my boss is telling people I quit because of COVID, but I quit because of her

A reader writes:

I resigned from my leadership role at a small nonprofit in early May. The other person at my level resigned the next day. We both resigned because the executive director is a narcissist who was not only lying to the community we serve, but also making it virtually impossible for us to do our jobs. She was (still is) constantly manufacturing crises to excuse her inability to get things done and blamed anyone she could for the constant delays and missed deadlines. As much as I wanted to tell her off when I left, I wrote a letter of resignation to her and the board that was not specific about why I was leaving and thanked them all for the opportunity.

The ED did not speak with me during my exit and said in a public team Slack post that she “had no idea” why I would resign. I responded to that saying that out of respect for her and professionalism I was not sharing those reasons publically but am certainly willing to share them directly with her. She did not take me up on this offer.

In an absence of information, she has manufactured a story and my former coworkers are being told to tell the people who I worked with and the community members the organization serves (who I worked closely with) that I left for “personal and COVID-related reasons.” I received multiple messages from the people in our community who I worked closely with asking if I am okay and clearly very concerned about my health and me as a person. These people know enough to suspect the ED of bad behavior. What is the right response to this?

I suppose it’s possible that she really has “no idea” why you resigned since you haven’t told her or the board, but it’s awfully telling that she ignored your offer to discuss it and has made up a story to tell others.

You should feel free to tell people who contact you that you don’t know why the ED is saying you left for COVID-related reasons, but that it’s not why you chose to leave — but also that you don’t want to air the organization’s dirty laundry. (That “chose to leave” language is intentional, because it indicates you weren’t fired.) That assumes, of course, that you don’t want to air the organization’s dirty laundry, which I’m assuming since you were circumspect with the board. But if you want to be up-front that you left because of concerns with the organization’s leadership, you can.

In fact, the fact that the ED is lying about this would make me more inclined to make it clear she’s full of crap. If she had been gracious, you could extend some graciousness back — but she’s actively lying. You have zero obligation to say anything other than the truth, and you’re fully entitled to say it in a way that makes it clear she’s been dishonest.

Frankly, I might also consider filling in the board. The gracious resignation you sent them is probably allowing the ED to portray your departure as something that has nothing to do with her. An organization that’s small enough that you’d send your resignation to the board is also small enough that the board should be asking why the two people in your job left resigned within 24 hours of each other — but the ED may be spinning all kinds of yarns to make them think nothing is amiss, and you might want to counter that.

Or not, of course. Sometimes you’re better off just washing your hands of an organization like this — especially if you’ve already seen signs that the board doesn’t care / won’t act — but it’s an option to at least consider.

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. CM*

    I agree about telling the Board, or at least one sympathetic Board member, if you think they might be willing to take action. Lying to the community is a serious offense!

  2. Free Meerkats*

    Without input from you and possibly the other person who left, how can the board know what’s going on in the organization? Tell the board exactly why you left, without diagnosing the ED. They need to know this.

    1. Observer*

      I agree. Stick to the facts. But the Board needs to know. If they are competent, they will want to know. If they are not competent, you want it on the record that you let them know because it’s quite likely that it will hit the fan at some point, and you don’t want to give anyone a chance to say “WHY didn’t you tell us? We would have fixed the problem!”

    2. Rose*

      How can the board know? They can ask.

      It’s not OPs job to fix this on their way out. There’s a reason that exit interviews exist. OP volunteered to talk about her reasons for leaving and no one took her up on it. The board should have asked more questions with two people resigning in such a short period, especially when they work for someone constantly in crisis and missing deadlines.

      There are plenty of reasons OP might not want to get involved now that she’s gone: your most recent job is likely the reference you’ll need for your next job; conflicts with your past employer can reflect poorly on you even if they’re 100% not your fault; not wanting to get involved in or spend energy on the drama of a place she doesn’t even work anymore; etc.

      If OP wants to talk to the board it would be a nice favor to them, but this is a not her circus/not her monkeys situation. It’s not her job to fix her former places of employment. Just a surprised look and “Odd, I have no idea why Jane would say that, covid had nothing to do with me choosing to leave.” should say volumes to anyone listening, and she can amp up the details if she wants. If it were me, I’d ask x-boss directly to cut it out and give the board a faux-confused “no idea how this odd rumor got started” kind of message and be done with it unless they pushed for details.

