my abusive boss was fired after I complained about her — what do I say to coworkers?

A reader writes:

Earlier this year, I took a dream job that quickly proved to be a nightmare. My manager, Hedra, has a track record of abusing and driving out her reports. From the start, she didn’t even bother to hide her dislike for me. She set shifting, arbitrary goals and put up barriers to information and relationships, made comments about my race and weight, and constantly did intentionally cruel, belittling things like assign me menial physical tasks and talk about me in the third person in my presence. I took the usual measures (including going up the chain and consulting a lawyer), but nothing worked. My physical and mental health suffered quite a bit and I finally hit a wall. So even though I hated having to do it, I fought. I filed a formal complaint, using evidence stockpiled over months.

A few days after HR found in my favor, there was a shock announcement that Hedra was leaving the company (ostensibly due to burn-out). I am pretty certain the resignation is a disguised termination in the wake of the HR investigation. I know that this conclusion is shared by at least a few other people in my department who were close to the situation. It’s possible that some people think I “got Hedra fired.” I know from reading Ask a Manager that this isn’t the way terminations work but … human nature.

What do I say when I’m asked about Hedra’s departure? I can’t bring myself to agree when I’m condoled by someone with no idea what Hedra is like inside her team. Worse, some people have speculated that the department manager‘s style causes burn-out in “a positive person like Hedy.” (Hedra is very manipulative and has a lot of people fooled.) Obviously I cant shout, “Positive? She ran you all down behind your backs!” And what do I tell coworkers who were helping me professionally and emotionally during the ordeal?

On one hand, I think this case speaks pretty well for our HR and I’d like to obliquely acknowledge that a formal process actually works. But I assume the fact of a harassment investigation stays confidential even after the harasser leaves.

There’s a lot out there about how to respond to being harassed at work, but nothing about dealing honestly, professionally, and gracefully with a “positive” outcome. I take no pleasure in Hedra losing her job — maybe I’m just numb — so I’d really appreciate it if we could skip the high-fives in the comments section.

Handle it the way would if you knew for sure that Hedra had resigned on her own.

It’s actually possible that’s what happened. Yes, the timing is suspect, but who knows, she might have had other stuff going on, or she might have seen the writing on the wall and decided to leave while it was still her choice, or all sorts of other possibilities.

Or, yes, she might have been fired as a result of HR’s investigation. That’s especially likely if they’d had previous complaints about her before or if they’d already been looking at her track record as a manager.

You are right, of course, that you didn’t “get Hedra fired.” If she was fired because of the complaint you made, it’s her own terrible behavior that got her fired. That’s not on you.

In any case … when people ask you about her departure, take the high road because the high road has far less drama on it. And if people ask you directly what happened, it’s fine to say you don’t know (because you don’t actually know).

Some examples:

* Coworker: “Wow, I can’t believe Hedra resigned.”
* You: “Yeah, that’s a big change. Well, we’ll keep things moving forward.”

* Coworker: “Do you know why Hedra resigned so suddenly?”
* You: “I don’t know the details either. But I wish her the best.” (You might not really wish her the best, but if you can stomach it, it’s a useful phrase to keep things polite and professional.)

* Coworker: “That sucks about Hedra leaving! She was so great.”
* You: “It’s always tough when people move on. But I’m sure it was the right decision for her.”

* Coworker: “Wow, it really seems like Jane’s style causes burn-out, especially in a positive person like Hedra.”
* You: “Hmmm, it didn’t seem like that to me. I’ve always enjoyed working with Jane.” Or feel free to be stronger if it would be genuine: “Jane is awesome! I don’t think that was really an issue.”

As for coworkers who were helping you during your Hedra ordeal (and who might guess at what happened), just keep in mind that you really don’t know what happened. You can say something like, “I don’t know any of the details, but I’m looking forward to working with whoever comes in next.” Or if you feel you need to acknowledge the investigation in some way: “You know, they haven’t told me any details so I don’t know if this was connected or not. I’m just relieved to have the situation at an end. Thank you so much for your support.”

If anyone asks you directly if you somehow got Hedra in trouble … well, that depends on how much you want to acknowledge. If you don’t want to get into it, it’s fine to say, “I haven’t been told anything about what caused Hedra to leave, and I wish her the best.” But it’s also okay to say, “Hedra was difficult to work for and I tried for a long time to resolve those problems. When HR found out what was going on, they took it really seriously, and I appreciate that. But I don’t know if that’s connected to why she left or not.”

As for wanting to acknowledge that your HR department handled this well beyond that … the best thing to do is to let this experience inform what you say when something relevant comes up organically. For example, if a coworker says that they’re unsure whether to take something to HR, you could mention that in your experience they do take problems seriously, have integrity, and will act when something needs to be addressed.

Read updates to this letter herehere, and here.

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. Well Then*

    Is talking to HR an option? If they handled the initial report well and acted on their findings (which it sounds like they did), that could be a great resource for OP to guide her responses and help her handle this situation gracefully. Good luck, OP – I hope better management is coming your way!

    1. tangerineRose*

      I agree – HR may be able to help.

      The OP was so brave to report this, and I’m impressed with HR, too.

    2. StaceyIzMe*

      I’m impressed with the outcome and relieved for the LW! And I think it’s a GREAT idea to see if there is messaging that she can use. (But I’d do it in an oblique way, based on whatever language is used in the email giving notice to the team of her departure. Requesting direct guidance could be construed as fishing for details that wouldn’t otherwise be offered. Now that OP is OUT of the loop on resolution, she should stay OUT of the loop!)

    3. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      On the other hand though there’s also a case for plausible deniability in OP actually not knowing any more than they currently do. I agree with StaceyIzMe on staying out of the loop.

      If it’s the grilling from the office busybody/ies that are worrying OP, could a quick pivot to the incoming replacement work? Eg: “I don’t know the details either. I wonder who’ll take over xyz though, have you heard anything?” Then let the busybody do their thing without feeding into it.

  2. Lance*

    Honestly? In the end, you don’t have to say anything. As Alison notes, there could be myriad other reasons for her departure, so given that, you really don’t know anything beyond making a report to HR and them likely acting on it in some way.

    Be glad you’re free of Hedra, and if anyone asks, you’re not by any means obligated to even suggest you might know something.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      I agree whole heartedly with this. No one has a right to know the details of the report you made to HR, and you don’t even know that your report resulted in her firing. All you know is that after your report of her heinous behavior, which is all on her, that she is no longer with the company.

      I was in this situation once, except the manager was well loved by my entire department. When they announced he was no longer with the company, people cried. I told absolutely no one that I had made a report to HR about something he had done. Much later, I learned that what I reported started an investigation, and they found MUCH more in that investigation, which is what resulted in his firing.

      When people cried about him leaving, when people asked if anyone knew anything, when people offered consolation, I just stayed out of it and “mm hmm’d” my way through it. Yes, realistically someone could have decided to blame me because I was the one who first reported something, and I did not want to be caught up in that. So there’s nothing wrong with just leaving it be and when someone expresses their disappointment that Hedra is gone, you can just say “yes, it’s a big change, and it will take some time to adjust.”

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I think that *everybody* has the right to, if no the details, at least the high level summary of what happened. I don’t think that OP is well advised to be the person that provides it, but everybody remaining silent about it is what allows these situations to fester.

