update: my coworkers complained that the look of my breasts post-mastectomy is making them uncomfortable

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworkers complained that the look of her breasts after her mastectomy was making them uncomfortable? Here’s the update.

First, as many people guessed, I am in the UK.

When I emailed you last time, there was some creepy behavior happening in my office. This got solved (kind of). A month or two after I wrote in, the creep (who I thought might have complained but still don’t know) simply left. Apparently the team he was leading was getting audited and his work came back as pretty sub-standard, so he took the easy way out and simply left altogether.

And life went back to normal, I planned my next (and hopefully final) surgery for September and I thought that was it. Then mid August my manager called me in and told me that effective immediately, I was off the team, that I wasn’t allowed to sit at my desk (I have a number of physical accommodations with a special desk and chair), that I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone in the building (there’s about 2,000 of us!) apart from her and that until going off sick I would sit alone in an empty part of the building doing nothing all day. Apparently she was concerned about the way I was with my staff but wouldn’t give me any precise examples or even tell me how I could improve. When I spoke to them (I’m in really good terms with one of them) they were shocked. Never felt that I had done anything wrong and had no idea where that was coming from.

I was floored. She had never mentioned anything like that to me and I was lost. When I complained about the physical adjustments that I would now miss, I was told that it had all been agreed and it didn’t matter. I went to the union. They helped me secure a temporary posting in a separate team until I left for my surgery. The way my ex-manager presented it to me, I believed the director above her told her to get rid of me. We were also getting audited and I think I was the easiest solution for her to look like she was acting. Although I was never mentioned in the audit report.)

Surgery went great, I’m at home healing and getting better. I found a job I was really keen about and went to apply, discussed it with my ex-manager (since I’m technically still her employee until I find somewhere permanent) who offered to contact the recruiting manager and help. I was thrilled about that. Except she explained to the recruiter that I was incapable of doing staff management and probably shouldn’t apply for that job at all because I wouldn’t be a good fit at all.

She then got annoyed at me for not preparing end of year reviews for my two staff. The reviews were at the end of November, I was thrown out mid-August but she’s still ragging at me that I didn’t prep everything.

I feel like just now this keeps going from bad to worse. It’ll get better, and in the meantime I keep looking for jobs and applying for stuff, without telling my ex-manager about that.

I’m extremely sad about the whole situation about my ex-manager, I worked there for 3+ years, worked during my holidays, during sick days, during weekends, I did everything and more and that’s how it ended regardless. I wasn’t a perfect employee but I tried my best and my performance reviews were always good.

On the plus side I now have two permanent boobs again, which is pretty great really, so it’s not all bad!

Me again. There’s a ton here that would be illegal in the U.S. — from the initial comments to what now looks like retaliation for exercising a legally protected right. I can’t speak to UK laws, but I’d encourage you to talk to a lawyer.

{ 308 comments… read them below }

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, this has to be one of the most disappointing updates we’ve seen. Damn.

      OP, never give your all to another company like this again. As you’ve now had the unfortunate (dis)pleasure of seeing, that kind of sacrifice is rarely, if ever, rewarded. Your ex-manager is an asshole and you absolutely need to leave her out of your job search going forward – you owe her and that company less than nothing.

      1. Quill*


        And absolutely do report her and everyone else involved in this debacle to your union. And possibly to a lawyer, because holy disability descrimination lawsuit, batman.

        1. BekaAnne*

          I’d be tempted to go for constructive dismissal – and take her to the employment appeals tribunal. Good lord that’s horrid.

      2. many bells down*

        Very much not the update I wanted.

        But then I wanted everyone else in OP’s office to get yeeted into the sun, so…

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Me too! I thought the U.K. had better protections for employees than the US – this wouldn’t fly at most employers here.

      I hope the Union is able to help you, OP. This is outrageous. Please come back and give us another update. I hope everything turns out good for you and congratulations on your successful surgery.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is so horrifying, and it sounds like the ex-manager has a special vendetta against OP (I’m projecting and speculating, but if you’re trying to get rid of someone, why would you then bomb their reference?).

      OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. As Alison notes, all of this would be illegal in the U.S. Given what we hear from Brits on this site, I can only hope that it’s even more illegal in the UK.

        1. valentine*

          if you’re trying to get rid of someone, why would you then bomb their reference?
          This is my question as well. Unless they didn’t want to push her out, just to shun her. But how long can OP work without her setup?

      1. First Star on the Right*

        Because they don’t want to just get rid of her, they want her to suffer, too, for some unfathomable reason.

    4. bluephone*

      I know it’s the UK but: find a lawyer AND maybe drop a shilling on your local news’ investigative hotline (I’m sure the UK has those kinds of departments too, given what the tabloid culture is like over there). Good lord.

      1. Jessen*

        If you’re going to find a lawyer, don’t do this until after you’ve spoken to said lawyer. Otherwise you risk saying something that might jeopardize your case.

    5. StaceyIzMe*

      Yep! Awful! And if nobody below has mentioned it, you might consider not only an attorney, but also a whistleblower complaint to HR, any industry related bodies that might have influence and possibly even to media (if you are okay doing that). I don’t consider myself unkind, but I cannot say that I wish your ex-manager well in the slightest degree! What a Scrooge she must be! Bah! Humbug, you Manager-Monster, you!

  1. Amber Rose*

    Look, I hate to jump straight to this, but… I just feel like a lawyer should be involved here somewhere.

      1. OccDoc*

        Not a lawyer, but I’m a UK occupational health doctor

        In the UK you are automatically covered by the Equality Act as you had a diagnosis of cancer. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you, and they legally have to make adjustments for you at work (as you are covered by the Act). The employer decides what is ‘reasonable’ in terms of adjustments but that is ultimately tested at an employment tribunal. With an employer with 2k+ employees in one building, I would expect a fairly comprehensive approach to adjustments at work may be considered reasonable.

        Speak to the Union and if they’re no use, speak to Citizen’s Advice. Being treated in a discriminatory manner as a direct result of your cancer treatment (the demands to wear the boob cushion seem particularly egregious) may give you a good case in an employment tribunal. As noted, see if you can speak to a lawyer, even if the Union aren’t supportive – some unions are better than others and sometimes they can be downright useless in representing their members’ interests. It’s possible you may be able to find a lawyer to represent you on a no win no fee basis, especially if they feel you have a good case.

        You could also suggest mediation via ACAS, and it may be worth contacting them for advice.

        Good luck.

        1. A*

          “as you had a diagnosis of cancer”

          I could be mis-remembering, but I thought OP had clarified that they did not have a cancer diagnosis – they were strongly predisposed. Just FYI in case that changes your response.

        2. london lawyer*

          UK trained lawyer here, non practising but in house advisor. I don’t work in employment law.

          I want to point out to those suggesting ACAS or Citizen’s Advice — it is very, very difficult to get legal aid these days. For years, there was *no* legal aid for employment tribunals, and this cause an enormous backlog as people tried to represent themselves.

          However, none of that should matter. OP, as a member of a union, your union should be handling this for you. They, in fact, should be sending an adviser with you when you go to talk to HR about this; they should send a lawyer if you request an employment hearing.

          As the mother of one of my coworkers just went through this — for Americans who don’t know, on the NHS when a breast is removed due to cancer (or other medical reason) the NHS does not automatically do reconstructive surgery. And if the reconstructive surgery fails, as it did for OP, the NHS has every right to determine they will not try that surgery on you again, forcing the patient to go private (which could cost several thousand pounds, remember the average income in the UK is around £27,000/year). So there are plenty of other people, overwhelmingly women, who will be in similar circumstance to OP.

          OP, please, please talk to your union.

        3. Emma*

          Lots of good advice here, however be cautious about ACAS. LW will have to go through their mediation process if they decide to go to tribunal (which they absolutely should!), but ACAS’ quality of advice is shocking – described to me by a Citizens’ Advice employment solicitor as “so poor as to be negligent”.

    1. MsSolo*

      And since you’re in the union, you can probably access an employment lawyer much cheaper than you might otherwise.

