my ex-boss wants me to pay a phone bill for months I didn’t work there

A reader writes:

When I was hired at my former job, it was to replace two employees who were leaving to start their own business. They were the owner’s only two employees (red flag, I know!). The way this woman talked about it made it seem like they had really screwed her over. I felt bad for her since she’d had this business for decades. Plus I was really happy to get a much-needed job.

I felt I’d made a big mistake within two weeks. She was all over the map with work. She wouldn’t let it go about the employees who left. She’d text them at 3 am, saying she’d been like a mother to them, they had mistreated her, she thought “we were family,” and on and on. She sent them a cease and desist because she was convinced they were hacking our computers and sabotaging her because she kept making mistakes she was convinced she’d never make otherwise. I need to write a book about my time there!

Over two years, the craziness, flipping out, and incompetence was off the charts. Clients were leaving because they didn’t trust her anymore or would ask to be transferred to me. She never answered communications. I was constantly covering for her. She forgot everything, daily. She told me almost monthly for a year, “I hope I can pay you this month.” I’d be so stressed, and then she would turn around and buy a car or decide she was going on vacation (leaving me to handle the business alone). My hair was falling out. My anxiety was beyond. She vacillated between “we are sisters and partners!” to “I’m the boss!” Then she’d do something nice, I’m convinced to keep me from leaving. When I told her my personal computer had died, she insisted she buy me one as a “bonus.” I didn’t feel comfortable about it, but it was nice to at least be appreciated. She insisted on getting me a cell phone and putting it on the company plan. She said it would save her money over the phone stipend she was paying me.

At the end, I had just had it. A client posted a job opening at their company, and I applied. I was offered the job, which was exciting, but I was still feeling guilty about whether I should go because I knew this house of cards would come down if I did (and it did). After a call where my boss asked me to “please be honest with her” about my job concerns – which I stupidly did thinking it might help – she emailed me the next morning to say I HAD to take my two weeks of vacation, effective immediately. I knew that was a bad sign, so I took the other job.

Things seemed to go well with my departure. Since I knew I’d have to return my cell, I asked her repeatedly if she could come with me to the cell store so she could authorize the transfer of my number to my new phone. Like she did with everyone else, she ignored me, and I ended up getting a new number, which was a huge pain but whatever. I cleared out the phone, returned it to her, and I thought I was done.

Two months later, out of the blue, she emails me – at my new company email — with an invoice and one line – “you can mail a check.” The invoice was for two months of cell service, for the two months AFTER I left. Because she’s easily confused, she apparently saw my old cell number on her bill – the number she now owns, as well as the phone – and decided I somehow still had access and should pay for it. I sent a very professional response explaining I had not had any access to the phone or number in those two months. I thought a light bulb would go off and that would be that.

Today, I get another email saying it wasn’t fair to her that she didn’t understand the number would still be active and she “assumed” it had been taken care of when I returned it. She said “you know it’s the right thing to do” to pay those two months. She brought up the bonus computer and how she was sure I’d chosen the most expensive one and got to keep it, and she only bought it because “I thought you were in this with me for the long haul.” She said she understood it was “frustrating” to have to write that check, but “I guarantee it will serve you to do it.” More guilt trips and manipulation. I responded, explaining again about the wireless bill, told her I’d done an exceptional job for her, and asked her to please not contact me again. I also let her know I was aware she’d sent my new employer an email saying “I wouldn’t hire her if I were you” and trashing me but that I’d always speak highly of her. I wished her well, then blocked her everywhere.

Was blocking the right thing to do? Now I have this anxiety that she’s emailing and texting and going ballistic that she’s blocked, and my anxiety is through the roof wondering how she responded, because I know she did. I’m waiting for her to try to sue me for the stupid cell phone bills which, of course, she’ll lose, but I have such PTSD from her toxicity. Should I have just paid the invoice?


You did nothing wrong, your boss is out of her gourd, and blocking her was the right move.

Sometimes it is easier to throw some money at a problem to make it go away, but this is almost certainly not one of those cases. First, there’s the principle of it — you don’t owe her this money. Second, you have a different, better way to make her go away and you took it when you blocked her. It’s possible she’ll try to get around your blocks and reach you in some other way, but if she does you can ignore/block her there too.

Since she emailed your new employer suggesting they not hire you (!) it’s possible that if she’s really motivated she’ll try to contact them again. But I can pretty much guarantee that your new boss already knows from that original email that she’s not credible; that’s just not something stable, trustworthy people do. Plus, now they know you from working with you, and you have presumably demonstrated that you are a responsible, reliable person. They’re not likely to give much credence to someone engaging in clearly unbalanced behavior — for the second time now — over you.