      Honestly, the excuse itself should have been somewhat of a red flag. This is an awful time to job hunt. If you pay for health insurance and sick leave, it doesn’t really make sense that anyone would leave their job due to covid. Even if a family member was seriously sick, it’s not a long term illness that loved ones can get really involved in helping with. With not one but two people leaving a disorganized company with odd reasoning and no follow up questions, it seems like someone’s asleep at the wheel.

  3. CFE here*

    ED’s behavior throws up a couple fraud risk flags. Please update the board with your facts. This falls within things they need to know and be able to manage.

    1. knitter*

      While it wasn’t fraud, an ED I worked for behaved like this and blew through an almost million dollar reserve fund in 5 years. She was really good at deflecting the board’s attention to what she wanted them to look at or just giving parts of the information (and also the board wasn’t great, but that’s another conversation). The org lasted two years after she left, but ended up closing.

      So if you value your organization OP, I’d seriously consider reaching out to the board.

      1. Andrea Schmitt*

        Sigh. Sometimes the board is notified…and does nothing. Or a bunch quit instead of dealing with it, because they were terrified of dealing with an unstable personality that clearly was lying about a host of issues. #truestory

        1. Observer*

          Sure. But unless the OP has reason to fear retaliation if they just lay out the basic facts to the Board, they really do have a bit of an obligation. Also, there is a good chance that it will help reduce the impact of the ED’s lies. And, if the Board won’t / can’t take action, there is a good chance that someone is going to try to make this the OP’s fault (which is ridiculous, but still a potential problem.) A documented attempt to provide information to the Board is the best way to mitigate potential fall out from that.

  4. Archaeopteryx*

    This is definitely a situation where you want to tell the truth to people. The board needs to be able to do their own jobs and they can’t if you’re withholding information. You can do so in a professional, classy way but you definitely should make it clear that this is due to objections you have to her leadership. She’s the only one who benefits from you covering this up for her.

    1. Don*

      Point of order: LW is not -withholding- anything. LW chose the dignified approach and didn’t spin any yarns. Aside from professionalism this is also often the personally smart move when departing because new employers might look poorly on someone who makes public waves, however unfair that is.

      If the board is interested in doing their jobs they can question the turnover and investigate, including reaching out to LW for information. If the boards interest went no farther than to ask the ED and accept an answer at face value it’s not on LW to try to drag them kicking and screaming into reality.

      1. pancakes*

        There needn’t be any kicking and screaming, though. Similarly, being truthful with the Board wouldn’t necessarily be undignified. The idea that the letter writer should let lies about her departure go without comment to test whether the Board is interested in learning the truth or out of fear that they’ll have some sort of emotional meltdown doesn’t make sense to me at all.

      2. Bostonian*

        I actually agree with Don. OP left. They have no obligation to the organization left and, given the poor leadership of the ED, may have good reason to not go out of their way to spill the tea. The board, however, DOES have an obligation to be paying attention to the organization and the ED’s leadership

        Whether OP feels a personal obligation to be honest with the members that the organization serves is a different story. By all means, be as diplomatically honest with anyone who reaches out and asks.

        1. Bostonian*

          I actually do hope the OP tries to get through to the board about this, but I wanted to disagree with the idea that it’s some sort of sin NOT to.

      3. Andy*

        When your definition of professionalism requires people to hide serious problems with leadership or organization, then that definition is part of the problem.

        We are supposed to notify management when low level employees are engaged in what they should not or when they treat others in toxic way. Why should be management be protected from truth about the way they do their jobs?

        The “it is not professional to tell the board about issues” set of believes is one part of reasons why narcisstic do well in management positions regardless of damage they cause. Nit the only reason, but contributor.

      4. memyselfandi*

        I agree. From my experience working with people who excel at cya, it is hard to appear as the reasonable party. This situation arises on many situations where and it is the responsibility of the folks in charge (the Board, Senior Management) to do their jobs and discern the source of the problem.