          1. MsSolo*

            This is true, but they do usually have access to resources the OP can use, even if the union itself isn’t being supportive enough. It’s hard to tell from the letter whether OP has worked much with the union since being rescued from purgatory by them* but it can be harder to stay in touch while you’re off sick because you don’t necessarily have access to your work accounts, and the sheer volume of issues here may be clouding the OP’s ability to see the actionability of each of them individually.

            * I almost wanted to say “from being sent to Coventry”, but a lot of people won’t know the phrase, and there’s a risk the OP is genuinely in poor, maligned Coventry!

        1. HotSauce*

          No kidding! That was my very first thought. This kind of situation is one of the reasons unions were formed. This employer needs their behinds nailed to the wall and OP’s ex-manager needs to be tossed out.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes there is no way this isn’t some sort of retaliatory behavior, regardless it’s some hot garbage and the OP didn’t deserve to get treated in such a callous and awful manner

    3. Stormfeather*

      After her putting up with ALL of the above for a year now? That’s not jumping “straight to” anything. That’s waiting way longer than the company deserves. I agree. Lawyer up, PLEASE. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, consider how many other people you’re helping!

      1. Amber Rose*

        Well, yeah, I just mean I don’t really know UK law or anything and I understand why “lawyer” is not the best advice always, but like… LAWYER. LAWYER YESTERDAY.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yup lawyer.

          The UK has so many more protections than the US, where all of this would be illegal, that I cant believe any of this is at all legal. OP needs to be informed if her rights and recourse post haste!

      2. RC Rascal*

        What I have learned after 20 years in corporate America, and what this letter illustrates, is this truth: Lawyer up sooner rather than later. Lawyer up if you only have an inkling that you might need a lawyer. You can always consult with one, you don’t have to place them on retainer yet. They can advise you, you can pay them to ghost write communications for you, they can negotiate for you–they have lots of uses besides suing. In fact, if you are at the point where you need to sue, you needed a lawyer already. If you are female, minority, over 40, or in any protected class, you need to know where to find the closest good employment lawyer. It’s like a storm shelter–most of the time you don’t need it, but you need to know where to go when the tornado warning comes.

            1. MayLou*

              This is not relevant in the UK (where the OP is from, although I realise this comment is making a wider point) – age discrimination for any age group is illegal, unless it can be shown to be reasonable (which is why government can get away with only providing housing benefit to people aged 25 and over… on the dubious grounds that it’s reasonable to expect people to continue living with their parents until that age, despite the fact that parents will have their own housing benefit cut for having a non-dependent adult living in the house once the child turns 21… but that’s a soapbox for another day).

              1. Jan*

                Actually, the proposed ban on housing benefit for under 25s was reversed last year, so anyone over 18 can still claim who needs it. Presumably this U turn is precisely because the government knows it’s unreasonable to potentially make loads of young people homeless just because of their age!

                Anyway LW, sorry to hear about your sexist and ableist employer. Wtf is wrong with people.

        1. Merci Me*

          I know the first post was a year ago, but I’m still boggling over the situation. Why didn’t the manager just… “So I want to be sure I’m hearing you correctly, Bob. You want me to go to a junior, female employee who is in the process of undergoing medical treatment and tell her that you’ve been staring at her breasts and want her to… and I’m summarizing here… ‘prioritize being sexually attractive to you over her own health and well-being?’ Do I have that right? I want to be sure to accurately reflect your intention and values here, Bob. Oh no, Bob, let me reassure you that it is absolutely my priority to handle your concerns accurately and appropriately.”

          Ugh. Lawyer all the way up, do not pass go, ask your lawyer about triple damages.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      OP: Is the original male ‘higher up’ who had words with you someone who could have pressured your manager into these steps? Is there anyone above your manager or in HR who could give you more information?

      Because that is the only way this makes sense to me, that he decided your appearance was an affront to him and he was going to Take Steps to have you appear less around the office.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          ‘A creep’ was gone before these steps were taken. I don’t think it’s clear whether the original man who spoke to her was that creep, and since she didn’t equate the creep and the ‘Higher-Up’ who spoke to her, I assumed they were not the same person. I am specifically wondering if OP thinks the Director who may have told her manager to get rid of OP is the Male Higher-Up who spoke to her.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Or it was really the manager who was uncomfortable the whole time. She might be projecting her own fears about breast cancer onto the OP.

        1. First Star on the Right*

          That’s the only reason I can think of that makes even a little sense. It would be a horrifying reason, yes, but it makes sense. As someone with multiple chronic illnesses this is something I (and many others with chronic illnesses and/or disabilities) deal with on a regular basis. People are utterly terrified at the thought that who gets sick, or become disabled, is entirely random, and there’s nothing they can do to prevent it. So they convince themselves the sick/disabled person/people must have done something wrong, or they aren’t treating it properly (it’s extra fun when religious people are so benevolent and want to pray for you… and then proceed to tell you that you must be a sinner because god didn’t heal you, when you don’t miraculously recover. I’ve met numerous people who were pushed out of their religious communities when they didn’t get better). The victim blaming is horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And the thing that makes it extra frustrating? 99% of the people that do it don’t realize they’re doing it, which makes it awfully hard to call them out on it.

          1. The Starsong Princess*

            I’ve seen this before. When a friend of mine had cancer, her boss wouldn’t sit next to her or even look her in the eye. It was like she was contagious. It was deeply weird. My friend eventually had to move to a different team.

            1. First Star on the Right*

              It’s so bizarre when people act like it’s contagious! At this point, I just kind of laugh a little (it’s better than crying) since I can’t really do much about it on an individual basis. I do speak about it in more general terms, because I definitely want this attitude to go away. It may not hurt me anymore (though it has absolutely left scars- how could it not, when some of those people were my own family?) but it continues to hurt people who just got sick or became disabled, and I can’t stand that. It’s a fairly good way of filtering out people I don’t want in my life, at least.

              (And totally off-topic, but I love your name!)

              1. Not So NewReader*

                My husband’s doc would not touch my husband when she “decided” he had cancer. That was interesting. Finally, she went to such extremes to avoid touching him that my husband just started laughing at her. This was the same doc who said that no medical information on the internet was true. I said that I would call up the Mayo Clinic and let them know that she said their online stuff was not true.
                We got a different doc.

                1. First Star on the Right*

                  I’ve had “I won’t touch you” doctors (though I’m 99.99% sure it was because I was very overweight, at the time… the weight was actually a major symptom, though literally none of them would admit it) but that is even more absurd!

                  Claiming no medical information on the internet is true absolutely enrages me. The only reason I’ve gotten any diagnosis’ at all- indeed, the reason I’m alive at all- is because of medical info on the internet. I was 9 when I first got sick, 12 when it became clear no doctors believed me (and that was 100% because they thought I just ate too much and didn’t exercise enough, which they told me. To my face. Then claimed all the other symptoms were in my head), my mom started to research. That was around 1999, so it’s nothing like it is today, but she did it. I have a rare genetic disease and tons of comorbid BS, and I’ve had to struggle to get every single diagnosis, even with mountains of proof. I’ve nearly died because of it on both the physical level and came close to taking my own life several times (I’m ok now, glad to be alive). Unfortunately, that’s a really, really common story with people who are chronically ill or have a rare disease.

                  Sorry for the rant! That condescending attitude doctors get about the internet really, really gets me.

                2. ellex42*

                  My doctor was thrilled when I brought him a bunch of printouts from Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic about birth control showing why I wanted what I wanted. He freely admitted that he didn’t know a lot (GP, not Gyn, so I really didn’t expect him to be super knowledgeable), and we agreed that it was a waste of my time and money to refer me to a Gyn for a separate appointment for something he could prescribe and I’d done the research on.

                  Later on I sent a bunch of info I’d found (on the internet, from medical publications/institutions) about a minor but annoying health issue he and my mother share, which he was able to use to leverage the insurance companies to cover physiotherapy for both of them.