Totally separate from all that … it’s worth noting that you stayed in a truly bananas situation for two years! Granted, the last two years were not the easiest time to find a job (and it sounds like you might have started right around the start of the pandemic) but I hope you will take lessons from that experience going forward — things like if your boss is texting former employees at 3 am to complain they left, get out! If your boss is telling you monthly she doesn’t know if she can pay you, get out! If your boss is generally a chaotic mess of bad judgment and vindictiveness, get out! (And if any of this is happening at a two-person business, get a time machine and get out yesterday, because at a tiny business it’s all going to fall on you with zero buffer.) I’m sure you know that now — but it could be interesting to reflect on what made you stay as long as you did. If it were that you had a thick skin and a high tolerance for chaos, that would be one thing — but it sounds like you were constantly stressed while you were there, and I suspect you might have stayed as long as you did because the toxicity warped your sense of what was acceptable. So make sure that at some point you’re working through that! Meanwhile, though, enjoy your freedom from this nut and don’t pay any bills for her.

Read an update to this letter

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Jean*

    Hit her with a taste of her own medicine in the form of a “cease and desist.” As in cease and desist contacting me, you loon, or I’ll file a restraining order.

    1. Don*

      It’s certainly a tempting proposition but these folks who know how to do nothing other than stir up trouble THRIVE on engagement. LW should keep an eye out for issues; you certainly don’t want to find yourself having issues getting a mortgage because she gets a collection agency to come after you. But for the most part someone this disorganized isn’t going to accomplish things that require that much follow-through. There’s a reason she’s still sending middle of the night texts to former employees: that’s her level of achievement.

      It can be disconcerting to wonder what people like this are doing and saying when you’re used to having their nonsense fall on you daily, but removing any ability for her to get feedback from her outbursts is the best way to motivate her to move her attention on to her next victim.

      1. Jean*

        You probably shouldn’t say stuff like “watch out for collections that might interfere with your ability to get a mortgage” to someone who’s already struggling with high levels of anxiety over this. The likelihood of that is basically zero.

        You do have a point about the thriving on engagement thing though. This psycho would probably get a rush from the drama of getting a cease and desist letter.

        1. Generic Name*

          I agree. My ex failed to pay his car payment for 2 months while my name was still on the loan (even though we had a court order for him to refinance to remove me from the loan). It showed up on my credit, and yeah, my score dipped for a while, but since that time I’ve refinanced my mortgage and purchased a vehicle no problem.

        2. Don*

          If I did not acknowledge the highly remote possibility that something actually could happen it would guarantee some scold would show up and enumerate a million such possibilities. “Yes, you could theoretically get hit by a meteor but it’s never going to happen” is internet comment forum preemption 101.

          1. autumnal*

            The account isn’t in OP’s name, it’s in the business/business owners name. If the bill is unpaid, they’ll go after the account holder. OP has no connection to the bill and no obligation to pay it.

            1. Amaranth*

              Exactly. Phone companies have no give when it comes to who is responsible for an account.
              However, I wonder if a C&D is a good idea just to intimidate Old Boss into dropping the arguments about the computer. At least make sure to keep any emails on hand that said the computer was provided as a bonus and isn’t a business asset.

            2. CatPrance*

              OP blocked Crazy Boss, so CB can be frothing at the mouth and running in circles with her underwear on her head and it won’t affect OP’s life.

              No collection agency is going to come after OP — OP doesn’t have any unpaid bills, and “I gave her a computer so she owes me!” isn’t going to get CB anything but a horse laugh.

              I was musing about whether or not CB could manage to locate a bottom-feeder who would file a lawsuit against OP, but I kept getting stuck on the part about, ” — charging her with what? Hurting CB’s delicate feelings by getting another job?”

              I do think, however, that a cease & desist letter would get Crazy Boss so spun up, she’d hit escape velocity all by herself. CB isn’t stalking OP at the current time. Let’s leave it that way.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        The boss’s name was on the bill, not the LW, so she can’t send a collection agency after the LW.

        1. BubbleTea*

          If this were in the UK, the boss certainly could file a claim with small claims and if LW didn’t respond, judgement would be made against LW by default. I had to sue someone who didn’t pay me as agreed for work completed and I didn’t get asked for any proof of my claim. The order was made, and I got payment plus interest and charges. I didn’t have to go to collections, for which I’d have had to pay (which might be off-putting to boss).

          I’m a debt adviser so I know know professional experience that failing to answer court paperwork is the best way to wind up with a big complicated debt, even if you never should have owed it in the first place. LW just needs to open her post and respond to any letters from the court about claims with an explanation of why boss is completely out of her gourd and no money is owed, and there will be no issue. Boss can’t prove the money is owed, but won’t be asked for proof unless LW challenges the claim.

          Of course boss probably won’t make a claim. That’s much more effort than texting and yelling. But if she does, it is easy to deal with fast and hard to deal with later.

          1. Kit*

            A collection agency isn’t court, small-claims or otherwise – it’s a third party who buys the debt at pennies on the dollar and then attempts to collect it from anyone they can convince to pay. (If it sounds like a scam, that’s because it often is – debt collection agencies are notorious for unscrupulous high-pressure tactics.)