        HR should send a clear message that this sort of behavior is not tolerated and that it will be taken seriously if reported. They didn’t.

        1. I coulda been a lawyer*

          Sometimes you just have to read between the lines. We once lost a very high ranking executive and one of his direct reports, while all but one of his white male employees were reassigned and demoted. The females and those of color remained, got a new boss and a few new coworkers. A month later we ALL had to take extensive training on sexual harassment and discrimination. Most of us did the math and were grateful for the changes.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            But who does being cagey about this help? Because I don’t have an answer to that question that I like.

            1. Avasarala*

              I agree. I don’t think it’s on the victims to put out the story that the high ranking staff was a bigoted jerk, but isn’t that what HR/communications is for?

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          I completely agree. When a manager or executive is fired for serious misconduct (racism, sexual harassment, bullying, embezzling from the company, whatever) the company should put out to the employees a general statement of what happened to the extent that they can without naming victims or whistleblowers. This will serve both to quell rumors and to make it clear the company takes swift and decisive action against such behavior.

          In some cases – if the offender is especially high-profile or the behavior became widely known in the industry or went viral or some such – the company should put out a similar statement to the general public as well.

          1. Acm*

            Okay, but what if the reason is racial harassment and there’s only one person of color who could have been the victim? That means outing them as well which they may well not welcome. Something like embezzlement though seems like an easier call, but when there’s another innocent party around who could still suffer, that’s something to take into consideration.

        3. TootsNYC*

          There are often legal reasons.

          In order to get the person to go away without more drama, they may promise not to reveal anything.

          That happened at a private school I know of; the principal embezzled/misused money, and they felt that prosecuting him or making it known would damage the school. But the person I spoke w/ who was on the board was furious at not being allowed to say, in part because the same thing had happened at his previous school, and so they’d hired him without knowing he was a thief.

          Which of course points out one of the problems for our world, the idea that people’s perfidy could be known to some, but those people would never reveal it and so others don’t know they can’t trust them.

          1. Allonge*

            Alternatively, the person is not there any more but there are ongoing legal proceedings.

            It is possible to make messages of harrassment / abuse is not tolerated without naming names. People can draw their own conclusions.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              One of the most consistent themes of this blog is that when correction needs to be made it requires specific and direct language. Very, very specific. I don’t think “except for abusive managers” is a good addendum.

              The problem with “people drawing their own conclusions” is that in the absence of facts people will draw erroneous conclusions. Just saying that “we don’t tolerate abuse” *doesn’t* send the message that abuse isn’t tolerated. Every company says that and far too many don’t mean it. When you hide the fact that abuse has consequences — and pushing an official explanation that Hedra resigned because of burnout is hiding that — then you aren’t sending the message that abuse isn’t tolerated.

        4. Sleepytime Tea*

          I agree with the idea that it would be positive for the company culture for HR to send a message about what behavior isn’t tolerated. I don’t, however, think that OP has the responsibility to air their personal dealings with everyone. Those are 2 different things.

          Additionally, HR also isn’t in the best place to send this type of message, since they WANT to maintain people’s privacy to a certain extent, both OPs and Hedra’s, regardless of the fact that Hedra was in the wrong. A good HR team maintains the confidences that they promise they will. It’s necessary in order for people to feel comfortable telling them.

          The type of high level summary that you’re considering may be appropriate coming from higher up management, but even then, there are legal issues to consider, they may have made an agreement to allow Hedra to quietly bow out, and if not everyone knew about this behavior then why would they even necessarily believe it all of a sudden with no evidence other than her sudden resignation? They might think the company ganged up on her and forced her out or something.

          I agree with the sentiment, but in practice, this is much more complicated.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Not tolerating abusing workplace culture.
            Being willing to deal with “complicated” head on instead of taking the easy way out.

            Pick one.

    2. Diamond*

      Yeah, I’d just flat go with “I don’t know” as an answer. “I don’t know the details” still sounds like you know *something* and could invite more questions.

    3. hbc*

      You don’t have to say anything, but people are going to ask, and it helps to be prepared to answer the right way. I mean, it’d be really weird if she ignored the questions or said, “No comment.”

  3. Construction Safety*

    * Coworker: “Do you know why Hedra resigned so suddenly?”
    * You: “I don’t know the details either. But I wish her everything she deserves.”

    1. Jake*

      While funny in the abstract, I don’t think these kinds of phrasings (like “bless their heart”) are nearly as subtle as people think they are. I would probably be taken aback to hear a colleague say this.

      Better to say something truly, genuinely neutral. (Or don’t: if you want to confide in someone, own it and do it directly.)

      1. Decima Dewey*

        You can always say “It won’t be the same without her.” Undeniably true, and the listener doesn’t have to know you had to suppress whoops of joy when you got the news.

        1. Eirene*

          I just used that one about a coworker who got fired last month. Everyone was sad about it, but for reasons that will identify me if I do, I was (and am) not. Everyone I used it on when they thought they were commiserating with me took it at face value.

      2. Pommette!*

        Yeah. I’m not complaining or casting stones: crafting those ambiguously phrased statements can be fun and cathartic, and we readers appreciate the wit and cut of a good double entendre. I’m relishing this thread.

        But in real life, statements like that are likely to come across as transparently petty, exclusionary or, at best, confusing. Even if the deception works, it creates a situation where your colleague and you are having parallel but incompatible experiences of what should be a shared conversation. Just figure out how much of your story you want to share with your coworkers, and find a straightforward way to relay it. You can do that without lying.
        ” No, I don’t know why she left.” is enough!
        “No, I don’t know why she left. How is your team adjusting to the change?” is also enough, and it lets you move the conversation forward in a natural way.

    2. IT Manager in Toronto*

      Nooooooo… guys. Come on. This comes off as incredibly snarky and passive aggressive. It’s darkly suggestive. DO NOT USE THIS IF YOU WANT TO SEEM PROFESSIONAL.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        I’ll try to focus on the passive part…while I’m really relishing the aggressive part like no other.

    3. Quill*

      Or if you can’t contain the dripping sarcasm
      “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sure we’ll adjust well to whoever replaces her.”

    4. Pants*

      No. Just say, “I don’t know or “I didn’t hear anything other than the announcement,” and let it go. At best, phrases like, “I wish her the best” are lies that people see through.” There’s also a chance it’ll come across as snark (and, really, what good will the lie do for the OP’s mental and emotional health?) There’s no need to inject a lie into the conversation just to add an extra sentence to a reply.

      1. CastIrony*

        I didn’t know wishing a mean person the best is a lie. Then again, I’m in a minority on this one.

        1. Fikly*

          It’s a lie if you don’t wish them the best. Some people are able to wish people who have abused them well, some people can’t. One isn’t right or wrong. One simply means if you say you wish them well, you are lying.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Or maybe it’s not a lie in that you wish her the best, with “the best” defined as a huge wakeup call about not being such a terrible person- which truly is better for both her and those around her than if she was successful and still abusive. But you don’t have to clarify that’s what your version of wishing her the best is.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Just do what I do. Say that you wish her well.