    5. Magenta*

      I’m in the UK and to me there is a clear case to answer, on the surface it looks like disability discrimination and the employer would need to provide significant justification for their actions. OP will your Union support this? If not most employment lawyers will provide a free consultation that could help you work out your next steps. Also check your home/car/any other insurance polices to see if you have legal cover that might cover this.

      1. Amber Rose*

        YES thank you for chiming in, I was really hoping this was also illegal in your part of the world but I’ve learned not to make assumptions.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        UK as well and would agree, I was genuinely shocked reading that this manager got away with that!

        1. RC Rascal*

          Sadly, nothing shocks me any more when it comes to executive misconduct. I have seen much of it here in the US Fortune 100. Companies don’t want to discipline the higher ups, plain and simple.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. I’m usually slightly opposed to advice to get a lawyer, but in this case, GET A LAWYER. At a minimum this has to be disability discrimination in the UK, no? They can’t just deprive you of physical accommodations and then try to constructively terminate you by isolating you like you’re a prisoner being tortured.

    7. Anonosaurus*

      There is no upper limit on discrimination damages in UK employment law. Please seek out a consultation as soon as possible with an employment law specialist. ACAS may be able to recommend one, or your union.

    1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

      YEP. I just… I can’t. ^^^ THIS!

      OP, you deserve much more. Please seek legal advice. Wishing you all the best in the new year. <3

  2. DataGirl*

    I…. want to murder your ex-manager. Like, wow. I really hope you find a new job soon and wish you the best OP. Congrats on your recovery.

  3. Lynca*


    Good luck with your job search and I hope you find a much better job soon. I am also so glad your reconstruction has gone well!

  4. MsSolo*

    Oof. I would definitely keep your union in the loop. I know a lot of people have weird ideas about references in this country, and being penalised for giving a bad one, but I think a manager vindictively tanking a job before you get to interview might actually be something you can put to the union as evidence you’re being discriminated against (alongside everything else that’s happened) due to your mastectomy.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      but I think a manager vindictively tanking a job before you get to interview

      This is what pissed me off the most because I’ve had this happen to me before, though my former manager’s treachery ended up blowing up in her face when I was promoted out from under her and given a 10% raise to boot (and she was subsequently demoted a few months later).

      May bad karma come through to destroy OP’s former manager in the worst way – it’s what she deserves.

      1. CL Cox*

        Karma in the form of something that affects personal appearance/reconstructive surgery would be apt, I think.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Oh, no. After all, she seems to consider reconstructive surgery a signal that someone doesn’t deserve humanity.

          She should get karma in the form of not qualifying for reconstructive surgery.

        2. Aquawoman*

          Yikes, y’all, karma as in losing a job is one thing, and I wholeheartedly agree to those chickens coming home to roost, but wishing physical harm to someone is another.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            What’s this “y’all” business? I see one person advocating for this, and frankly, I’m not going to get worked up about it because the manager’s that much of a dick that someone going there is, to me, understandable even if it’s not exactly morally right.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And penalizing her for not doing a task in November when she was pulled from the tole in August?!

      1. RC Rascal*

        My SIL is an employment defense attorney. She has confided to me that in her experience, the more bizarre the details of the situation, the more likely it is someone is sleeping with someone they shouldn’t be sleeping of. This detail of the story made me think of her observation.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          There’s either a secret love affair here or there’s some type of embezzlement going on. This type of corruption does not happen in a vacuum. Unfortunately, OP, I have to believe this is part of a much larger story. A story where one employee is expendable to save the rest of the treachery.
          Think about the job and think about times where you may have found some small thing that could actually be part of a larger plot, but you did not realize.

          Speaking from experience, I smell corruption from the top down. What happens when the top is corrupt is that the people downstream are not well supervised and they get away with stuff that they should not get away with. Their subordinates suffer. Lawyer up, keep journals if you have not already started.

          I wish I could say that I am just a nervous nellie on this one. But there is way, way too much going wrong here. Something else is running in the background.

          1. MsSolo*

            That the audit was used to get rid of an employee, and then when it came to this team was used as an excuse to hide the OP, makes me think there’s definitely something the manager doesn’t want coming out.

      2. Door Guy*

        I had something like that in high school. Last month of senior year, I was doing busy work for one of my classes (my part time job ended a month before graduation, and part of the specific class was having a job, so I “worked” for the teacher). Part of what she had me do was an event calendar for the following school year. I put everything on that she provided me, told her I had, got directed to another task, and thought I was finished.

        2 weeks after graduation she was apparently harassing my dad at work because I never “finished” the calendar and she wanted me to come in and complete it. When my dad told her no, she threatened first my grade, saying she’d fail me for the quarter, and when he said I already graduated and had my diploma, she then directly referenced my GPA and college prospects, he was able to rebut with that I was not only already accepted at my first choice, but had earned a scholarship and was already registered for classes (done the weekend before). Eventually she gave up, and when my final report card came out she did fail me for the non-classroom part of 4th quarter (which counted as 2 F’s, because the class itself was the equivalent of 3 regular classes in credit: 1 for classroom, 2 for job)

        I didn’t find out until several years later that it had all gone down, and actually thought my bad boss from my high school job had given me the F’s.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      SRSLY. Not just the sidelining, but also the bad reference, with nothing but good performance reviews before then? WTH?

      1. enlyghten*

        That seems like an important point. Sabotaging her job prospects isn’t illegal, but it certainly speaks to her mindset. After nothing but positive reviews it’s difficult to believe it’s anything other than malicious. Combined with her not getting to use the physical accommodations that the company had already supplied her… There’s really no ‘benefit of the doubt’ here.

        1. Quill*

          Honestly I’m pretty sure it all leads back to some kind of disability descrimination because of the cancer or because she dared to have any visible aftereffects of it. And if that’s documented it’s absolutely going on the evidence pile for OP’s lawyer

        2. SarahKay*

          I’m in the UK and sabotaging her job prospects is illegal if ex-manager is lying to do it.
          Honestly this whole thing sounds spectacularly illegal – the lack of required accommodations, the discrimination , the retaliation.
          OP, since you’re in a union, start there. If they can’t help, go to a lawyer. This is horrific and I’d say you have an excellent case for wrongful dismissal.

          1. Paulina*

            The ex-manager seems to be lying twice with respect to the reference: both to the prospective new company about the contents of the reference, and to the LW that she’s going to help. The latter shows particular vindictiveness and malice.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              It’s this that makes me think it’s the manager who is truly the one who has a problem with the OP’s appearance. Why be so weirdly vindictive that you tank someone’s future job prospects? (Why be so weirdly vindictive in any case, really… :P )

        3. sunny-dee*

          It depends on the situation. It could be what’s called “tortious interference.” I had a manager who tried to block an internal transfer that had been offered to me (and I had followed all the processes appropriately). He put me on a PIP, which by our HR rules means that you can’t get approved for a transfer, but he did it only after it was confirmed they were giving me an offer letter. I contacted an employment attorney (though I ultimately didn’t need to) and told the HR rep that I was going to file a suit for tortious interference and that I had documentation to back it up. I got the transfer and went to a great manager and out of my toxic department — but it was only because I had emails and chat logs and an offer in hand.

          1. RC Rascal*

            Also, would like to have been a fly on the wall when you dropped the term “tortious interference” on them.

      2. Needing chocolate.*

        Oh holy hell….I want to get on a plane, come over there and beat the crap out of those people.

  5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    In the UK?!

    Bring in the union again. This is horrendous.

    Macmillan also offer relevant work rights advice. Their specialist knowledge could be useful.

    I’m glad you’re doing better, OP, but this situation is far from cool and likely unlawful in the UK.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Does UK media work like it does in the US or is there some sort of contractual issue with going to Channel 9 News and letting them shine light on it?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        People do go straight to the media in the UK, but generally it’s best to go through proper procedures first (otherwise you will be asked why you didn’t).

    2. Grey Coder*

      And hie thee to the Citizens Advice Bureau. They really helped a friend of mine facing potential unfair dismissal because of pregnancy.

      1. Jaid*

        BBC Business Daily has Manuela Saragossa and Ed Butler as their reporters. It’s a 20 minute radio show/podcast that has been picked up by NPR in America. They do all sorts of reporting about business practices and this may be of interest.