            I don’t think anyone is advising OP to ignore court summons or other legal paperwork, just that she doesn’t owe her ex-boss a penny for the phone bill and that she can feel free to ignore boss’s personal claims otherwise, invoice or not.

      3. CoveredinBees*

        Instead, I bet it would be very cathartic to write up such a letter. Abandon any professionalism and really go for it. AND NEVER SEND IT. Imagine sending it and imagine it having the intended impact. Then keep moving forward with the rest of your life.

      4. Observer*

        LW should keep an eye out for issues; you certainly don’t want to find yourself having issues getting a mortgage because she gets a collection agency to come after you.

        If this is your best example of theoretical issues that the OP *MIGHT* have to deal with, the OP has ZERO to worry about. Because even if the boss were the most meticulously organized person in the world, there is no way a collections agency is taking on this issue. The phone is not, and has never been, in the OP’s name. There is nothing in writing to link them to the number. No collections agency is going to waste the money on trying to collect a non-existent debt that has no paperwork to hang their hat on.

        1. Amaranth*

          True, my brother works collections for a bank and has to frequently explain to people that the signature on the forms makes it their debt, no matter who they were ‘helping out’.

    2. Generic Name*

      No. Ignore, ignore, ignore. She wants centrality and she thrives on crazy conflict. A cease and desist letter might work with a normal and rational person, but they will just rile up a disordered person.

    3. Esmeralda*

      It may be worth having a lawyer send such a letter.

      I had a loon of a boss hassle me by phone for a couple months, until I mentioned it to my dad, who said I shall write you a letter on official stationery, gave it to his law partner to sign so that the last name didn’t match mine, and sent it off.

      And I never heard from Boss Loon ever again.

      1. What a way to make a living*

        She’s so obviously a wildly unreasonable person. You can’t find a halfway compromise with a wildly unreasonable person. Pay her and she’ll be after something else. Block and possibly see a therapist if you can (if you’re not already) to work through some of the impact this has all surely had on your wellbeing, self esteem, anxiety levels, and general sense of what is normal.

      2. Snuck*

        This is my thinking.

        I’d ignore her a little longer, but keep all your evidence of the fact you returned the phone, the phone was in her company name, that you started a new phone on X date etc…. And same for the computer – keep a printed and electronic record of all those emails where she refers to it as a bonus, and ‘yours’.

        Then if she ever does stick her head up get a lawyer to draft a letter stating that she must not harass or pursue the OP, and to back off. But don’t poke a wasp nest if you don’t need to.

        Paying for the phone bill is just going to give rise to a next crazy demand (probably for the PC to be returned). Don’t give the woman a cent. Block, ignore, move on. If she slanders your name to clients or employers again a lawyers letter reminding her of what constitutes slander should be sufficient to quieten her, but it’s best to keep the lawyer costs low while you can, because this sort of unhinged can also go crazy in the courts and waste a LOT of your time and money. Avoid that.

      1. Candi*

        If this boss is in the top ten of the worst bosses we get all year, it will be a very happy year.

    4. Boof*

      Cease and desist is only useful for 1) someone likely to listen to it (I question whether LW’s boss is in that category) or 2) as the last communication from the victim to build a legal case against someone aggressive (do not respond further to the perp after that no matter what). But LW’s boss doesn’t sound dangerous enough to be worth the latter. Otherwise it runs the risk of riling someone obnoxious into more “tit for tat” (by the perp’s logic)

    5. Momma Bear*

      I wouldn’t go that far yet, but I’d be getting any documentation you could, OP, in case old boss tries to sue for the amount or sends that invoice to collections.

      I would also feel no guilt about the computer. It died, she bought it as a bonus and it wasn’t company property. Like with any gift, it should have been given without strings, but even so the fact that OP lasted 2 years is frankly amazing. I think that was enough of a “long haul.” She had no qualms paying for it at the time, and that was when she should have questioned the price if she was going to do so.

    6. Grandiose spacecat*

      There’s also grounds for libel/slander since badboss emailed new boss beyond confirming dates of employment.

      1. Artemesia*

        There is no legal requirement to only give dates of service; she can certainly bad mouth in a reference and ‘don’t hire her’ is not likely to be considered slander.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Wouldn’t there have to be damages? The new employer clearly took as much notice of old boss as she deserved.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      I like this ^^ But don’t insult loons like that. They’re a national symbol in our country. See, they’re on our dollar coins! We don’t want this proud symbol of Canada to be associated with this … person. How’s about we call her “Ms. Erratic” and leave it at that?

      1. CatPrance*

        I like the descriptive reference “Crazy Boss,” myself, and I think loons are delightful.