            And then silently add to yourself, “I wish she’d fall in one.” :)

    5. SierraSkiing*

      That phrasing could come off pretty aggressive, especially if there’s coworkers fishing for gossip who only know that OP didn’t get along with Hedra. I think OP would be a lot better off refocusing on the present. “I don’t know the details either. Right now, the team is just focused on shifting work around until Hedra’s replacement is hired. Jasper will be handling new spout design inquiries- if you need any information on that, just shoot him an e-mail.”

    6. Kitrona*

      My thought was like the blessing in Fiddler on the Roof. “I wish her well (far away from here).” Except, of course, without saying that last part!

  4. Hills to Die on*

    You could always put the focus on what’s going on with replacing Hedra. Sue is interim Manager, oh and, thank hear they posed the opening for Hedra’s replacement this morning. I hope they will fill that role soon.’ And fill it with those sort of comments.

  5. KimberlyR*

    It’s great that you weren’t actually told that they fired her because of your complaints. Take your plausible deniability and run with it. She sounds like a horrid person so you might not want to say the usual platitudes but they were made for this so use them if you can. As with anything, it will all blow over soon.

    1. HQB*

      Regarding those platitudes, I sometimes find it useful to reframe them in my head. The best thing for Hedra would be if she magically became a good person, right, OP? And don’t you wish she would magically become a good person? If so, you wish her the best!

      1. Katie*

        “I wish that her future will put her in a better place where she lives up to the best of her potential and is an asset to those around her.” That’s how I think of it. (Though, admittedly, I sometimes also wish that future isn’t quite as good as mine…)

  6. Ann O'Nemity*

    Even if the LW is 99% sure that the departure is directly connected to the HR investigation, saying “I’m not sure of the details” is the high-road phrasing and still technically accurate.

    It’s not fair, but it is a possibility the LW could face some negative perceptions or even retaliation in the wake of Hedra’s departure. Taking a high-road, professional, positive, team player attitude about this whole situation may mitigate some of that.

    1. Evan Þ.*

      Or even if she somehow did learn for a fact that was why, there would still be more “details” for her not to be sure of.

  7. Jennifer*

    I’m sorry for what you are going through and hope things get better soon. As others have said, I’d just pretend not to know anything then quickly change the subject. “Hmm, not sure where you got your information. I don’t know anything about that. So, did you see that least email from the department head…”

  8. Jennifer*

    Also – a situation where talking to HR actually worked! That’s a small miracle in some places. I’m glad it worked out.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah! Not high-fiving Hedra’s departure, but instead high-fiving an HR department that takes these issues seriously. I’m glad you’re able to move on to a new manager, OP.

    2. mli25*

      I had a similar situation happen to me (minus the personal comments about weight or race but with getting to hear very personal details about my boss’s sex experience). Once her boss learned of the situation and the extent of the problems (team wide), she “decided not to come back in the new year”, which was announced 2 days before everyone disappeared from the holidays. HR can and does work in some places. From the time the alarm was pulled (by me) to my boss’s departure was less than 5 weeks, including Thanksgiving break.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I had a similar situation happen to me (minus the personal comments about weight or race but with getting to hear very personal details about my boss’s sex experience).

        I wish this site allowed gifs because I’d be uploading the white man blinking gif right about now – what the world would possess someone to discuss this at work with their subordinates?! (Or anyone really.)

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          One of my former bosses would discuss/speculate on the details of her *subordinates’* sex experiences in the middle of the open office space, so…

          I’m so glad OP’s HR was competent and motivated and actually got to a resolution that was right for the rest of their employees. That’s really good news.

          1. Sparrow*

            Oh, YIKES. I could probably tune out someone talking about their own experiences, but I wouldn’t be able to deal with that.

            1. Katefish*

              I had a former coworker give me The Talk on a business trip before I got married and it was every bit as YIKES as you’d imagine.

      2. Diamond*

        I commiserate, I also have knowledge about my previous boss’s sex life that I never asked to hear!

  9. LemonLyman*

    I like this approach. There’s no need to speculate beyond what you’ve been told. If you stick reactions and comments that align with the explanation you’ve all been given, then the drama llamas will quickly understand that they can’t engage you in rumors. You can’t shut down rumors but you can indirectly refuse to engage in them.

    Also, this person’s bullying actions are what led to her leaving…whether she was fired or she left because she was being investigated. I know it’s tough but don’t allow yourself to take on any guilt or burden. You were the victim of some terrible bullying by your boss. You took appropriate steps to ensure your mental and physical safety.

    I wish you well! Be sure you’re practicing some self-love and understanding!

    1. tangerineRose*

      As well as not feeling guilty, remind yourself that this saved other people at work from her bullying as well as saving yourself.

  10. MsMaryMary*

    Does “I wish them the best” have connotations like a professional version of “bless their heart”?

    I left my job for a competitor late last year, and I still work with a lot of the same vendor partners and consultants. When people ask why I left and try to dig beneath my bland “great opportunity” answer, I always respond with something like “oh, nothing like that. I left on good terms and wish them all the best.” There WERE management issues and other problems that were factors in my decision to leave, and not hard for outside observers know or guess at the reasons. I’ve been wondering if wishing them the best sounds a little too polite/gracious, if that makes sense?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      In my experience, it doesn’t have anything near the potency of a good Southern ‘bless their heart.’ If anything, it’s the opposite; instead of being very pointed, it’s extremely bland and says very deliberately nothing about your actual feelings. Wishing someone “the best” says nothing — you could think that the best thing for them would be to fall in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. Or it could be going on to win the lottery and have a wonderful life.

      1. Smithy*

        To add to the idea of “wish them the best” being so bland it could mean anything – I’ve also used it professionally with the idea of “with capacity that team has – if they make 10% of their goals, it would be an amazing miracle”. Essentially, they’re so short staffed or unprofessional or unskilled or whatever, that anything positive that happens to them would be the best possible result.

        I also use versions of “wishing you the very best!!!” in assorted birthday/engagement/farewell cards I sign at work.

    2. O'Malley*

      I use “all the best” all the time, in earnest. I basically just use it as a means to recognize that the other party and I are going our separate ways–like “Get home safe,” but on a grander scale. I don’t think it’s typically meant as an insult unless you’re being particularly shady.

    3. Oxford Comma*

      Not in my part of the country. I’ve said “I wish them the best” for people I like and for people I don’t.

      It’s generic and perfectly suitable.

    4. Antilles*

      I don’t think so, because it’s also used sincerely…whereas “bless your heart” is exclusively used in a passive-aggressive way.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        “bless your heart” is exclusively used in a passive-aggressive way

        I don’t want to derail, but that’s not actually true where I live or where my family comes from. But I would guess that outside the South it is only ever used that way. I agree that “I wish them the best” isn’t the same and is professionally bland and safe to use.

        1. Sparrow*

          Growing up in Texas, I also heard it used both ways (genuine and passive-aggressive). It’s all in the tone and context. And I suppose the same could also be true of “I wish them the best,” but generally it’s innocuous enough that no one should raise an eyebrow unless it’s said in a very sneering tone. Personally, I’d just pivot to, “Have you heard any updates on a search for her replacement?” or something along those lines and not comment on my feelings or wishes for her either way

        2. hey anony*

          I live in the deep South but I’m from the Midwest, and I’ve certainly heard nonSoutherners say “bless your heart” and mean it as a sincere “thank you so much.” There have been a couple of times where I’ve said “bless your heart” sincerely and then quickly tacked on something like “in the midwestern sense”

          1. TootsNYC*

            or “you’re so adorable”
            or “I like her anyway even if she is annoying and I’m complaining about her right now”

            It’s all in the context and the tone

        3. Shadowbelle*

          I live in the mid South and it’s used both ways here.