        Lawyer up, OP. I wish you success and good health.

  6. IT Department Relationship Manager*

    How…how did her situation get *worse*? File complaints with the HR director and put that company on blast. Your manager owes you an explanation at minimum why they are taking such drastic action to isolate you and then to make sure you don’t get a job elsewhere with a terrible reference. I’d want actual examples of my behavior that has led to this.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Right???? I did not think it was possible for her situation to get worse.

      My flabber is ghasted.

  7. Lilo*

    I said this above, but: call a lawyer today. Them sabotaging your future employment is a huge problem. A simple letter from an attorney may at least put a stop to that.

  8. Jennifer M.*

    I am at a complete loss for words. I’m not familiar with the civil protections available in the UK, but I agree with the other poster that this would be the type of situation where consulting an employment lawyer is the way to go. Completely outrageous.

    I’m glad that your recover is going well and I wish you continued good health and luck with your job search.

  9. Troutwaxer*

    It sounds like your workplace is pretty toxic, and hopefully you can move on without further problems. (And it seems very strange that your manager would lose it about the time you went in for post-cancer reconstruction work. Is she one of the people who’s previously survived cancer or do you think her issues are unrelated?)

    1. Laura H.*

      At the very least, it’s not courteous or socially acceptable. Legal or not, these actions on ex-manager’s end offer terrible optics, might make others absolutely reconsider using their benefits, and poor OP is up a crap creek and all ex-manager seems to have handed her is an obliterated paddle… if that.

      Legal or not, it’s terrible and frankly shameful.

      Internet hugs and good job hunting/ job fixing vibes if you want em OP.

  10. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Two words: Constructive Dismissal.
    Several more: if the Union isn’t fighting this tooth and nail for you, they’re doing you a disservice. At the very least they should be advising you that you need to call in the big guns (a specialist employment lawyer).

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      Former UK HR here for an ethical company.

      Add disability discrimination and retaliation to that. At tribunal, damages are uncapped for discrimination. You could also add gender discrimination because the situation has to do with your breasts, and I’m sure that they wouldn’t have the same issues with men who had breast issues.

      OP, please look at the ACAS website to find resources for you. Go to your union, file a grievance, appeal the decision if they don’t find in your favor. You can quit with no notice and file your constructive dismissal claim. I can’t see any tribunal finding in favor of your employer given what you’ve said here.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        The fact that you were shoved into a room, off your team, out of the way and not aloud to be seen or talk to anyone else or do any work is a really good case of this kind of discrimination. You were literally put out of sight and out of mind so they didn’t have to deal with looking at you.
        Please document absolutely everything you can. If you haven’t already, grab every email you and get copies/screen shots of any communication to this effect. Keep the documentation of your correspondence with the union so far. Write down as many dates and times as you possibly can.

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            Accommodations that she ALREADY HAD. The company had already bought the desk and chair, and they’re already depreciating, and there’s no money to be spent on them.

            OP, I really hope you can talk to a lawyer about this. And when you do, make sure you say not just that the company denied you access to accommodations, they *removed* access to pre-existing accommodations.

            I am so angry on your behalf, OP. There’s a special place in hell for people like this, and I hope they get everything they deserve.

        1. Alton*

          I’m not a legal expert, but that stood out to me, too. Making someone sit out of sight and do nothing feels purely punitive and like an obvious example of constructive dismissal. If the OP did have performance issues, this wouldn’t to anything to solve them. And if she’d done anything serious enough to warrant banning her from even talking to anyone, that begs the question of why they wouldn’t document what she did or fire her.

          1. Mainly Lurking*

            Or they could even have suspended her, if the supposed charges were so heinous.

            Also, since they had already bought special office furniture for her, what would be so hard about arranging for someone to move it within the same building to her new ‘workplace’?

            I could be wrong, but all this toxicity smells of public sector dysfunction to me.

      2. Media Monkey*

        the CAB could be another good source of free info. no way is that legal, and i wonder if your trade body or industry press title or website might be interested in it as a story (last resort obvs)

        1. (Former) HR Expat*

          My experience with CAB is that they don’t give very good advice. They blatantly told one of my employees to lie during a disciplinary that was for gross misconduct. And other things like going straight for constructive dismissal without raising an issue or grievance. I don’t have a lot of confidence in them.

          1. Media Monkey*

            i was thinking more that they could point OP towards free sources of legal advice. thankfully i have never had cause to use the CAB but they have been extremely helpful to a friend dealing with an extremely distressing medical negligence case.

  11. Quill*

    We’ve got a string of letters about employers thinking they own women’s bodies today, and it’s not even noon…

    1. MassMatt*

      The notion that someone undergoing treatment for cancer should be policed and scolded (and then isolated!) because their appearance “makes coworkers uncomfortable “ is shocking enough, and then there’s this vindictive career sabotage on top of it! Wow. Good luck fighting this, OP!

      1. Quill*

        My child self, who was 100% ready to fight at any time, is in the back of my head yelling about how far beyond deserving a punch to the face anyone going beyond commenting on someone’s disfigurement, but actually retaliating against them for it, is.

        (My best friend growing up was a cancer survivor with a facial disfigurement. I got into more verbal and once an actual physical fight against people who had opinions about her face than was probably good for an elementary schooler.)

  12. Lena Clare*

    This is unlawful in the UK! Please contact the Equality Advisory Support Service who will be able to give you further advice for free.

  13. Lily Rowan*

    Holy crap. OP, I’m so sorry you are being put through all of this! I really hope you get a great new job and everything works out for you.

  14. 3DogNight*

    This is absolutely horrendous. I am so sorry that this is happening to you. Surely 2020 will be a better year.
    I am ridiculously angry on your behalf right now. Whatever steps you take, I wish you luck! And please come back and let us know how it went. I’m hoping that the update includes winning the lottery, being magically cured, and that manager finding that the fleas of a thousand camels have infested her nether regions.

  15. Feline*

    OMG, OP. That’s terrible. Managers be aware: it’s this kind of thing that makes me unwilling to lift a finger for you on weekends, holidays, and suck days. Chucking out employees who go above and beyond is a good way to change them from high performers to disengaged.

  16. Llellayena*

    I do so hope the employment laws relating to disability/health and unlawful termination/constructive discharge are pretty robust in the UK. Because getting a lawyer involved seems like a very healthy option right now. At a bare minimum, negotiating an accurate reference to use for job hunting needs to happen. If you can get some of your former staff members to put their assessment of your management skills in writing, since they seemed just as shocked as you at what your manager said, that might help with getting a good reference. Also copies of your performance reviews. “Incapable of staff management” is leaning pretty heavily toward libel since you have been successfully running a team. I wish you a full recovery and a healthier job situation. Good luck.

  17. Frankie*

    I just kind of can’t with the level of sabotage here. This seems fully and inexplicably personal. If it was about getting rid of OP, why destroy an opportunity for another job? So is it about keeping the OP around, but powerless? I seriously don’t get it.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, there’s definitely something more to the story, but OP’s not privy to it, so neither are we.

      1. Quill*

        Or it’s retaliatory for the OP daring to have a body that can get ill? Or because Manager got in trouble over HR doing one thing right somewhere in the process and telling her she couldn’t punish OP for not wearing a prosthetic boob by taking away her ergonomic chair?

        It’s all speculation but Manager has it out for OP above and beyond what was originally indicated.

    2. RVA Cat*

      This is a personal vendetta.
      The only way this makes sense is that maybe the arsehole who left and the ex-manager have a personal relationship? Maybe an affair, or they’re both implicated in the audit and trying to frame the OP….

    3. Accounting IsFun*

      I’m thinking ex-manager had negative issues come up in the audit, and blamed it completely on OP, even though OP was not at fault. To avoid getting called out on throwing OP under the bus and for generally being a horrible human being, ex-manager is now trying to sabotage OP to make sure that ex-manager can go back and say “see? OP can’t get a new job or whatever – it must have been all their fault”. Ex-manager sounds horrible.

