my awful former boss works at the new job I’m about to start

A reader writes:

With your advice, I recently landed a new job in a pandemic-affected industry after a year of doing a bridge job after my old job was eliminated during the pandemic.

My first job after grad school six and a half years ago was for an incredibly toxic unit of the largest, most-respected institution in our field. I was initially hired by one team member as her program assistant and got some weird vibes initially but put them out of my mind because it was a paid job in our incredibly competitive field. A few months later, my first boss was moved out of our department (not fired, just moved around) for threatening our division head, and though my title was program assistant, I had no program manager and reported directly to the division head, Jane.

It did not go well.

Jane didn’t like me immediately. I soon found out she had another candidate in mind, but my first boss hired me over her objections. She thought I was loyal to the first boss. The truth is, I didn’t even really talk to the first boss after the threatening happened and wasn’t involved in the incident at all (in fact, I was away dealing with family illness when everything happened).The first boss had even asked me to testify in her lawsuit against the division head, and I said no.

Even so, Jane immediately targeted me, publicly attacking my programs in department meetings, etc. She also went AWOL at times, wouldn’t look over my workplans or program plans until the last minute (often after the program was over asking me why I didn’t consider certain things before), wouldn’t respond to emails, etc. I was in way over my head (a program assistant without a program manager), and didn’t have the most emotional intelligence (I was 22 at the time). I often cried during meetings while she was berating me, etc. In hindsight I see I made others uncomfortable by having emotional outbursts, which made things much worse for me. She tried writing me up for emotional difficulty but her boss wouldn’t let her (and as a result, there is nothing in writing about the difficulties we had). Another more senior coworker saw how she was pushing me out and helped me secure a position at her old company, and I’ve had a successful career in the five years since.

Fast forward to now. I’ve been hired for a new job at an equally prestigious company and am relocating to work there, have already given notice at my bridge job, etc. I I called up the director of my old company, who I’ve remained on good terms with, to let her know HR would be getting a background check form for me and … I found out Jane works at my new job.

I would appreciate any advice on how to handle the situation. I’m five years removed from toxic company, and have reflected a lot in my role in the situation. Jane and I will be in different but related divisions (thinking product marketing and product development) but at the same worksite. The new institution has 3,000+ employees and the divisions are clearly separated. In fact, the roles are so siloed that my new boss hasn’t even mentioned her, even though my new boss interviewed for a role at my first job and would probably remember Jane from that.

I will not be working directly with Jane, although I am on a cross-institutional project with a few of her direct reports. When I talked to the director of my old job, she let me know my ex-boss was sent to management coaching after myself and a few other team members left.

I start in a week and a half, and I’m terrified. I haven’t slept well since I found out. I’m irrationally worried she might find a way to get me fired from my new job before it even begins. I’m also worried about the awkwardness of what happens when I run into her. I ran into her once walking in the city we used to live in, and although it was cordial, I wonder if things might be different when she hears we’re at the same new job. She also contacted me once six months after I left about filling out an anonymous survey for her management coaching. I filled it out honestly — which is another thing that worries me that she might be retaliate for me against, if it really wasn’t anonymous.

Should I tell my new boss preemptively, or just see how things fall? Or just hope our work is so silo’ed I never see her once? I know I’m drastically changed from who I was five years ago, and I hope Jane is too. I plan on being cordial and professional, and just working as hard as I have over the last five years to bounce back from this and showing everyone I belong in my new job. Is there anything else I can or should be doing?

You have a lot of things going for you here!

* You’re in different divisions at a large company where the roles are siloed.

* You won’t be working directly with Jane.

* She was sent to management coaching because of the way she treated people in the past. There is a good chance that she has a different viewpoint now on how she behaved with you than she did while it was happening. If nothing else, she was likely told in no uncertain terms that her treatment of employees was Not Okay — which means she’s gotten a clear message that behaving that way isn’t good for her career. Best case scenario, she might even be embarrassed. Hell, as worried as you are about what she might say to people about you, she might be worried about what you might say about her. (And yes, there’s a power difference, but the situation still might unsettle her if she learned anything in management coaching.)

* It’s been five years. That’s a long time.

I don’t think you need to preemptively tell your new boss, at least not right away. Get the lay of the land, see if your paths even cross, and see what vibe you get from Jane if they do. It’s possible you’ll realize quickly that you’re not going to have any contact … or you might run into her and get a completely different vibe than last time. This job was presumably a fresh start for her and she might have zero interest in delving back into anything from five years ago.

Meanwhile, focus on establishing a good reputation and credibility with your new boss — which will be helpful if Jane ever does say anything less than flattering. If at some point you do want to say something to your new boss, it could be something like, “I feel like I should mention that I worked for Jane at X Company five years ago and it was a difficult experience. I’d been hired by someone she had conflict with — lawsuit-level conflict — and I think she always associated me with them. I want to be up-front with you about it since I don’t know if it might ever affect our team’s dynamic with her. It’s been five years so this might be unnecessary, but I’d rather say something than not.” But wait to say that until you (a) are more of a known quantity to your new boss and (b) have a better sense of whether you need to or not.

As for Jane herself, be as warm as you can! I know that might be hard to do with someone who used to berate you until you cried — maybe even impossible — but being warm to her could provide you with an additional layer of inoculation because it will signal that there’s no grudge or weirdness for her to navigate, and sometimes when you’re warm and kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it, they’ll be glad for the opportunity to reset things and move forward. (For the sake of thoroughness, other times a bully will see an opening they can take advantage of. That’s not as common, but it’s why you’re going to pay a lot of attention to the vibe you’re getting from her and will still have the option to talk to your boss if you need it.)

I obviously can’t guarantee this will be okay, but I think there’s a good chance that it will be.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Quickbeam*

    I know it is hard to believe, but Jane may not even remember you. I had a upper level boss at one company that hated me on sight, made my life miserable and bullied me until I transferred out to a different division. 10 years down the line I work for a private company that interfaced with the old boss. He didn’t even remember me. What was so awful for me was just Tuesday to him.

    1. Monday Monday*

      YUP!!!!! I had a jerk manager 2 levels above me that berated people, not just me, in front of others with no just cause. I ran into this person in the hardware store with their family and I said hi. They had no clue who I was and I didn’t offer to introduce myself to the family because I wanted to see if they would actually know who I was to introduce me. Nope.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is common with bullies.

      I once sorta-crossed paths online with a guy who made my life Hell in fourth and sixth grades. I have a really distinctive name in real life, but he never commented on it in the course of the post. The fact that he didn’t even seem to recognize my name even though we’d been classmates for two years tells you how little it meant to him.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Yes, this IS very common! I’ve read ever so many articles in which the author interviews their school-days bully only to have said bully claim not to remember their behavior or to minimize it as schoolyard kidding. Are those bullies all lying? So inherently corrupt that they don’t realize – even as adults! – the impact that their bullying had on the authors? Well, both are possible. But it’s also possible that they actually have forgotten how they acted (hey, if my schooldays hobby had been reveling in schadenfreude and abusing my classmates I’d want to minimize it in my own mind too!)

        All of which is to say that “Jane” may well not recall having verbally abused the LW at their former job – and given her record (which includes a lot of complaints from subordinates and a lot of “counseling” as to how to be a decent human being / manager), Jane will have every reason NOT to bring up the past or, worst of all, repeat it. If she DOES repeat her behavior, well, she’s learned that she can’t act like that without professional repercussions – and she’d have to be exceptionally stupid to want to risk her career AGAIN for the dubious pleasure of acting like a nasty middle schooler!