  2. Lab Boss*

    OP- It sounds like you’re making a heroic effort to force this square peg into the round hole of normal business communication. If a normal former boss contacted you about something normal after you’d left and it was a normal level of unpleasant, it would be normal to try to close out on a conciliatory note by saying you still thought highly of them and wishing them well. Your old boss is *not* normal, nothing you could say would make her leave you alone voluntarily (witness her treatment of your predecessors). Block, block, block, she doesn’t seem like the type who can keep her ducks in a row long enough to even manage to hire a lawyer anyway.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yes, I very much doubt she is organized enough to take the OP to small claims court – or even to get legal advice about going to court. Plus, if she had any sense, she would realize that the costs of going to court are likely to be greater than any amount that she could recover.

      1. anonymous73*

        If she threatened to take me to small claims I’d tell her to go ahead! She has no case.

          1. Candi*

            The People’s Court, Judge Milian. I would want to keep that episode for posterity. Plus, if OP had the spoons to manage it, they’d get paid for appearing.

            1. AnonInCanada*

              Judge Judy! Too bad she’s not doing that show anymore. I’ve love to see her preside over this one!

      2. Don*

        Not only does going to small claims require organization and commitment, but even if she wins (only by default after failing to provide proper service, because you know she won’t do that right either and will lie about it) then that still requires more action to actually try to recoup the money. Winning a judgment just means you have to go try to enforce it. This kook probably has LW’s banking information but that still requires filing for wage garnishing at which point LW would get notified and could contest it.

        This person’s coin of trade is almost certainly attention. Denying it to her is the best way to get her to move on.

        1. Anon all day*

          This is really bad/scary advice. Ignoring a claim filed against (general) you on the basis that it’s difficult to collect on a judgment is not a good idea. Once a judgment is entered against you, it’s extremely hard to vacate it, and that judgment can follow you for a long time.

          1. Frank Doyle*

            I don’t think Don was advising the OP to ignore a small claims court summons, I believe he was saying that it’s unlikely to happen, because the former boss doesn’t have her ish together.

            1. Anon all day*

              Don advised that LW could contest the attempted wage garnishment, indicating that therefore she shouldn’t worry so much/she would still have legal options at that stage. That’s really not necessarily true, and it’s a dangerous thing to rely on.

          2. pancakes*

            No one is advising anyone to ignore a legal claim. There is no legal claim that’s been made here, either. Just some annoying emails.

    2. Goldenrod*

      “It sounds like you’re making a heroic effort to force this square peg into the round hole of normal business communication.”

      I love this. Well said!

  3. J.B.*

    Wooow! I’m glad to see “yes, block” from Alison because I think space will help you get away from the trauma. And it is trauma-I don’t know if you want to do therapy but I think a few cognitive behavioral sessions can help you think through stuff like this.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Agreed. Spending two years in a setting like that can do some damage to you and your sense of normal, acceptable behavior. I speak from experience.

  4. BA*

    You should definitely not write a check. Because it sure doesn’t seem like that will keep her satisfied for long. She’ll be contacting you about something else once that check is in hand. As hard as it is to do, blocking and ignoring is the safest bet. I’m glad you’re out of there now and I’m sorry she’s making the transition harder for you than it needs to be.

    1. kiki*

      Yes, like Alison said, sometimes it’s easier to throw money at a problem to make it go away, but this boss seems like she’d continue to find ways to charge you for things that are her own mistakes and expenses. Next month she’ll charge you for her accountant because she forgot to file her taxes because you normally reminded her.

      You don’t owe her this money. She’s in charge of the company and in charge of figuring out how to handle and pay for phone service for her company. Just because she was confused doesn’t mean you have to pay for the results of her mistakes. Part of being a business owner is that you have freedom to handle things how you wish, but you’re also ultimately responsible for any liabilities and mistakes.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yup, if OP gives her the money, ex-boss is likely to just find another reason to hassle her. Blocking the ex-boss is the correct response here. Let her yell into a void all she wants.

    3. quill*

      Yeah, given the 3 AM texts to the other former employees? She does not quit. You have a record of when you got your new number on the phone. That alone is probably a case-buster for her if she does get organized enough to try to take legal action.

      Give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.

      1. COBOL Dinosaur*

        Sounds like it’s a good thing that OP had to get a new number! Hopefully the old boss doesn’t have it!

    4. Smithy*

      Absolutely don’t write the check….I will also say that going to the phone store to handle this stuff (as someone who’s done it for personal phone issues more than once) is a generic administrative pain. I paid for an exboyfriend’s phone bill for months because I didn’t want to bring up that we needed to go to the store together. Perhaps not DMV bad, but not fun.

      I say all of this to emphasize that paying her allows her to put off a miserable administrative task. For most people, this kind of personal harassment is also unpleasant so they’d just do the admin – but this boss clearly has no trouble spending time on this vs other normal business practices.

    5. tangerineRose*

      “She’ll be contacting you about something else once that check is in hand. ” This!

  5. Xavier Desmond*

    Glad the OP has got out but sorry that she was stuck their for 2 years. Your ex boss sounds like the worst person and blocking her was the best decision you could have made.