    4. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      Bullies come in all ages and genders. This “manager” is one of them. They don’t just want the OP gone, but destroyed, it seems.

    5. Paulina*

      My guess is that it’s blowback from having gone to the union before. How dare the LW push back! So the union really needs to step up again now, so that the LW’s treatment by management doesn’t become a lesson for other employees not to push back.

  18. That One Person*

    Glad you’re escaping OP (even if its a little forced). If a company is more focused on appearances than accommodations for health issues then its not really a great place to stay…

  19. Annie Porter*

    Wow, this was hugely depressing. So sorry you’ve dealt with all this, OP. You sound like a catch, and your future employer will be lucky to have you.

    I often read the letters submitted to AAM and lose faith in humanity.

    Then I read the comments and immediately regain faith in humanity.

    1. Randomity*

      That was my thought too. I’m horrified for you OP. I’m so sorry you’re going through all this on top of the whole cancer thing.

    2. Practical Criticism*

      I was just coming to write the same thing. And please go back to your Union. I’m not a lawyer but I’d think that they cannot deny you physical adjustments, especially because a cancer diagnosis is a disability under UK law, so you must be allowed reasonable accommodations (and the definition of reasonable very much favours you). You can also sue for damages for a false or misleading reference.

      Best of luck for the future, OP. I hope you get out of there, but I’m sorry you’ve been forced to do so.

  20. Slow Gin Lizz*

    This is the worst. OP, I’m soooo sorry your boss is such an a-hole. Please be well. I second what everyone’s saying about lawyering up, but also want you to know that I feel for you. Hope you get the new job and that you burn this bridge down while your boss is on it.

  21. Wowowowow*

    I’m speechless about how this OP has been treated. I really hope they consult an attorney and can make sure that manager gets her ass handed to her. Wow. I’m so sorry, OP.

  22. Jackalope*

    And even if the manager were right and the OP were bad at her job (which to be upfront I don’t believe but let’s play pretend here), taking away a desk//chair with special accommodations? Telling her that she’s not allowed to speak to any of the 2000 other employees? That is just cruelty, irregardless of her actual work skills

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      If you’re that convinced someone has performance issues despite the complete lack of evidence, you fire them or you get them training. You do not isolate them. At BEST, assuming good faith by the manager like you are, this is terrible, horrible, counter-productive performance management.

      Basically, the only defense here against discrimination on the basis of disability is overwhelming incompetence.

      OP, lawyer up. Talk to your union again, if they’re not fighting for you on this they’re not only useless to you, they’re abrogating their responsibility to all their members. They cannot afford to let the company set this kind of precedent. And please, please update us again if you are able.

    2. Aquawoman*

      Yeah, that’s just trying to torture her into quitting and the part that made me the most spitting angry myself. On the upside, it makes her discrimination case that much easier to prove because it’s so beyond the realm of a reasonable response to whatever BS performance issue they’re trying to whitewash this with.

  23. Three Flowers*

    Lawyer lawyer lawyer OMG lawyer time all the lawyers *explodes* I’m so sorry.

    Please write back next year and tell us all about how you took these utter assholes to the cleaners. IANAL (esp in the UK) but this sounds like a toxic cocktail of sexual harassment, targeting disability, hostile workplace, and tortious interference. An employment lawyer ought to be all over it.

  24. KoiFeeder*

    You know, I’ve heard that unions were invented because the previous method of adjudication was ganging up on the boss and beating them with sticks, and this is one of the few times I advocate a return to the old ways. Who else wants a stick?

    1. Quill*

      Koi, before we get out sticks, may I remind you that today’s union busting pinkertons have unlimited ammo?

      1. KoiFeeder*

        …Oh, yeah. I’m good at talking to fish and hitting things with sticks, not thinking through the consequences of my actions.

        (My mom never qualified for reconstructive surgery after her mastectomies, either. If someone treated her like this… I would take full responsibility for what I would do to that person but they would not be lawful actions.)

        1. Door Guy*

          I’m not sure I could even fathom what I would do if someone did that to my mother. She had a double-mastectomy as a preventative after both of her sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer and our family doctor indicated she was definitely high risk (and is in remission for skin cancer). She qualified for reconstructive surgery but declined, and doesn’t wear any “dummy boobs” (her term).

    2. Amber Rose*

      I would like several. I would like things that aren’t sticks as well but I’m trying not to be too gruesome here.

      Man, only a handful of AAM letters/updates have made me actually sick with anger over the years and this is right on that list now.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Same. I’m thinking this goes beyond sticks to a nice, swift, bloody piece of French engineering….

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      People like OP’s manager are the reason why god created sticks in the first place.

      I… really have no words.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, something better than sticks: OP knows the name of the company. OP this is such bad press for the company. What a shame to see all those customers/clients leave and go somewhere else. /snark. not a shame. really.

      Also not actual advice. Just a warm thought to keep you inspired to move forward with a good attorney. As you dial the attorney to make that appointment, picture newspaper headlines and forge ahead full steam.

  25. Not Australian*

    Definitely not acceptable treatment in the UK either; although the specific protections vary, having been in post 3+ years should in itself give the OP standing to fight this tooth and nail – and the illness/disability discrimination element should get any good lawyer all riled up and ready to rumble. Keep us updated, please, OP; we’re all cheering for you from the sidelines.

  26. JM in England*

    OP, I am both fuming and speechless like many of the other commenters on this post!
    Once you do get another job, tell your story on Glassdoor so anybody applying to your company is suitably forewarned…

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, but DON’T do it under your legal name, you don’t want LW3 from previous post snooping your internet history.

  27. East Coast Girl*

    Please please please, if at all possible, make sure you make yourself paper or electronic copies of your past good performance reviews to keep off work premises. I feel like a company that would treat you so poorly, already, is also the type that might make your good reviews “disappear” from your personnel file.

    I am so sorry you are experiencing this.

  28. WickedWindyGlider*

    I’m glad your reconstruction is making you feel good, that is very important. I’m also very sorry that your workplace is being so crappy about the whole situation. Best of luck in finding a new position.

  29. Nep*

    You deserve better. My worst enemy deserves better. I will hope for another update where things are going your way.

  30. Excel Slayer*

    I’m sorry, lw.
    I’ve got a couple of suggestions for you:
    – Your Union might be able to get you a low cost / free lawyer to help you fight this (honestly it sounds like the union could have done more).
    – You could go speak to your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau for advice on your next steps.
    – I’ve seen some people suggest McMillian – I’ve never experienced them on the legal size of things, but all my contact with them has been fantastic.

    I wish you all the best, and please remember that this is nothing you’ve done and everything to do with your company.

    1. Koala dreams*

      It’s worth a try to go back to the union and tell them all about the horrible things your manager did since the last time you talked to the union. If the local union rep isn’t helpful, try contacting the regional level union (or whichever is the next level up in UK unions).

      Good luck with finding a better job!

  31. Arctic*

    OP I’m so happy your surgeries went well and you feel comfortable in your own body!!

    You don’t deserve the rest of this garbage. And I’m so sorry. Please stay on top of your union.

  32. Abogado Avocado*

    OP: I believe you know that what has happened to you is deeply unfair and I certainly hope it’s illegal in the UK that your employer effectively disciplined you for having a double mastectomy and not conforming to a sexist idea of how one recovers from that surgery. Please consult a lawyer and weigh suing these sexist idiots.

    That said, I am glad to hear you are almost out of that place of employment. The business deserves to be held accountable, but you also deserve to be in a supportive environment that judges you on the quality of your work, not the content of your chest. I am sending good thoughts your way that you find that environment very soon!

  33. Jo*

    I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this OP, what a nightmare. I remember reading the original post and hoped we’d hear a positive update to this, so I’m sorry that’s not been the case. Although I’m in the UK I’m not an expert in this field at all so would echo the advice to speak to a lawyer, to see if you have a case for unfair or constructive dismissal. Hope things work out and you get a new and better job (and better managers), and wishing you a speedy recovery.