        1. Just Here to Say*

          No one casts themselves as the villain I’m their own story. It’s the rare person who takes an genuine accounting of their own behavior and acknowledges the ways in which they’ve harmed others

        2. Ray Gillette*

          I remember reading in another advice column – I think it was Dear Prudence – where the letter writer wrote in because she thought that her niece was becoming a bully but her sister, the kid’s mother, either didn’t realize what was happening or didn’t care. From the niece’s point of view, she was trying to make her friends laugh, and it just so happened (hah!) that what made her friends laugh was her being mean to other kids who weren’t in their group. Of course, the niece in that letter was in middle school, so that kind of behavior is more understandable (though still not acceptable).

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Not to excuse them but just for information: bullies often bully because they’re hurting inside (maybe they’re dealing with a perverse narc at home for example). I think they can genuinely forget and/or don’t realise just how much they are hurting others. If they’re being raised by a narc it’s possible that they don’t know how much they hurt others because they haven’t been taught empathy in any meaningful way.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yup, in a lot of cases, bullies just need a target and they don’t really care who it is. It sounds like Jane was using the OP as a proxy target for the issues that she had with the first boss, because she couldn’t be crappy to the first boss.
      OP, I would approach this almost like it’s a whole new work relationship, if your paths even cross at all. (From what you wrote they may not, or you may have limited contact.) Good luck!

      1. Artemesia*

        And consider appearing not to recognize her if you do encounter her. This would make it easier for her to not bring up or worry about the previous behavior —

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This thought actually crossed my mind too. Considering that it sounds like a lot happened to Jane in the intervening five years, that company and LW might be a distant and vague memory.

    5. Smithy*

      I’ve even see this go into loopier territory where you see folks like that later and folks think of you as essentially being “comrades in arms” or even friends. Essentially this idea that you both came out of this tough system and are now close as a result.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, I’ve seen situations where someone’s crossed paths with an old school bully, and the bully has been all ‘Oh, hey! Great to see you! We were at school together!’ and has either had no memory of bullying the other person, or has so effectively convinced themselves that it was ‘all a bit of fun’ or the victim was ‘in on the joke’, or that it was all just part of a horrible school situation, that they don’t imagine for one second that the victim actually considered it bullying.

        1. Smithy*

          Yup – or that working at “Shit Show X” is essentially a hazing experience for whatever industry. So that by making to the other side is a badge of honor, and now we’re buds.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I read a Taylor Swift interview where she said the girls who had put her out of their friend group and bullied her in middle school came up after a concert to get her autograph, and acted like their previous ostracizing was just childhood fun and games, whereas it had been a traumatic experience for Swift.

          1. LadyHouseOfLove*

            Yep. I also remember Winona Ryder saying she got beaten up by some girls for looking boyish in her teen years. She was called homophobic slurs and whatnot. Those same people asked for her autograph years later. She asked them if they remembered that kid they beat up. They said yes and she responded, “That was me, [eff] you.”

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Was just about to post this, she’s a brilliant comedian and it’s absolutely brilliant the way she totally roasts her former bully. I really hope that woman sees the segment.

          2. Non Binary Bird*

            There’s a saying I learned while dealing with trauma therapy and ptsd, “The tree remembers what the axe forgets”

            There is a very high chance that the bully will forget, but I know that gut churning reaction the OP will have so well.

      2. Some Random Poster*

        Absolutely! This has actually happened to me a few times. Most memorably, my elementary school bully send me a friend request on Facebook through a mutual friend. I looked at her posts, and since she had clearly grown and matured, I thought, sure, why not. She turned out to be a really sweet person, with apparently NO MEMORY WHATSOEVER of the hell she put me through for years. She occasionally posted nice things she remembered about me from years ago. And in fact, she now has a kid with autism, and is strongly and vocally anti-bullying. She actually became – well, not quite a friend, but a friendly acquaintance. We even sent some gifts to each other’s kids, and we communicated often until I quit Facebook. I mean, maybe she remembered and wanted to forget, but either way, me being warm and cordial was absolutely the right way to go.

      3. EmKay*

        I saw my childhood bully when I was grown and moved to the large town nearby. In a bar. On the dancefloor. As he was trying to hit on me.

        “Don’t I know you?”
        “Yes. We went to high school together.”
        “Oh yeah! Haha wow it’s been a while! You look great, can I buy you a drink?”


    6. Richard Hershberger*

      Which leads to how I would deal with Jane, were this me: I would not proactively acknowledge that we had ever met. If she raises the subject, then I would agree that yes, I had worked there, but I wouldn’t raise the subject of her awful behavior. What benefit would come from that discussion? If I had to deal with her every day, it might be necessary. But for someone working in a different part of the company who I will rarely directly interact with?

      1. LC*

        I think this is what I’d lean to as well (assuming nothing happens to cause any concern).

        Don’t actively hide that you worked together or anything, but treat her essentially as any new coworker that you don’t really know and have no reason to dislike. Pleasantly, but not familiar.

    7. Luke G*

      And this is related to all the advice lately about how even when a moment is humiliating to you personally, your coworkers will probably move on from it pretty quickly. When you’re the target it feels like the bad behavior is at YOU, personally and specifically. In reality the kind of person who can act that terribly often isn’t very picky about where they spew their venom, and couldn’t pick you out of a lineup after a year let alone remember the details that are still haunting you.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Yep. It was a big help to me in resolving some memories from, oh, 7th to 9th grades when I read that the bullies often genuinely don’t remember how awful they were. They may even remember being friends with their targets, as screwed up as that is. And I thought, “If they’re not carrying those memories around, why am I?”

    8. Jennifer*

      This is a good point. I’ve heard about people confronting their former bullies and sometimes the person sincerely doesn’t remember them. They were nasty to so many people for whatever reason it all just blends together. What one person may remember as the lowest point in their life may just be a footnote to someone else. It’s sad but can work to the OP’s advantage.

    9. MadisonB*

      “I ran into her once walking in the city we used to live in, and although it was cordial, I wonder if things might be different when she hears we’re at the same new job.”

      Jane remembers.

  2. AnonInCanada*

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. You may never cross paths with Jane in this new org, and even if you did, she may either 1) not want to jeopardize her position by berating you again, or 2) she may well be a changed person and will work with you in a cordial and professional matter. You’ve got more experience — both professional and emotional — since your first encounter with Jane. Thus, I believe you shouldn’t bring up your past with her unless you end up getting in loggerheads with her.

    All the best in your new job.

  3. Susan Calvin*

    Alison’s wording is great as usual, but depending on how the org chart looks exactly, I’d personally lean towards putting your side of the story out as early as possible. What I mean by that is, your role and Jane’s might be silo’d from each other, but your manager and hers might already have a lot more contact points – if you’re sure that’s not the case, waiting a bit is probably better, but personally I couldn’t imagine just not mentioning at all, simply because I’d keep imagining it coming up somehow, and then additionally having to explain why I didn’t say anything.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      You need to be very careful with this approach, though. You could look like you’re gossiping or trying to create bad blood. If you choose this, make sure it comes across as an FYI, and not anything else.

      1. Allypopx*

        I agree – and to that end would wait until you’re a known quantity OR until there’s some reason for it to come up organically. All things being equal it will look better for you if she’s badmouthing and you are quietly producing a high level of work than it will if she’s saying nothing and you try to defend yourself and do it poorly.

        1. Susan Calvin*

          True, it is a delicate thing for sure – a bit of it is me being afraid that I’d make it weird somehow, because I’m really not good at secrets. But waiting until after OP runs into Jane organically the first time, and then at the debrief afterwards (or next 1:1) mention in a casually upbeat manner how glad they are Jane also seems to have moved on would be the way to play it for my peace of mind.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            As you say, it’s delicate.

            Saying how glad they are Jane also seems to have moved on could be seen as baiting the manager to ask for more details and stirring up trouble.

            “I’m so glad to see Jane has moved on”
            “Moved on from what?”
            “Moved on from when she was trying to ruin my career. Talk to later!”

