to be former fed*

        I don’t think ad hominem attacks are warranted here because of a difference of opinion.

        1. Noel*

          What attack? I just think their perspective on life, and the amount of compassion they have for others, is really interesting. :)

    7. Soon to be former fed*

      I agree. I was just following orders was not an excuse for Nazis or those who terrorized my ancestors in chattel slavery. OP painted a sympathetic picture of herself, but many here are glossing over the gravity of her actions.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        Let’s not compare this to the Holocaust or the transatlantic slave trade. This isn’t even in the same universe.

        1. aebhel*

          Yes, please. Hurting someone’s feelings is crappy, and OP made a bad choice here, but it’s not in the same freaking universe as, you know, genocide.

      2. Mike C.*

        Again, when talking about the issue of “superior orders”, one of the important points is that the person following the orders has clear and legal rules for what is and is not a legal order. Usually determined by national laws and international treaties.

        For someone like the OP with little in the way of a formal chain of command (didn’t realize for instance that HR was an option) or established rules, policies and norms it makes no Ames to use this as a comparison.

      3. sstabeler*

        1) the rule is that if you KNOW an order is illegal, you are expected not to follow it.
        2) there is an exception when you are specifically threatened (the wording says “no moral choice- i.e. when you are in a catch-22. In this case, the threat of firing would be sufficient.)
        3) nobody is saying the OP is entirely innocent- just that NR’s actions were way out of proportion to the actual offense.

    8. RG*

      I agree with your first two sentences. The third is unnecessary.

      I too was faced with some tough ethical decisions in my first post-college job (where we didn’t have an HR department and my boss was the owner of the company) and I would have been (and still would be) offended by the notion that I wasn’t responsible for my own actions at the age of 22.

      The situation sucks and the OP is certainly less responsible for it than the boss, but there were other people at the company she could have gone to for help and she didn’t. The lesson here for her is not that her boss was terrible (though he did), but that ultimately, she will be held responsible for her actions, even if those actions are based on someone else’s instructions. If you know something is wrong and likely to hurt another person, don’t do it. If you lose your job, well, that might happen anyway, so better to lose it with your integrity.

      1. BananaPants*

        I’m not happy that the OP got fired, but unfortunately she still did something unethical when she went along with her boss’ orders. She was responsible for her actions and was complicit in participating in the awful boss’ abuse of a bereaved coworker. There isn’t really any grey area here IMO and I don’t disagree with HR’s decision to fire her.

        In her shoes, I would have driven past the cemetery and promptly chucked the boss’ note in the nearest fast food trash receptacle. It never would have made it anywhere near the coworker’s relative’s grave site, but I would have maintained plausible deniability.

    9. JamieS*

      I understand where you’re coming from but to say you’re happy OP was fired is going too far. I know I’m in the minority but I honestly can’t say I disagree with HR’s decision and I don’t feel bad for the OP. Given the circumstances I find HR’s response to be a perfectly rational decision that’s easily justified. However I also recognize OP had a metaphorical gun to her head and was acting under duress so I don’t think OP deserves ridicule or for someone to be joyous she lost her job.

    10. GirlwithaPearl*

      I agree and am shocked it took me scrolling down so far to find this articulated.

      The boss deserves the most scorn but LW isn’t not without fault. Especially once clients knew- they needed to fire both people.

  19. Corporate Cynic*

    OP – I am so sorry that this happened to you. As stated above, there’s a special place in hell for your boss for clearly taking advantage of you like this.

    Alison and commenters – what would be the best way to go about explaining something like this in interviews/applications, when asked about the reason for leaving this role?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      It sounds like the OP is planning to leave this job off her resume, so she’s not going to need to explain that.

      It might be a useful story to tell, at some point, about a time that she made a mistake and what she did as a result.

      1. Antilles*

        It sounds like the OP is planning to leave this job off her resume, so she’s not going to need to explain that.
        In this case, yeah – short tenure, transitioning career fields, etc.
        But it’s not hard to imagine a slightly different universe where she’d been there a bit longer (say two years) and therefore has some clear reasons to include the job and avoid the perception of having done nothing since graduating. So if we take “pretend this job didn’t exist” out of the list of options, how should someone address it?
        I guess you’d probably want to spin it so the boss was clear that you had no choice in the matter even though you weren’t happy, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s really a solid solution. Interfering with bereavement leave is so far outside of norms that many interviewers would still have a “your boss is awful, but…” reaction.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          How about something like “my boss did something extremely unethical and being rather new to the workforce, I was afraid to speak up and was therefore let go along with him”? “It’s been a valuable lesson and I now know to speak up if ever in a similar situation again”

          1. Oranges*

            Good script. The only thing I would point out is “unethical” can be anything from stealing office supplies (fired because no tolerance policy? :P) to buying coke with company money is there a more descriptive word?

    2. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

      I would definitely leave this job off of your resume, OP. I think you’re right that it would be easier to explain a gap in employment after graduation than trying to explain the absolute clusterf*** you went through at this toxic place. I hope you find something soon!

  20. Cassandra*

    OP, I sure hope that as large as this mess looms over your life now, someday it turns into little more than a “no {kidding}, there I was” story.

    Joining the chorus: this is on your boss, not you. May you move on quickly, effectively, and completely.

      1. Rainbow Hair Chick*

        I agree too! My heart goes out to you OP! Please know you really didn’t deserve any of this. I’m sending positive vibes your way so that you can find a much much better place to work!

    1. boop the first*

      Being chased by a bear would be a good “no kidding, there I was” story. This would be more of an “Everything is fine, oh wait, my brain wants me to feel shitty now” late-night thought. Forever.

  21. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    What an awful situation. I’m sorry that you lost your job, OP! Given the position your boss put you in, that was an overreaction.

    That being said: It was wrong to leave the note (as you obviously know), and I don’t think the commenters who are describing you as “an innocent” are exactly right. Following orders isn’t an excuse for doing something that is clearly wrong. But! The silver lining here is that, early in your career, you’ve experienced what it feels like (and what can happen) when someone in a position of authority asks/tells you to do something that you know to be wrong. That’s a powerful experience that I hope can help ground you in how to live out your values while navigating the work world.

    1. nonymous*

      I went back and read the original AAM post (not comments, though) and it read to me that OP was told to deliver a condolence card to grave, and it was only afterwards with extra questioning that he ‘fessed up it was work stuff. Someone please correct me if I’m reading it wrong.

      1. Antilles*

        Nope. Boss tried to lie about it as a condolence card, then admitted it wasn’t. From the original AAM post:
        “He said it was a condolence card at first, but I didn’t buy it because our work had already sent a card. When I asked him about it again, he said it was a note with some work-related items only she knows about and he needs answers ASAP and she won’t answer her (personal, not work) phone when he calls her.”

      2. Myrin*

        Almost – he first tried to sell it to her as a condolence card but OP didn’t believe it and probed further, after which he came out with the truth. Only then did OP go and deliver the letter.

    2. Mike C.*

      Following orders isn’t an excuse for doing something that is clearly wrong.

      Uh, but when the issue of superior orders comes up, it’s always in a context where legal and illegal orders are strictly defined, typically by international treaty. That’s not something that we can expect of someone with less than a year of work experience placed in an unusual and high pressure situation where their job is directly at risk.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I really couldn’t disagree more strongly.

        I’m not talking about legality, and neither is the OP. At what level of experience do you expect someone to make ethical choices? I’d argue that a standard of behaving ethically applies at all levels of experience in the workforce (beginning at some point in childhood or adolescence, whenever our brains are capable of evaluating ethics — I have no idea when this is!).

        1. SunshineOH*

          Her job was threatened, though. I think that adds another layer to the decision-making that might understandably lead a young person the wrong way.

          1. Quadnon.*

            This. Ethics are learned very early. OP’s senses started in the right place because she suspected something was wrong with the card but once she got confirmation she still followed through. OP – the lesson Victoria is talking about is a good one to learn now. If it feels wrong don’t do it or at least don’t do it before seeking guidance from someone who at least appears impartial be that HR or even a parent a friend you can run something like this by.

            1. PM Jesper Berg*

              “Ethics are learned very early.” -< This is a ridiculous comment. Humanity has been debating the ethics of situations like these since, well, it climbed down from trees. To suggest that Quandon can settle longstanding philosophical debates between, say, Kantians and utilitarians by blithely saying "ethics are learned very early" is, quite frankly, the height of arrogance.

              Quandon, you're virtue shaming, nothing more.

          2. sap*

            Yes, but we learn what’s ethical in different contexts with time.

            It’s a huge ethics violation for a doctor to tell third parties things that may, in fact, be relevant to their safety or well being. A kindergartener probably wouldn’t get that question right.

            It’s a massive ethics problem for a lawyer to tell, say, the police that they know their client committed a murder someone else is in jail for. A kindergartner wouldn’t get that right either.

            It’s unethical to use an analytical framework developed by someone else without directly citing them. Kindergartners don’t know that either.

            It takes time to learn contextual ethics.

        2. Mike C.*

          You’re right we’re not talking about legality, that’s why the reference to superior orders isn’t appropriate.

        3. Mike C.*

          Do you seriously not understand the concept of coercion and how it tends to rob people of their agency?

        4. PM Jesper Berg*

          “It’s not about the law, but about (my vision of) morality!” tends to the the argument of a losing party.

          It’s cute that the AAM commentariat suddenly has become a gaggle of Kantians. Believe it or not, Kant isn’t the only philosophical framework under the sun. (For the philosophy geeks among us: in this letter, we’ve found a situation where Kant and Rawls, who’s often described as a modern Kant, might disagree. I suspect Rawls would absolve OP’s actions when viewed through a veil of ignorance.)

          My own view here is is that in assessing the morality of OP’s actions, it is relevant to look at (1) the underlying conduct and (2) the power imbalance between the parties. The boss’ conduct was rude, boorish, inconsiderate; pick your adjective. But it was not manifestly illegal, did not result in pecuniary harm or danger to CW’s health. Conversely, there is the issue of power imbalance robbing LW of her agency. People who ignore this are unwittingly embracing privilege.

          This probably places me somewhere along the lines of Sandel or Hume.

          1. Gloucesterina*

            Soooo not a philosophy geek, but this also makes me think of the Aristotelian tradition of virtue as a practice (also relevant to certain strains of Islamic piety), where the work of becoming a moral person is understood as the work of a whole life, where it’s recognized that a person really has to prepare themselves to encounter ethical dilemmas in particular contexts.

      2. siobhan*

        Uh, but it’s really not, though. I have no idea why you would think that’s a concept that only applies in legal contexts – “my boss told me to” still isn’t always going to get you out of hot water with your employer. The situation is awful for OP and her actions are understandable, but nobody’s judging war crimes here, and the company was within its rights to fire her.

      3. Soon to be former fed*

        Please stop with the excuse making. We all will eventually have to face a decision to do the right thing even at personal cost. OP didn’t have the strength of character to do so, but the good thing is she can develop it. Never stop learning or growing, OP.

        1. Mike C.*

          Coercion is not “an excuse”. Stop with the victim blaming. Stop pretending that losing your job is a trivial matter or that leaving a note is more than a callous, distasteful act. No one was hurt, no crimes were committed and he pain this coworker felt is absolutely nothing compared to the pain they’re feeling because of her death of their loved one.

          It was an act of coerced rudeness, nothing more.

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            Exactly. Coercion is of limited exculpatory value where the underlying conduct is illegal, or results in bodily or grievous pecuniary harm, perhaps. But otherwise, the presence of coercion is essential to assessing the morality of OP’s actions.

            The folks cackling about “excuse making” are arguing from a perspective of privilege. And hopping up and down on one knee and shouting “Nurnberg”? Er, that precedent involved high-ranking military officers (albeit ones to some extent outside Hitler’s inner circle) involved in implementing genocide. This case is about…acting rudely to someone on bereavement leave. Get a sense of proportion.