    2. Rose*

      OP also benefits by not burning a bridge she might later need for a recommendation or getting involved with a lot of drama that frankly isn’t her problem. The board is totally capable of doing their own jobs, asking questions, and making sure exit interviews are taking place. If they’re choosing not to do them it’s not the job of OP, who doesn’t even work there, to track them down and help get them done.

  5. FairfieldJen*

    As a former non-profit board member and chair, I would strongly encourage you to let the board know what’s happening with your former ED. If the board mainly interacts with the ED and not staff (as has been the case in the non-profits I’ve worked with), it can be so hard for the board to support staff properly when there are leadership issues they don’t know about.

    1. Roz*

      Agree completely. My experience on non-profit Boards supports this insight. There is potential risk to the organization meeting it’s mandate, so you must tell the Board as this has become a governance issue.

    2. RoseDark*

      Seconded. I spent just over a year on the board of a small non-profit. Our ED went on vacation and hired basically a substitute, who took one look at the state of the office and staff and said “oh HELL no”. Then proceeded to pour a lake of evidence out to the board that the ED was disorganized, not documenting properly, not supporting staff, basically doing whatever they wanted, and running office morale into the subbasement. We had a bit of a scramble to replace them. Board didn’t know about any issues because the ED wasn’t about to tell us about any, and none of the staff felt comfortable speaking up. It took an outside voice saying “y’all, this is a mess” and pointing the finger for us to solve the problem.

    3. EvieK*

      Why is it not a red flag to the board that only the ED controls the communication with the board? Can board members not reach out to staff to check in on what the ED tells them? Staff may not know who is on the board or how to reach them but board members know where to find the organization.

      1. Lizzo*

        To your point about knowing who is on the board, I don’t believe it’s required to have board members (or board meeting minutes) publicly available, but it is a best practice.

        It’s not unusual for an ED to be the only point of contact with the board. In my experience, when board members have access to staff, they can use that as an opportunity to pursue pet projects, advance their personal agendas, monopolize staff time for these two purposes, and other things that are wholly unhelpful. Of course, good board members don’t do this. :-) But it’s the ED’s job to be that liaison between board and staff. Even in well-run organizations with good leadership where staff-board communication is an acceptable thing, it’s still conducted with guidance and oversight by the ED, because it’s the ED who understands the larger strategic picture.

        None of this precludes a board member from talking to a staff member and vice versa if they think something fishy is happening within the organization.

        1. Granger*

          THIS! In reading the comments on this thread I was surprised to find the confusion about the reporting structure – that it’s totally normal for Boards to mainly interact with the ED and not with staff (and chaos can ensue when it isn’t that way!).

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      Lying is a big deal, and I agree wit letting the board should know what’s going on. The how of that is something to be considered. OP, I can understand if you don’t want to put something in writing. Do you have a good relationship with the board chair, or another board member you trust? If so, you could request a call to touch base so you don’t have an email trail.

      As for responding to people in the community, I think Alison’s script is excellent, just saying you don’t know why the executive director shared that your departure is related to COVID-19. If you’re concerned about the well-being of the nonprofit and the people it serves, it makes sense to confine discussion of the details just to the board.

      That said, if the board is a capable one, they will notice on their own that something seems suspicious. I once worked at a nonprofit where I and about half of staff departed within six months. The board noticed this trend and ultimately replaced the entire senior management team, and from what I hear the nonprofit is once again a good place to work.

      1. Observer*

        I actually think that having something in writing – as long as it’s professional and totally factual, is probably in the OP’s best interests. Again, I’m not talking about going to the press or public, but the Board.

        1. WoodswomanWrites*

          Yes, my point was to address any concerns that OP had about putting things in writing which I agree is a viable option.

  6. Heidi*

    I’m wondering if she’s saying the same thing about the other employee who resigned the next day. If someone told me that two people in leadership roles left at the same time for “personal reasons,” I’d suspect that it wasn’t the whole story. In any case, I’d definitely make it clear to the board that you do not have COVID-19 and you were not the source of that misinformation. That may have real implications for other employees who might think they were exposed but weren’t.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      That’s probably the excuse she is using to cover up the two of them quitting in such short order. “Oh Sansa and Arya both left for personal, COVID19 related reasons, such a shame, we had both Llama Analysts sharing that small office.” Leading people to draw the incorrect conclusion that one infected the other and they are both gone because they are sick.