          Agree on “I wish her the best.” I actually would wish her the best, because I’m not going to waste any time, energy, or thoughts ill-wishing someone. I have had some doozies of managers who would give Hedra a run for her money, so this isn’t theoretical for me.

        4. Kiwi with laser beams*

          The “it’s only used passive-aggressively” thing confused the hell out of me when I visited the US. A Southern American said “bless your heart” to me after I did something pretty unambiguously kind and for a moment I was like “why is she upset about that?” before I realised that people on the internet were off-base about it.

        5. Sleepless*

          Yeah, I grew up/live in GA, and before “bless your heart” became one of those Internet things on which everybody’s an expert, it could be totally sincere. I hardly ever heard it in a passive-aggressive manner.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, my aunt in Georgia said “bless your heart” all the time to me when I was a kid, and I’m fairly sure she wasn’t verbally flipping me off. ;) (And to my dad, and to her husband, and to the dog.)

    5. Kschf*

      My terrible, awful, yelly, manipulative, insecure, ineffective, workaholic boss got the job offer of a lifetime last spring. It was literally the dream job for his background and passions, the one offer he couldn’t refuse. I truthfully said that I was very happy for him, and I wished him the best– because I really did wish him the best, in that awesome opportunity way over there, in the “best” that also means I don’t have to report to him anymore :-)

      It was more difficult to pretend to be sad he was leaving…… ;-) but it’s been an amazing year since, no more stress nightmares or therapy!

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve seen it used both ways, depending on the context. I have also seen “have a great life” used as “I’m cutting contact with you, never talk to me again”, but also in other cases, as a wholesome wish that the other person have a great life. Perhaps both of these expressions are flexible enough that they can be used either way.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As a wrestling fan, “I wish you the best in your future endeavors” is an ice cold termination line.

      But it’s just generic boilerplate for most. It’s usually cold AF because you know the person well and are treating them like a number.

    8. Katrinka*

      It reminds me of Moe’s line from the Simpsons: “I’m a well-wisher, in that I wish you no specific harm.”

        1. wendelenn*

          “Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?”

          “A proper blessing for the Tsar? Certainly. May God bless and keep the Tsar. . . far away from us!”

          (Fiddler on the Roof)

  11. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’m not sure if there would be any legal ramifications if OP did talk about the details that she does know, but being concerned about that, or even the possibility of screwing myself over at the company for letting confidential information spill out would keep me from talking about it. I’d just stick to the “I don’t know the details” response and change the subject. Although hearing someone praise her in front of me would be super difficult to navigate. I’ll still go with not saying anything, but would need to walk away. I’m sorry you had to go through that OP, but it’s nice to know that there are HR departments that take these things seriously and do something about it. I seriously doubt if was a coincidence – she may have resigned, but that was most likely encouraged given her behavior.

    1. Ele4phant*

      I think you can safely say – I don’t really know what happened.

      For all you know, the official version is the truth. Perhaps her atrocious behavior was, at least in part, being fueled by feeling insecure and overwhelmed. Not that that’s at all an excuse, but perhaps being forced to confront her behavior was the light bulb she needed to go – oh, I can’t be in this environment anymore.

      Or not. Maybe she was fired. Maybe it was strongly suggested she resign. Maybe she resigned out of shame. You can make a pretty informed guess about what happened, but it’s still a guess.

      If anyone gossips about Jane burning people out there too you can be honest – I’m not really sure what went on between them but I’ve always found Jane reasonable to work with.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I wouldn’t say “the details,” because it sort of implies that you know the broad strokes.

      I’d say, “I really don’t know.” or “I don’t know anything more than the rest of you”

  12. Not So NewReader*

    Many times after something like this more than a few people will say, “About time someone did something here.”
    This brings one to the conclusion that everyone knew the situation was bad and no one did anything.
    So this can play out in different ways, not necessarily the way you expect, OP.

    The big boss is actually the good guy: I had a situation like this. The middle boss was terrible, she should not have been managing sandwiches, never mind managing people. The big boss was probably one of my top favorite bosses in my life. I ended up quitting because I was not going to deal with middle boss’ death threats (wth). Before I left I managed to get a couple people to listen to the fact that big boss was okay. And this is what you can do here.
    Hold your ground on this one. If people say something about big boss, just let them know that you are okay with her and you feel that they probably will be okay also. Tell them you have seen enough to be able to say that.
    Remember their concern is not really about you, it’s about how the big boss’ actions will impact them. So let them know that you are comfortable with the big boss and tell them that you think this will go well in the long run for them also.

    Years later I ran into one of the key people in that former workplace. Literally, ran into her, as she spotted me in a store and stopped me right away. “I have to tell you something. YOU WERE RIGHT! I now realize I have one of the best bosses in the world! You knew all along!” I grinned, I was so happy that she could see that clearly now. This key person was also good peeps and I was glad that things settled well for her.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, a big boss who doesn’t do anything about his middle boss subordinate’s freakin’ *death threats* to his own employees is maybe not such a “good guy.”

        1. PABJ*

          It depends. Could have been unaware of it since people were too afraid to bring it up and the middle boss was cunning enough to manage up well.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        He actually was trying to do various things as subtly as possible. Bad supervisor had a skill that is not quickly replaced. Part of the boss’ plan was to get me trained so that I could replace her. I think that became too apparent after a while, thus the threats.

        I did not realize what a hornet’s nest I had walked into. And I had no clue that this was what he was working on– in a way it was good that I did not know.

        Yes, he could have been a stronger boss and he himself admitted he was not cut out to handle the death threats and such. I can’t really fault him for that, because I am not sure I would have been able to do a better job at that time (30 odd years ago) if I were in his shoes. I walked off the job. I have never done that. I spoke to him before I left and he said he did not blame me at all and that he would provide a good reference.
        I admired his fair-mindedness in all this chaos. And I actually felt bad for him. (But I did not feel bad enough for him to stay on and work this through.)

        There’s more to the story, it’d be too long here. But in short, when toxic person wasn’t around it was a great place to work. This big boss was open to suggestions and readily implemented solid ideas. He had a large crew of people and I never saw him lose his temper or be unfair to anyone. Unfortunately, the one problem he had with this toxic person was a deal breaker.
        He left the door open to rehire me once the toxic person was gone. I thought about that and decided that I would not go back, I was just ready to move on. I went back later to say good bye and wish him the best. We parted on good terms. I will always think of him as a class act. As near as I can tell she was gone 6 months later. I would not have made it through 6 more months, I would have ended up quitting anyway.

        There was no guide book of what to do when an employee threats to hire hit people. Back then it was unheard of and no one knew how to respond. Today we are much clearer on this topic and we have some resources. Workplace harassment policies and workplace violence policies are a big step forward. We have opened the conversation and we talk about these things publicly now.