            And even Nurnberg isn’t exactly without its critics; I would argue that the South Africa model of truth and reconciliation commissions, or the Czech model of a “lustration commission,” both of which effectively offer a pardon in return for publicly disclosing human rights violations, have produced much more stable societies. Nurnberg “worked” only because the US Army occupied Germany.

          2. Kyrielle*


            If _I_ did the same thing now under the same threat, it would be worse (IMO). I have almost two decades of work experience; I know other ways to deal with it; and oh yes, I have a spouse that works and I am fortunate enough that losing my job would be a difficulty instead of a disaster.

            And please understand that I have lost loved ones, and grieved loved ones. I suspect my imagination of what the grieving CW went through is insufficient, but it’s hopefully in the right neighborhood.

            And if I weigh that against what losing *my* job would cost *me*, I’m not looking at the situation that really happened.

            I won’t claim OP was innocent; my other comments make that clear. But I agree that OP was not guilty of horrible, terrible actions with no justification. (Really unkind, even awful actions, with a lot of understandable justification of why. This does not confer innocence, but it changes the nature of what is going on. A lot.)

            Also, tearing the OP apart for this does the OP no service in moving forward, or in putting this in perspective. Which is more useful *now*, telling the OP they shouldn’t have done it, or saying something along the lines of, “Your boss was a terrible, horrible person to ask you to do this, but now you know how that feels and what the consequences can be of caving in to that sort of request – although, IMO, the consequences to you in this case were extreme for your role. If there’s a next time it feels/looks/seems like this, think back and consider your options. Reach out for outside opinions if you need them.”

            I don’t think this failure makes OP a horrible person. Especially because the OP was feeling really conflicted from the get go. Yes, OP made the wrong choice. OP also had the right concerns. That’s not someone with no moral sense or someone horrible; that’s someone being coerced and acting in conflict with their own values. So let’s acknowledge that, and arm OP with information and steps and ideas for if that ever happens again, so they can act on their values, which seem to be in the right place.

            Unless we have a time machine, that’s really the most we can do here.

        2. Don't turn this name into a hyperlink*

          This is not “making excuses.” This is the LW having a figurative gun held to her head.

      4. RJC*

        Following orders isn’t an excuse for doing something that it clearly wrong.

        When I read that, and I’m not saying that I don’t agree with that, but immediately I think of the military and politics/government.
        Following orders, and doing things that are clearly wrong…
        No excuses? I’ll bet they – and their supporters- can come up with dozens.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I have to gently push back on the idea that “superior” officers only matter in the context of international treaties. There are plenty of legal situations where following an improper order from a superior—in the employment context—can result in legal liability. That’s doubly true when you’re working in heavily regulated industries. But I’m not sure invoking legal liability is really what matters for an issue that really comes down to an ethics and human decency problem.

        I think OP was in an extremely vulnerable/coercive position, no doubt. But I think it’s fair to help interrupt a thought process that suggests that following orders absolves you of responsibility for participating in something objectively wrong. To be sure, I don’t think that’s what commenters are saying; I think they understand that OP’s role was not right, but the commentariat is also more likely to be empathetic to someone who takes ownership of their bad behavior (which OP did in the original letter).

        I don’t think OP deserved the same fate has their lying, garbage person of a boss. But I do think it’s valuable to know that the only person you can count on to protect your personal integrity and sense of individual decency/ethics is yourself. And in character-testing moments like what OP experienced, hopefully they’ll choose differently the next time they’re tested.

        1. Marvel*

          This is my favorite comment in this entire thread. I think people are getting really unnecessary vitriolic on both sides of this issue, but I’m especially concerned about the OP-did-nothing-wrong crowd. The OP DID do something wrong, because they were scared and inexperienced, and they instantly regretted it and felt sick about it. That doesn’t make the thing they did any less wrong, and they know that, so there’s no reason to come down hard on them about it–but there’s also no reason to suggest that they couldn’t have made a different decision.

          Frankly, if someone looked at the bad decisions I’ve made because I was scared and inexperienced about something, and responded with, “oh, you did nothing wrong, you just couldn’t have done anything else,” I would feel very insulted and robbed of agency. So I’m not gonna do that with the OP–but I’m not gonna vilify them, either. They were not entirely or even mostly at fault here; only a tiny fraction of the blame lies with them, and they know what they did was wrong. There is power in owning your own agency and admitting that you make mistakes and they are your responsibility, and moving on from them intending to be better.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      When an OP writes that they bear fault for a situation and takes responsibility, I think there’s a tendency here to conclude that remorse must be crippling them and freezing them in place, and so commenters try to reassure them by hauling blame off their shoulders. Yet if an OP wrote an identical letter in which they insisted they bore not an iota of responsibility, the same commenters would come down on them for not realizing their part in the mess-up: I think it’s an over-correction.

      What happened here was overwhelmingly on the boss, but OP wished before and after that she’d handled it differently, and that’s a valid wish. Sometimes we do have other choices and with hindsight wish we’d taken them; I am not a fan of the claim that everyone always was doing the best they possibly could and so we live in the best of all possible worlds.

      1. paul*

        Agreed on that trend. I don’t think it’s an entirely inappropriate trend either; if someone knows they screwed up, why rub their nose in it? But if someone’s really convinced they were right when they were very wrong (see: beer runs) it’s worth trying to get them to understand that they were wrong, and why.

      2. Tau*

        +1. Reading these comments, I wondered about what if OP had written in going “I was fired for this and it’s not fair! I didn’t have any choice, boss threatened me, I didn’t do anything wrong! Is this legal?” I bet you anything the comments would look very, very different, and hardly anyone would be describing OP as “innocent”.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is an astute observation of the trend. The truth is there are often really nuanced comments, as well, but I think you’re right that the comments tend to try to meet the OP where they’re at and move them towards more productive behavior. I’m not sure that that’s an “overcorrection,” per se, but I can see why commenters who are focused on the problematic behavior feel like short shrift is given to that part of the “coaching towards productive behavior” trend.

    4. PM Jesper Berg*

      “Following orders isn’t an excuse for doing something that is clearly wrong.”

      From a legal standpoint, this is often untrue, and a limited defense of “superior orders” can be valid, depending on the circumstances (Nurnberg notwithstanding). From a philosophy standpoint — well, I’m in a hurry, so I’ll leave that to others, although I’m skeptical of moralistic arguments coming from a place of privilege.

  22. Mb13*

    Op I am sorry that you got fired but I hope that you take this as a valuable lesson. It doesn’t matter if you have good intentions (like you clearly do) it matters what you do. Despite you not wanting to be the bad guy, because of your action you did become a bad guy and other people treated you accordingly. I hope you remember this in the future, make sure your good intentions match with your good actions

    1. Katie the Fed*

      A lot of people think they’ll be strong enough to refuse an unethical order, but history and social experiments consistently show that the vast, VAST majority of people will go along with it. I don’t think any of us know what we’d do in that situation, and it’s hard to remember that we were once very young and inexperienced as well.

      1. Lissa*

        Yes! I see so many comments online from people smugly insisting they would do the right thing in every situation. Quite the coincidence that in the actual situations the Facebook heroes aren’t around…

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          There’s a fascinating bit of science that the people who do well at high-level analysis of complicated abstract ethical situations don’t do any better than average when they are presented with real-life ethical situations.

        1. AnonasaurusRex*

          Milgram is decent, but the Stanford Prison experiment should really never be cited as an example of this kind of thing. It was Lord of the Flies made reality. Privileged, rich, white men put in a position of power. Totally shocking that they let it go to their heads… It was also a very badly controlled experiment and quite unscientific in the long run.

      2. oranges & lemons*

        I think that at least the LW is relatively fortunate that this happened early in her career and she has resources to help recover from it. I suspect that if a similar situation comes along in the future, she’ll likely handle it differently.

      3. Soon to be former fed*

        I’ve always been a headstrong biotch though, and sometimes it serves me well. I always bristle at abuse of authority, but I’m a child of the sixties. Good people cannot stand by while bad people wreak havoc.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          Stanley Milgram’s experiments were conducted during the early 1960s, and the ensuing decades showed dozens of real-life examples that were partially explained by the theories and phenomena he uncovered in his work. Good people very often do things that are unethical or ill-advised because of the authority of others, and most people who believe or claim that they would “never” fall prey to obedience to authority actually do when presented with the situation even under controlled lab conditions – much less in real life.

      4. Optimistic Prime*

        YES. I was coming to say the same thing. There’s a body of psychological literature dating from the mid-twentieth century on this (and some earlier stuff, too, that set the foundation).

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes. Unfortunately most of us (statistically speaking) are not as brave as we aspire to be or as we think we’ll be in the abstract.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      This it not cool. Her boss threatened to fire her and it was her first job. The only lesson OP should learn is that sometimes people suck and life can be very unfair.

      1. Orlando*

        Thank you.

        We’re talking about a young person who was forced to weigh a livelihood against a note. Does it really help to hear “that sucks, OP, but you could have been smarter and braver”?

    3. PM Jesper Berg*

      “because of your action you did become a bad guy ”

      Um, no. Not in the slightest. Taking unethical actions voluntarily makes you the bad guy. Taking unethical actions UNDER DURESS does not.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          The Star Trek reference would be any of the umpteen episodes where Data was coerced by Lore into taking over the Enterprise. He’s still serving in Starfleet, which suggests Starfleet understands the concept of agency.

    4. Mike C.*

      I’m really tired of people trying to treat this as a “valuable lesson” when the OP is likely having serious problems affording a place to live or food.

      1. Not this time*

        Since OP said their post:

        I still live at home and feel fortunate that my parents have said I can stay until I can afford to live on my own.

        that really isn’t the case here

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          But that doesn’t necessarily mean she can just take and quit jobs cavalierly and indefinitely.

          1. Not this time*

            Of course not, but since she doesn’t have to worry about those things because her parents are supporting her, it is not a factor in her specific case. The company sucks and OP was wronged, but not having food or a place to live was not one of the reasons why OP went along with her boss.

        2. Jadelyn*

          By definition, the fact that the OP “can stay until I can afford to live on my own” means that the OP is having serious problems affording a place to live. They’ve been fortunate in that they had a social safety net that caught them, but they very much did have serious problems affording survival needs as a result of this, and wound up actually needing that safety net as a result.

          1. Not this time*

            Given that OP was a new grad this would not be unusual. OP was already living with her parents and they were already supporting her. Her parents said she could *stay*, not that she could *come back*. So she was already using the safety net of her parents.

            I agree OP was wronged and should not have been fired. But given that she was already living with and had the support of her parents, the lack of safety net was not a factor in her specific case.

        3. Leona*

          Living with parents does not mean OP does not have bills. I spent a year living at home after graduating because I couldn’t buy a job if I had wanted to, and even with my parents providing assistance, I came very close to being completely destitute.

          It’s akin to putting a bandaid on a wound: it will provide some help, but you need stitches, not a bandaid.

        4. Soon to be former fed*

          She is truly fortunate. This makes her decision to do such a reprehensible thing even more puzzling because she had a safety net if boss retaliated had she said no.

          1. Mike C.*

            Having a small safety net does not mean that losing your job is a trivial matter. Do you seriously not understand how much you have to put your normal adult life on hold if you still living with your parents? How you still have bills to pay for?

            Just because the OP could still eat doesn’t mean that this isn’t still coercion. I have renters insurance but that doesn’t mean I’m perfectly fine with my apartment catching fire.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is a very black/white conceptualization of privilege and economic vulnerability, and I don’t think it’s accurate.

  23. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    My post above is directed to the OP. This one is directed to other commenters.

    I think we’re doing the OP a bit of a disservice by offering her near-complete absolution. She did wrong. Being new to the workforce means that she didn’t know (how) to leverage HR (or colleagues) as a resource, didn’t know how or how much to push back on an unreasonable request from a boss, etc. But she obviously knew from the get that this was wrong to do, and she did it anyway.