  7. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I agree about telling the truth to those who ask. There is no reason for you to protect the ED, and lots of reasons to tell the truth to all concerned.
    IME people like the ED go into denial about what they’re doing. They don’t want to admit it to themselves, so they make up stories to account for what happened and convince themselves they’re not bad people.
    If she’s in denial she might get upset if confronted, but that’s not your problem, OP. :)

  8. HelloHello*

    If nothing else, I’d correct people who ask with something like “I’m not sure why she’s saying that. I left the organization because I had some significant differences in vision with the organization, but I’m excited about the next steps in my career,” or similar. I think you can both be professional AND indicate you left because you didn’t agree with the way the org was being run.

    1. SweetestCin*

      I had to do fairly similar, as one of the reasons I left was telling everyone that I had left because I didn’t like “artistic llama grooming” and wanted to go in a different direction than Previous Company was going. It was usually a fairly short conversation: “Oh there must be some misunderstanding somewhere, as I was hired by New Company to DO artistic llama grooming exclusively”.

    2. Chinook*

      I have done the same when the reason I left a volunteer leadership position. TPTB took advantage of my silent high road and lied about it. A friend emailed me with concern for the perceived lie and I enjoyed walking in to their next meeting, proving by my mere presence that the rumour was a lie, and stating the truth. It was as close as I could ever got to intentionally burning bridges, but, in my defense, they placed the tinder and flammables – all I did was throw a lit match in their direction and walk away.

        1. Chinook*

          Worse – DH was transferred and I didn’t bother to tell my friends I was moving. We were a military based group, so we always exchanged contact info before moving. It implied I snubbed them all, including a close friend.

  9. Marcy Marketer*

    I would say “Thank you so much for reaching out. I’m not sure why ED said I left for COVID-19 reasons; I chose to leave based on concerns about the organization’s direction/leadership. OR I chose to leave for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, and out of respect for the organization don’t want to share more details.”

    To the board, you could write “I have been receiving emails from former clients and coworkers asking about my health; it seems as though my reason for submitting my resignation was shared widely as pandemic-related. I want to assure you that I did not choose to leave due to the pandemic, but rather concerns I had about the direction of the organization under current leadership. Apologies if this rumor had not yet made its way to you, but wanted to be sure that my decision to leave was not misrepresented and that you had all the facts.”

    1. A Frayed Knot*

      Yes, tell the Board about this PLUS ask the Board to instruct the ED to cease and desist spreading misinformation, especially regarding your health.

      1. MassMatt*

        I was going to mention sending a cease and desist. The ED telling these lies may damage the LW and her reputation. Maybe going to a lawyer immediately feels too extreme but I would recommend using that term when communicating with them.

        1. Renata Ricotta*

          As a lawyer, I kinda roll my eyes when people say “cease and desist” like it’s magic language or a term-of-art legal concept. It isn’t, it’s just because lawyers often use too-formal verbiage. Most lawyers who prefer clear language over legalese will just use something like like “immediately stop doing X.”

          And yes, I think that getting in a lawyer (either immediately or eventually) does seem extreme, and unwarranted. Really nothing law-related is happening here. To the people who say “slander!” really quickly, that’s a nuclear option that for a variety of reasons is super unlikely to go anywhere in this context. Especially when you can just calmly and professionally correct the misinformation.

          1. JM in England*

            Should the OP invoke the legal option if they find that their reputation has been damaged by the ED’s lies?

    2. Paulina*

      Additionally, it seems quite inappropriate for the ED to be passing around information (well, what the ED claims is information) about the OP’s health. Since “personal and COVID-related reasons” were not part of the resignation letter, which the board knows, it would be (if true) personal information that the OP expressly did not release. Since there’s no contact tracing being done, there’s no legit purpose to implying that the OP is having health problems, other than trying to cover the situation for the ED.