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            I think if it helps with the making-it-weird concern, there’s a difference between a secret and just not telling people something. My colleagues don’t know where I get my eyebrows done, or that I worked as a stablehand over summers at university, or that I failed Ancient Greek 1A when I was 19. None of those things are *secrets*, they’ve just never come up. If something awkward or weird happens that you don’t want to discuss with your coworkers, you’re not doing anything wrong by just… not discussing it!

          3. NotJane*

            It’s not really a “secret” though; it’s just information that exists but is not important/relevant enough to share. It’s not weird that people in the same field mean gut cross paths throughout their careers. By preemptively addressing it, OP runs the risk of drawing more attention to the situation than is warranted and potentially making it a “thing”.

            Personally, I’d fake it ‘til I make it, and go for the “water under the bridge” approach, with a side of diplomacy, if necessary. Like, if someone realizes that OP and Jane used to work at the same company, and asks OP if she knows Jane, she could say, “I do know Jane. We worked together at [old company], for about a year.”

            If the person presses OP for more details she could add, “Gosh, it was my first job after grad school, which was so long ago, but I do remember the company was going through a period of reorg/transition during that time, and there are always bumps in the road with those sorts of changes… Have you seen the Penske file anywhere?”

            I think it’s especially important to remain neutral and professional before knowing how Jane will react. Even if Jane is, like, an Olympic level grudge holder, OP will still come out looking like the bigger, saner person if she adopts the, “Dude, that was like 5 years ago, let it go,” approach (mentally, that is, not verbally, at work).

    2. RosyGlasses*

      Yeah – I see your point, but I think it’s just as easy (if questioned as to why it wasn’t brought up earlier) to casually insert that five years is quite awhile ago and you were looking forward to a fresh start for both of you.

    3. Smithy*

      I strongly advise against this unless it becomes clear early on that there will be a lot of engagement with Jane.

      Right now the OP only knows this fact because a former colleague shared the info. Not because they’ve been formally shown an organigram or introduced to anyone on that team. In this job, their paths may cross so infrequently, it really just borders on gossip. If it ever did come up, I think it’s possible to modify Alison’s script to lean into not wanting to gossip about a challenging work environment from five years ago.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Given that the OP has already resigned from her current role and is in the process of moving, I agree with Allison that she should hold off on discussing Jane with her manager until / unless it becomes an issue at the new company. The very last thing the OP needs right now is for her new manager to go searching out Jane and getting Jane’s perspective on her – if Jane is still a bully, she’ll badmouth the OP. If Jane is severely embarrassed by her former behaviour, she might also say something to keep the OP from being able to take the job, simply to avoid having to see her.

      I think the OP should take the role, should spend their time creating a great rapport with their manager and grandboss, should focus on knocking their deliverables out of the park, and should only bring up Jane later on (and only if necessary).

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I don’t think OP has anything to gain by getting ‘her side of the story’ out at this stage. As others have said, if OP preemptively explains things she looks gossipy or worse, especially if Jane turned things around by now. If she hasn’t, then OP doesn’t need to do anything except be calm and distant while Jane shows the world who she really is.

      Even if the subject does come up somehow at this early stage, all the OP really needs to do is act as if it was a minor issue from a long time ago and, therefore, not worth mentioning. She comes across as far more professional and grounded than if she tries to explain ‘her side of the story.’

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      One aspect of Alison’s advice that I really liked is recognizing the distinction between a heads-up from a known quantity you trust (and know to be low drama), vs the same heads-up from a stranger you’ll now have to work with.

      While I get your concern about how waiting for the perfect time can slip from “too early” to “if I mention it now it will be weird,” it’s usually good to let people get a sense of how normal and sensible you are before you float any potential drama. This also lets LW get a sense of their new boss’s reasonableness, her relationship with old boss, and old boss’s reputation at the new company.

    7. serenity*

      I’m going to add to the other voices here and say I also don’t think this is wise for OP to do this early in her tenure – before her boss has even had a chance to know her and to trust her judgment. It risks coming across as stoking drama – even if OP manages to word it as tactfully and thoughtfully as possible – and there’s just no advantage to putting this out there before she even has a sense of Jane’s current attitude. She could be perfectly friendly and a whole different person to work with now!

  4. Zephy*

    I get where the LW is coming from but I think Alison’s right, there’s nothing to be afraid of here. The company has already decided to hire her, Jane isn’t going to bust down the door screaming into HR right as LW is reaching to sign her onboarding paperwork, like a jilted lover busting into the church to stop a wedding at the last second in a bad romcom. I don’t see where LW actually did much of anything *wrong* at that first company, and while it sounds like her industry is small, most of the time no one is thinking about you nearly as much as you think/wish/worry they are.

    1. quill*

      Yeah, based on literally everything else LW has written about that workplace, Jane has a list of people she mistreated and should dread seeing that’s a mile long, and OP’s list of dreaded encounters is just Jane. Jane is unlikely to go out of her way to disrupt OP: she picked on OP because she had the power to do so and got away with it.

  5. Cobol*

    Even if Jane is still toxic, those traits may have already revealed themselves. By the time you interact with her you could have others warning you, instead of you needing to give others a heads up.

    1. Bostonian*

      Oooooh, good point!

      Laying low is really the best option here, then. No need to “get ahead” of anything because people will already know what Jane is like if she’s still toxic; and if she’s not, then it’s unlikely Jane will do any damage even if they do cross paths.

  6. Bay*

    I had a related problem once — someone I had been close friends with and I had a serious falling-out and parted ways on bad terms, and later I ended up working in a department that served the needs of, among other folks, his dad. We didn’t interact much because of the several levels of both vertical and horizontal org chart distance between us, but we socialized at company functions in ways that made it important to leave a good impression of my department’s individual contributors. (We work in tech, and he was in the business side of things, so we needed him to think we were capable and be confident in our professionalism since he had no real way of evaluating our work).

    I mentioned the connection in passing, but just left it at “I liked him a lot, he’s a smart kid” and hoped he hadn’t spilled the whole story to his dad. Was that the right way to handle it? I did like him until the falling out, and he is a smart guy.

    1. A Person*

      If I knew *any* of the history and heard you saying that kind of thing, I would be all kinds of impressed with you (and would want to work with or for you if I could).

    2. Cedarthea*

      I worked for a small charity in a small town and one our board members was a racist, homophobic, ableist, jerk who was much disliked in the community. I hated his guts and never felt comfortable around him.

      People in the community knew I worked for him and always wanted me to talk shit on him, and I have a huge pile of stories that would not be a surprise to anyone who worked with him, however whenever asked about him I always said “He’s a strong advocate for (field we worked in)” with a smile.

      It served me very well and to this day I have stayed above the fray and what I was saying was 100% true, he was a strong advocate for our field, but he was a horrible person.

      1. Smithy*

        I used to work for a small local nonprofit with an Executive Director known for being difficult – and while there was certainly a market for gossip on her, it only really served me well from people who liked her. So it was more a case of laughing with someone.

        The flip side to this, I had a very bad boss in a very toxic place. I think had I worked for this boss elsewhere he might not have been so bad, but who knows. His number one bad trait though was that he hated managing and would say so.

        Fastforward, I have a colleague/friend who used to work with him prior to his being my boss and only knows good things about being his coworker. She knows me, likes and trusts me, and believes I’ve been historically underpaid. When my exboss was up for a job working with this colleague where he would have been managing a team a ten she told me in a sort of “hey, small world!”. I told her that he was a really bad fit because he had not only never managed a team anywhere near that large, he also hated management. I didn’t say anything about his other negative traits or that he was a huge reason why I was historically so underpaid. Regardless, even though she knew what I was saying was true, it was clear the whole conversation made her uncomfortable.

        Outside of gossip, it’s really rare for people to want this kind of news even when they should be receiving it seriously.