  6. CatCat*

    Then she’d do something nice, I’m convinced to keep me from leaving.

    I think you’re dead on in that assessment, OP! One thing I am learning is when a job ratchets up anxiety due to the personality of a boss, it’s time for me to go if it repeats. I don’t thrive in that environment AT ALL. I’ve realized the trap is that it will ease for a while and “maybe it’s not that bad…” Well, it is that bad and isn’t going to get better! The cycle will repeat.

    So glad you got out! What an extreme situation. Even if you paid her to “make her go away,” she’d keep worming her way in over something else. You were right to block her.

    1. Artemesia*

      Yes this is the classic behavior of an abuser. They are nice and you think ‘oh it wasn’t so bad’ and then off you go. And just when you plan to leave, they are nice again and you hope it will last.

      Kudos to the OP for blocking this loon. If it is comfortable you might mention to the new boss ‘you won’t believe what Oldboss has done now — she is trying to bill me for the phone I used for her office, for the months after I left and starting working here. I have just blocked this nonsense, but you might get some sort of message since she can’t reach me, so just a heads up.’ with an exasperated chuckle.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        I’d be very, very hesitant to criticize your former boss to your current one; it’s a truism that interviewees should NOT badmouth former employers to prospective ones, and the LW hasn’t been at their new job very long at all. The current boss might well start to think “If this is how LW talks about her former employer, then in no time flat she’ll start talking about ME the same way – calling ME crazy and laughing about the ridiculous demands that I put on her. Hmm…her probationary period is up soon, isn’t it? I’m not at sure that we want to finalize her employment here!” etc., etc., etc.

        Establishing yourself as an excellent employee whose word is your bond and whose honesty is unquestionable would be a better defense against unhinged ranting on the part of a disgruntled former boss. Should the latter contact LW’s current employer with wild accusations, Former Boss will have NO credibility and LW will have a solid reputation at their new company.

        1. Candi*

          That phrasing isn’t badmouthing the old boss -it’s making a statement of fact. Old boss did try to bill OP for the phone bill after she left, and OP did block her for what is indeed nonsense. It’s worth giving new company a head’s up so they know there’s potential incoming cray-cray, as long as OP sticks to the facts when giving the information.

        2. Observer*

          I’d be very, very hesitant to criticize your former boss to your current one; it’s a truism that interviewees should NOT badmouth former employers to prospective ones, and the LW hasn’t been at their new job very long at all.

          “not very long” is still real experience. And what the OP would be telling their boss is not “bad mouthing.” Given that there is a real possibility that Ex-boss could actually try to contact New Boss (because she’s out of her mind, apparently), this is actionable information and would be taken as such it it’s delivered in a low key manner.

          1. JustaTech*

            The OP’s old boss has *already* emailed the new boss saying “you shouldn’t hire OP”, so the new boss likely already knows that the old boss has poor professional norms.

            So this would just be the OP warning their new boss about a specific new complaint their old boss has about the OP.

            Like Observer said, this isn’t “bad mouthing”, this is providing relevant information so the new boss isn’t surprised by e-mails or calls from Old Boss.

    2. quill*

      Reminds me of Fancy Lunch Days from Pig Lab From Hell. My boss there was somewhat more organized but yeah, random treats are a common enough retention strategy from someone who creates a drama whirlpool in their business.

    3. starsaphire*

      That’s the Honeymoon Phase of the abuse cycle, as I’m sure others have noted.

      OP, I am so sorry that you were in this situation, and I hope you are able to do some self-care in the form of therapy to help you feel better going forward.

      I’ve been in toxic and abusive work situations, and I’m fully aware that I still bear the scars from that – the moment of sheer, flat panic if a boss asks to “speak with me for just a moment” for one – and I found that talking to someone really helped me step away and re-center my sense of business normalcy. Or just plain normalcy.

      Best of luck to you, OP.

      1. Candi*

        Principle’s the same, including later guilt-tripping the recipient for “all the nice things” they’ve done when the victim pushes back. We’ve seen it in letters to Alison before, including ones where the recipient was yelled at for not being performatively grateful enough for their abuser’s amazing generosity. (all the /s)

  7. Dona Florinda*

    Don’t pay her back just to make this go away! Old Boss will just find something else to guilt-trip you for.
    Also, consider a cease and desist letter, since she’s harrassing you personally and professionally.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Not sure a c&d letter is worth it at this point — as previous commenters have pointed out, Old Boss will thrive on engagement. Naturally, OP should keep any documentation about her behavior, but if she can block/ignore her Old Boss long enough, she should starve the behavior of its energy.

      And based on the OP’s description, I think Old Boss will soon find some other hapless soul to harass.