      Even if the OP doesn’t want to tell the board their opinion of the ED as a leader, they’re entitled to complain about the rumour.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think this is kind of stretching it. “COVID-related reasons” could be anything from “has COVID-19” to “parents/spouse does” or “bunch of relatives do” or a bunch of other possibilities that are not revealing info about OP’s health. It’s sort of weirdly the opposite of what people interviewing keep asking about, and keep getting the answer “no one is going to ask you why you had a gap in your resume March-June 2020” because the answer is “duh, COVID”. The ED seems to just be repurposing “duh, COVID” as a universal unquestionably reasonable response, even though in this context it’s both not hers to give and not remotely true. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t even occur to the ED that what she’s been saying has caused actual humans who care about OP to reach out in worry.

        1. generic_username*

          I can’t think of any “COVID-related reason” someone would choose to leave a job that isn’t deeply personal, from getting it themselves (private medical reason) to not being able to work due to mental health from COVID-related stress (private medical reason) to needing to care for family members who have COVID (private medical reason – just because it’s someone’s family doesn’t make it less private).

          If OP’s boss is trying to pull the “duh, COVID” to explain why OP is gone without it intending to mean OP is leaving because of a private medical reason, then the implication would be that OP was laid off (the main reason people are becoming unemployed during this pandemic), which is a flat-out lie. Like, you can say “duh, COVID” to explain employment gaps during this pandemic because it’s obvious to everyone that people are being laid off because of budgets and there just aren’t any jobs to apply to, but I don’t think it works the other way around….

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Very well written but I’d leave out the last bit “and that you had all the facts” since the whole tenor of the note suggests there are lots and lots of unspoken facts.

  10. GalFromAway*

    I also agree with everyone else who has suggested letting the board know about the reasons you left. Unless you do so, they cannot do anything to remedy a situation that may result in very high turn-over and issues with the organization. It may take a while – board processes can take time – but in the long run, it’s important for the future of the organization and the remaining staff!

  11. Münchner Kindl*

    I can understand not wanting to burn bridges – but I think that it would be better for OPs Reputation to tell the truth, not only to the board, but also to the community. This is a non-Profit which is badly mis-managed, which will Impact the community (and donors). OP warning both the board and community is to me not “airing dirty laundry” but rather “not being complicit in the scandal” when it breaks. Which it likely will, sooner or later.

    1. Ping*

      OP had already burned bridges. Narcissists take everything personally so OPs reference is in jeopardy.
      It would be better to let the board know so OP can preserve her reference. If it takes a cease and desist then so be it.

    2. DyneinWalking*

      And so many people mistake “not airing dirty laundry” with not mentioning ANYTHING negative, which is not what the saying is about. Dirty laundry… is everyday issues that everyone has, that either don’t matter much, or are very personal and don’t impede on other people at all just so long as they don’t stick their nose in it, or which are a bit more serious but will be dealt with in their own time anyway. And you deal with these issues like you deal with seeing a piece of dirty underwear in someones house – you pretend you didn’t see it, you don’t tell your hosts that they need to wash their clothes, and you sure as hell don’t show it around for others to see.

      But what OP is talking about is more like mold, or mice, or a leaking pipe in the wall, or something like that. This is a serious problem they might not be aware of, and it’ll just get worse over time – it’s KINDNESS to inform people!
      They might choose to ignore the information, but it’s not rude to tell them about it!

  12. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I would 100% reach out to the board and tell them the reason you chose to resign. The ED is telling lies and if they’re not already aware (and choosing to ignore it) they need to know that this is typical MO of this person and deal with them appropriately. Even if they choose to ignore this behavior, if I were you I’d feel obligated to set the record straight.

  13. Buttons*

    “Gosh, there most be some kind of miscommunication. I didn’t leave because of anything to do with Covid. I decided it was time to move on to something new!”

    “Dear Board of Directors, It has come to my attention that ED is falsely telling people I left because of reasons related to Covid-19. This had nothing to do with my reasons for giving notice and resigning. Please tell ED to stop telling people I left for this reason?”

  14. Addy*

    I’ve worked for non-profits – I highly doubt that the board is not aware of the ED’s bad behavior. But they’re probably a volunteer board and it’s incredibly difficult for volunteer board members to put themselves in the position to get rid of an ED. They have other duties to focus on and they’re typically only in the role for 1 year. Typically end up thinking it will/can be someone else’s problem next year and that they can fix it during their term.