      2. Bird Lady*

        Yup. In my field we work with clients and their families. Parents who show themselves to be very difficult to work with are euphemistically called “strong advocates.” The folks on our team know exactly what is meant by that but no one else does.

    3. Observer*

      I mentioned the connection in passing, but just left it at “I liked him a lot, he’s a smart kid” and hoped he hadn’t spilled the whole story to his dad. Was that the right way to handle it?

      Brilliant, actually. As the parent, if I knew what had happened, I’d be relieved to know that you have enough sense not to spread nasty things about my kid – regardless of who I thought was at fault here. And that would make all the difference to me.

      And because of this, even if I thought that you were 100% in the wrong and had done a terrible thing, I would make it my business to be professional and appropriate with you, because I would NOT want to give you any reason to say bad things about me or my kid.

  7. Blarg*

    OP, I practically broke out in hives on your behalf reading your letter. I soooo feel ya. But I also think Alison’s advice is correct. And encourage you to listen to the late-20s professional you are now and not the voice of the 22 year old in a toxic job always feeling like your existence is somehow wrong. You’ve earned this, they hired you on purpose, and your value at the new job isn’t dependent on your old boss’s feelings about you. Congrats on the new gig and go in with your head held high!

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      Seconded! 22 year old me and 27 year old me were two totally different people. OP, I’d encourage you to try not to respond to Jane as your 22 year old self, but instead remember that you are an experienced professional in your own right and you earned your position at this new company on your merits.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’d also remember that as much as the OP has grown in the 5 years, the manager has also grown (we hope) in those 5 years.
        And I totally agree. 22 year old me was an emotionally immature workplace mess. At 27, I was gaining knowledge and confidence and I understood workplace norms. Those 5 years were the most influential.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I want to say that I was a little concerned that this:
      >>In hindsight I see I made others uncomfortable by having emotional outbursts, which made things much worse for me.

      May be overshadowing some other things that could mitigate OP’s opinion of themself, namely these:

      >>I often cried during meetings while she was berating me,

      >>she tried writing me up for emotional difficulty but her boss wouldn’t let her (and as a result, there is nothing in writing about the difficulties we had).

      >>Another more senior coworker saw how she was pushing me out and helped me secure a position at her old company

      >>When I talked to the director of my old job, she let me know my ex-boss was sent to management coaching after myself and a few other team members left.

      It wasn’t all you and your “emotional immaturity.”
      That is exactly why her boss wouldn’t let her write you up–and his goal was so that there would be nothing in the file so that it couldn’t hurt you later, at reference time or promotion time, etc. Because he didn’t think you deserved it.
      He thought the “emotional difficulty” was not your problem. It was hers.

      Sure, you were young, and you’re older and wiser and tougher now. But please don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up here.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah you’ve highlighted the exact things that jumped out at me. It was super obvious to everyone in Jane’s and OP’s vicinity that Jane was being a raging jackass and she was told off and retrained over it. OP is not the person who needs to be embarrassed about this period.

      2. calonkat*

        Very well stated, TootsNYC.

        OP, I promise that no one viewing someone breaking down at work while being yelled at and thinks “I wish that person wasn’t crying”. Do not take that onto yourself!!!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed, they are actually thinking, “Damn, that boss is a real AH. Look at how shitty she’s treating OP.”

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes OP was very young and obviously must have been pretty talented for the senior worker to find them a new job.

    3. quill*

      Change a few details and throw in biosamples and startup shennanigans and that was exactly the same as my job from ages 23-25. OP, congrats on getting out and getting a job that intends to treat you like an adult.

  8. Smithy*

    I once found myself in somewhat similar to the OP, and I think a huge piece of this that’s worth remembering is that often toxic workplaces bring out the most toxic behaviors in staff. That when they’re in less toxic places don’t immediately replicate themselves.

    I left very bad job at bad place, and then a year into my new job found out that a consultant from very bad job who was very close to our very toxic CEO was taking over my team at the most senior level. I was entirely terrified about what that would mean, and what I learned is that good workplaces have good systems in place to encourage good management decisions.

    I certainly didn’t have as bad a relationship with this consultant as the OP did with the former boss, but I also had to work a lot more closely. And it really was a situation where being in a different work dynamic diffused my worst fears. The other thing I learned is that while our friends, family, and AAM readers are likely to believe the worst things about former colleagues – a lot of coworkers are really likely to give people the benefit of the doubt. This goes for the OP and as well as Jane. No one wants to hire someone who gets sandbagged immediately or have a new hire come in and say that coworker XYZ has a past of being challenging.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yes, exactly. The toxic environment on a team that I escaped in my previous job made me so incredibly cranky to people. (I didn’t actually realize HOW cranky until I started my current job!)
      I recently texted a long apology for my crankiness to the person who took over managing the team after my original manager left and took 50% of the toxicity with them.
      It’s entirely possible that Jane is still a bullying arsehole, but it’s also possible that she’s totally different now she’s in a different work environment.

      1. Smithy*

        At my worst place, it became so obvious that whenever someone was being particularly nasty to you – whether yelling or something else – it was because someone else more senior was doing the same to them. So you share Bad News X with your boss, who screams at you. It’s likely because your boss is about to be screamed at by their boss or someone else for having to share the same news.

        Then in a workplace where they’re not being yelled at for sharing bad news and worried about losing their job – now they’re not yelling at anyone else either. Not always quite as clear cut as that, but similar.

        1. TootsNYC*

          like that cartoon about the man whose boss yells at him, he goes home and yells at his wife, who yells at the child, who yells at the dog, who howls at the moon.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          Exactly, this is incredibly common in the most toxic environments because of the amount of fear they induce. Luckily, my toxic ex-team situation was not quite as terrible as the one you describe, but there was still a lot of stuff unfairly taken out on me because I was the only support person (and thus the lowest ranking team member.)
          And the OP may well be perceived by Jane as less of a target or threat now that she is older and more experienced.

        3. PeanutButter*

          “Hurt people hurt people,” was one of the mantras we had at my old job, which involved (among other things) dealing with people in crisis/possibly at the lowest or most stressful time of their life. It’s definitely helped me give myself a perspective check when I’m in situations where someone has just said something that hurt my feelings or was rude to me.

  9. A Person*

    > In hindsight I see I made others uncomfortable by having emotional outbursts, which made things much worse for me.

    OP, did you have emotional outburts, or did you cry when she berated you? Those are two very different things.

    You say that you cried when she berated you in meetings — were these meetings with other people? Because if I were in that meeting, and I saw someone young start crying and their boss just being mean to them, I would be very uncomfortable, yes. And I would be judging the boss, NOT the cryer. Yes, people were probably uncomfortable but not because of you. People are uncomfortable being around crying; people are uncomfortable being around bullying; people get very uncomfortable when they feel like they should say something and don’t know what or how to say it.

    And yes, I said “bullying” and I meant it. I’m sorry that Alison didn’t address this bit directly.

    1. J*

      Yes!! Came here to say the same thing. LW, if she was truly berating you (publicly, no less!), it’s really her fault, not yours, that you cried in those meetings. She was the one with all the power and experience there. Agree w/ everything the previous poster said about people’s discomfort being the fault of your boss.

      Also, in the unlikely event that a colleague was mad at *you*, that wasn’t a reasonable response on their part. (And would further confirm that your prev. workplace was toxic.)

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I was coming down here to say something similar! I was on a team with a similar situation (boss had unmasked contempt for their subordinate) and I guarantee any discomfort I felt in meetings was from the boss, not their employee! And that was a situation where I did think the employee wasn’t a great fit for their role (but even so, no one deserves to be humiliated like that). The fact that Jane had to get management coaching leads me to believe some folks recognized her as the cause of the discomfort and brought it up to management.