  13. Weasel007*

    A similar situation happened to me Several years ago and I suspect a report I made to HR about my division’s manager was one of the reasons he was fired with cause about 6 months later. The manager, while with my direct manager (who was great) threatened me in a meeting and told me he would make up something to get me fired. He also lied to me and my boss telling me that my relocation package that was offered to me a month earlier ( and assured that was final) was “gone”. He basically yanked the package AFTER I had already started moving. I had tons of emails and ims from him and my direct saying it was approved and I was clear to begin the process of the move. He told me to my face “well you shouldn’t have started the move, and this was all my fault”). This manager was very well known for treating everyone horribly, having meltdown tantrums and being a bully. He was just downright awful to everyone.

    How did I know my complaint could be part of the entire firing cause? Well I was friends with his sibling and when it all went down I reached out to them (they never heard me complain about him because well, I’m not foolish) and they basically ended our friendship right then and there and was very hostile. They outright said that I of course knew what went down but stopped before accusing me of being one of the complaints.

    i learned a lot during that year. Document everything. I also was super proud of myself when I stood up to him in that meeting and told him that he was wrong. I had a lawyer lined up and reported him to HR and within days my relocation check was in my hands. He is completely black balled from the industry now. When people bring this up I just bean dip and move on to another conversation.

    1. Jean*

      I’m sorry this awful situation happened to you, but I really just wanted to say I love your use of the phrasing “bean dip” here. So fun.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It’s perfect, haha.

        (For those who don’t know, “bean dipping” is from the website Etiquette Hell. It refers to changing the subject thusly: “Hmm, [noncommittal remark]. Have you tried Susan’s bean dip? It’s delicious!”)

    2. The Supreme Troll*

      I know that to “document everything” seems to usually get a bad rap with AAM, and I can see why it can be viewed as odd in some situations. But in many (most) situations, it is one of the best courses of action to take!

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        a. I do notice the name you’re using, so maybe this is unnecessary, but:

        b. Alison often says to document everything of this sort. It’s documenting things like your peers’ starting times and PTO usage that she says is out of line.

        1. Wintermute*

          Even that can be appropriate when you’re talking about a situation of an HR complaint though– there’s a big difference between normal collegial relationships and what you have to do when it’s time to go to the mattresses. Documenting co-workers PTO is a good idea if you’re trying to prove they’re getting different treatment, documenting starting times can be important if you’re going to need to track down witnesses or if you’re preparing to fight a dismissal claim based on trumped-up attendance “issues”.

          It’s all about context.

  14. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I worked with a Hedra, who was terminated. I filed a complaint…and so did every. single. one. of her reports and a bunch of her grand-reports. I’m sure my complaint carried weight, because like LW, her treatment of me was easy to label as egregious because I hadn’t worked there long. But they’d been collecting reports for over a year before they fired her, and it was hardly due to me.

  15. DoctorateStrange*

    I think if someone does try to say positive things about her, I’d go with the neutral phrase of, “Yes, it surprised me too. I don’t know what happened. I hope she finds a place that is more suited to her.”

    1. MarsJenkar*

      Now this is a phrasing I can get behind. Not rude if said in a bland tone, and all true.

      Which is one problem I have with “I wish her the best”: despite all the creative framings I’ve seen for that phrase (many in these comments), it still feels like an untruth to me, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I cannot knowingly speak an untruth. But your phrasing works because of exact words–no special mental gymnastics required.

  16. OlympiasEpiriot*

    No high fiveing here, just an appreciation of HR having a process and the process — stressful though it may have been — included taking concerns seriously and being helpful. Reading that part gave me a feeling of relief on your behalf. It is probably small comfort after going through all of that, but, it is more than what many places have.

    Best of luck going forward for you and take some time to be gentle to yourself and recover. Even a successful outcome after a battle is still after a battle.

  17. hamsterpants*

    Given Hedra’s awfulness, LW needs to keep all her comments clearly her opinion OR provable. If a rumor starts that Hedra was fired for cause, and the rumor negatively impacts Hedra’s future job prospects, then there could be a defamation lawsuit.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      It helps that OP documented the bullying and racist comments, and that HR presumably found enough validity in the complaint to get Hedra gone (resigning ahead of being fired is how I read it).

      Personally, I don’t see any need to protect a racist bully’s reputation by acting as though everything was fine and there is no way I could utter “I wish her the best” in anything but a completely sarcastic tone (I just wouldn’t say it). I might not mention my direct experience in specifics but I’d definitely say something like “[Hedra’s good qualities] were not my experience with her. I’m looking forward to having a new manager join our team.”

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I really don’t understand the idea that there’s some kind of moral obligation to be nice about her given how badly she behaved. I might tone down my overt schadenfreude for my own privacy or professional image, but I’m not going to act as if she was great and I miss her.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Not if the rumor is true. Defamation only applies when the information is untrue and it harms the target. Untrue info that’s not harmful? Not defamation. True info that is harmful or not harmful? Also not defamation.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Asserting that she was fired for cause when you don’t know that is one thing; truthfully saying “she said X racist comment to me” or “she screamed at me on numerous occasions” or whatever else she did is quite another, since it is in fact true.

    1. Jean*

      Glad I’m not the only Petty Betty in this commentariat. I’m so completely not worried about people thinking badly of me for someone else – especially someone who was horrible to me directly – getting fired.

    2. Quill*

      To be fair, OP asked how to deal with it at work and maintain a good professional image, not how to celebrate.

      At home she should pop open her beverage of choice and play “ding dong the witch is dead” on loop for 6 hours, but at work, you usually keep your schadenfreude close to the chest. :)

    3. LKW*

      Same. When a terrible manager was let go – I was positively gleeful. She was one of the worst managers I’ve ever had and while she was a very good attorney, she absolutely did not know how to manage non-attorneys and work in a non-law-firm environment. I and others eventually told her bosses what crap she put us through and they were just astounded that we all put up with it. She was doing really well for a while but then went a little too far with her nonsense and is now a fringe player in a very competitive legal niche.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Oh hell, I’d be throwing a damn party — at home, with my friends, while playing it very cool at work.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’d be dancing on her grave as well. But it’s about doing that in front of the right people.

      Inside the team, we’re all having a dance party. Then we tame it down and we act indifferent at best because you know “reputations” among people who don’t know any of you well enough to be told to take sides.

      Be there. Done that.

    6. Jadelyn*

      After hours, sure. But you gotta be discreet about that sort of thing in the workplace or else it reflects poorly on you.

      1. Jam Today*

        Meh. Someone says “I’m surprised X resigned so suddenly” and I would reply “Are you? Hm!”

    7. Donkey Hotey*

      Well, if this is the group for it:

      Me: “Were you the one who got Hedra fired?”
      OP: – generic answer –
      Me: “Well, if you figure it out, let me know, I’ve got a bottle of wine for them.”

  18. Emmie*

    I conduct these investigations for companies. Thank you for reporting her. I do not know if she was fired because of the evidence uncovered in the investigation, and the investigator probably cannot disclose that to you. A quality investigation will look for corroboration for your claims. It can also uncover others who were treated similarly. So, your report didn’t get her fired if she was fired. Locating evidence that she treated you, and perhaps others like this would lead to a termination or other employment action. AAM provided great scripts to use. I hope you can be proud of yourself. Because we need people like you to say something to us when a person is acting like this. You are also probably not alone in this. Although it does not feel like it, people like her treat others similarly. Good luck!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I conduct these investigations for companies.

      Someday I’d love to see Alison interview you about this!