    I don’t mean to condemn her — lots of us would do the same thing, when faced with potentially losing our jobs; and besides, she’s kicking herself pretty hard and doesn’t need our help — but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that she holds no responsibility for this crappy action.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      It sounds like her boss threatened her job. What was she supposed to do, that we haven’t already concluded she didn’t know because she’s new to the workforce?

      1. The IT Manager*

        She should have taken the note to HR. Given their reaction, they are unlikely to have sided with the boss, and they wouldn’t have fired the LW for refusing to comply with a crazy request from the boss which ended up getting the boss fired.

        I do think the LW knowingly did wrong, tried to correct it pretty quickly after the fact, and ended up with a harsher punishment than I think is warranted. The LW didn’t deserve to lose her job; her old boss solely deserved that.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          Right, but according to the original letter, it sounds like she didn’t know HR was an option.

          1. Mb13*

            She could have easily consulted a coworker or her parents. The op clearly know that reaching out for advice is an option, that’s why she wrote to AMA. So there’s more she could have done to prevent this from happening.

            1. Observer*

              She knew to reach out for advice *after she had time to think about it*. There is a reason sleaze bags always push for a decision NOW.

              And, I can easily see why she didn’t ask her parents – how often are young people told NEVER to listen to ANYTHING their parents say about jobs? It happens on this site all the time.

              1. AndersonDarling*

                EXACTLY! She knew it was wrong when she had a chance to put her thought together. I don’t expect anyone to think straight after being threatened.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  This wasn’t a split-second decision. She got the request, had suspicions about what the card contained, asked her boss about it, and drove to the gravesite.

                  Again, I don’t mean to come down hard on the OP. But I am going to keep pushing back on (what I see as) this fiction that she couldn’t possibly have reacted any differently.

                2. Observer*

                  I don’t think that it was impossible for her to act differently. But, she drove out in the stress of the moment – got going without thinking about it, for reasons that are pretty obvious. Again, there is a reason why role playing and internal rule setting (eg if Boss says this, I’ll do that) is so important. Someone recently mentioned the idea that we don’t rise to an occasion, we fall to our best level or preparation.

                  The bottom line is that the OP reacted in the moment, in fear of her job. Once that subsided she actually got a chance to think about it, and realized that even so, she should have figured out something else to do, even if going to HR wasn’t a good choice. And, yes, she should have. But it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend that this was done with cool deliberation and a choice made with no care for the ethical violation.

            2. Myrin*

              I agree in general, but I also think that reacting like this is something that comes much more natural to some people than others.
              I’ve never been quick to think on my feet, so I totally wouldn’t know how to deal with this at all at the moment, but I’ve always been extremely good at stalling and pretending I’m going along with what people are telling me. In this situation, that would have left me with enough time to speak to my coworkers, call my mum for help, or take a moment to calm down and actually think about what is happening and what my choices are.
              However, I do think that it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone functions this way – my sister goes into somewhat of a perpetual freeze state (mentally) in situations like this and, while appearing to be calm outwardly, inwardly runs around like a terrorised headless chicken for hours and falls into an absolute tailspin of not knowing what to do. It’s entirely possible to just follow the motions and only really understand what just happened and be able to think clearly half a day later.

        2. Ursula*

          > Given their reaction, they are unlikely to have sided with the boss, and they wouldn’t have fired the LW for refusing to comply with a crazy request from the boss which ended up getting the boss fired.

          That’s not a given until after the fact, though. I’ve certainly dealt with HR that sided with the person who was in the wrong. More than once. The assumption that HR is going to be a rational actor has gotten many people fired. She absolutely made the wrong call, but there was no certainty ahead of time that she could have saved her job either way.

          1. Amazed*

            “there was no certainty ahead of time that she could have saved her job either way.”

            This can be a powerful way to frame it. If you’re going down either way, might as well go down with dignity and let everyone else be the monsters.

            1. Soon to be former fed*

              That’s how I see. No boss or anybody else is going to take away my dignity. At the end of the day I have to live with myself. I truly hope OP toughens up because it can be brutal out here.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              But she didn’t know that she couldn’t save her job either way. Her immediate choice was “either my boss fires me for not taking this card to the grave site or I do it and he doesn’t fire me.”

              It’s easy to criticize the OP’s actions now after they’ve told us the story about how the whole thing played out.

        3. PM Jesper Berg*

          “She should have taken the note to HR.”

          Given that it seems her HR department completely ignored OP’s quandary, why are you so certain HR would have sided with her against the boss?

          1. Claire Underwood*

            HR came down hard once they found out – that makes me think that had the OP gone to them before delivering the note, they would have stopped it at the pass and the whole situation would have been avoided.

            1. Mpls*

              HR came down hard when the grieving employee complained which is different than acting when HR found out. Would HR have reacted the same way if OP had come to them to complain about the boss’ instructions, before the grieving employee complained? We don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

              1. MashaKasha*

                I’m having my doubts about OP’s HR as well. Specifically based upon how they treated her in this update.

                I’m honestly surprised that they managed to fire the real offender along with the scapegoat. Even a broken clock, etc. etc.

              2. TootsNYC*

                well, from the very original letter, it sounds like HR was already running a bit of interference w/ boss anyway.

            2. Malibu Stacey*

              But we also guess that, based on how low we know the Boss was, he would have just found another way to fire her or otherwise retaliate.

        4. feminazgul*

          It’s incredibly easy as the outside person with experience and knowledge under your belt to look at a situation and say “obviously, they should have done x.” It’s nowhere near as easy to do that when you’re the new, ignorant and intimidated person.

        5. RW87*

          Yes +1 . She knew it was wrong before she took the letter, she knew it was wrong after she took the letter.

          Of course, she was in a very difficult position, and I am not sure what I would have done either, but as someone said earlier, it’s a total fiction that there was no other way to respond to the boss’ request.

          Sometimes you only have sh*tty options in front of you, and you need to pick the least worst option. The lessen the OP needs to take away is that if it feels fishy, get a second opinion from someone you trust.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I think it’s important to take that into consideration, but I also think actions should have consequences. I think firing is a bit extreme as a consequence for OP’s role in this, but I don’t think the power imbalance entirely absolves the OP. (To be fair, I don’t think the OP is saying it should, either.)

        It may actually have been an accidental kindness – continuing to work there with the way the other coworkers now viewed the OP might have been its own special horror-show – but it was a bit extreme for the OP. (And totally warranted for the former boss.) But having no consequences at all? That’s not ideal, either.

        1. Mike C.*

          No, not all actions have to have consequences, and not all consequences have to completely ignore the context of the situation or otherwise be completely unreasonable.

          Also, losing your job with no unemployment is not an accidental kindness. People have bills to pay and it’s difficult to pay them when you don’t have any money coming in.

          1. Kyrielle*

            And if OP had not been able to find temp work and live with her parents, I would say differently. And maybe for the OP, it’s horrible either way. For me? If I had been in OP’s position and taken the same actions, as horrible as being fired would be, I would be better off. I wouldn’t deal well with the disgust and hated from the other coworkers, and I would cling to the job as a security thing too long, and end up stuck using it as a reference.

            I never said consequences had to ignore the context or be unreasonable. I think firing is a bit extreme here, given the OP was unwilling and still new to the workforce. But had HR put a write-up in the OP’s file and had a stern talk with the OP and a “nothing unethical again, you hear?” talk along with a “come ask us if you’re even remotely not sure” talk…that would have been a reasonable consequence.

            But I don’t think there is anything HR or anyone could have done to make the coworkers who heard about OP’s role in it not think worse of OP. Never mind the grieving coworker. Which means that office was probably poisoned for the OP. (Indeed, it sounds like an entire sub-field was, thanks to the grieving coworker not only involving other coworkers, but also clients.)

            1. Observer*

              But had HR put a write-up in the OP’s file and had a stern talk with the OP and a “nothing unethical again, you hear?” talk along with a “come ask us if you’re even remotely not sure” talk…that would have been a reasonable consequence.

              That’s EXACTLY what should have happened, if you ask me. The fact that this didn’t happen doesn’t speak well of the company.

              And HR could most definitely have tamped down on the widespread disgust by making it clear to the CW that this is NOT an appropriate thing to discuss far and wide, and ESPECIALLY not outside the company.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                My husband used to talk about companies that act in a manner to put out fires.
                “Where’s the fire? Over there, quick throw some water on it dowse it.”

                They are very adverse to fires. But real, on-going, underlying issues get totally ignored.

                Perhaps CW felt she had to make a big wave to get any response at all. It looks like she felt she had to bring in clients to help defend her because she would not be able to get her points across otherwise.
                You know. The more I look at this, the more it seems like there are a lot of manipulators at this company. And this can happen when upper management does not provide good leadership to begin with.

          2. Lissa*

            yeah. “Actions have consequences” can come off as really smug. Sure, it’s great to think that in life, people get their dues, the villains are punished etc., but very often whether a misstep is punished not at all, justifiably, or too much depends entirely on circumstances outside of the misstepper’s control. Not all childhood bullies grow up to be losers in adulthood, etc. Just world fallacy may be what I’m thinking of?

          3. Soon to be former fed*

            All actions certainly do have consequences, unintended or not.
            It’s difficult to grieve in peace when crappy things are being done to you. The company went all scorched earth, and denying unemployment was not necessary. But no way was OP going to be able to work with grieving co-worker. Maybe OP could have been suspended and reassigned or something. But she definitely deserved consequences, albeit not this severe. I have no problem going against the crowd here.

            1. Not this time*

              The company did not deny unemployment though. I am in no way defending them but OP was not eligible based on the employment law in her area. The company can’t control what the employment laws are. OP had not worked her 12 months and there was not eligible under the law where she is. It sucks and I wish she had not been denied (or fired for that matter) but the law has nothing to do with the company in this case.

                1. Not this time*

                  I agree that she should not have been fired and I have said so in other comments. She was wronged and the company, her old boss and HR are all jerks. But that does not change that company has no say in what the employment law is in her area. She was not denied by the company, it has nothing to do with them.

          4. PM Jesper Berg*

            I think that all those people who are arguing that OP should have reported her boss, consequences be damned, should step up, shed their anonymous handles, and volunteer to pay OP’s bills. Because that’s the ethical thing to do, or something.

            1. Kismet*

              Why? It’s not my job to pay for someone else’s mistakes, and OP is suffering deserved consequences for her actions. And if you want to claim anonymous people on a blog randomly stepping in to pay OP’s bills is the ethical course of action, through a chain of reasoning that I’m sure somehow makes sense to you, well, then – you first.

      3. Amtelope*

        Said no, she wouldn’t do it, even if that meant losing her job. I have all the sympathy in the world for this LW, and I know that losing her job must have felt like a terrible outcome to avoid at all costs, but it’s the outcome that actually ended up happening anyway, and she is surviving that. I hope the lesson she comes away from this with is that it’s important to be prepared to walk away from a job if the alternative is doing something truly awful.

      4. BananaPants*

        If she didn’t feel comfortable taking the note to HR and genuinely felt that her job was at stake if she didn’t follow the boss’ orders, she could have taken the note to the cemetery and then simply disposed of it rather than leaving it at the grave site. It would have been the ethically-correct thing to do to NOT leave it, while still giving her plausible deniability with the awful boss (“I don’t know why Coworker didn’t get the note, Boss, I took it out to the cemetery as you instructed…”).

        Sometimes in life there are no good options, just the least-bad in a sea of crummy options.

    2. c-saw*

      I agree with you. The OP still had a choice, regardless of the power imbalance and threats.

      1. Amelia*

        This is a ridiculous standard to hold people to, especially people who are working their first job. Not only do they have to learn to navigate the ins and outs of work life, they also need to come prepared to deal with bosses who threaten their livelihood? “OP still had a choice” is a deeply unsympathetic response. We’re not talking about murder here.