  8. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP, your former boss sounds like a narcissistic gaslighter. Any time you try to satisfy someone like that, they’ll move the goalposts so that THEIR NEEDS are always unmet and they are always the victim. I agree, do not write, do not call, do not email, do not respond. Blocking might be best for your mental health, although from long and painful experience I now know that the optimal thing for me is to filter all messages unread, to keep as evidence. If you do it right you will never see them unless you go into that folder. With phone messages, you can forward them to a virtual number that saves the voicemails for the virtual number, but doesn’t save them on your phone; for text messages, in Android you can mark them as Spam but not block them, and you won’t get any indication when new ones come in.

    That said, do what’s best for your mental and emotional health, and block her if you feel the need.

    1. Dr. Prepper*

      I got a ringtone that is 10 seconds of dead silence and assign it to numbers I don’t even want to know when they call but that I can save for documentation purposes. Has worked for years.

  9. anonymous73*

    I know this is in the past and you can’t change it, but for future reference, don’t ever let a boss guilt and manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do. Your first priority is YOU. Even if you have a boss that is supportive and kind, and always has your back, do not EVER choose loyalty over what is best for you. A great boss may be disappointed to lose you, but will ALWAYS support you. And please don’t ignore the flashing red flags for so long.

  10. BossyRN*

    WOW. Dear, I don’t think it would just be interesting to reflect on what made you stay as long as you did, I think it is absolutely necessary that you reflect on what made you stay. And to recover in the aftermath! People throw around “get therapy” advice, but please seek help from a mental health professional. Or many health professionals. Keep looking for one until you find one that clicks. I’m not blaming you at all when I say this…you have to protect yourself better going forward. Good people fall victim to crazy pants bs far too often. I’ll be thinking about you.

    1. BatManDan*

      Therapist or QUALIFIED business coach. Either could be helpful. I say this, because I’ve seen more than a few people that have both, and have found themselves to be better served by a coach than a therapist. (I know of one case where the man’s therapist asked him “when you are finally going to hire a business coach?”)

      1. fieldpoppy*

        Yep. I’m a coach. Half my work is about who you are at work, not what you do. Because, you know, wherever you go, there you are ;-)

    2. Tiger*

      This seems really condescending to me. It seems like she stayed for a year, and took another job when able. Sometimes people take or stay in jobs for multiple reasons, from “they need money” to “they have a mental illness that prevents them from leaving a job.” Jumping to the latter is a stretch, especially in a pandemic. This is arm chair diagnosing, which is against the rules, and doesn’t offer or change the advice given to the OP. I also encourage people to not use pet names for adults (and children, but especially adults) you don’t know.

      1. Kay*

        While I agree the dear part sounded absolutely condescending, I think the rest of the observations are really valid. The letter writer was job hunting, within the first week saw massive red flags, and for the next TWO YEARS!! stayed under horrible circumstances. The LW doesn’t mention anything during that time about continuing to job hunt, or start a job hunt, until they applied to the client’s open position and got hired.

        When I read this letter the lack of trying to get out immediately stood out to me the most. This isn’t a situation where someone would have to update a resume or get a job hunt geared up – they were already in the midst! I can certainly understand not quitting without having something lined up, but to not continue looking after knowing a week in you were working for someone unreasonable – I think that is worth examining.

      2. Rose*

        No one is jumping to any assumptions about OP having a mental illness. Basically anyone can benefit from therapy, and OP displayed a lot of guilt and bad feelings around doing what she needed to do just to take care of herself. OP also says that she has PTSD and anxiety, so therapy isn’t a really wild suggestion.

        Two weeks in to the job, OP knew she had made a mistake in taking it, which, fine, she said she really needed one! That’s legit. Then she was there for two years of complete dysfunction and horrible stress. It’s not clear if OP was trying to leave the entire time, maybe she just didn’t feel the need to mention every little detail. However, even when she finally had the chance to leave, she felt guilty taking it, and it seems like she might not have taken the new position at all if her boss hadn’t forced her to take her vacation. Given that, it’s not a huge leap to assume she wasn’t trying to get out the entire time.

        If you endure hair-falling-out levels of stress for a cruel, incompetent boss who threatens not to pay you monthly, just because you feel guilty that her business is totally reliant on your presence, then you would definitely benefit from therapy. That’s beyond lighting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm. That’s lighting yourself on fire just in case someone who is mean to you wants to make s’mores.

        It has nothing to do with victim-blaming. If you even slightly, for one second, consider staying in a role where your hair is falling out from stress, just so that someone who is mean to you and bad at business can continue being a business owner, you deserve help examining the thought patterns that got you there and figuring out how to get your own needs met. OP is having horrible anxiety just thinking about what this jerk is messaging her. She deserves a productive environment in which to work through that. She’s been flipped out on and yelled at for two years. Even if she didn’t say she had PTSD and was feeling anxious, I’d still suggest unpacking that with a professional, just to make sure that toxic voice hadn’t seeped into her internal dialog.

  11. M.W.*

    I highly recommend going to therapy to work through the abuse you suffered for 2 years and the underlying reasons for doing so. After experiencing that, it’s important moving forward to ensure you know what acceptable behavior is and isn’t.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Yes yes yes. That kind of situation does real damage, especially over time, and I hope LW will get some help working through it.