  19. senatormeathooks*

    Coworker: “Did you get ____ in trouble?”
    You: “I don’t see how. I have no idea why she left.”

    Boom, done.

    1. mf*

      Yes, this–keep it simple and admit nothing. You can always shrug and say, “I dunno, maybe she moved on to something better. More power to her.”

  20. Juli G.*

    I know we all hate HR, I’m the worst person, etc. so my suggestion is probably meaningless but you could write the HR person that handled this an email thanking them for handling this in a way that made you feel heard. I’ve had people send me thank you cards for that before and on the days when someone is screaming at me, it’s nice to reflect on the people that I positively impacted.

    1. Jean*

      This is great advice. Sending appreciation to HR for handling something difficult in a net-positive way is a lovely thing to do, AND it only increases the chances of them handling other matters well in the future.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As another HR person, I would ask that people didn’t thank me for doing my job. It’s uncomfortable and makes me shutter because it makes me go “I’m sorry others in this position have hurt you.”

      So it can go both directions. I really do not want thank-you notes, ever.

      I liken it to thanking someone for doing their basic job because the previous person sucked. Would you write the receptionist a thank-you note for giving you all your messages when the previous one dumped them in the trash or just sucked at relaying them to you? I sure wouldn’t.

      Just be kind and respectful, that goes a long way. In reality it looks really weird to say “Thank you for terminating the problem.” when she got fired because she’s a frigging liability and sucks, not because I like the OP any more than the others! I would thank the OP for bringing it to me and letting me take care of it. They’re the ones putting themselves out there. Not HR for doing their job.

      1. Juli G.*

        That’s fair. I also like getting notes from the people I manage that thank me for my support, which I know is Alison’s go-to “gift” recommendation and I see those as similar things.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I just like people saying it in the moment and treating me like they’re not afraid of me, LOL.

          I have had to teach people not to seemingly crawl in here like sheepish kids asking for permission from their parents to do something.

          Along with removing the idea of “Can I bother you with a question?” “You are never bothering me, I’m here to answer your questions. Yes, I have time to speak to you right now.”

          I do like notes when they’re from direct reports or from a boss but it’s different when you’re a department head in my mind. I think that’s where it gets squicky for me.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Re: “Can I bother you with a question?”

            When I managed a department, people would apologize for interrupting me. I used to worry that I sighed or something when they came, that I was doing something unknowingly to telegraph that I was annoyed or bothered by the interruption. I didn’t THINK so; I genuinely liked answering questions (it makes me feel smart).

            My title had the word “Managing” in it, at one point, and I used to say, “That’s what the M is for–it means I’m here to answer your questions.”

      2. Daisy-dog*

        I think there’s some value in showing appreciation for doing a complex job well. I agree on the notes – an email, passing comment, or email to my supervisor works fine.

        1. Sparrow*

          Yeah, I think a genuine thank you can be appreciated, even if they were just doing their job. Obviously, I wouldn’t go over the top with it and buy an expensive gift or even gush a lot, but in general, I think a brief note or email is perfectly ok and would be welcomed by most people. There are a number of aspects of my job that result in me making life easier for my colleagues, and since it’s my job, I don’t expect more than a passing thanks, as dictated by basic politeness. But when someone takes just an extra second to acknowledge and appreciate my work, I do remember it.

      3. Anonymous Poster*

        Would you write the receptionist a thank-you note for giving you all your messages when the previous one dumped them in the trash or just sucked at relaying them to you? I sure wouldn’t.

        I’ve received notes like this. They’re actually lovely.

        Back when I had that job, I had a folder where I saved thank-you emails and other nice notes. And I pinned thank-you cards, which appeared about once a year, to my wall. Receptionists and other people who spend a decent amount of time picking up phones take a lot of abuse. You feel less like walking out the window when you have reminders that a lot of people, maybe even the majority, are decent.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I was going to say that! Or even make it generic – “I think you do great work and we’re lucky to have you.” Or see if you can say something to the head of HR or whichever senior leadership member oversees them if you’re uncomfortable with direct feedback.

      I went through a period of burnout last year which included feeling like everyone hated me. I led a project that involved a lot of necessary painful changes and got a lot of negative feedback. One day, a coworker casually thanked me for something unrelated and my whole mood flipped.

    4. Anony*

      I doubt HR would want that. They are very about privacy.

      And a thank you for firing someone note does not come off well, even if they deserved it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think if the note came about three days after the first or final fact-finding conversation, it would be OK

        But once someone has been pressured to resign, now it just comes across as gloating.

      2. Anonymous Poster*

        I think a “thank you for firing someone” note would be bizarre and inappropriate, but “thank you for looking into things and helping?” Fine, probably.

  21. Patty*

    I’ve been in the OP’s shoes, kind of- I had the unenviable experience of HR and my grand-boss filling me in about how “devastated” the boss was to be let go, how he felt betrayed, never saw it coming etc etc. It sounds to me like if the OP is not actually in the loop about what happened, HR is handling this correctly. And as always, Alison’s advice and sample responses are spot-on.

  22. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

    A few years ago, I reported a toxic senior colleague to HR and he was immediately put on leave, and his status was reported as so. Nobody was surprised that he was finally reported, the only question what whodunnit. I had some colleagues ask me point-blank if I reported him (yuck), and every time I denied it.

    I like Alison’s scripts here, they’re pleasant enough that nobody will bat an eye even if they know you didn’t get along. But I highly recommend practicing them so that they come off in the breezy, nonchalant way you want them to. It’s ok for you to lie here out of self preservation, and practicing your delivery will make you more confident when it comes up with your coworkers.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Can I ask why you denied it? I ask because I had something similar happen where some sensitive information of mine went public with my name left out – I’m not going to volunteer that it’s mine to colleagues and it’s plausible that it could belong to enough other people that it’s not immediately obvious, but I would say yes if asked directly.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Because toxic people recruit protectors, who may retaliate. If they’re crass enough to ask directly, they are Not Safe and you can lie to them.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Oh, that’s a good point. I was coming from a place where being associated with the information isn’t potentially harmful to me so I didn’t think about that aspect. I also belatedly realized it could be questions from people who don’t need to know and are just being nosy and perpetuating gossip, not people who might be wondering who their mystery ally was.

          1. TootsNYC*

            directly asking inappropriate questions like that is a huge indicator–even if they’re a Protector, they are gossips and they have no sense of boundaries or appropriateness.

            You can’t trust them.

      2. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

        Because people being fired for cause is extremely rare in my company, and it coming back to him would only make my interactions with him worse. Also at the time, I was the only woman seated in the area and did not want to be unfairly labeled as a tattle-tale. I spoke up when nobody else would but everyone privately commented on how inappropriate and unnerving he was. We ALL could hear him, it wasn’t just me.

    2. Anony*

      I’d deny it too. You don’t want to be seen as the person “who gets people fired” even if it was deserved. Some people will be wary of you and think “what if she doesn’t like ME? Is she going to report me?” Especially someone new to the company.

  23. MuseumChick*

    I want to tell you to say to anyone who liked Hedra who tries to blame you something like, “All I have to say is she was a *very* different person with management/peers/etc then she was as a boss. As far as I know, she resigned, I’m sure she wouldn’t have been fired unless HR has good reason.”