    Here’s one example of the dysfunction of non-profit volunteer boards: I worked at one where the ED was so drunk at a reception that they knocked over a light stand and hit a member in the head – sending them to the hospital to get stitches on their face. At the next board meeting – they laughed about it and gave him a bonus for how well the conference had gone.

  15. Teapot Teacher*

    This is a very timely post – I and several of my colleagues are grappling with the same scenario. Small nonprofit, terrible director, simultaneous resignations, etc. Thank you for the advice, Alison!

  16. Ryan Gosling, Arts Administrator*

    Our whole staff suffered under a terrible ED for 5 years. We thought we were being professional and “keeping it in the family” by just dealing with the problems she caused and not airing our dirty laundry, even at board meetings. Then, when the problems became serious enough that she was fired, the board repeatedly asked “Why didn’t you let us know it was this bad?” The board is part of your governance structure, too, and your only hope against a bad or unethical ED. Educate them early and often!

    1. MassMatt*

      What an infuriating thing for the board to say. I would retort “Why didn’t you know it was this bad?!”. It’s not reasonable to expect employees to Supervise their boss (or grandboss), this is what the board is FOR, to supervise the ED. They should resign.

      1. Observer*

        Sometimes the signals are just not there. Still not OK to blame the staff.

        But in either case, this is a good reason for the OP to speak up. Either the Board is genuinely in the dark, or they are putting their heads in the sand. The OP has the least to lose if the Board has their collective head in the sand, and it keeps the Board from spouting this nonsense.

  17. RedinSC*

    Hi OP, I was -THIS- close to quitting my current job, because the ED was spiraling out of control. It was all I could do to actually get up in the morning. ED has been here a long time and very respected in the community and usually a good egg, but things happened and the ED was just a mess. I decided that before I quit I owed it to the organization to go to the board, and I’m glad I did.

    They acted immediately, got the ED support and stepped in to help out. It was life changing for everyone. AND the board was super happy that they got the heads up on a problem.

    Perhaps your board won’t be as receptive or helpful, but I think it is worth reaching out to the chair, or a trusted member of the board to let them know what’s going on. If this non profit is doing work that needs to continue they should know about the problems.

    I’m still here 2+ years later, so like I said, I’m glad I reached out.

  18. Anne of Green Gables*

    Very early in my working life, I left a job to get away from a terrible (and borderline abusive) boss. She had an obvious and easy to believe and TRUE reason why I was leaving–to go to graduate school. This was my official story. ( I mean I applied to graduate school to get away from her. It was true, but not the entire story.)

    Instead, it became clear to me when coworkers expressed “it’s a shame why you have to leave” that she was telling people that I was leaving because my father was sick–he was, but I never told her that, and it has absolutely nothing to do with why I left. (She learned from a friendly colleague of hers who had been my boss previously and who I did tell, as I worked with her at the time of diagnosis.)

    To this day, one of my biggest professional regrets is that when people said it was a shame I was leaving that I did not act confused, ask why they thought it was too bad as grad school in this other field was a good move for me, and make them basically say that Boss said my dad was sick–at which point I could make it clear she did not get that info from me and she was spreading *very* personal info about me, and by the way that kind of behavior was the tip of the iceberg of how she treated people who report to her. I worked with very, very kind people who would have been appalled at the way Boss treated me, and who could have potentially made it better for people who were still there or who came after me.

    This was in higher ed, not a non-profit, but seriously, it’s bothered me for almost 20 years that I wasn’t more honest about what was going when people who clearly cared about me inquired and that I didn’t call her on her lies.

  19. Goldenrod*

    I think the most important thing here is that you got out!

    I also think you should do what feels best to you about telling/not telling the board. I find it hard to believe that they don’t already know what she’s like – just based on observing her over time and on their own interactions. I don’t think you have any obligation to tell them.

    On the other hand, if you happen to have a friendly rapport with one of the board members, you could also share it individually with that person. If you want to! But – again – I really don’t think you are obligated. I have a feeling that there are a million red flags that the board could pay attention to, if they were really interested.