    2. Generic Name*

      I agree. Look for trauma informed therapists. I had a wonderful therapist who helped me realize that I was in an abusive relationship, but wasn’t the best person to help me recover from the trauma.

    3. KayStar*

      OP, the wise ones in my life tell me that if my only choices in a situation are guilt or resentment, pick guilt. You are not in any way responsible for the harm she is currently experiencing; if anything, you made heroic attempts to save her from these consequences, which she resolutely pursued.

    1. Nikki*

      And? How does your armchair diagnosis (which is against the commenting rules, by the way) change the advice to the OP?

      1. Candi*

        Saying “X behaviors are associated with Y” isn’t an armchair diagnosis. It’s observing the presented evidence and commenting on it.

        Yes, it still is discouraged, since at best it just gives another reason for OP to run, run, run. But there’s a difference between diagnosing and commenting on the behaviors in the letter.

        1. Myrin*

          I mean… it’s effectively an armchair diagnosis. Why else would the commenter mention it if not to (get OP to) speculate about whether this could be the case or not?

          1. Tee 3*

            Sorry – I hadn’t seen that rule. I apologize if what I said was in violation.

            My mother has dementia. We have some joint business interests. Her ‘business behaviors’ really tanked and it took us a long time to realize what was behind them. Our initial responses to some of her behaviors presumed that she was just being obnoxious and obtuse (things that were totally out of character for her, but since dementia wasn’t on our radar, we responded as though she was being obtuse).

            The OP mentioned that this former boss would forget things frequently, etc., and some other behaviors that seemed familiar to me.

            Bottom line… my own experience is that I went from thinking, “Whoa, my mom has become a jerk!” to a much more charitable perspective – that the jerk behavior is beyond her control. If there’s any chance the OP’s former boss has something else going on, poking the bear will be ineffective. The OP has – thankfully – extracted herself from the job. I think the best thing is to simply behave professionally, use phrases such as, “You probably recall that I…” (e.g. ‘… did not utilize that phone after I resigned, as the phone records show. Hope you get it straightened out!”) and not escalate a battle. Regardless of the cause behind her ex-employer’s behavior, there’s nothing to be gained by a battle of wills.

        2. Rose*

          This is an incredible stretch . Being disorganized/forgetful and unreasonable and yelling at people for things that are objectively your fault could be about 100 different things, and dementia is very far from the most likely.

      1. Candi*

        I had the thought there was some type of mental or physical brain health thing going on myself. Boss goes from having a steady business for decades to driving off workers and clients? Either it’s a high population area and word somehow isn’t getting around, or something is going on with boss.

        It doesn’t change the advice for OP, though. Not their circus, not their monkeys. It’s for boss’ family to handle, or not.

        1. pancakes*

          There’s no indication that the business was steady for decades. All we know is that it existed.

          1. Tee 3*

            The OP said, “Over two years, the craziness, flipping out, and incompetence was off the charts. Clients were leaving because they didn’t trust her anymore or would ask to be transferred to me. She never answered communications. I was constantly covering for her. She forgot everything, daily.”

            This is what made me think the behavior was not longstanding. There were clients who went from having a trustworthy opinion of her to not trusting her anymore. It seems like this person went from some level of competency (if her business was lucrative enough that she grew to need employees) to complete incompetency, and the OP was caught in the hurricane.

            Whatever was behind the boss’s behavior, it sounds like it was a nightmare for the OP. I’m glad she extracted herself and think blocking her was the right thing to do.

            1. pancakes*

              I was responding to Candi’s comment, “Boss goes from having a steady business for decades to driving off workers and clients?” We just don’t know that, and it really doesn’t matter.

              Similarly, the letter doesn’t quite indicate that clients considered her trustworthy in a meaningful way. It could be that they mostly went to her because her pricing was cheaper than her competitors, for example. And having between one and three employees doesn’t really indicate growth. There are countless small businesses that muddle along for years.

              1. Tee 3*

                True. We can’t know for sure. At the end of the day, though, regardless of the root cause, it sounds like the behavior was extremely erratic and that there’s a lot of paranoia and confusion. Typically, people’s complaints here seem to be about a specific bad behavior (e.g. my boss eavesdrops on my phone calls; my co-worker expects me to pick up lunch for her and forgets to pay me), whereas this boss’s behaviors run the gamut, from accusatory contact long after employees have departed, memory issues, outbursts, confusion about the status of finances (buying gifts one minute, saying she might not make payroll the next), an inability to understand contractual details (e.g. the phone situation), not keeping up with correspondence, etc.

                Chances are, the boss doesn’t have enough sustained focus and clarity to actually follow through with any legal action against the OP, so it’s all probably more annoying and frustrating than a likely actual problem she’ll face with the phone company or the law. Blocking her seems like the ideal solution.