        1. Not this time*

          OP lives at home with their parents, who have said she can stay and they will support her until she can afford to be on her own, so that’s not the case at all.

          1. Amelia*

            “my parents have said I can stay until I can afford to live on my own”

            This sounds like a temporary arrangement and I’m not sure why that’s a reasonable response here. If she didn’t have a safety net, would you suddenly feel for her more?

            1. Not this time*

              I do feel for the OP. It’s a sucky situation and she was wronged. The HR and company sucks. But given that she has a safety net and support and doesn’t need to worry about not having food or a place to live, it shouldn’t be a factor in the discussion. It was clearly stated in the update that her parents have agreed to support her until she is up on her feet.

              1. MerciMe*

                But it is not guaranteed that she knew that ahead of time. And how do we know her parents are financially secure and not just struggling to make the best of a bad situation?

          2. Mike C.*

            Ok, I missed that, but the ability to function as an adult in society requires the ability to make money. Taking that ability away from someone is very serious pressure that more experienced and established folks are making light of.

          3. Stop That Goat*

            My parents would take me in if I didn’t have a place to live.

            That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t go hungry some nights.

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        For heaven’s sake. Even James Comey – an adult, with significantly more workplace experience than the OP – was dumbfounded when presented with an unusual request from his boss, and didn’t feel like he could say no given the power imbalance. We all of us make the best decisions we can in the moment, and even people with decades of experience feel like they can’t always stand up to pressure from their boss.

        You have the benefit of hindsight. OP does now too, but she didn’t at the time, and she made the best decision she could in the moment.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          This is an excellent example. Comey was taller and bigger than his boss, and had the entire FBI behind him, and he still found it hard to say no. (Honestly, the next time I find it hard to say no, I’m going to remember this!)

        2. TootsNYC*

          And in fact, Comey did something that our OP, and anyone else, could learn from.

          He hedged. And once he was out of the situation, he gave himself time to really think through what he would do. And he spoke with other people.

          Our OP tried to do this, but I don’t think she had the experience to do it well.

        3. Oranges*


          You don’t know how you’ll respond to a situation until you’re in that situation. We’re not saying her actions shouldn’t have had consequences. We’re saying she made a mistake and the outcome was disproportionate.

          I hate smug judging. I hope to any and all gods that I’d be able to say no to something that’s wrong BUT I have an uneasy feeling that I wouldn’t be able to. I know this about myself and have defenses in place now. How did I know I needed those defenses? By making mistakes and hurting myself. Thankfully not others– at least that I can remember.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        We all have choices all the time.
        No one has perfect responses at all times. No one. Ever.
        I think many people here are cutting OP the slack, they would like to receive if the tables were turned on them. The job is gone, OP is upset beyond measure. What more is there? Can’t unring that bell.

        OP, I admire your candor in writing. I think the level of your upset speaks to your character. You have got some things going right here. I hope time is kind to you.

    3. A.N.O.N.*

      I think she holds no responsibility because, as you said, she’s new to the workforce and didn’t know how to leverage HR, how much to push back, etc. If she had 5 years of work experience, I think we wouldn’t cut her quite as much slack. We would expect that she would know to bring this sort of stuff to HR ASAP.

      But as this was her first real job out of college, she doesn’t know how offices work. Plus, the threat of getting fired is more meaningful, as she doesn’t have years of experience to fall back on in helping her get a new job.

      OP, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope you’re able to rebound from it quickly.

    4. Alex*

      I think a lot of us are responding to the feeling that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, especially given that her boss threatened to fire her if she didn’t. But I’m not sure what other options HR would have under the circumstances.

    5. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I don’t think we’re offering absolution as such, it’s more that it’s not going to help anyone. OP knows it wasn’t okay, was and is sorry, and tried to fix it. It all blew up before she could. She’s been punished far beyond what is necessary. It’s safe to say that she won’t ever let a douchebag like that boss ever push her into something like this again.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Your last sentence. Bingo. That is how I learned to speak up. I am not taking the fall for anyone. I will help anyone with whatever, but I will not do unethical things and I will not cover their lack of ethics.

    6. Jess*

      Very well said. I agree with this and your earlier post above. I definitely have sympathy for the OP. She was put in an absolutely horrible position by her boss, and few people would be entirely successful if forced to navigate that situation as a newbie to the workplace…but she still made the wrong choice and is responsible for her actions. Just because a choice is completely understandable in a given context, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still responsible for making that choice. But wow, this is about the most painful & scarring way to learn that lesson as I can imagine.

        1. Not this time*

          The OP says her parents said she can keep living with them and they will support her until she can afford to be on her own.

          1. Mike C.*

            That doesn’t meant she still doesn’t have bills and adult responsibilities nor does it mean that such a safety net justifies firing the OP or that such a safety net will last forever.

            1. Not this time*

              I never said it did and I think the OP was wronged and the HR and her old company are horrible. But given that she clearly states her parents are willing to support her for as long as it takes, the lack of a safety net and not being able to afford things doesn’t apply in this specific situation. OP was already living at home and being supported by her parents and they are continuing to do so.

          2. Mobuy*

            SERIOUSLY. This is why men should get paid more than women! They have families to support, after all. Your compensation and punishment should be based on your personal needs! So LW should have been fired because, based on her personal circumstances, the firing wasn’t devastating.

            (Should I mention this is sarcasm? I guess I should. Some people are so literal.)

            1. Not this time*

              Losing housing/not having money for food was not a factor OP would have considered when deciding whether or not she should go along with her boss. That’s all I’m saying. The loss of an income as a factor doesn’t apply in this case, since her parents were already supporting her before she was fired and are continuing to now. While it would have been a factor for some people, it was not for OP.

              As I said, OP was wronged and her old company and HR suck. She should not have been fired.

              1. Amadeo*

                I’m having a really hard time dealing with your reasoning here. I currently live with my parents but would be completely devastated to lose my job. I have a truck payment, I have cats that need vet care, I have student loans to pay, a phone bill, I *do* contribute to groceries and my parents are in no place to help me beyond providing me a place to live. I could lose my truck. I wouldn’t be able to provide my cats with the care they may need.

                Losing stuff when you live with your folks, even if it’s not housing, specifically, is a very real possibility. I would be almost as devastated to lose my wheels as I would be to lose a place to live. I don’t have public transportation where we are, I’d be stuck!

                1. Not this time*

                  I acknowledge that you might be devastated, and there are other people who would be as well. OP clearly stated that her parents were *already* supporting her and would continue to have her live with them/support her until she got up on her feet and could afford to live on her own. I’m talking about the OP and her specific situation only. She never mentioned financial reasons as a reason why she decided to follow the instructions of her boss. And she clearly says her parents are looking after her. So in her case (not yours, or anyone else) not being able to support herself is not a factor.

        2. New hiring manager*

          This is a ridiculous line of logic – does that mean one can justify any unethical (or even just crappy) action as long as it puts food on the table?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Jess, fwiw, I found your comment thoughtful, nuanced, and kind.

    7. nani1978*

      I think both of your comments have been very valuable, Victoria. I am terribly sorry for you, OP, as I realize almost no one can punish us as much as we do ourselves, and your punishment has been internal and external. A teachable series of moments, for sure. Please try not to continue to punish yourself but remain open to the instinct that told you not to go along with the boss, as difficult and possibly job-threatening as an occasion may be in future, you know now what repercussions truly come with it.

      I’ve gone back and re-read the initial letter as well as this update and it took a little bit before I found the part that said the bereaved coworker contacted clients about this as well (!), and it would have been that item, I believe, that really pushed HR into firing OP along with the boss. It was simply too much to have festering distrust within the workplace and with outside clients having possibly made judgment calls affecting the business as well. This escalated terribly, and I can only hope your former boss has a shred of conscience to realize and atone for the awful chain of events he precipitated.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I hope that she was told to keep company matters inside the company. But I am betting she wasn’t.
        She went to HR, HR was handling it and then she went running to tell clients?

        I wonder how that is working out for her, did her clients quit doing business with her?

    8. floating*

      Agreed. Quite frankly, if HR hadn’t fired the OP, she might have had to start job searching soon anyway. It would be tough for me to work with someone who left work materials on a loved one’s grave, even knowing that OP’s arm was twisted and she is incredibly contrite. It’s just a tough pill to swallow, especially with grief being so fresh.

    9. Mike C.*

      I think we’re jumping on a moral pedestal by expecting the OP to have 20/20 hindsight and a complete understanding of working norms less than a year into their professional career.

      1. LBK*

        I’ve seen a few comments like this and it frustrates me because people don’t spring into the working world fresh from Zeus’s head. I understand the scary nature of your boss at your first job threatening to fire you, but I don’t absolve the OP of not even having an inkling of trying to get backup in this situation. The idea that there could be a third party who could help you out when you’re put into a tight spot by an authority figure is not exclusive to the working world, nor is it a lesson you don’t learn until then – in school there’s principals and guidance counselors you can report things to, and in the world at large there’s police officers and other agencies.

        The main reason I don’t buy the “it was her first job” argument is that I’m just struggling to believe that most people here would have done what the OP did in her situation, because I think most people here (yourself included) would’ve had the sense even at your first job to at a bare minimum immediately call and ask some friend or family member what to do.

        1. Observer*

          Did you notice how many people said that their parents / friends would have told them to do what the boss said? Have you thought about how often young people are told to NOT ask their parents or friends for advice?

          OP, I’m curious, why did you reach out to AAM, rather than talk to your parents?

        2. Ego Chamber*

          “The main reason I don’t buy the “it was her first job” argument is that I’m just struggling to believe that most people here would have done what the OP did in her situation,”

          I’m 33, I’ve been working full time since I was 19 and I would have done what OP did in her situation now. Working for mostly toxic and dysfunctional workplaces will do some weird things to your head. Everyone gather around and I’ll recount the tale of the hundreds of hours I worked for free when I first got hired in food service, and then I’ll share the epic poem about the company that fired me “for unrelated performance reasons,” days after I insisted they pay me for all hours worked, even the ones after the manager had clocked me out and insisted I finish working without being paid because “it shouldn’t take that long, you’re being slow on purpose to get paid more” (note: I was not).

          I won’t commit crimes for employers, or break regulations I know about, or do things that are objectively unethical, but what the OP did was a dick move at worst. She was being threatened with an insubordination firing (which usually means the employer will call it “misconduct,” even though that’s bullshit—especially in this situation). With that kind of motivation, and wanting to prove to my parents that I can get keep a job and get out of their house… yeah, I’d have definitely delivered the letter.

      2. BananaPants*

        It’s not a matter of understanding working norms, it’s being a decent human being. OP knew that what her boss instructed her to do was inappropriate and would be hurtful to her coworker, and she chose to do it anyways. Yes, she worried that she might lose her job and fear makes people do foolish things, but she had choices and alternatives and chose to go ahead and do it anyways.

        Where I work, our newest entry level hires go through ethics training; youth and inexperience isn’t a valid excuse for un-ethical behavior. It is drilled into employee’s heads from the start of their work here that “My boss told me to do it” is not OK. What OP did would violate my employer’s ethics code (it would be considered to be abuse or harassment of a coworker). OP has learned a valuable and important lesson, and I hope she finds a new job soon – but she’s *not* a totally innocent party here, Mike C.

        1. Observer*

          It violated YOUR company’s ethics code. But, her company doesn’t seem to have one. That does change the situation.

        2. Observer*

          By the way, you mention that your company gives your newest entry level people ethics training. That doesn’t prove that youth and inexperience is not an excuse for unethical behavior – in fact the reverse is true. Your company clearly understands that people who are young and inexperienced are far more likely to make bad choices because they simply don’t have the tools to do better.

          You are expecting the OP to behave as though she had the benefit of your company’s ethics training, even though she didn’t.