  34. Fake Eleanor*

    This update has me screaming internally (I would scream externally but I’m at work). You deserve so much better, OP! Good luck in finding a fantastic new job!

  35. Discordia Angel Jones*

    Hey OP, I’m a UK lawyer.

    I’m not an employment lawyer but I sit next to one at work, and she said to me that you need to get yourself to a lawyer as soon as possible. From the facts you’ve presented, this is probably constructive dismissal.

    None of this is your fault, this is a shitty shitty company. You deserve better.

    1. Bubbles*

      I really hope OP is reading this! There are so many levels of shittiness happening here that an employment lawyer is necessary. Protect yourself, OP.

  36. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Isn’t the vote for worst boss of 2019 coming up soon? This person needs to be on the list, I think.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I read your comment and instantly imagined a Burl Ives type sitting at a campfire with a banjo about to sing “The Ballad of the Pee Boss.”

              (For the full story, type “my boss pees in a cup and dumps it in the kitchen sink” into the search box)

          1. RC Rascal*

            Urine Boss was shocking and disgusting. Illegal discrimination and other assorted employment law violations trump shocking and disgusting.

  37. RedinSC*

    I’m just writing in to say LW, you hand in there, find a new job, don’t tell the manager, and I’m so sorry all this is going on.

  38. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

    How is any of this a thing?

    Like, let’s say the OP is leaving a chunk of the story (not saying she is!) where she also did X, Y & Z and that made her difficult to work with or not so good at her job. Like IF.

    STILL, how would any of this be a thing? The worst employee in the world would not be treated like this during a medical crisis, if for no other reason than liability to the company! (I am saying this from a USA perspective. IDK how UK liability works but the corporate malpractice from allowing the company to be exposed to THIS lawsuit is staggering. )

    And of course as I say “would not happen”, of course is probably happening right this second in five places in the US and I hope they all get great lawyers because, come on. There’s a limit; this is way over it.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Even if you’re dealing with an absolute trash fire of an employee, you don’t remove their pre-existing disability accommodations and force them to sit in a corner by themselves all day with no work to do. PIPs and suspensions exist for a reason, and the fact that OP’s company didn’t follow any legitimate disciplinary procedure makes this feel more like an exercise in “how miserable is it possible for us to make this person?”

      OP, this manager and this director and every single person at the company who knew this was happening and did nothing to stop it? They’re legitimately terrible human beings and they deserve to have the pants sued off them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      If a boss wrote in with her side of the story about a “bad” employee who was sick, Alison would say “Get off this employee’s back, too little, too late. You should have been doing your job right along. Stop what you are doing before your company gets sued from here to eternity.”

  39. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    OP is there a possibility that someone at your former org., like your manager or someone higher up, read this site and could ID you from details in your post? The level of retaliation and isolation seems so personally vindictive — like they got wind that you outed them publicly and want to trash your reputation in return. I’m shocked that they’re getting away with this.

    1. EmKay*

      There’s no way to identify OP’s workplace though? Unless you work there yourself and are aware of the situation, I suppose.

  40. UbiCaritas*

    There’s an old, old line: “You may love your job, but your job doesn’t love you.” So many of us give way too much to our jobs, only to discover that this is true.

    OP, I am so sorry. Everything about your story enrages me. But I hope, in the end, things work out well for you – and that you stay healthy!

  41. Kahunabob*

    OP – sending good vibes. Hope your recovery is a fast one. And as full and complete as your body will allow.
    I am amazed at how wrongfully you are being treated. Please, please, please involve the Union and a lawyer.

    Can we vote your manager in for Worst Boss of the decade?

  42. Bagpuss*

    OP, this is absolutely horrific, and almost certinly toitally illegal.

    If you haven’t already done so, I would suggest that you consult your staff handbook and then file a formal grievance. I suspect that you would have grounds toclaim constructive dismissal if you elave, and unfiar dismissal if you are pushed out.

    If you are dismissed as a result of discrimination for a disability then there is no need to have been employed for 2 years, and there is no cap on the damages an employment tribunal can awad,.
    BUT you normally have to have gone therough the internal grievance process first before you can make a claim, and you do hve a limited time to make the claim – I think it is 3 months from the time you are dismissed / leave / the grievance process is completed.

    Document eveything, and talk to your union .

    if the reason for your mastectomy was cancer, I belive that thisis automatically classed as a disability. (although given they provided accommodations such as the chair et it sounds as though they have already accepted that you have a disability.

    Upu mentiond it is a fairly big organisation – if there is n HR department, go to them, rather than your manager or former manager.

    Make clear that you have ben subjected to discrimination and to retaliation for having raised concerns about your dsability, and that you have been denied the use of the previously agreed accommodations for your disability.

    talk to a lawyer, but in your place I would suggest that you aim to agree a settlement agreement to leave, to include provision for an agreed reference.

    Macmillan cna offer help if you have/had cancer, in terms of advice around emplkoyment rights, and ACAS and your union should also be able to help

    Good luck

  43. uniongal*

    I’m a union rep in the UK and yes, much of this is illegal. There are strict timeframes for tribunal cases and I’d urge you to contact your union again immediately – if the local rep can’t help contact their HQ. Don’t contact a lawyer independently if you intend to use the union’s (free) advice as most will have case handling protocols which mean you can’t take multiple sources of legal advice. Good luck!

  44. J*

    If they’re treating her this way over a missing breast, I imagine people with physical disabilities would be treated like garbage too. This being UK, I also don’t know about the laws and regulations, but this is horrifying.

  45. Scott G*

    To play devil’s advocate here – there is a lot of detail missing from this story. We are only getting her side of it framed as a medical accommodation event. There is very likely other factors at play here we are not privy to.

    1. Nanobots*

      I can’t imagine what missing details would justify the punishment of sitting in an empty room and removing physical accommodations, but ok. Consider that some employers are just honestly this wretched.

    2. Aquawoman*

      The devil has enough advocates. Also, if you’re going to be a contrarian based on something, fine, but being a contrarian based on nothing more than “well, maybe people never abuse power,” is a weak position. The actual devil’s advocate’s job is to come up with actual contrary evidence, not just, “maybe she left something out.” I’d love to hear even a hypothetical argument as to why taking away her chair was not a violation of the law.

      1. Adultiest Adult*

        I absolutely love this response! Thanks for clarifying what an actual devil’s advocate does! OP, everything I would say has been said so eloquently by many others: this is garbage, it is most certainly illegal (and you should exercise all of your legal rights), and please don’t let yourself think for a moment that a decent human being would act this way to an employee. I join the hope for a better update-to-an-update.

    3. emmelemm*

      I’m sorry, did you read the original letter? “He explained that people had complained to him about the look of my breast and that it made them uncomfortable.”

      There is no “side” on which an employer gets to complain about the look of someone’s breasts. Full stop.

    4. Another Sarah*

      It actually doesn’t matter if she was the worst employee in the world.
      It is illegal in the UK to refuse to accommodate her disability, which the employer did when they took her chair and accessories she needed away.
      It is illegal to apply the kind of strictures that the ex-manager tried to apply – sitting her away from all other people, stopping allowing her to work and forbidding her from speaking to other staff. If she did something so egregious that she cannot be in contact with other staff, she should’ve been fired, not placed in an unpleasant working environment as punishment.
      In addition, if (as I suspect from how completely ridiculous her manager’s actions were) she wasn’t the worst employee in the world, in the UK if a company provides a bad reference that is considered unfair or misleading, the OP can sue for damages. It can be used as evidence of constructive dismissal.
      There is no devil’s advocate to play here. This is straight up illegal.

    5. Andream*

      There is nothing that could warrant an employer forcing an employee to remove physical accommodations, let alone having her isolated from everyone and giving nothing to do, and ordering her to have no contact.

    6. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Are you preparing to represent her employer at the tribunal?

      That’s the only situation in which there is an “other side” that could possibly need an advocate, let alone one who is banging on the table because neither the law nor the facts are on his side.