      1. TootsNYC*

        note also that Jane’s boss would not let her write OP up for “emotional difficulty”–and protected OP from having that in her file at the company.
        That’s because he didn’t think it was deserved.

        Sure, OP was unseasoned, but the people around her actively tried to protect her.

        1. Allypopx*

          Yep, and that’s telling. It looks like a flock of people were on OPs side, including their grandboss. They may have been too inexperienced to realize how big a deal that was or how much help they were getting, which is fine, but from the outside looking in OP earned a lot of camaraderie and respect and that speaks volumes.

        2. Observer*

          Sure, OP was unseasoned, but the people around her actively tried to protect her.

          No, that’s not actively trying to protect her. Actively trying to protect her would have been calling Jane on the carpet, and writing JANE up.

          This was the lazy way for GrandBoss to avoid having to deal with this. Because a write up of this sort would have raised a lot of questions to anyone else looking at the write up. And it would probably not have done so well for Grand Boss in that case.

          Does anyone remember the letter about someone who told an employee that CPS was threatening to take away the employee’s children? And then wrote her up for her reaction? When a different person got a look at the write up, guess who got fired? It wasn’t the person who had been called.

          That’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with here.

          Links in the reply

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      Yes, OP, it seems like you’re still putting some of the blame on yourself–characterizing yourself as having had emotional outbursts and insufficient emotional intelligence. I suspect neither of those things are true

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Abusers do this, they make the victim feel like it’s their fault.

        It’s okay to walk around with your chin up and your head up right, OP. You have not committed a crime, nor have you committed even a small transgression.

    4. Anon and on an on*

      OP, simply put, you were being mistreated. It was not your fault. If other people felt uncomfortable as you were being mistreated, that is not your responsibility.

    5. I'm just here for the cats*


      I was surprised Alison didn’t mention this too. Crying because your boss is berating you, especially if it is in front of others, is nothing to be ashamed of. You did nothing wrong, and if anyone should ave been judged harshly it would have been the boss, not the OP.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        In reality everyone in the room was scared crapless that they were next. That’s reality.

    6. TCO*

      In a previous job, a boss made me cry during a meeting with several other important people. She made some hurtful (untrue) accusations about my work and attitude, and I was taken by complete surprise and wound up crying. I was really embarrassed by it. After the meeting, a couple of different folks privately approached me to make sure that I was okay and ask about whether my boss normally treated me like that. Ultimately, her conduct reflected much more negatively on her than it did on me; everyone knew that she had the power and was beating down, so to speak.

      OP, it’s great that you’ve learned and grown from your past experience. I grew a lot from tough jobs, too, and I’d definitely handle some of those situations differently today. But that doesn’t mean that I need to feel any shame or embarrassment about the fact that I tried my best in some really difficult situations in which I didn’t have much power–even if my best wasn’t perfect. I hope you can hold your head high in your new role and carry yourself with confidence if you cross paths with your old boss.

  10. Jane*

    I went to a particularly bitchy college and come across people from my ‘era’ there all the time in my field. Some I have enjoyed working with, with others I keep it polite and professional. I keep any office chat vague and don’t really delve into gossip about our classmates as I don’t like to look back on that time in my life.
    In one of my first roles out of college, there was a department revamp and my new manager was a guy who mocked me at a formal event in college. He was a few years older, popular, and a notorious bully. It impacted me a lot at the time and he tried to apologise a few months later when he heard about how crap I had it after the event. I honestly wasn’t in a place mentally or emotionally to accept his apology, nor did I have to.
    I was dreading working under him but our first day working together he pulled me aside and asked could he take me for lunch and he apologised then again and I accepted it and we never talked about college again. He often checked in with me one-t0-one with offsite coffees and was a lovely person to work with. Asked about my family and partner and told me a lot about his hometown. One of the most polite managers I’ve ever known and the rest of the team liked him as well. He’s since moved overseas and is thriving, no doubt because he is a person who is open to change and growth. My experience with him gives me hope that people can change and I hope your ex-manager has managed to cool down and be a professional in their reactions towards you.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I like a story with a happy ending like this. It’s never too late to start treating others better.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I love this and I love how you left enough space for these conversations to happen. I am not sure what I would do in a similar situation, but I am so happy for you that things worked out. And now OP can see that these stories can turn around.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Thanks for sharing that story here, I hope OP is able to come back and say similar things!

  11. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Coming at it from the different angle: I was a truly nasty piece of work back in the day (1990s). I was deliberately cruel, picked petty battles, turned people against each other etc. I will say it stopped once I got good treatment for my grossly malfunctioning brain (and got out of an abusive relationship etc) but I am not accepting any of it as an excuse for what I did. Nor will I ever. I was wrong.

    Here’s the thing: I truly cannot remember the people I did these things to. It’s all just a sea of how angry at the world *I* was.

    I’m not saying your old boss is me, just that there’s a possibility that she won’t even want to remember any of it if she’s been pulled up on it, even if she can recall it. It doesn’t absolve her from her behaviour (as my life does not absolve me from what I did) but if you’re not likely to have much to do with her it does maybe mean there’s very little chance of any of it seeing the light of day again from her.

    Basically, congratulations with your job! Rock on, don’t fear the shadows.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I never would have guessed, Keymaster, you write lovely posts. I am glad life is kinder to you now and I am glad we can all see the real you.

      OP, try to picture Jane writing something similar to this. It might help you to dial back some of that tension? Not sure. But it might give you an easier image in your mind’s eye to picture this than it would to keep picturing daily terror at work.

    2. Nope*

      I’m glad you’ve changed, or claim to have, and got out of an abusive situation. While you can’t remember the people you hurt, were cruel to, had a hand in turning against others….those people remember you. They probably still think of you. The woman who abused the OP does not matter here – if she doesn’t want to recall it or address it, that’s pretty telling. People who have truly changed are willing to atone for their past behaviour because they’ve actually learned from it.

      1. J*

        I don’t think Keymaster was relating this story excuse the OP’s boss or to speculate on her current mental state. Rather, I think it was to address LW’s specific concerns that Jane will remember her and create problems for her because of it.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Thank you, you’ve just proved the point I made earlier, that bullies bully because they’re hurting inside. As another commenter put it, “hurt people hurt people”.

      You don’t remember because it wasn’t actually about them, it was your (wrongly targeted) cry for help.

      And it’s such a pity you don’t remember who you behaved badly to, because the great Keymaster commenter we all know here would probably be able to apologise beautifully.

  12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Ooohh, I have outlived a lot of Janes in the past, whom I didn’t report to*, but whose paths and mine crossed at work, by being extremely professional with them and documenting everything.

    * it’s trickier when you report to the person. I only had one objectively bad boss, and he got himself demoted and then terminated in fairly quick order, so I did not have to deal with him long. Also, he was not as bad as Jane sounds. He was a nice guy, who also tried to push me out of my job for no apparent reason and then gave up trying after a while.

    1. It's True*

      Now that I’m in my 60s, I have literally outlived a couple of people (both older men in positions of power) who treated me badly when I was a college student.

  13. Trek*

    It’s human nature to assume worst case scenario. My guess is she will either barely remember you or not want to bring up the fact that an employee brought a lawsuit against her. It also doesn’t sound like she will impact your position. You are a professional, knowledgeable, experienced employee and you should focus on building a strong relationship with your team and your boss.

    When it comes up I would see how your boss interacts with Jane and if they give you any indication of how they feel about her. Are they negative, positive, or neutral? That will help you determine how to handle the situation. Your co workers who have worked with that department should also be a good source of information. Just keep it neutral- How do you find working with Bob vs Jane? Any advice on how to approach them with requests? Document everything with Jane especially your first project with her. If there are issues, delays, she won’t respond you can take those specifics to your boss.

    Remember you don’t have to trust or even forgive Jane you just have to work with her and hopefully on a limited basis.