    10. zora*

      I don’t think she ‘did wrong.’ Doing wrong would be if she really did ‘intend’ to be insensitive to the grieving coworker.

      Instead, I think the right way to frame it is OP made a mistake by not asking for help. Which is understandable for someone in their first job! But the appropriate response would be to say “this is an absolutely inappropriate thing your boss asked you to do. No matter what he threatened, when told to do something unethical or inappropriate by your boss, you should always find someone to ask for help. Whether that is HR, or another coworker who is above you and has more experience. The boss is the one who is 100% at fault here, he is the one who knew what he was doing. But in the future, always find someone to ask for help, this is not the kind of decision you have the power to make (whether or not to deliver the letter).”

      Saying “you made a mistake” to me is a VERY different thing than saying “you knowingly did something bad.”

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        This is probably headed too far down a rabbit hole, but:

        She DID knowingly do something “bad.” She absolutely, definitely did; she says so herself. We should all hold ourselves to a standard of trying to avoid doing wrong (at least as defined by our own moral codes; this clearly went against the OP’s moral code).

        She ALSO made a mistake in not asking for help. That part is absolutely the result of inexperience, and I don’t blame her for it at all.

        1. paul*

          It’s a hard situation.

          Expecting people to do any damn thing in a hard situation and giving them a pass regardless of what they do or who they hurt is *not* cool.

          Neither is expecting perfection in the moment, particularly when there’s power dynamics and inexperience at play.

          IDK exactly where I fall on this particular one.

          1. LBK*

            I think what’s throwing me is that this update feels like it lacks agency that felt present in the first letter. The way that one was written, it felt like the OP knew she was in a really hard place and made a gross but conscious, calculated choice because she felt like she had no other option. And I was willing to buy that there wasn’t another choice because we’ve read letters like that, where the boss is the owner’s best friend so they’re untouchable, or HR is a known horror show and wouldn’t do anything, or the boss was a big player in the industry who could trash the OP’s rep.

            But in the follow up it almost feels like the OP just didn’t even consider if there was anything else she could’ve done, and then frustratingly doesn’t seem to have fought for herself when it all went down – I just can’t imagine that if the version of the story we’d gotten in the original letter had been recounted to HR, they would still have fired her. The whole update feels passive to me, like this just happened to the OP rather than her having decision points anywhere in the story.

            Maybe the ultimate lesson is this: yes, there’s power dynamics at play in the workplace, but everyone at work is still a person just like you, and you can stick up for yourself.

            1. Natalie*

              Huh, I just re-read the original letter and I don’t feel like it has a strong sense of agency either. What there anything in particular that jumped out at you?

            2. Paul*

              I’ll offer part of my reasoning for not being as hard on OP as I have in other situations where people tried to harm 3rd parties to protect themselves (even from much worse than a crap boss).

              It was a note, on a grave. OP didn’t physically or financially harm this person. Some of the other things we’ve seen here–framing a coworker to start an investigation for instance–were things that would pretty clearly be significantly life altering and massively harmful to other people.

              This, is less so. Yes it’s emotionally upsetting, but to me the predictable harm here doesn’t register as as extreme as other things we’ve seen, and that matters to me when I’m judging something like this.

              1. Paul*

                that said, no, it still doesn’t completely absolve them of their role in this. But I can’t see it as something where my first reaction would be to fire them for gross misconduct either.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’m with Natalie—in both letters I noticed a lack of agency. The original focused on how wrong OP knew the situation was, but I didn’t get the impression that OP was more active than this update. Part of me suspects OP did not fight for themselves because they understood that their actions were objectively horrible (as noted in the original letter), and to a certain extent, they may have felt they deserved firing. [That’s not what I think, but it’s a reaction I’ve seen before that may help explain the dissonance.]

    11. Risha*

      I’m going to buck the trend and say that I do completely absolve her.

      The OP probably wasn’t in a position to say no, and to say that she was is a ridiculously privileged position. That she ended up fired is very unfortunate, but she had valid reason to believe that was going to be fired if she refused anyway, and the note still would have been delivered by the next unfortunate coworker on her boss’ to-abuse list. The note was appalling and I hope the boss has a series of humiliating failures followed by developing scabies, and I’m definitely not going to say that every action is forgivable if your boss is threatening you. But in this case, let’s actually get a grip on the scale. It was a nasty note to a grieving person! That was incredibly sucky, but it probably didn’t permanently traumatize the coworker, never mind physically or financially hurt her. (Those Holocaust comparisons up-thread were pretty disgusting, for the record.)

      Delivering the note was at least some sort of action the OP could take to try and save her job (not that I think she was thinking that clearly at that moment), and as someone who has spent a couple of years homeless due to unemployment, fine feelings doesn’t put food in your mouth. I’m VERY happy that she has a safety net, but depending on your family’s situation, safety nets might not be permanent or complete, or could destroy her credit, or her family’s retirement savings, or a number of other very unpleasant things. We don’t know the OPs situation – maybe she’s a rich kid! – but a good sized chunk of the US population is one or two paychecks from a ruined life. So lets give them a bit of a break, please?

      1. Kismet*

        “to say that she was is a ridiculously privileged position”

        Wow. Way to dehumanize and condescend to anyone you don’t consider sufficiently privileged. Ethics and morals aren’t somehow only for privileged people, and as a poor, queer woman of color I am extremely offended by the suggestion that I am some immoral or amoral child who can’t possibly be expected to ever do the right thing.

        Are there negative consequences for behaving ethically? A lot of the time, unfortunately, yes, but that doesn’t somehow make it okay to not behave ethically.

    12. Not So NewReader*

      Alison said, “This is not on you.”

      I believe there is a school of thought that if people are acting on the instruction of their leader then the leader is responsible for their actions.

      I had a micro-manager of a boss who subscribed to this thinking. If a subordinate sneezed it was somehow my fault. I was able to shake off a lot of this talk. But this boss sincerely believed that every single action my people did was somehow my responsibility. We spent a lot of time talking about the difference between robots and people and the fact that I had people. My boss was an extreme example of this school of thinking.

      However, yes, in line with this thinking this boss used his power and position on a vulnerable employee. He knew exactly what he was doing. Why didn’t he ask a more senior employee? Because he KNEW they would refuse. It’s abuse of power and you just don’t do this as a boss. You do not leverage an employee’s blind spot to fill your own agenda. (OP, I hope you see this. Please remember, a good boss does not use your lack of knowledge, naiveté, lack of awareness or whatever, against you to suit their agenda.)

    13. Gloucesterina*

      I guess I don’t see where in OP’s writings she presents herself as someone who’s going to end up with the takeaway message that “Random people commenting on AAM are clearly saying that it’s A-OK to follow orders that I am ethically uncomfortable with. Woohoo! Professional success and personal satisfaction, here I come!”

  24. Ladybird*

    OP, I really hope you keep your chin up. It’s really good that you’ve found work after a bad situation.

    Not to alarm you, but I suggest you plan out how to explain the situation. That way, you have an answer ready and don’t feel as unnerved on the off chance it does come up.

    Hope everything works out for you.

  25. paul*


    OP, please don’t internalize this crap-fest as normal! I hope your temping gets you back on track, and hopefully you can move on (and never have to deal with ex-boss again).

  26. Nephron*

    I really understand the reality of being in a situation and unable to think out a solution that appears obvious afterwards. This was not your fault. Yeah, going to HR is an obvious answer but when you are holding the letter and worried about your job you are focused on getting out of the horrible situation you are in and keeping your job.

    Kudos to you as you appear to have never tried to deny having delivered the letter to protect yourself, that shows some integrity and honesty that your old boss did not have. You may later find yourself glad to not be working for an organization that put such a person in a position of authority.

    If you ever find yourself in something even remotely similar try to cultivate the ability to ask HR or senior coworkers for clarification on policy. It can often feel less like you are getting your boss or coworker in trouble as you are not starting the conversation by declaring something wrong. We are socialized to not tattle, and while Allison has repeatedly discussed the fact that this is not tattling it can be hard to override that socialization. People further in their careers can be more comfortable saying something is wrong, but framing something as a lack of understanding on your part can be much easier when you are starting out.

  27. Althea*

    I don’t think it would be a bad thing to send a letter to the HR at your former company expressing much that you have said here: you did this at your boss’s order, you knew it was wrong, you are ashamed and sorry, you understand their actions. Included in this, you could include a similar message that could be passed on to the bereaved coworker, including your hopes that her grieving process could continue afterward without further incident.

    This will mostly make you feel a little better, because no one seemed to give you a chance to say this on your own. It could help mitigate the bad feelings on their side as well, and I don’t see much downside.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I think that’s a good idea. Keep it short and simple. Then let it all go. What an awful place. OP, you’ll get something better one day, for sure.

    2. Alli525*

      I think the VERY LAST thing OP should do is ask that HR send a message to her former coworker. It would come across as aggressively tone-deaf at best, and malicious at worst.

      1. cleo*

        Agreed. OP could give HR permission to share her letter with the coworker, at their discretion. Maybe. But probably best to leave the coworker completely out of it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I agree—I think the overall idea is lovely and thoughtful and worth OP’s consideration. I think the apology to the coworker, if included, should be hedged with something that asks HR to pass it along if they deem it appropriate.

        2. Althea*

          This was the spirit of my comment about a note to the coworker – something that could be passed on if HR thought it would be appropriate or good for the coworker, but with discretion involved.

          I do find it unfair that OP was not granted a little more credibility. The manager who had this idea has no credibility, in my view, because it’s clear his judgment is completely shot. So why should he be believed when he said he didn’t threaten OP’s job? What motivation could OP possibly have had, other than an order and a threat? There’s no reason for OP to have done this maliciously.

          But, under the circumstances, I think this is the best OP can do to make amends.

      2. Observer*

        I disagree. Normally, I would put the feelings of the aggrieved party first, but this is a bit of a different situation. A key reason is that the coworker’s response was waay over the top. I’d say that she really lost any high ground by deliberately getting her coworker fired and maligning her and the company to clients.

        1. Kirk Tentaprice*

          Where are you seeing deliberate intent? From my reading, the co-worker told people what had happened and those people then responded as they thought appropriate (so not really “maligning” either).

          Am I missing something?

          1. Observer*

            Calling your clients to complain about a coworker and the company didn’t “just happen”. These were actions she took deliberately.

            1. Kirk Tentaprice*

              I’m fine with “deliberate”, not so much with “intent”.

              Where was the intention to get someone fired?

              1. Observer*

                Seriously?! She CALLED HER CLIENTS to tell them about how horrible the OP was. Why ELSE would she do this? This is NOT a typical response at all. If what she needed was to vent, the people one would expect her to vent to are her family and friends. Certainly that’s who she would have reached out to for that purpose.

                1. Kirk Tentaprice*

                  More reasoned answer :
                  Talking to HR was reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.
                  Talking to the clients wasn’t, but to me this suggests the coworker hadn’t thought through the implications. She could have been talking to anyone she thought would listen.
                  But my inability to find a convincing different motivation only reflects on me – not on the coworker. Short answer : we don’t know why she did it, but nothing in the OP’s letters demonstrates conclusively that there was malice.
                  The coworker is not the villain here. Neither is the OP, but we know she did something she regrets. Supporting the OP (which I do) should be at the expense of the manager who behaved appallingly, not the coworker who was wronged, and even if the coworker was unreasonable (which talking to the clients was), this was understandable – and not necessarily malicious – under the circumstances.

  28. TSG*

    OP, I just wanted to echo the other kind commenters here to say that this was not your fault and I’m sorry this happened. What a tough situation to have been placed in. I wish you the best!

  29. Katie the Fed*

    This is such a heartbreaking update.

    Your boss threw you under the bus because he’s an unprofessional, incompetent ass. HR shouldn’t have let you go down with him. This was 99.9% his fault. You get maaaaybe .1% of the blame, if that. You were new and young and didn’t know what was normal.