    7. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I’m really curious what your hypothetical “other side” of the story looks like. Can you come up with one that:

      1) Covers the facts of both letters (including where LW was told flat-out that people were uncomfortable with the look of her breasts, and that LW has always gotten good performance reviews),
      2) Does not require that LW is flat-out lying (any LW could be lying about anything and everything; to discuss these letters at all, we have to assume the facts are as stated), and
      3) Leads to any conclusion other than “This employer is a flaming garbage heap of malevolence and incompetence?”

    8. Lady Phoenix*

      She is not getting her LAW PROTECTED rights. What in blue blazes could “the other side” have in defense to treating her like cattle, bombing her reference, and having her get creeped on by a sexist pig?

      Either you’re a troll that wants attention, or you’re “that guy” who wants women to be punished for the crime of being women.

    9. Bananers*

      Every single letter here is only giving us the letter-writer’s side of or understanding of the story, no matter how much detail they do or do not (or can vs cannot) include. I see absolutely no reason to try to argue this on a letter with an incredibly clear right and wrong.

    10. Not So NewReader*

      If we can’t take letter writers at their word and we can’t believe that Alison has these letters well vetted, then what is the point to reading here?
      I am a big fan of reading sources that I trust, I’d recommend this idea to anyone.

  46. Andream*

    I am really hoping that with this post someone from UK contacts Allison and gets contact info for this LW so that she can get the help she needs. I hope that everyone responsible for this treatment is fired.

  47. Earthwalker*

    I read an article once about anti-bullying regulations in the UK (where I am not). The case described sounded exactly like what you describe – the employer took away a woman’s duties, made her sit alone in a room with substandard furnishing with no contact with anyone and nothing to do – and it was considered a textbook example of illegal bullying. She won her case, IIRC. Have you contacted a lawyer or solicitor as well as the union?

  48. Drew*

    OP, I have no advice to offer that hasn’t been given above (make copies of all relevant documentation if you can and hie thyself to a lawyer tout de suite) but you have all the sympathy I can muster and Jedi hugs if you would like them. This is appalling behavior by your soon to be former employer and I am aghast. I hope you are able to take them to the cleaners.

  49. Don’t get salty*

    Being sat in an empty room doing nothing but staring at the wall all day, that sounds like punishment! I think they were just trying to make you decide to quit on your own.

    1. PizzaDog*

      it reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where George’s job was trying to force him out by locking him up in a “bunker” style office – but at least he was faking his injury and deserved it.

  50. Another Sarah*

    I’m in the UK and this is horrifically illegal. This is constructive dismissal. Speak to your union and speak to a lawyer – the fact that you’ve already had to file a grievance will stand you in good stead here.

    1. Another Sarah*

      Forgot to say, get as much evidence in writing as you can. download and print emails, if the recruiter called you to tell you what she did, send an email back confirming it, linked in screenshots, texts, whatever you can.

  51. Nanobots*

    LW I’m so sorry that you’re having to deal with all this completely unnecessary work stress during a time when you should be focusing on your health! This is heart breaking and infuriating, and I wish you all the best.

  52. Amy*

    British reader here. We have generally more stringent employment laws than the vast majority (all?) of the US and this is SO ILLEGAL IT’S NOT EVEN FUNNY.

    1. Avalon Angel*

      I have MS, and via my support groups I have met a lot of disabled people in the UK. I have often wished our laws here were more in line with theirs! There is no way this is legal. I hope the OP contacts a solicitor, ASAP.

    2. Mainly Lurking*

      We have better employee rights at the moment … But under the current EU withdrawal agreement, we will lose most of them after Brexit.

  53. Lilysparrow*

    I’m curious about who is who, in terms of the creep who left (who LW suspected of making the icky inappropriate “complaint”), and the vile “higher-up” in the original story that sat her down and ordered her to wear the prosthetic.

    Was the vile higher-up the same person as ex-manager? Or was it the director above her who LW thinks ordered her to get rid of LW?

    Because I suspect the director was either the originator of the so-called “complaint,” or was best friends with the creep.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Higher-Up was male, ex-manager was female, so they’re not the same person.

      I also wonder if Higher-Up = director who might have pressured manager, or close to that director, because your scenario is the only one that makes sense to me.

  54. Avalon Angel*

    OP, I am so, so sorry you have been going through this. It is morally reprehensible. Please contact a solicitor ASAP! Not only for you, but for anyone else this manager will deem “undesirable” next.

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  55. asdf*

    As many many other Uk readers have said: so much of this is illegal. Get all the documentation you can get your hands on, speak to you former direct reports who liked you etc, talk to your union and get a lawyer. This company owes you a bunch of money!!

  56. BeckySuz*

    Sweet baby Jesus who are these monsters and how do they live with themselves? This is straight up cartoon villain style behavior. I just can’t fathom having so little empathy for a fellow human, especially one going through cancer treatment. Horrible horrible people. I hope you get justice OP. And I wish you good health moving forward

  57. VALCSW*

    I reread the original query & Alison’s response before reading the updates. I became angry all over again just reading your first letter. But your update?! Holy hell, that’s awful. I know nothing about the UK, but sincerely hope you follow Alison’s advice about an employment lawyer. And best of luck to you–I’m rooting for you.

  58. boop the first*


    There’s an explanation missing here, but I don’t think OP ever got it so I guess we’ll never know? This can’t all be because of appearances can it? What the heck happened? Maybe during the audit they only wanted staff who were “in” on whatever scheme was going down and OP was just a casualty….

    Regardless, maaann THIS is what people are talking about when they say not to give up your dream in exchange for “stable employment”. There is just no such thing.

    1. MsSolo*

      I think the audit excuse is a huge flag that there’s something that would have come up in the audit (like, at the very least, illegally discriminating against an employee, but I suspect there’s more than that going on) that the manager was worried OP would blow the whistle on.

    1. Anonymous Contribution*

      As a general rule, Allison, if it’s illegal in the US, it’s probably very illegal in the UK

  59. jiminy_cricket*

    It’s mostly all been said, but I’m here to offer SUPPORT and OUTRAGE because that’s g.d. ridiculous. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  60. animaniactoo*

    OP, I hope to hear from you with another update after you’ve pursued this further with the union, your lawyer and all the other resources UK folks are advising.

    Because this is BULLSHIT.

    …that I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone in the building (there’s about 2,000 of us!) apart from her…

    is a clear sign that she KNOWS what she is doing is not okay and she is trying to keep you from finding that out. Offering to speak to the recruiting manager and then giving such a negative reference is also a clear sign that she is trying to lay the groundwork for your dismissal/treatment to be anything other than the discrimination that it is. Gather up all the documentation that you can – performance reviews, e-mails that reference good work, etc. Gather anything negative you can find while you’re at it, because you’re going to want to search that for anything that can help the case she’s trying to build against you, and you’re going to want to pull whatever other documentation you can that would make it seem less dire than she will try to paint it off the selective negative e-mails. Get it all while you have the best chance to do so and pull whatever documentation you know exists. Particularly if any of that is not in an email between the two of you.

    Good luck, and I really hope we get an update with better news for you.

  61. Lady Phoenix*

    A pox on your ex-employments office and all their houses. A pox of dragon fire and the stepping upon lego bricks.

    Lawyer up, get the Union involved, get the press involved, and show them the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn.”

    Rightgeous female fury.

  62. HB*


    What has been done to you is inexcusable and INSANE. We’re all rooting for you, OP. Give ’em hell.

  63. PizzaDog*

    This is just pure evil. I’m genuinely just flabbergasted at this entire thing.
    I’m glad that you’re on the up and up, and I wish you all the luck in the world in a) sticking it to this monster of a boss you have and b) finding enjoyable and fulfilling work far away from this place.

  64. ...*

    This is so horrible I’d go with nuclear option and blast them on social media…A majority of people don’t take kindly to mocking people with cancer and then making them sit in a basement alone!

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        These options can really hinder your ability to get resolution through the legal system, which is why there’s so many ‘lawyer lawyer lawyer’ posts.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes… though if legal options don’t prove promising there’s always putting them on blast as a backup option.