    But you should really use Alison’s scripts. Most likely you won’t even need to.

  24. AndersonDarling*

    If Hydra’s statement is that she left because she burnt out, then I’d stick with that. “Why did Hydra leave?”…”From what I was told, she was burnt out.”
    I had a friend who was brutally harassed/bullied by a manager and she documented and finally reported it. The manager was immediately fired because the documentation was so thorough. A few months later, the manager approached the company to ask for her job back. She had gone to therapy and had time to realize she was being an absolute monster because she was having her own personal problems and was bullying staff to get though. She had burnt out and lashing out.
    She did not get her job back.
    But…my point is that “Burnt out” may very well be the root of everything so it is a truthful statement to repeat.

    1. Prof. Space Cadet*

      This is a good point. The “burn out” thing may or may not be true, but if that’s what Hedra is telling people, I’d stick with that as the cover story.

      BTW, this whole thread is giving me mild whiplash because about 16 years ago, I briefly worked with an unpleasant woman whose real name was close to “Hedra” who really did burn out. I hated her at the time, but in retrospect, I feel sort of sorry for her because I can see that she was set up to fail.

  25. De Minimis*

    I’ve been in this situation recently. Our toxic manager was fired [in part due to an HR complaint from one of my peers.] All the CFO did was complain to us about what had happened. She then said, “I guess I may be the only one who is unhappy about this.” What were we supposed to say to that? I ended up saying nothing.

  26. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    OP. Trust your own judgment. You don’t owe your coworkers chapter and verse of your experience with Hedra. If you feel someone is fishing, answer honestly, “It was a surprise. I don’t know.”
    If someone is genuinely shocked that content and valuable employee like Hedra would up and leave with no explanation and is oblivious to her treatment of you, then accept that as well. “Yes, it was a surprise. I don’t know.”
    Right now you feel like there’s a spotlight on you. There really isn’t. Maybe a flashlight or laser pointer, yeah a couple people know there was a problem. But the office as a whole isn’t thinking about you. (And I mean that in the simplest way, like giant zit on the forehead, being self-conscious way, not that you aren’t important.)

  27. Adric*

    This is probably jumping ahead a bit, but what would you say to the new boss?

    I think if I was coming into that position I’d want to know the backstory. I’m real sure that as the employee I’d want the new boss to know what had happened.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Would that not be something for their manager to decide what, if anything, they are made aware of, rather than for OP to handle?

      1. Allonge*

        Absolutely. And in principle new managers should not be coming to their reports with questions like what happened to my predecessor either.

  28. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I was once in the position of having to make a formal complaint against a manager who just would not shut up about how he wanted me to lose weight and eat his preferred diet as that would “fix all your disabilities so you wouldn’t need special parking or other perks”

    Even after telling him that wasn’t feasible (owing to disability and meds I really cannot lose weight) didn’t stop his near constant harassment. He was fired eventually but after I left the firm, I did wonder if I was responsible but one ex coworker told me that mine was just one of many complaints and there were ones filed after I left.

    So I contributed but wasn’t the direct cause. Made it easier. If I’d still been there and a coworker asked about ex-boss I’d say something like “people move on with their jobs, often to other places. Can’t think of any time someone has told me exactly WHY. You ever had that happen though?”

    Basically I prefer redirecting the conversation back to the questioner if I’ve got nothing nice to say.

  29. AKchic*

    I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with all of this, and are still feeling some residual affects.
    Whether the resignation was a face-saving one, or an indignant one due to potential discipline over her own behavior, it doesn’t really much matter. The public facts are this: Hedra resigned. That is the official party line, and that is all you know. You are not obligated to act in any way happy, sad, or otherwise about it. You are not required to perform any emotion on the matter. All you have to do is maintain your professionalism, which you seem to be doing.

    You may still be processing everything that has happened, and still be dealing with the affects of the ongoing harassment you’ve been subjected to. My point for that is: it’s okay to feel numb, indifferent, or not even sure how to feel about the situation. Others have given some good, vague lines that sound positive but are actually neutral, should you be asked about the situation. I think you can also give the “I don’t know the particulars, have you asked Jane or HR?” and put the onus of disseminating the information back on management, which also signals to the questioner that not only do you know nothing, but maybe they are sniffing in the wrong direction for clues. Only the most tactless or the most ardent of gossip-hounds would ask the manager of the resigning employee, or HR, for the details (especially if they think the manager might be part of the reason for the resignation).

    I wish you a healthy 2020, with a calmer work life.

  30. Kevin Sours*

    I don’t really have advice for the OP, but something about the situation doesn’t really sit right with me. If Hedra left because of consequences of her harassing people (either being allowed to resign instead of being fired or resigning before the hammer came down) or even if it was coincidence but she would have been fired then allowing it to seem like her choice makes Hedra seem wronged in some way.

    Too many companies are way too tolerant of harassment and I don’t know how you change that culture while sweeping instances like this under the rug. HR may have done taken this instance seriously, but they failed to address the broader picture. If there are other Hedras out there, they aren’t going to be impacted.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        In most states, including my very employee-friendly state of Massachusetts, you also don’t have to pay unemployment insurance for “gross misconduct,” and I imagine racially discriminatory comments and ongoing, sustained bullying are likely to qualify.

      2. Wintermute*

        Not necessarily true. In all states being fired for willful or deliberate misconduct makes you ineligible as well, whereas If you argue you quit under threat of being fired you may or may not be eligible depending on a number of factors and state law.

        In short, while this misconception is common enough that it may influence some company’s thinking or lead to a blanket “I don’t care if they punched someone, stole the till and ran out the door, offer a resignation first” policy some places, it isn’t how things actually work.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I strongly agree. I’m not a fan of covering up bullying boss behavior for the sake of propriety or professionalism or not rocking the boat or whatever.

      For a while there with #metoo there seemed to be a powerful movement toward transparency and honesty – I’m thinking of how California passed a bill banning nondisclosure agreements from covering harassment and discrimination. It’s disheartening to see that “nothing to see here” is still the usual practice.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Same – letting Hedra retain a good reputation rubs me the wrong way but if OP doesn’t want to get into it that is her choice.
      I often get asked why I left a toxic situation and go with a somewhat generic but truthful “when I was promoted to X role they delayed backfilling my old role for over a year but still expected me to do both jobs. I hit a breaking point and left.”
      The reality is that a very senior person was over budget in their department and was using that open position to make their results look better and then it “accidentally” got left off the next year’s budget. My immediate boss showed me all of the documentation, including this person’s initials removing the backfill line item on the annual budget as “not necessary”. Yeah…pretty sure a manufacturing company needs a cost accountant. I got a new job and was escorted into the senior person’s office in an attempt to keep me (not likely). Senior guy LIES to me and tries to blame a middle manager. Too bad for him I have physical proof and happily show it. 12 people ended up leaving in a 6 month period. That company constantly has open positions in his department.

    3. Delphine*

      I came in here to say this. I know of a case where an executive was taking advantage of employees that worked four or five levels beneath him, getting drunk with them (possibly getting them drunk) and sleeping with them. There was an investigation and he was just allowed to resign. He was a predatory human being and now he can go on being predatory at his next job!