    I know your coworker was grieving, but I also feel like her reaction was unwarranted too.

    I’m sorry this happened to you – truly. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll find a good job soon and this will be a bad memory.

      1. la bella vita*

        100% agree – I can completely understand the coworker flipping out to HR, but going to clients could have (and maybe should have) gotten the coworker fired as well.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Agreed! This was obviously a painful episode for the grieving coworker, but that’s also a performance issue that should be dealt with.

    1. Erin*

      Yeah calling clients and telling them what happened seems really bizarre. If I were on the receiving end of that I’d have serious doubts about her – the grieving employee – not the company.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And companies that allow dysfunctional employees like the boss to go unchecked encourage similar dysfunction in other employees who observe this.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        It actually makes me wonder if OP’s reputation really is trash within the field. With a company this dysfunctional, it’s possible other industry members can tell when there’s more to the story.

    2. kittymommy*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this. Going to hr I completely understand, but the clients???

      1. DArcy*

        The coworker is justifiably furious over the company’s actions while still in a state of profound grief over the loss of their loved one; it’s really not surprising that they’re more or less berserk and lashing out in every way they possibly can.

        1. Natalie*

          Eh, it’s still unprofessional. It’s kind of garbage for the company to recognize grief as a mitigating factor in the co-worker’s behavior but not recognize pressure as a mitigating factor in the OP’s.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, thank you! I was super sympathetic to the coworker, but the one thing I can’t get behind is trashing people to clients. Grief might be the explanation, but I don’t think it’s an excuse for wil’ing out that way.

        2. TootsNYC*

          well, I don’t want to judge other people’s grief, and of course the graveyard is a highly emotional spot.

          but it’s also at least 3 days after the death, and there are lots of social duties then to pull people away from their grief, so…

          1. TootsNYC*

            Not to mention by the time you can talk to the client, it’s probably a day or two after the actual incident…

        3. Observer*

          No, no and NO!

          I’ve been the recipient of some pretty jaw dropping stuff, and have witnessed worse. No. A campaign to smear your current employer and get a coworker driven out of the field or at LEAST fired is NOT a reasonable response.

          The OP did something bad in fear for her job and without the experience to figure out a way to deal with the problem she was dealing with, and she’s being raked over the coals. But CW actively tried to get someone fired and maligned her own employer with the clients, and that’s OK because she was grieving?!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Unfortunately for CW in effort to smear her coworker she also smeared her company.

          2. Kismet*

            I think it’s funny so many people are absolving the OP, who even admits to doing wrong, to the point that some people are saying OP couldn’t ever be held to any moral or ethical standards because she’s somehow not privileged enough to make ethical choices – but many of those same people are raking the grieving victim over the coals for … not making a perfect ethical choice when being emotionally abused by her boss.

            So which is it – do you get a free pass on ethics or not?

  30. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    This is horrific. Nothing about this is right. I’m so sorry, OP. If I could give you a job, I would. Sending you all the good thoughts and hope you find something soon.

  31. Lora*

    Oh noooo. I’m sorry, this is the pits.

    I was having one of those mentorship talks with a young female engineer last weekend – her boss is being a Class A jerk and she feels she has to sit there and take his abuse because she will get fired if she sticks up for herself. Now, I know her boss, and he doesn’t have the political capital to get the janitor to swat a fly for him, much less fire anyone without both his boss and about three other managers telling him heck no. But she was upset and it was clear she felt so helpless. She is otherwise very smart and assertive but she badly wants her first real job to go well. I did my best to convince her to go to HR, go to her grandboss for help, told her I will 100% support her, that it wouldn’t be the first such complaint they’ve had about him, and she is still just terrified and angry on so many levels. And I get that, her boss is acting like a crazy person and she feels who knows what stunt he will pull next considering that he scapegoats her and makes stuff up out of thin air.

    It’s really, really hard to be in the position you were in OP. And it’s not fair.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is so great of you! Once this situation is resolved, the engineer will be so grateful to you.

    2. Alice*

      I have to wonder — in a situation like this, when other people know that this boss is being a jerk, why do the other people wait for “official notice” from the young employee who feels powerless?

      1. Lora*

        In my case, I’ve already complained three times about the dude. He seems to be on a shorter and shorter leash, and his responsibilities are gradually being removed and transferred to other people, so I think it’s a matter of time before he’s given the boot. However, if she complains, she has a justifiable fear of retaliation – even if he can’t fire her, he can still be a complete a-hole to her. He does have the power to make her really miserable, where there wouldn’t necessarily be witnesses. She’s talked in the past of going to grad school, so she may be counting down the days for that. It’s not unlike being abused: you really have to pick your time and place to get out of the situation, and you need to be guaranteed real safety and support. He did mistreat her in the past in front of other people, and that was one of my first complaints about the guy: he treats people in general like crap. To management’s credit, they did tell him to adjust his attitude, and he did around me. Not, apparently, around anyone else.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Some times anger can block word flow. Maybe if she had help lining up what she would like to say, she might do it?

      I have helped people organize their thoughts in personal situations, too. Anger can be a real conversation stopper when your mind is racing and you cannot organize what you are thinking.

  32. MMDD*

    Ack. I wondered if we would get an update on this one and unfortunately, it’s the update I expected. I’m sorry OP, we all struggle with using our best judgment when new to the workforce. Your boss, presumably, has had time to decide what a good judgment call is (and what common human decency is) and his behaviour absolutely warrants his termination. I wonder if your organization let you go as well as a way to make peace (so to speak) with your former coworker.

  33. NicoleK*

    Good rule of thumb. If you’re asked to do something that feels icky, it’s time to consult with someone else.

  34. Jeanne*

    What a mess. I’m sorry you ended up taking the blame. Sure you could have refused or gone to HR but hindsight is 20/20 and it’s hard when your boss orders you to do something. You had no power in this situation and I understand you felt you had to obey. I hope your next job is better.

  35. MuseumChick*

    Oh geez OP, I am so sorry. I’ve never had anything this extreme happen to me but I have had enough happen where I really, strongly prefer all communication being in email format.

    Your ex-boss is the worst person ever.

  36. Laura*

    OP were you turned down for unemployment or did your previous job tell you that you wouldn’t be eligible?
    I know you are temping now, but I wanted to pass on what my father told me once. HR is there to protect the company(i.e. Minimize unemployment insurance costs) not you, and the state may have a different view than the company.

    1. Yet Even Another Alison*

      I agree with Laura. I live in a very pro-business state – even my state will not simply deny unemployment to employees that are fired. Frankly, in my experience, companies will do whatever they think they have to do – ethical, legal or not – to keep their unemployment premiums from going up. (if they think they can get away with it) In my pro-business state, they realize that many folks are fired and not laid off simply because the company does not want the terminated worker to impact their unemployment insurance premiums. In my state, fired folks are now barred from getting unemployment ONLY if they are fired for gross misconduct – like walking in and waving an AK-47 around or stealing from the company. In other words, being fired does not automatically mean you cannot collect unemployment. OP, it may be worth it to call your state unemployment agency and ask. I would fight it – they screwed you and they are most likely counting on your youth and relative inexperience in the working world to keep them from experiencing any blowback. They understand you are upset and they count on this to drain your resolve to fight unemployment denial. In situations like a firing or termination – DO NOT trust the company HR department. The are NOT your friend. They will do whatever they have to do, in MOST cases, to protect the company and they seldom are held accountable for employee abuses in situations like yours. Simply document what they state, make copies, logs, don’t sign ANYTHING without legal advice.

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        “DO NOT trust the company HR department. The are NOT your friend. They will do whatever they have to do, in MOST cases, to protect the company and they seldom are held accountable for employee abuses in situations like yours. Simply document what they state, make copies, logs, don’t sign ANYTHING without legal advice.”

        Seconded. HR is part of the company’s mission to maximize value for its shareholders, not its other stakeholders like employees.

    2. Not this time*

      OP was turned down for unemployment because she had not worked there for long enough (the law is 12 months where she is, same as where I am from).

      1. Yet Even Another Alison*

        Yes, I saw this – I was thinking that since she was so screwed that they unemployment might make an allowance for this. (time requirement) And she also said that it was because of being fired too. When corporate America whines that they cannot find folks for roles (especially in my field) and I hear about these types of situations (OP’s), I wonder if some companies have their reputation and dysfunction preceding them and that is why they cannot find folks.

      2. bean*

        Actually, I’m wondering if OP tried to get unemployment and was actually denied it for that reason, or if the company’s HR department took it upon themselves to “advise her” not to attempt to get unemployment for this reason, and if they might have been the ones who told her that she wouldn’t qualify?

        In other words, I don’t know that I trust this HR department a whole lot right now. If the eligibility requirement is actually 12 months of work at that workplace according to the unemployment agency, then sure. But if her information source were the HR department? Those folks are only looking out for themselves here – double-check that yourself, stat.

  37. Stranger than fiction*

    Wow this is tough. On one hand, they did the right thing firing numbskull boss. On the other hand, all he had to do is deny he threatened Op’s job and she got fired too?

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Seriously–how does it not occur to HR that a man who would leave work note on the grave of a colleague’s deceased relative would ALSO deny threatening a junior employee to make it happen?

    2. JulieBulie*

      Yes, this is totally nuts. Is “shoot/fire the messenger” an official policy in that place?

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I noticed that. They think this guy is going to be honest? Starting when?

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I actually don’t think they fired her because they believed him. I suspect they knew he was a liar, but based on the rapid escalation of hostilities towards OP (plus the failure to come to them, first), they may have prioritized retaining the grieving employee over retaining OP. Which is all to say—I think there are reasons other than believing-the-liar that could have formed the basis for their actions.

  38. Granny K*

    Truly this OP’s situation is a version of the Milgram experiment. In that experiment, it was anticipated that only a small percentage of participants would be obedient and inflict (alleged) pain on an (alleged) tester. The results were that 65% of the participants obeyed orders, despite it conflicting with their moral values.

  39. Former Hoosier*

    I cannot believe that you were fired over this. Your boss seriously sucks for lying. In hindsight, it may seem clear that you should have gone to HR directly but I understand why you did not. And honestly, it seems like no one in the company is that great. While it doesn’t feel like it now, this company isn’t a good place to work.

  40. Orlando*

    Hey OP,

    I’m really sorry. You had the worst boss in the world. This was not your fault IN THE LEAST. Please believe this. It was never a legitimate choice. (It’s called duress, everyone- look it up.) Your coworker understandably blamed you because she was in pain and didn’t have the full picture, but that doesn’t make it your fault. I really hope things get better for you because you deserve it.

  41. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    You know what? This sucks. It sucks all the way around. Your boss sucks. What your coworker went through sucks. The fact that you got fired sucks. But, there is a blessing hidden in disguise here. You got out of that maelstrom of suck. You learned, FAST, what a toxic boss is like. Remember what that felt like. Take it with you. Try like hell to not let it happen to you again. Lick your wounds and move on.

    You’re going to be alright, OP.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Best. Comment. Ever.

      Seconding all of this, especially the last line. You’re going to be okay. It doesn’t look like it now, but you will be okay. More than okay. You will be great!

    2. Amazed*

      Agreed. Nobody is so worthless that they can’t at least be a bad example, and this entire workplace – boss, HR, and *maybe* the bereaved (depending on whether bereavement can excuse going to clients with this and failing to realizing the OP was coerced, which are big ifs) – is an example indeed.

  42. Venus Supreme*

    OP, I don’t have a big enough vocabulary of colorful words to describe what I think of your boss and your HR department. This is absolutely not your fault and I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope you have mentors/professors/respectable higher-ups in your past internships that you can lean on to help you find a better-fitting job. Godspeed, my friend.