  20. HR Exec Popping In*

    OP, I would encourage you to send a factual, non-emotional letter to your BOD expressing your concerns and feedback on your ex-director. It is true that the board may not act on this, but you are doing your non-profit a great service by sharing your experience. There is a saying that feedback is a gift and I truly believe that. At minimum you are putting the board on notice and they may notice other unprofessional behavior over time. I’m glad you got out of that situation and wish you the best.

  21. Lily B*

    Definitely tell the board. Telling professional contacts you have a health problem (or implying it) is so inappropriate that it’s not even necessary to go into detail about how bad the ED was:
    “To [Board] — I chose to resign in early May. Out of professionalism and respect for [ED], I did not share that the reason for my resignation was serious concerns with her leadership; however, I offered to debrief with her privately. She did not take me up on that offer. The reason I am contacting you is because I recently discovered that after my departure, [ED] has been telling employees and professional contacts in my network that I resigned due to “Covid-related reasons,” which is completely false. I never indicated to [ED] or others that the pandemic had anything to do with my resignation. As a result, I have received multiple messages of concern about my health from those in our community. Falsely implying I left the organization because of a health problem is wildly inappropriate and unprofessional, and it needs to stop. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

  22. anonforthisone*

    All I could think of when I read the title on this post was the time when I was in high school when I quit an extracurricular team because the teacher who led it was awful and become just Too Much for me. And then I found out she told the other students on the team I quit because of them!!! And that she ranted about me from her position at the front of classrooms, calling me “nothing without her” and “washed up.” This post is slightly less drama filled.

    1. Quaremie*

      … a high school teacher called a student “washed up”? In front of (or to) his/her classmates?? That’s unreal!

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Oh, I had an advisor in grad school who trash-talked his former students on the regular… for such sins as having landed a tenure-track job at a *gasp* small liberal arts college, not a Research I.

        He and his enabling department drove me into breakdown before I finally left.

        I teach in a professional graduate program now (completely different discipline from that grad department), and I have a very, very bright line about trash-talking former students by name: I just don’t. There have certainly been a few I won’t recommend, and I keep a private list of those (and the factual reasons for it) because my memory is a steel sieve, but that’s the extent of it.

        Enmeshed educators can get real, real ugly. I don’t want that to be me. I do understand the temptation, because students are people and people are all over the map — nobody likes everybody, educators no exception. But tolerating a certain amount of student… stuff… is part of the job.

  23. Corporate Cynic*

    As a former nonprofit board member, I urge you to fill in the board transparently, if you are comfortable doing so. They absolutely will want to know this. All the best to you!

  24. menchildren of the corn*

    are you talking about belinda from mbrit? Her to a tee plus constant relationship drama

  25. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    I agree with letting the Board know if they seem at all responsive. If all of the Board’s information is funneled through the ED, they might be appalled by what is actually going on and are in best position of anyone in the org to fix it.

    One other option would be if the org has an ombudsman you could share more details with them and let them take point with the Board.

  26. Lizzo*

    Hi OP! There seem to be a couple of things happening here:

    1) The ED is lying in a way that potentially damages your reputation.
    2) The ED is performing poorly.

    I think that #1 is a perfectly reasonable thing to speak up about, and I think you *should* speak up about it in a way that is professional and factual, where your desired outcome (i.e. the lies need to stop) is clear.

    The second thing is a bit trickier…on the one hand, the board should have access to correct and factual information. The content of the message you send to address issue #1 may be enough to tip savvy board members off indirectly that the ED is *not* a good leader, and it will prompt them to do more investigating on their own. On the other hand, you are no longer employed there, and in theory have no obligation to the board. Furthermore, the board may not take any action! If you can be prepared to say your piece, base that information in facts/data, and then detach from the outcome, I say go for it. It may help Karma do her job more swiftly.

  27. Safely Retired*

    I have a problem with this: “You should feel free to tell people who contact you that you don’t know why the ED is saying you left for COVID-related reasons, but that it’s not why you chose to leave — but also that you don’t want to air the organization’s dirty laundry.”

    How about: “… tell people who contact you what ED is saying, that you left for COVID-related reasons, is not true and is entirely a fabrication by ED.”