  14. Charlotte Lucas*

    I’ve been there! My terrible, toxic former boss, who was removed from her position, moved around the company, & eventually fired by someone who Did Not Put Up With Nonsense, ended up as a contractor at the same agency I was at. Luckily, our paths never crossed professionally there. I only saw her while entering & leaving the building or getting on & off the elevator. She was gone a few months after I started. Don’t know why, but I have my suspicions.

    She did say hello to me once as we were passing. I didn’t even know how to respond & just kind of made a weird noise that she laughed at. I would have been fine if we just pretended to be strangers. (Keep in mind that she tried to destroy the careers of all her underlings & anyone else who “crossed” her. Also she became a PM despite being one of the most disorganized people I’ve ever seen.)

    1. Windchime*

      Doesn’t it make you wonder how these people keep getting promoted? I had a toxic boss who went from peer to Director in less than 2 years. The higher up she went, the more toxic she became. The department was going down in flames and it couldn’t be HER fault, so she would target employees one-by-one, either firing them or bullying them into quitting. She was actively destroying her department, and she kept getting promoted.

      I have no doubts that she would not even recognize that she had been a bully. I was terrified that she would try to apply at my current workplace, but now I am confident that she would be immediately smacked down/fired if she tried those types of shenanigans here. Because I have a sane and healthy set of bosses and grandbosses.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        With people like that, I always wonder if they have dirt on someone high up in the company.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          In her case, she was really charming. You might really like her if you met her briefly. But not if you worked closely with her.

          But she was a master at grabbing credit for anything that went right & throwing people under the bus for anything that went wrong.

  15. jm*

    LW, no advice, but i’m keeping my fingers crossed for you. the directors at my last job were horrible people and just the idea of having to deal with them regularly again makes my stomach drop to my knees.

  16. BigHairNoHeart*

    OP on top of all the other great advice already provided here, can I just say, please do everything in your power to look out for your mental health! New jobs are already stressful for most people, but you’re dealing with an added complication here because you now know that you’re going to be in the same building as someone who once regularly berated you to the point of tears. That’s awful!

    Story time: I had a terrible boss at my last job who treated me in very similar, heinous ways and drove me to tears, physical illness, therapy, etc. I moved to a new city and am very happy in my new job, but I have family in the town where my old job is, and whenever I drive there to visit them, I have to drive by my old workplace. It’s been years since I’ve spoken to him and he doesn’t even work there anymore, but it still makes me angry every time I drive past that place just remembering how he treated me.

    Emotions are weird, and even if you never do anything more than say “hi” to your former boss in the hallway, you might have a strong internal reaction. Know that if that happens, it’s totally normal. Please be kind to yourself. Any time you have to encounter/deal with her for the first few months (even if it’s super low-key), be ready to treat yourself to a nice coffee or chat with a friend. Remind yourself that you’ve grown, and she can’t impact you the way she once did. Eventually, you’ll acclimate, and I bet there will come a point that the thought of interacting with her doesn’t even bother you anymore.

    Anyway, just wanted to mention that. I’m really rooting for you, good luck with your new job!

  17. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I think Alison’s advice to be pleasant is spot on, but I’d also add that it wouldn’t hurt for you to be a bit vague. It’s been 5 years, you don’t remember everything that went on, it was just another job, etc.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      Agreed. Be nice to Jane (if you meet her at all) and concentrate on doing your job really well. You can always discuss your previous experiences with her if necessary, but definitely wait until it’s necessary.

  18. Mayor of Llamatown*

    Alison alluded to this: it’s also possible that your workplace was so toxic that she looks back with the same kind of embarrassment and regret that you do, and feels like that job brought out the worst in her and has become a different and better person. That’s not to say that her behavior was excusable, she was a horrible bully to you and a terrible manager to boot. But it sounds like that was a Very Toxic Workplace, and perhaps she now recognizes that it brought out some awful behaviors in her, and maybe she has turned over a new leaf and gotten whatever help she needed to do that.

    1. Allypopx*

      I never made anyone cry that I know of, but I definitely don’t look back on toxic workplace habits fondly. It’s possible that job was warping her behavior in ways you weren’t positioned to see. Not an excuse, at all, but enough of a possibility that it might be worth just hoping you’re both in a better place now.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It’s possible that job was warping her behavior in ways you weren’t positioned to see. Not an excuse, at all, but enough of a possibility that it might be worth just hoping you’re both in a better place now.

        Thirded. Toxic workplaces, toxic groups in general, can warp one’s sense of normal without one even realizing it.

        1. Mayor of Llamatown*

          I definitely have some full body cringes remembering some ways that I acted out in toxic workplaces – nothing like making people cry, but missing deadlines, leaving people in the lurch, social media surfing on the clock. All things I wouldn’t ever do in my current workplace and which I now regret deeply, but also have recognized that I was reacting to being surrounded by a very toxic environment. So it’s possible!

  19. PT*

    Personally I would not say anything, because you are new and it is going to look like you are at fault if you bring anything up. The person who “complains”, is always believed to at fault, even if they are “complaining” about something totally valid.

    However, if you do decide it needs to be mentioned, could you blame it on the company’s structure? Ex: “The team/department/roles had a lot of friction built into them.” That way it’s not like you’re blaming her, but you’re getting it out there that it was a rough working relationship.

    There are lots of working relationships that are naturally going to be fractious and adversarial just by the way they’re set up internally. Inspectors, auditors, legal, HR, etc., are usually unpopular; the person who hands down the edicts from Management that regulate the Front Line Staff’s day to day lives but make no sense according to their workflow are unpopular, etc. Everyone who’s been working awhile understands that.

  20. Call me St. Vincent*

    This happened to me. The old boss was actually really welcoming to me at the new place and since we worked in different divisions we rarely saw each other. I feel like she didn’t want to make waves and have drama with someone at the new place either. We were just cordial and that was fine. I was also incredibly anxious about it and worried she would try to mess with me but it never happened to my knowledge.

  21. Observer*

    OP, I just want to reiterate two things that others have said.

    Firstly, please put your current professional self in charge of all interactions with Jane. Not the 22 YO inexperienced and bullied past you. You’re in a different space now, and if you do wind up interacting with her it IS going to be different, regardless. But if you go in with the attitude of the current you, it will be even more different and in a better way.

    Also, your old workplace was toxic. Your division may have been the “most” toxic, but it was toxic nevertheless. Which may have had something to do with Jane’s behavior to you. I’m not justifying it by any means. I’m just making the point, as others have, that toxic environments bring out the worst in people while healthy environments tend to keep the bad stuff in check.

    Keep in mind that your immediate supervisor was NOT fired for threatening someone and it took several people in your department quitting before Jane was sent to coaching, even though Jane’s behavior was appatently public knowledge and well known to her boss.

  22. Girasol*

    OP said that Jane took an immediate dislike. I had a teacher in college who had an immediate hatred of a fellow in our class. His work was as good as most of ours and his behavior exemplary in spite of how often she yelled at him in class and held him up as an example of everything wrong. The next semester he did not take a class from her but I did. This time I was the one whose work and behavior warranted daily rants in front of the whole class even though I’d been just fine the semester before. She just needed someone to hate. Some people do. Sounds like Jane needs someone to hate, makes a quick choice of a victim, and dives in. She’s probably well focused on making someone else cry in meetings now. And since OP won’t be handy for those sorts of antics, she’s unlikely to be chosen again.

  23. AVP*

    I – someone who loses all words and sense of human communication when I get nervous – would also prepare and practice a quick few lines to say if you do run into her in the hallway or you’re “introduced” at a meeting. “Jane, nice to see you, my past work at Last Company was so successful that I’ve been brought on board to handle Y here, looking forward to working with you.”