  65. Goliath Corp.*

    I’m going to be in the UK over Christmas, and I would happily volunteer to send this manager a Christmas poop parcel. Say the word, OP.

  66. Jaybeetee*


    Like, maybe there is “another side” to the story, but I can’t imagine what LW could be doing to warrant this particular set of options. Like, if she was a psychopath setting fires around the building and issuing death threats to colleagues, this is *still* not the right way to deal with it.

    Other than retaliation for god-knows-what, the only motivation I can think of for that manager is that she’s trying to scapegoat LW for other issues, and with LW having medical issues and going on leave, she was a “weak link” easier to dump on. But still, WTAF!

    LW, a lot of people are telling you to put these guys on blast, alert the media, eyc, and part of me really wants you to do that. But a bigger part of me wants justice for you more than just desserts for them, so talk to a lawyer FIRST. If you undergo legal proceedings, you may not be able to talk about certain things. So start with the lawyer. Blast this company when you can.

    Also, if you’re in a position where you can’t leave this job without another lined up, check your EI options. You may qualify based on this BS, which might allow you to get tf out of there.

    Wishing you a smooth recovery, from your surgery and from all this.

  67. Adereterial*

    It’s absolutely all illegal in the UK. Every single bit of it.

    I am not a lawyer but my gut says there’s breaches of the Equality Act, employment rights, data-protection laws, and an attempt at constructive dismissal potentially in this. Talk to you union, urgently, about next steps.

  68. First Star on the Right*

    This update had me literally starting to hyperventilate. I just… what on earth… what is wrong with these people?!

  69. Lives in a Shoe*

    This is just….wrong. On every level and from every angle. You have my deepest sympathies and judging from the comments tons of internet support. I hope you do take legal action.

  70. Flabbergasted*

    I’m sure tons of people have said this already but yes, virtually all of this is definitely illegal in the UK – we do generally have better protections than in the US. The problem is getting your rights enforced.

    I’m amazed by how lax your union has been – I would go straight back to them and insist on better representation, and find out what legal coverage comes with your union membership, then use it. You might not need to win a tribunal if a lawyer can get you a good payout and reference. Good luck.

  71. Stefanie*

    I’m from the UK. Nearly everything screams tribunal and payout. Generally the company will want to stop it going too far so you’re most likely to end up with a big lump sum and asked to sign an NDA. It’s not ideal but take the money. It also protects your reference as that’s often included in NDA. By far, the biggest breach though is human decency. Your ex manager is a hideous person. I wish nothing but good things for then.

  72. 'Tis Me*

    This is an utterly horrific update – I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this on top of your health issues! I hope you fight this; it should be reasonably open and shut if you can I think. Good luck, and please do update us down the line (when hopefully you will have successfully negotiated a very healthy settlement and a stellar reference, and started an amazing new job where you are treated with respect and kindness; bonus points if it comes with a big raise etc).

  73. lobsterp0t*

    OP, this is for sure illegal disability discrimination in the UK.
    Your union should be supporting you to lodge a formal grievance against the employer (which you are not obliged to pursue). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you were successful at the first stage, but based on the facts you’ve presented here, I would be shocked if the employer hasn’t opened themselves to an Employment Tribunal, especially if you have been there for over two years and therefore have full employment protections under the relevant legislation.

    Cancer, along with other illnesses including progressive long term ones like MS, is considered a protected disability in the UK.

    If you’d like more resources OP, when I went through a disability discrimination grievance last year (which is won, and protected a job I otherwise would have lost) I found a LOT of excellent podcasts and other support.

    My union were very supportive in getting me to grievance and securing a successful outcome from that first stage process. I did not need to appeal my outcome – I got what I needed from the initial process. I think in terms of overall process I was very lucky as my employer had “benignly” messed up rather than maliciously or deliberately. If your HR is in sufficiently advising your manager or if your HR department is garbage, then it makes a lot of sense that this has been handled so badly.

    Additionally, the fact that the comments in themselves weren’t seen as a discrimination risk on the basis of the protected characteristic of sex (as well as blatant and repeated harassment and bullying) leads me to believe that this employer needs to be taken to task AND HARD. That doesn’t have to be by you, of course – but you deserve better from them. And so does everyone else who works there!

    1. lobsterp0t*

      I would also suggest there is a clear element of constructive dismissal at play here which, again, if you’ve been in continuous employment there for two years (barring some exceptions) is also grounds for a grievance (and an ET if they really fuck that up).

  74. Cyberspace Hamster*

    I… but… what the… how the… *incoherent stunned goldfish noises*
    Honestly I’ve been speechless for a full half hour since reading this.

  75. Soylent Green*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but in case this has not been covered elsewhere. Document EVERYTHING that happens from herein. Take notes after conversations. Collect a dossier of any supporting evidence (performance reviews) etc. And lawyer up

  76. msk*

    Not sure if someone else mentioned this up in the comments, but an audit was mentioned several times. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but is the manager trying to make OP the fall person for something the audit may uncover? I can’t figure out why they would isolate OP like this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I am thinking that it’s no coincidence that there was an audit right around the same time.

  77. Sleve McDichael*

    Dearest Letter Writer,
    How truly awful! You poor thing. I’m sending you lots of love and thoughts/prayers/well wishes/jedi hugs if you want them. I hope you get the support that you need as you work though this. I’m sure the AAM community would be happy to talk to you in the open threads and give you advice and commiseration if you want it. You don’t deserve this. I wish you the best of luck.
    <3 Sleve

  78. thebobmaster*

    I’d say contact a lawyer, but you are in the UK. I believe the proper term, therefore, would be: contact a solicitor. Take the entire management structure to court, if you have to. You seem to have a pretty good case, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall to see your managers try to find a way they are not in the wrong in a court of law.

  79. cydonija*

    As a UK resident I can assure you that this behaviour is absolutely illegal – it is (at the very least) a failure to provide reasonable adjustments, and at I am pretty sure is discrimination due to disability (cancer being technically covered as a disability by the Equality Act).

    Either way, an employment lawyer will have a field day with this – you shouldn’t be made to suffer more than you have because of someone else’s ignorance.

    1. Tom (no, not that one)*


      UK law and EU law (as long as that applies anyway) would be enough to ‘hang’ the company.
      Discrimination, sexism, unfair treatment, bullying..

      Normally – updates would leave us readers with a warm fuzzy feeling – this one is just hot seething anger.

      I am risking repeating a comment – but GET LEGAL HELP. Either via the union or citizens advise – or maybe a sollicitor specialized in workplace law. But – do not do this alone anymore.

      For what it`s worth , i see a lot of people supporting you (OP) from behind their screens. I`m tempted to ask you to name and shame this company (just to see if we do business with them – so i can inform our legal team about how they do business and move our business elsewhere) but that would not be possible I think.

      Seriously – from the other side of the pond – I wish OP the best – and again, get people on your side.
      Load your lawyer and go in with all lawyers blazing. You deserve no less.

  80. G*

    Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to give you free legal advice too. I’ve spoken to ACAS in the past too and although they’re aimed at employers they were very helpful and gave me as an employee some great advice too.

  81. Impy*

    You can’t fire someone in the UK because you don’t like how they look. These guys are disgusting, undermining your future job was disgusting and whoever your ex manager was, I wish I believed in hell so I could imagine them going there.

  82. AMC*

    Am I the only one who thinks the ex-manager saw the OP’s letter in Ask A Manager and recognized themselves and that’s why they’re retaliating?

  83. Sebastian*

    OP, I have been waiting for an update and I’m gutted that things got so much worse for you. I’m obviously seconding the advice to see a solicitor, and I’m glad you’re healing up ok

  84. daysocks*

    I would be CCing the Union and HR on all communication. Everything would go through them. I am mortified that you are not being allowed your accommodations, and that should be escalated above your manager immediately. It’s not up to her about those, those go through Occupational Health and I’m sure HR would be VERY interested to hear that she is stopping you from using those paid-for by the business accommodations! If this didn’t work I’d be contacting ACAS and the local papers about my horrendous treatment after undergoing breast removal and reconstruction!!!

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