  43. Menacia*

    Ugh, there is so much in hindsight that should have been done here. I think the lesson learned is if someone who has authority over you asked you to do something ethically, criminally, pick the ally of your choice, and you are feeling really unsure about it, and especially if you are threatened with being fired over not doing it, do not pass Go but go directly to HR.

    1. TootsNYC*

      another takeaway for others (and for the OP for next time)

      Find allies and mentors.

      At the places you work, identify sensible people higher in rank than you, people who seem like they’d be a friendly source of advice, someone who isn’t interested in creating drama.
      Indicators: gives small compliments to people; doesn’t gossip; seems willing to excuse small mistakes without refusing to acknowledge that they exist.

      Probably you don’t even have to be chummy with them–just keep an eye out for who they are. I think at my companies, I might be one of those people, and I have had junior staffers from other departments come and say to me, “What do you think of this?” As a sensible person, I don’t go immediately to their boss; I see it as a chance to provide info and perspective they don’t have.

      Outside of work, identify similar people. Again, even a slight connection is probably all you need for something this serious. Any kid from my church could contact me, any niece or nephew.
      And sometimes a peer (like a friend) can help you find either perspective themselves, or help you find someone THEY trust for advice.

      It’s wise always to be building up that particular human asset: the source of good advice.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oh, this is great, I was hoping someone started a list.
        I have had a few rough situations come up, OP, and here are some things I did:

        “NSNR wait until no one is around and go through their desk/office and look for x.”
        I was going to get written for refusing. So I counter offered. I said, “I will go talk to this person.”
        Novel idea, eh? Here the trick was not to get caught up in the craziness of the situation. Insist on using logical methods. I talked to the person, got the info, we were all set.

        “NSNR, do this really questionable thing in the computer that will turn up on an audit later and start all kinds of problems.”
        Here, I had the boss sign the documents that resulted from my questionable activity. Even the boss said, “Yeah, always take someone with you.”
        He was right. Get a witness, pull in other people. But notice how he waited for me to ask and did not preemptively volunteer. Sometimes just telling a person is the route to go, “This might be a problem later, will you witness it?”

        One time a boss told me to do Outrageous Thing. I did not realize it was a joke that he pulled on all the new people. I was shook, I could not do that. (Picture something along the lines of swim the length of a lake or climb four stories up on a ladder.) Now I am in a bad spot. I will not be doing this, I lack the ability to and I lack the willingness. So I quietly said, “I don’t think I will be doing that.” The boss let me stew on that for a while. Later, I found out it was a joke.

        Once in a while I have used a stall tactic. “Yeah, okay, boss.” Then I did Very Important Things A, B and C. This bought me a few hours.
        Boss: Did you do questionable thing I asked for?
        Me: Not yet. I did A, B and C that I knew absolutely had to get done this morning. So I had not started it yet.
        Boss: Good. Don’t bother doing questionable thing.
        Here the trick is to let the boss incubate that idea for a while. There are some bosses that just need time to think through what the next steps should actually be.

  44. Noah*

    This reflects badly on everyone but OP: Boss, HR department, company and even co-worker. Yes, co-worker. I dealt with a lot of ridiculous from various people when my dad died and again when my mom died, but I never tried to get anybody fired for it. That never even occurred to me. (Don’t get me wrong, Boss, HR and Company are way worse than co-worker.)

    1. DArcy*

      I disagree. If we’re saying the co-worker should be held responsible for retaliating in anger *despite* the context of her being massively provoked by the company’s outrageous actions, then the OP should also be held responsible for her actions as well despite the context of being ordered by her boss.

      It’s fair to say that both the OP and the oc-worker made serious errors of judgement, but with important mitigating circumstances; as opposed to HR and the boss, both of which engaged in outrageously inappropriate actions with no mitigating circumstances at all.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        But OP got fired and coworker is fine.
        I am really hoping that CW got spoken to and we just do not know that part.

  45. AndersonDarling*

    This is the worst kind of update. The boss is fired for doing something unbelievably awful and I can’t even be happy about it because the fallout was so expansive.
    I really wish the best for the OP, and I’m really hoping that something great comes along soon. Maybe this is a rocky start to an unexpected, successful career.

    1. DArcy*

      Per the original post, a bunch of work-related things that only the coworker knew about. So it’s legit that they wanted to get a hold of her, the part that was grossly off the deep end was leaving the note at the gravesite to try and bypass her being on leave and out of contact.

  46. Atomic Orange*

    This update is really upsetting. I am so sorry that you lost your job OP. It’s really unfair and you didn’t deserve it. Your boss sounds like an epic jerk and your previous company/HR dropped the ball hard. Did you make a mistake? Yes. But your mistake stemmed from intimidation from your boss and fear of losing your job. I’m not sure if playing delivery person even without that context is a fireable offense in this case. It sounds like HR wanted to sweep everything under the rug, and you being the inexperienced new hire was the perfect scapegoat.

    I don’t know if this is relevant or if you even want to go down this path… but have you considered consulting an employment lawyer?
    I was in a situation a few years back where a former boss fired me for a mistake that I didn’t make (rumour has it she threw me under the bus for her own mistake). HR turned a blind eye because she was more valuable in their books. When I claimed innocence, HR’s exact words were ‘well it’s not like we were there to see it happen, so nothing we can do.’ I was furious, but it was my word against hers. A friend of mine recommended I consult a lawyer anyways just to see if there were any options.
    My lawyer agreed suing wasn’t the best option (without evidence I had little chance of winning), but we did send a letter demanding that my termination be labelled as without cause, a fair severance, and fair reference if ever contacted for it. Well they pushed back. But after I made it clear my only interest was to protect my reputation in the industry, and that I did nothing wrong in the first place… they caved.
    By fighting back a number of former coworkers also got swayed to believing my version of events, and I was able to secure a positive reference from the manager of another department whose work crossed a lot with mine.

    OP, I’m not saying consulting a lawyer will definitely help. But they might be able to assess the situation from another perspective and offer some valuable advise.

  47. Me*

    Hi OP!

    I just wanted to chime in and let you know that not having a job a year after you graduate is not as big a deal as it might seem–I was unemployed for 2 years after college before I got a job. Walgreens wouldn’t hire me, but I applied and applied and I am now in the field I wanted to be in. This is such an awful situation, but there is hope!

  48. Old Admin*

    Dear OP:
    So much good stuff has been said here, and so much sympathy and truth is in the comments. I can’t add to that.
    Just a thought:
    You know know that following Evil Orders will not save your job.
    Next time, this experience will give you the inner strength to Refuse! Resist! Go to HR/Grandboss! – and you’ll have at least a *chance* of getting out the House of Bees.
    I’ve been there myself, both getting run over, and resisting.

    I wish you all the best. You can recover from this. I am sure!!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Evil Orders. Rock and a hard place. I got to the point where I thought, “I can get fired either way, so I would rather take the road where I can live with myself.” At one job, I went as far as telling myself, “No one is going to the jail time FOR me.” Jail, unemployment, jail, unemployment. Framed this way, I found the strength I needed to stand up to bully boss.

      1. Old Admin*

        Did it work? How did he react?
        We need to know – to draw inspiration from your experience!

  49. Bookworm*

    I’m so sorry, OP. Just wanted to say that I agree that this is really not your fault. And while maybe this seems really terrible right now, in some ways it might be for the best. An organization that hired such a horrible person as your boss, a co-worker that decided to tell clients (understandable she was upset but that doesn’t seem appropriate to tell to clients…) and an HR that wouldn’t help is *clearly* a toxic place.

    A truly tough break for you but I also wouldn’t be too worried about it being your first job and all. I didn’t get a full-time job for about 2 years after I graduated (I had temp jobs, a retail job, an internship, etc.). It can work. Wishing you the best.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      Yeah, I was thinking that about the coworker, too. I mean, I get that she was probably seeing red and I don’t blame her for raising a stink – especially if prior experience or knowledge told her HR might try to keep this hush hush. This was just beyond the pale on the part of the manager. But it does kind of suck that she decided to tell clients rather than handling it all internally – that seems a bit unprofessional. (although of course, if a relative dies and you find a rude note at your grave…I’m sure professional is not at the top of your priority list.)

  50. Sue Wilson*

    OP, I too think you could have done a little more to avoid this, but I think your panic blinded you. So my advice would be, when you’re in a situation when you think there are no good options: GET SPACE. Get to a place where you can really think about what all your options are. In this situation that might have been saying yes to your boss, and then thinking about it in the car. When you feel panicked or pressured make your goal not to necessarily resolve the panic, because you might not make the best decisions, but make it your goal to get distance from the pressure, so that you can make a decision with fewer alarm bells going off. It’s truly amazing what options present themselves to us when a threat isn’t right in front of our faces.

    I also don’t think your company fired you strictly punitively, I think they fired you because grieving co-worker poisoned the well of your company’s clients and “oh no, we don’t have two bad employees, one of our employees actually threatened his subordinate” was not going to inspire the confidence they would need to rebuild so much as “oh yes, we got rid of those unethical people, there are no more problems here!” would.

    1. Old Admin*

      “I also don’t think your company fired you strictly punitively”

      I agree, this might be a so-called “clean slate” situation where *everybody* even slightly involved (and innocent or not) is fired. The company’s clients are angry, and the company needs to present them with a complete reset, a new beginning as it were to reassure them.
      This interpretation doesn’t make your situation any better, but I really think you don’t need to beat yourself up about it.

      You were in a lose-lose situation.
      You already are working on moving on – go for it!

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        “I agree, this might be a so-called “clean slate” situation where *everybody* even slightly involved (and innocent or not) is fired. ”
        Which, to echo one of the points above, is a good time to talk to an employment lawyer. Even if the case isn’t actionable in court, the company may agree to severance, provide a positive reference, etc.

  51. Jady*

    Ugh so outrageous. I’m so sorry!

    This is a situation that really points to the need to cover your butt whenever possible. In a perfect world, it would be ridiculous to have to do this, but crappy people like your boss exists.

    Don’t feel bad though – it’s a lesson most learn the hard way (self included).

    Document, document, document. Send confirmation emails to the people you talk to, send emails to yourself, emails to HR, whatever it is. You want as much documentation with verifiable time-stamps as possible anytime any situation concerns you.

    I’ve had myself a couple weeks where I wrote down everything that happened because I was concerned things would blow up. I’ve seen another person create numerous textfiles on the network under a personal folder, with one text file for each ‘event’ and a naming system. It was pretty impressive. It was 4-some years of notes.

    Good luck in rebounding from this!

  52. Mimmy*

    Oh how awful :( Lord knows I absolutely would’ve done the same thing when I was just starting out because I was incredibly naive back then. Even today, I probably would be leery about going to HR because I’d feel like I’m tattling, but I would most likely talk to my husband or a friend first.

    Since you were suspicious of the envelope’s contents, I do think you bare a small amount of responsibility, but it doesn’t even remotely justify the way you were treated by HR and the grieving coworker. It certainly stinks to think that you caused the coworker to be so upset, but your boss was ultimately the one who set that all in motion, not you.

    I hope you are able to move forward and find a better job soon.

    1. Not this time*

      I’m not trying to defend the company, HR, or the jerk boss, but OP knew what was in the letter before she took it to the grave. It wasn’t just a suspicion. I think she was wronged and should have not have been fired. But the facts are that she already knew before she delivered it.

  53. Jessica*

    OP, I don’t think you are terrible. You could’ve done better here, but that’s what life experience is for. You learn what you should’ve done by doing something else. I agree that sweeping this whole job under the rug is probably the most practical thing to do while looking for work, but I would hire you. Good luck finding your next job and may it be in a reasonably sane workplace with nobody nearly as terrible as your despicable ex-boss.

  54. Brave New Day*

    OP, I am so sorry to hear this. As AAM says, this isn’t your fault. Neither is the fact that your boss is rotten to the core. I wish you all the best in your career, and keep your head up.