  24. TootsNYC*

    I had a boss who was SO cold to me! In professional contexts, she treated me just fine and even seemed to value my work.
    But if there was the tiniest bit of social aspect to it, she was really cold. She’d walk into a room with me and one other person, and make chit-chat with them but never address me, never respond to anything I said–and would never make eye contact with me!

    A couple of years later, we worked together on a different project in the same company and she was so nice to me!

    Weird, but okay.
    I think that she’d gotten some knuckle-rapping for that coldness, because I had ended up talking to HR about it (I met with the recruiter for the opening under me, and had asked if there were anything in the exit interview that would help me be a better boss. My subordinate had mentioned the treatment he got from her, and the HR guy asked for my perspective, and it kind of came out that she was like this). That may have had an influence on it.

    Or she may have just realized how much work it was, and how much I didn’t really deserve it. And decided to mend fences.

  25. ecnaseener*

    I agree with Alison’s advice, but I also want to suggest this LW consider counseling/etc to help with the irrational fears and that whole angle of re-encountering someone who’s harmed you. All the professional advice in the world can’t turn off that part of your brain telling you to be terrified!

    1. TootsNYC*

      especially because OP is moving to a new city, and her support system of friends and family to shore her up will be farther away. Zoom is great, but it’s nothing like a hug and a laugh in person.

    2. Mayor of Llamatown*

      Definitely agree. I’m actually working with my therapist through the trauma of my former job at an extremely toxic workplace. I didn’t even realize I had the trauma until some other things brought it to light, and let me tell you, taking off that weight and not having to carry it anymore has been amazing.

    3. Nope*

      This is not irrational and you should not invalidate someone’s feelings. I agree that she should seek therapy, but please do not call someone’s reaction irrational.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’m directly quoting OP: “I’m irrationally worried she might find a way to get me fired from my new job before it even begins.”

        To be clear, I’m not saying the entire thing is irrational, I’m taking OP at their word that they are experiencing at least one irrational fear.

        1. Nope*

          Even though she used the word, it’s still not irrational. It’s a reaction. She’s likely been trained by the workplace to consider her reaction as irrational when it isn’t.

          1. ecnaseener*

            OP is doing good work in parsing out which of their fears they think are rational vs irrational so they can focus their energies on the things within their control, and I really really really think the last thing we should be doing is overruling those judgments! They’re scared enough without random strangers telling them that ALL of their fears are in real danger of coming to pass, even the ones they thought they were safe from.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          If I touch the stove and I get burned, I do not have an irrational fear of a hot stove. I have experience that tells me, “Danger, watch out.”

          OP, you have it burned into your brain that she is dangerous and you should watch out. Experience has shown you this. It might be a bit before you retrain your brain in light of recent changes with her/you/new company. And you need proof that she is going to leave you alone, this too will help.

          No time machine here to go fast forward, OP. But stick with facts, if she is staying away from you then give her a point in her favor. If she does say/do something, just decide right here and now you will NOT let it escalate. You will advocate for yourself ASAP. You no longer need multiple examples of what she can do, you already know. Just make your mind up that you are not going to tolerate her shit here, become your own Mama Bear.

          Ya know, I had a job once that I felt so good about I decided no one or nothing was going to take it away from me unless I chose to leave. This makes a difference. Because I could feel my own power coming back, I felt less need to be on guard and less need to worry about things. I remained level-headed and tried to be fair-minded at all times but I did not tolerate BS. If something came up I insisted on logical and professional discussion on the matter. This alone can be intimidating to those who do not want to partake or are not sure how to participate. It makes them back off.

          Think of it this way, she thrives in chaos. You thrive in a professional environment. She’s the duck out of water, not you.

      2. Mannequin*

        Repeating an OPs exact words regarding their fear is NOT invalidating their feelings- exactly the opposite!

    4. Lizzo*

      Agree with the general premise of your comment, but would like to point out that OP’s fear of someone who has traumatized them inflicting more harm is *not irrational*. Using language like that minimizes the trauma the OP has experienced, and is not productive for OP’s long term mental health.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I would like to invite you to scroll up and read my explanation that I was using the adjective OP used to describe their experience.

  26. LMM*

    I was in a situation like this at work two years ago, with a horrible boss who micromanaged, criticized, and eventually demoted me; I subsequently left the company and have gone through a lot of unhealthy feelings ever since. Working for her was an extremely low point in my career and my life. I am now in the same industry but freelance, and much happier. However, I am moving to the same small suburban town where my former manager also lives (coincidence, obviously) and dread the idea that I may run into her. I’m truly hoping she doesn’t recognize me, because I know if I see her first, I’ll just leave, but if she approaches me, I’m stuck. I give her way more brain space than she deserves. (And yes, I talk about it in therapy. A lot.)

    All this to say, I’m sorry this happened to you, sorry it’s resurfacing, and I wish you well.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry. That said, if she’s at all hesitant about whether or not she recognizes you, just make sure you don’t make eye contact. That way, she’s much less likely to approach you with a “didn’t we work together two years ago?” If you notice her approaching, I hope you won’t stay there paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, but can do the necessary to duck out of sight. I doubt she’ll start following you unless she’s absolutely certain that she’s recognized you and you’ve given some sign that you’ve recognized her.

      She’s obviously occupying a lot of your brain space, but just going by the posts here you can be pretty sure that she’s not thinking about you at all.

      I wish you all the success in your freelancing career. Did working for that horrible boss inspire you to go freelance? If so, maybe you can reframe things a bit. “Yes, she was horrible, but she inspired me to become a successful freelancer.” When you can tell yourself this and actually believe it, she’ll probably stop occupying so much of your brain space, and hopefully the thought of running into her by chance won’t cause you so much anxiety. She’s no longer your manager and has no power over you, and she certainly can’t micromanage or demote you.

  27. Pobody's Nerfect*

    I really commend you if you decide you can work there with her there, especially if there comes a time when you both directly have to work together. If I learned my most-toxic-bullying-abusive-boss-ever from one of my past jobs was now at my new job, and we had to interact in *any* way, like even having to copy her on emails, I would not take that job. There are some people in life who cannot, will not change and are not worth spending one more iota of time interacting with.

  28. Econobiker*

    At my prior company, there was a revolving door of executives over the managers I had who were revolving door managers (5 managers in 5 1/2 years). At this point I was a seasoned professional with about 20 years experience in my late 40s- not a newly minted college graduate! A VP guy over my one manager was a very hands on micro manager who was the definition of martinet. He pushed my one manager aside to directly manage me for his pet projects along with skipping the same manager to command her direct reports. I actually had to talk one of the direct reports down from following this VP guy to the parking lot to try to physically kick his ass because of the insulting ways that the VP had treated the direct report. The VP was just as insulting and belittling to me including to the point of discussing age discrimination. But I took the verbal beatings because I was shackled by the prospect of going to jail if I willingly couldn’t make child support payments (i.e. quitting without having another job lined up). This VP was under “executive coaching” and I had to discuss my interactions with him with his “coach” which was also insulting for me. I ended up spending about an hour talking to the VP of human resources in private about the VP and his lack of professionalism and boundaries (like talking on his phone to his lawyer infront of us about his contentious divorce- yeah go figure).
    Eventually the VP got canned for insulting a customer’s representative who was holding a training session for all of us. The VP was messing with his phone ring tones so much and not particularly focused on the training so that the customer guy ended training early due to the disrespect the VP was showing.

    If I had to go to work in another organization employing that VP guy, I would seriously want to make sure that he had no interaction with me or my department or my output. I would want to tell my immediate supervisor as soon as possible about the situation. If any organization I work for wanted to hire him, I would absolutely flag his application and /or get with human resources to get them in contact with the prior company’s employees who previously interacted with the VP.

    I think that the OP is justified in being concerned about her future position and potential future interactions with Jane.