  31. Heidi*

    I personally would have no problem telling my coworkers that I saw Hedra push a coworker into oncoming traffic if that’s what I saw. But if I didn’t want to get that far into it, I might say something like, “I don’t know all the reasoning behind this decision, but I trust that HR did their due diligence. There may have been problems that none of us knew about.”

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, if someone treated you badly (or treated someone else badly in front of you), it’s your right to tell the truth about it.

  32. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I would add for the OP that some of the advice about moving on after a toxic job is going to be relevant, even if you didn’t exactly change jobs. People adapt to survive – and you adapted to survive in an unbelievably malignant, awful situation. Now, some of those adaptations are going to work against you. Paranoia, or emotional numbness, or excessive caution, or relentlessly documenting, or any other behaviors you used to live through Hedra might need to be reevaluated or unlearned as your situation improves.

    It takes a while to detox from a situation like the one you describe. It won’t happen overnight, and there might be some surprising emotions and reactions. It’ll be okay, though. You seem amazing!

    1. OP (Allie)*

      “ People adapt to survive – and you adapted to survive in an unbelievably malignant, awful situation. Now, some of those adaptations are going to work against you.“

      That hits very, very close to home. Sometimes I know I’m reacting according to Hedra Conditioning, but other times, I don’t think I’m aware. It will take time. And self-awareness. I guess, I hope, I have both.

      The feeling I fight against is one of bitterness that I won’t have those months back. I’m so behind in terms of job knowledge and I fret that I’m known for the lies she told and the general drama. I tell myself that I probably didn’t seem to my coworkers as big a wreck and a waste of space as I felt, but I don’t always listen.

      If you have advice on everyday steps I can take to decondition myself, I’d love to hear it.

  33. Dysfunctional Deb*

    I m so happy to hear about an HR department taking positive action. My experience was a bit different. I was hired to do what was presented as a non-clerical job, but I soon discovered it was largely clerical. (Mind you, the long interview process focused on professional, not clerical skills.) I reported this to HR after my probationary period ended. The HR person was sympathetic, but nothing happened. I left within another year, though, and after I left, the job was moved to another department, so I guess that is something.

  34. Batgirl*

    When coworkers say ‘it’s drama’ and want specifics, I like to respond with ‘it’s business’ and talk in generalities.
    So when people start in in The Lamentable Tragedy of Hedy, say:
    “Well, people move on and have to do what’s in their best interest”
    “Only because of the dark forces assembled against her!”
    “She was unhappy?” *shrug* “Most people leave when they think they can be happier elsewhere.”
    Just stay on the script of ‘We are all trying to find a fit and it’s just business’.
    This may seem disingenuous since her actions went way beyond business boundaries and I’m sensing some misplaced guilt for your having to reinstate them.
    However, you did, and by doing so, you actually kept things businesslike. So there’s really no need for you to take on any internal blame, or any external responsibility for smoothing over the wake of Hedy’s failure to be professional or to be a good fit.
    After all, who knows what was going on with her? You can’t explain her, or her actions so don’t try.

  35. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I went through a very similar situation over the past year. It’s best to look at this as only part of a much longer career. You did all the right things, she resigned. You do not know the details of why she resigned, if her bosses told her to resign (as opposed to firing her, this is a thing, when all parties are concernd with image), and you never will know the exact circumstances.

    Will any of this matter a year from now? Five years from now?

    It’s tempting to talk to people, because the wounds are still fresh; but that can be interpreted as a tendency to gossip — which you really don’t want, because that really could hurt you a year from now, five years from now, etc. Keep it professional and move on.

    1. Anony*

      Plus there could be people sympathetic to Hedra and see OP as potential trouble if she is viewed as the reason she left.

      1. OP (Allie)*

        Yes, this is one of the things I’m worried about, esp. since she didn’t share knowledge as a rule and there will likely be “if only Hedra were here, she’d know!” moments down the road. But I’ve decided to flip that script and think, we can prevent a lot of those moments by being proactive and rebuilding relationships she neglected. And more we do that, maybe the clearer it will become to the majority of people that Hedra wasn’t anywhere so indispensable as she claimed…. Optimistic much?

  36. RC Rascal*

    I have been in your shoes

    Good for you for fighting back. Good for your company for taking it seriously.

    Allison’s advice is terrific. Play dumb & stay neutral and charitable towards Hedra, especially if you have aspirations towards management.

    May Hedra endeavor to receive all she deserves.

  37. Angwyshaunce*

    I’ve found that redirecting queries back to the questioner works wonders.

    “Did you hear [so-and-so] was let go?”
    “Oh no, what happened?”

    It’s a genuine question that implies ignorance on your part, while allowing the questioner to continue their speculation.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Yes – I would also go with an “I’m as surprised as you are” reaction, and leave it at that.

      Anything more indicates that you have some knowledge of the situation.

      If you don’t want people thinking that you know more than you’re letting on, mirroring their reaction and putting the questions back on them is probably about the best thing you can do.

  38. CM*

    Dude, you have zero obligation to lie on Hedra’s behalf. Tell everyone she’s an asshole and you’re glad she’s gone. People like that deserve for the whole world to know what they are — that’s how reputation works.

  39. Anony*

    Just stay out of it. You really are not sure what the circumstances are. Stick with that. No passive aggressive statements or indirect gloating. Change the subject and move on and keep it all to yourself.

  40. OP (Allie)*

    Hello, I’m the letter writer. Thank you for all the good scripts and kind words. It means more than you think… One of the commenters said something like, “you feel like there’s a spotlight on you but that isn’t true. It’s more like a penlight at best.” So, so true. It’s one of many ways my perceptions are out of whack after being the focus of so much animus and micromanaging. I WAS under a spotlight then. Hedra monitored all my communication and acted as my personal troll, sometimes even on weekends. By that, I mean everything from nitpicking my choice of words to making false accusations while CCing in higher-ups who didn’t have the contextual knowledge to judge. But that’s over.

    I have to trust that her departure is not a major topic of interest to the majority of people I interact with. Coworkers haven’t been too gossipy in the time since I wrote the letter. The comments I’ve gotten are out of genuine concern for the org’s future or because people are trying to understand what I’ve been doing for the past x months, and I can’t blurt out that I was metaphorically locked in the basement all that time.

    Reading the comments here also reminded me that yes, I should take some pleasure in this. Hedra will never hurt anyone else at this company. I may be a bit numb, but that actually made me feel good about this entire horrible drama.

    I have some bad conditioning to overcome, and a lot to learn, but I’ll work on it day by day, every day.

    (And I did send a thank-you to HR. I don’t care if it was weird. To quote Buffy, weird love is better than no love.)

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I love the Buffy reference.

      And nitpicking your emails all weekend? Aww… poor Hedra. You took away her hobby!

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      I imagine it is hard to get over what happened. Hope things are going as well as possible for you now. And I’m glad some comments helped. People are rooting for you.

    3. AKchic*

      You’ll get back onto an even keel for yourself. Hedra really did do all of this to herself. She can’t expect to suck the life out of someone and not eventually get pushback.

  41. Zennish*

    The LW doesn’t know for sure that there was an actual firing, so just saying “I don’t know” is true, and sufficient. It’s entirely possible, given what is said about the manager’s personality, that they resigned because their management style was being questioned, or to avoid a performance improvement plan, or… maybe they were actually burnt out, and this whole situation was just a final straw kind of thing. Who knows?

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