  55. Optimistic Prime*

    Oh my God, OP, your boss is an AWFUL person. Not only did he make you leave a work-related message for a coworker when he was explicitly told not to, he also threw you to the wolves and lied about telling you. Although to be fair, your HR and coworkers aren’t the greatest people, either – anyone who knows your boss and has heard his grumbling should’ve figured the only reason a brand new-to-the-workforce employee would leave a note at a grave was because their job was threatened!

    You’re not a terrible person. You knew it was bad all around, and you did it as a form of self-preservation, and you immediately regretted it and were going to take action – you were just beaten to it. I am so sorry this happened to you. Your boss took advantage of your inexperience and that’s so shitty.

    Good luck with finding permanent employment in your field! I hope your next move is way better than your last one.

  56. LettertotheEd*

    I agree that the boss deserves the lion’s share of the blame here, but like a few other commenters, I don’t think the OP can be completely absolved by the power dynamic at work. Yes, it was her first job out of college, she was under pressure and conflicted, people overestimate their ability to make the right call — all true.

    And yet, it’s also still true that OP screwed up and helped her boss do something callous to a grieving coworker. And she did this as a recent college grad, not a teen intern or a newly hatched baby bird. If I were in HR for this company, I probably would have agreed with the decision to fire her — not because it was all her fault or she’s a terrible person, but because she’s showed poor judgment and will likely never be able to rebuild a productive working relationship with her more senior colleagues, and there are probably a lot of other young applicants who could do the job without that baggage. It’s not the end of the world; I hope she finds a good job and has a long, fulfilling career after this. But allowing her to continue working there after poisoning the well that badly would have created a very bad working environment for everyone involved, including the OP.

    1. SleeplessInLA*

      As much as my heart breaks for OP, I absolutely agree. This is a really harsh lesson to learn but I do not think OP could have ever bounced back from this situation 100% so it was likely the best decision to cut ties all around. While the boss absolutely deserves the blame, OP is “guilty” of bad judgement so had to go down with the ship. :(

      Along with the many lessons to take away from this situation, I think this chain of events highlights the importance of having allies at work. I’m mid-career and would still be VERY hesitant to go to HR and report my boss for something I felt uneasy about, but I have quite a few neutral, Sr. level executives that I could talk to in confidence to get feedback. OP, I hope in your next role you develop these relationships early on because they’re invaluable and can really save you from making a misstep moving forward.

      Good luck with your job search and several people take more than a year to find a job after graduation so don’t stress over that. Chin up!

  57. MommyMD*

    Very sorry for the LW. Let this be a cautionary tale to bosses and manager’s who bother employees out on legitimate leave. Don’t do it. Solve the problem another way. What a jack a zz that boss is. I hope he has trouble finding employment.

  58. Student*

    This was a particularly harsh lesson in trying to deal with the Stanford Prison Experiment scenario, where somebody official tells you to do something wrong.

    Lesson 1 – Nearly everyone fails the Stanford Prison Experiment. Don’t be crippled by the shame of it – we’re all right there with you, even if most people won’t admit it.

    Lesson 2 – Now that you know this is a Thing, and that you are, in fact, just as susceptible it it as the rest of humanity, try not to fall into the same trap again. Doing something wrong is still wrong, no matter who told you to do it. You can’t dodge consequences by pointing to a chain of command. Powerful people aren’t usually as powerful as they first appear, nor as powerful as they want you to think they are. It can feel monumental to reject an order, and terrifying to lose a job – and those feelings can be based in hard facts – but the truth is that you are very unlikely to die starving on the streets. The negative consequences of doing the right thing are real, but often shorter-duration and less severe than the negative consequences of doing the wrong thing. You’ll suffer a setback and then move on (just like you are now).

    1. Sue Wilson*

      Nearly everyone fails the Stanford Prison Experiment.
      Strictly speaking, let’s not use the Stanford Prison Experiment as a conclusion for anything on human nature. It’s methods are faulty to begin with and even if the conclusion hadn’t been cast into doubt, only men (only white and middle class ones to any significant degree) would be implicated in the results.

  59. Binary Vision*

    01000001 01101100 01101001 01110011 01101111 01101110 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101101 01111001 00100000 01101000 01100101 01110010 01101111

  60. veggiewolf*

    OP, I’m sorry you went through this. Here’s hoping you find something soon.

    I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere else in the comments, so I wanted to note that some companies (and some industries) follow the practice of having anonymous Ethics/Compliance hotlines that employees can call in addition to traditional HR. If your field/future employer has one, it can be a very useful resource of you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      True, although unfortunately I’m not sure this would apply. Generally those are for situations where you can turn to whistleblowing protection as you’re reporting something illegal. Which this isn’t.

      1. veggiewolf*

        Absolutely, this particular situation wouldn’t warrant such a call. However, it’s been my experience (albeit very industry-specific) that those who see nothing wrong with bullying a subordinate into questionable behavior also see nothing wrong with cutting other types of corners to “get the job done”.

  61. ACS*

    I’m trying to imagine how I would have handled this situation in LW’s place, and the concept is so bafflingly bizarre that I can’t come up with anything that doesn’t seem like a nutty sitcom plot. Maybe go to the cemetery, but “lose” the note in the trash? As they say in the military, refusing to carry out a direct order gets you shot, but failing to carry it out is incompetence–which usually gets you promoted.

  62. Ramona Flowers*

    I wanted to comment yesterday but had to stop reading the comments. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so angry reading an AAM comment section. The level of smug judgement and schadenfraude is quite something. Does Alison really need to add “don’t compare letter writers to nazis” to the commenting rules because it’s not obvious that is included within “be kind”?

    Yes, this was not the ideal thing to do. But you don’t need to judge and find the letter writer guilty or not guilty and letter writer, I’m sorry anyone felt the need to do this. I hope you know that, in the future, there are other options open to you if you’re put in this position.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes—it’s never good for us when we end up with Godwin’s law comments. I hadn’t seen it happen, before, and I’m sad to have seen it here.

    2. Orlando*


      The problem with the comments is that most people who are saying “you should have gone to HR/told grandboss/refused to comply” would have done exactly the same as OP had they been in the same situation. I’m not saying all; I’m saying the largest percentage.

      Yes, people/employees have some options. But, in practice, when their livelihood is threatened by someone in power, most people are scared to use these options. This is true (in a lesser degree) even to people high up the food chain, who can afford to be picky in their job search. It is much more true for someone like the OP who is just starting out. “Lose your job or do something terrible” is not a legitimate choice. It’s not. It’s a horrible situation someone is forced into. We can give advice for handling comparable situations in the future, but assigning or absolving from blame is problematic and unfruitful.

      A few more things: this is not comparable to people who were brainwashed to commit atrocities, it is not comparable to school (since school has no significant real-life consequences, like losing your living) and it is not comparable to simulated psychological experiments (for the same reason as school).

    3. Observer*

      Thank you.

      The Nazi comparison REALLY upset me. Even the boss – who is a poor excuse for a human – isn’t a Nazi. The OP?! Seriously?!

      1. bean*

        Me too. The Nazi comparison was so horribly inappropriate. I’m really relieved I wasn’t the only one thinking this!

    4. Don't turn this name into a hyperlink*

      As someone with many good Jewish friends dear to my heart, I wholeheartedly agree. There is no better way to diminish Nazi atrocities than by comparing them to situations like this.

      I’ll also add, as one commenter above pointed out, that the more gene venomous comments here demonstrate just why so many workers have a hard time standing up for themselves. Everything is the employee’s fault these days.

  63. MommyMD*

    OP did not “have to go down with the ship”. She was pressured and manipulated and her company should have realized it. Virtually everyone here under these exact circumstances would have done the same thing, even those proclaiming moral superiority.

  64. Persephoneunderground*

    So sorry this happened to you OP!

    Something I noticed in your letter- you said you didn’t go to HR after the fact because the letter was gone so you had no proof. You don’t need proof to go to HR! I’d take this as part of the lesson going forward that you shouldn’t let proof or other circumstances convince you not to address something important at work. Many work issues have no way of being objectively “proven”, such as a coworker who gropes you when you’re alone in the elevator to give an extreme example. They should still be reported, and HR should base their approach on what they know about you and your integrity. This situation would obviously have gone better if you’d approached HR, and your coworker’s story would have confirmed yours and placed you on their side, avoiding getting you lumped in with your boss. I just wanted to point out that fallacy- HR isn’t a court, you don’t need proof to report an issue. It helps, but you don’t need it.

  65. Gatorade*

    Wow, what an awful situation all round. I’m glad the boss got canned, of course, and sorry for the OP to have been caught up in this mess. While we’d all love to think we’d refuse to do something that seems unethical in the workplace, it’s easy to see how tempting it is to go along with it if your job is at risk, when you add in the fact that you’re relatively new to the workforce and might not have had the knowledge or confidence to stand up for yourself and refuse it makes it all the more understandable that you did it. You’ve certainly paid the price.

    The coworker acted incredibly unprofessionally, and I hope they face consequences at the company for telling actual clients about this! Being bereaved does not absolve you from acting professionally and it was a major misstep on their part which probably damage the company’s reputation. They crossed a line and it speaks very poorly of HR if they sacked the OP for their part in this mess yet let the coworker get off scot free.

    I’m trying to imagine getting to my late mother’s grave and finding a letter there from my boss asking work related questions and it’s just such a bizarre notion. I understand the boss’ frustration if the coworker was completely out of the loop with work and not responding to contact (especially as they’d been off for longer than the typical period of time you’d get for a bereavement, which in most places I’ve worked is around two weeks maximum) but a grave is not a conduit for communication and I just can’t fathom the idea of treating it like some kind of messaging service. It’s farcical and shows such an incredible lack of judgement. Imagine trying to explain that to your next interviewer.

  66. Elizabeth West*

    OP, your boss threw you under the bus. I’m glad he got fired (he absolutely deserved it, the putrid little arsemonkey), and I’m sorry it turned out this way for you. Good luck! I have my fingers crossed that you’ll find something with a reasonable, human boss soon.

  67. Jules the Third*

    PDAnon, Trust Your Instincts: Snark is wrong. You are not horrible people. You work differently than most. I am so sorry you had to read that sucky ableist comment, and that Snark doubled down on it (!), I guess because of their own trauma from dealing with one person and from reading all the stigma-creating ‘do you know a narcissist?’ question lists online. I’ve got OCD, and I know how frustrating it can be when your brain doesn’t work the way you want it to. Internet hugs if you want them.

  68. Chickaletta*

    Late to the comments, but I just want to be another voice that says you’re not a bad person. You’re fine, you really are. You know how many good people make mistakes like this? Oh, so, so many. I was just having a discussion with my counselor earlier this week about that because I had said something to a coworker which came out much worse than intended and made me look like a horrible person. And then she told me a story about a time she did something horrible. Oh, honey, you’re fine.

    Your former boss, however, is a wanker.

  69. David Small*

    Someone in HR should realize that *of course* the boss is going to deny threatening your job. That doesn’t mean for sure they will think he did, but not to take his denials as fact. In fact, they should realize that even if he didn’t actually threaten your job (I trust you but I get they may not) it’s reasonable to assume you thought your job would be if you didn’t do what he asked. Next, someone in HR should be mentoring you about this and helping you work through it instead of saying “You should have come to us.” You’re new! Lastly, the bereaved employee has every right to be angry, at your boss. I get that they are also peeved at you, but that gives them no right to send you a nasty email, to trash talk you to clients, or to wage a war against you.

    I’m sorry that this has happened. I hope you’re able to move on sucessfully.

  70. CMF*

    I really hope he finds out he’s been voted the worst boss of 2017. I’m sorry this happened to you you and I hope you’ll stop beating yourself up about it. We’ve all done things that make us wonder what we were thinking or coulda woulda shoulda ourselves to death.

Comments are closed.