    I think that without explaining further a letter to the top telling them that ED is telling people a false reason for your departure, and that you expect (whoever at the top) to put an end to it. In other words make it clear that ED is lying about you and you are unwilling to tolerate it.

  28. LGC*

    I responded to that saying that out of respect for her and professionalism I was not sharing those reasons publically

    LW, just so you know, you’re my new hero. That was ice cold in the best way.

    For what it’s worth, my initial read was that your ED definitely fabricated a CYA – it’s easier to say that you and your coworker left because of Miss Rona than to just leave it as “personal” reasons. On one hand, I’m not sure if it’s worth telling the board – if there’s that much dysfunction that high up, the organization as a whole probably is irredeemable, but also you have to think of their patrons and their clients.

  29. Oh Behave!*

    OP, please tell the board. Email them all. The ED is feeding them information, WRONG information. For the health of the org, they must know what’s happening. Even better if your colleague co-signs the email.

  30. D3*

    Here’s the thing: When you are not willing to be honest about why you leave, you create a void that can – and will – be filled with speculation, rumor and outright lies.
    If you don’t want that void filled incorrectly, you need to speak up yourself.

    1. Birch*

      Agreed. It’s all well and good to want to take the high road, but making sure the truth is known about what happened to you is not the same as airing dirty laundry. If you can’t trust the ED to tell the truth, then you have to tell the board. If you can’t trust them either, then IMO you should tell whoever you can trust with the truth. It’s too easy for higher-ups to keep the truth to themselves and make up lies about you to spread to everyone else.

  31. Vanilla Nice*

    PLEASE tell the board. Even if it doesn’t change anything, it’s important that they know there were issues with the E.D. In my career working with various nonprofits, I’ve seen too many lousy E.D.’s or people in similar positions skate by because the board was in the dark. You can be circumspect about your reasons (“Jane and I had different management styles”), but the board needs to hear it.

  32. ChamomileTea*

    Yes! I agree with those who vote that you tell the board. My family member was in a similar situation recently and when they told the board what the ED had said, the board chair called to ask if ED were fired, would my family member reconsider staying on in their position?! The board said they had had some issues with ED in the past, but didn’t realize the extent of the problems between ED and colleagues. Like others have mentioned, ED was able to filter info to the (busy, volunteer) board. I hope the board will kindly surprise you as they did my family member!

  33. Introvert girl*

    This a very dangerous situation. You should inform the board and your coworkers. What if one of them sees you shopping outside, thinks you have corona (because that’s what the manager implied to) and calls the authorities for breaching quarantine? Or someone starts yelling at you in public to stay home because they think someone close to you has corona. Gossip travels really fast, especially when it’s confirmed from a higher level (management).
    I wonder if what your manager did is even legal, associating you with a deadly pandemic. This can hurt you in many ways.

  34. Jennifer Juniper*

    I would say nothing. The ED could be vindictive enough to sabotage the OP’s future job opportunities. This is especially hazardous in this employer’s market.

  35. Michelle H*

    Wow, I have been in almost that exact position before, and have a compromise-based suggestion.

    Many years ago, I left a small non-profit because of an Executive Director who was difficult and abusive to employees, community, and clients, and who had similar patterns of lying to cover mistakes and errors – some of which were actually unlawful. I’d accepted another job and wrote a polite, non-specific resignation letter. Later, I thought about how much I really loved the organization and the mission and about how I wanted it to succeed. So I met one-on-one with a Board member that I was especially close to and told her the true story. Within a year, the ED I’d worked with had resigned under pressure from the Board. I was super happy in my new job, but I did write a long letter to the Board of the the first organization detailing things that the organization could to be better/improve their relationship with the community. It was extremely well appreciated, and lots of the ideas have been implemented.

  36. Granger*

    If OP would consider going back to work there it may be worth reaching out to the Board – but only if OP thinks the Board will investigate and take action if warranted. But not interested in returning and/or the Board is unlikely to act, let it go.

  37. we see you, and it is noted*

    If you do leave an organization because of issues with the ED, and the ED is your direct boss or would be the person giving you a future reference, how do you decide what to say in any kind of exit meetings or to the board?

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