  29. Rich*

    You have a lot of great advice here. One thing I’ll add to Alison’s point about trying to be warm to Jane: If you do encounter her or have to work with her, being “professional warm” also sends a great signal to everyone around you. In the event Jane does revert to old ways, you’ll have given a clear impression to everyone around you that it’s _not_about_you_. You’re the professional one, the effective one, the one doing their job well. That creates a lot of insulation from any heat Jane might try to throw your way.

  30. lb*

    I think, as others have noted, that there’s a decent chance she won’t remember you at all, LW, but if she does… This story reflects way, WAY worse on Jane than it does on you. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if she tries to kill you with kindness now in hopes that you won’t embarrass her by telling anyone about your unfortunate history.

  31. singlemaltgirl*

    the not being able to sleep and the anxiety she is causing 5 years after the fact leads me to think you were traumatized and haven’t dealt with the trauma yet. you’ve gone on to be successful and land this great job but trauma is a tricky thing and doesn’t just go away. can you seek out therapy to help address this? it can lead to you self sabotaging and imposter syndrome and all kinds of things that in the end, will hurt you.

    jane’s a blip in your radar but she appears to have caused real damage. how you feel about that and what you do about it is under your control. but sometimes we need a little help sorting that out for ourselves. good luck.

  32. Juniper*

    As for Jane herself, be as warm as you can! I know that might be hard to do with someone who used to berate you until you cried — maybe even impossible — but being warm to her could provide you with an additional layer of inoculation because it will signal that there’s no grudge or weirdness for her to navigate…

    It says something really unfortunate about our culture that a victim of abuse must be warm and friendly to their abuser or risk the community jumping to the conclusion that the victim is the problem. Being warm to someone who put you through that kind of hell seems a step beyond impossible.

    I have two reservations about the advice specifically to be “warm.” First, by being friendly with this toxic person, anyone who learns that OP and Jane previously knew each other will take that friendliness as evidence that Jane is trustworthy and definitely not toxic. OP would be effectively testifying on Jane’s behalf that Jane can be trusted in society. Second, if later on OP does need to share the history of Jane being toxic, OP may not be believed because they have been observed being warm and friendly to someone they now claim was toxic and abusive.

    It’s lovely that Alison is optimistic enough to encourage OP to assume the best about Jane, that over the last 5 years she’s recognized the error of her ways and would never abuse another subordinate. I just think it’s a big leap to act based on who we’d like Jane to be instead of who Jane has shown herself to be (until/unless Jane actually demonstrates that growth).

    1. Observer*

      Being warm to someone who put you through that kind of hell seems a step beyond impossible.

      As warm as possible doesn’t have to be really friendly or anything like that. But not frosty.

      It says something really unfortunate about our culture that a victim of abuse must be warm and friendly to their abuser or risk the community jumping to the conclusion that the victim is the problem.

      Two things. Firstly, in this case no one knows the OP nor do they know Jane. So there is no way for anyone to have a sense of what the real issue is. The only way they can assess is by behavior.

      Also, the advice was not that the OP needs to be all warmth and friendliness to Jane to prove they are not the problem. The first piece of advice was to focus on building credibility with the boss by just being a really good hire. And secondly, figuring out what the actual situation is going to be like. And thirdly, be “as warm as you can”. Which Alison describes as “additional” protection – the primary thing being the way they behave in general. It’s not unreasonable, given that no one really has the information needed to asses the situation.

    2. Nope*

      I am honestly boggled by the response to this question and how many people want to give the benefit of doubt to an abuser. Why? This is not a child bully, this is a full grown adult, likely educated!

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Wow. This feels like a lot of overthinking.

      OP, focus on YOU. Do your best every day. Be kind to everyone equally. Be sincere. Keep your word when you give it. Let Jane be Jane. This isn’t a chess board. You do not have to be five moves ahead of Jane. All you have to do is be sincere, be trustworthy and be transparent in your actions in words. None of these actions here involves Jane, at all.

  33. Anthony J Crowley*

    My inclination is that this will be ok, but I can completely understand why OP is freaking out.

    Would love an update on this one!

    1. can-relate*

      Totally agree! I hope it all goes well for LW – she very much deserves for this to all go very smoothly and well indeed!

  34. Nope*

    Op, do not take this job and relocate. I tried commenting this earlier but it didn’t go through, probably my error. You’re terrified and not sleeping well already. Please protect your health.

    The words you’ve used to describe your feelings about this person raise so many flags in me, as a survivor of workplace abuse and harassment. Multiple people were affected by her, she has not changed. I guarantee it. She will remember you and you will become a target again, but this time it might not be as obvious due to the different departments. I’m sorry to say this but she unfortunately has more time with the company and potential internal clout. You have a shit hand because she has likely put on a different face to this company and you will look like the problem.

  35. can-relate*

    Oh, LW, I feel for you so much, and can also relate to your story so much. Hugs, if you want them! I feel so awful for you. The Janes of the world just need to be shot out of a canon into the sun.

    Jane berating you until you cried in staff meetings (in front of other people) is NOT your fault. At all. The only person your colleagues would have been “judging” in any way is Jane, because she is a thoroughly awful person and the type of person that should never be allowed to manage other people. She shouldn’t have been given management training: she should have been fired, or in the very least, moved into a role where she is not managing anyone.

    If she has even a shred of humanity, she should be feeling extremely embarrassed of her behaviour toward you, and she should be extra nice to you if you two ever do interact, to try and ensure that you don’t tell everyone what she was like. Especially if she went out of her way to ensure that your new shared employer doesn’t know that she was so feral she was sent to management coaching in the past.

    I agree with Alison’s advice about when and how to talk to your new manager about Jane, but I don’t know if a possible middle-ground for having this talk early on about your previous dealings with Jane might be to phrase it as if it’s a conflict of interest of some kind? (A classic line in both law and medicine is something like “I represented them previously”, “I was the other side in a difficult/contentious matter” or “I treated them previously”. But interpersonal conflict that clouds judgment is also actually a conflict of interest.)

    Maybe something like, “I’m sure this won’t actually be a problem, but Jane So-and-So and I have worked together before years ago and a reorganisation saw significant tension introduced between certain roles to the point of a conflict of interest developing.”

    Then, depending on the response, you may then want to say something like, “I believe I’ll be crossing over a bit with some of Jane’s direct reports, but not Jane herself”.

    Depending on the response to that, you could then say something like, “Again, I’m sure it won’t be a problem, but if it’s possible, I would appreciate”…and then find a diplomatic way of saying, “I don’t want to have to speak to this person ever again, let alone while I’m settling into a new job. Please keep her the hell away from me”.

    If you ever have to deal with Jane in the future during your work, I would keep absolutely everything in writing via email. If you have any phone conversations, send her a follow-up email wherein you cover off everything that was discussed.

  36. Bama Bama Bo Bama*

    When I previously worked for my current company, 10+ years ago, the department was full of absolute nightmare people. I was subjected to some really intense bullying behavior, gaslit, undermined, all the bad things. It culminated in me being fired. It was ugly and I definitely could have handled the aftermath better in hindsight (although my view of the injustice of the firing remains unchanged, which has been repeatedly validated). A few years ago, a contact that was still there recruited me back with the promise that things were different, everyone that was there before was now gone, etc. I came back with some reservations, but the offer was attractive enough to risk it. It ended up going really well! My new team was amazing, we were kicking ass and taking names all over the place. And then, boom! My old boss was back and was now my new boss! I was horrified and almost quit on the spot. But I really loved my team (and my paycheck), so I stuck around. When new-old boss took over, she and I had a slightly uncomfortable, frank chat and agreed all around that it had been years, bygones, etc. And it’s been totally fine! We’ve both matured professionally, the other toxic elements aren’t in play, and our team has continued to perform outstandingly.

    TL;DR I currently work for someone that fired me in the past and it’s all just fine! People change. Professionalism can win out.

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