    2. Observer*

      this sounds like a lot of behaviors associated with dementia.

      Could be. Or not. But how does this affect the OP?

  12. Everybody Needs Therapy*

    …but like genuinely please get yourself some help. That sounds like an abusive situation and nobody just bounces back. You’re doing great setting and keeping boundaries against this person, but having a professional help you work through the stress and anxiety will help you stay on the forward path. Good luck out there, and please write that book.

  13. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    As someone who escaped a toxic boss and a toxic work environment, I just wanted to tell you that you ABSOLUTELY did the right thing! Block block blockity block, don’t pay a dime that you don’t owe, and do your best to forget that this woman exists. Her issues are not your problem, it seems like her issues are also already well known to people in your line of work, so you really don’t have anything to worry about here. If you have to, just replay the “You have no power over me” scene from Labyrinth on a loop and recite the dialogue along with it until you fully believe it. I’m so glad you’re out! The longer you are away from her, the better you will feel–it takes a hot minute to recalibrate to a normal boss and a normal work environment, but it will happen.

    1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

      First, Labyrinth is one of the BEST MOVIES EVER. Second, I actually thought of you when I was reading through this. The toxic crazy just way too similar to your experiences.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Yeah, I could 100% see HellBoss doing ALL of this. To this day I’m pretty sure that the only thing that kept me from being hit with a frivolous lawsuit is either the pandemic or the fact that she knew I had meticulous documentation of everything. But even if she HAD hit me with some sort of lawsuit–like, the thought of it happening haunted me for MONTHS, and I had real anxiety about it, but then I realized that anything she threw at me would be thrown out same day and would cause me a few hours of convenience at most.

        And yes, Labyrinth is truly one of the greatest movies! I can literally watch any time.

    2. H.C.*

      So glad to see you chime in – my first thought upon reading the query was “guess Hellmouth did give birth…” XD

  14. Essentially Cheesy*

    Sounds like the reason Old Boss has her own micro-business is that she can’t work with anyone else in any sort of normal way. Run, run away, fast and far!

    1. Mental Lentil*

      This was my old boss. Turnover was extremely high because between him and his second-in-command, they just drove everyone away.

      Of course, they would never admit that they were the problem, because ego.

    2. Sakuko*

      I had one like that too. 5-man company, he was constantly going on about the guy he originally started a company with, how he screwed him over, was trying to hack the PCs, was siccing police on him on pretenses, paranoid stuff like that. Any weird or unusual thing was that guys fault and chewed over for hours, for everyone to hear. They had split 5 years ago at that point, even, so nothing recent, but I think there was still at least one lawsuit going on.
      2 of the other people that worked there came from the old company and where super-loyal and friends with him, but the rest were just a revolving door. I just stuck it out 4 month or so, before I was let go.

  15. the cat's ass*

    Ignore, block on all social media, and completely disengage from this lunatic. She’s not worth your time, and you get to move on to a more normal workplace! Good luck, LW. That sounds like it was a very stressful two years.

  16. meodious*

    I think I’d let my current boss know what happened. Old Boss took the time to find your email and has previously given you a bad reference. I understand not wanting to cut Old Boss off, but she has a track record of not letting go. At least alerting your employer could offer some proactive protection if she decides to pursue.

    1. Gnome*

      Yes. Just need to make sure to do it very matter of fact. Maybe some of the “My boss didn’t take it well when I gave my notice” language I’m pretty sure Alison has suggested in the past.

    2. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      It seems like the new boss (or at least the new boss’s company) were clients of Old Nightmare Boss’s Company as well before OP applied, so I wouldn’t be shocked if people there were already aware of the general Nightmarishness even before she tried to sabotage OP. Any discussion of ‘she didn’t take me giving notice well and is trying to contact me again’ will reflect on her, not you for wisely getting the hell out of there.

      Given she continued to harass at LEAST the last two employees who left before you, take whatever steps you can to avoid dealing with her and protect yourself. Because yikes.

    3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I agree. Let Current Boss know in a matter of fact way. “Old Boss is claiming Y. I have X proof. Just wanted to give you a heads up since she contacted you before.” Was once laid off at Daycare A due to lack of enrollment. I taught pre K so all my class had went to kindergarten. Right of the bat I got an offer for toddler unit at Daycare B. Sent Boss A my 2 week notice via postal mail with my company key. Much later I get letter from Boss A saying she’s decided not to recall me from layoff and that I am “let go” and that I needed to return 2 programs that I bought and paid for out of my own pocket. This letter was dated well after she received my letter. (I know from coworkers that she did in fact receive my letter with the company key) I politely responded via mail that she must have been confused because the 2 programs were mine and I had the receipts to prove it and that I had already left her employment by X date. I told Boss B that I want her to know she is claiming X and here is proof of Y. Boss B knew Boss A by reputation (not a good reputation either) and laughed and said” yeah that sounds like something she’d pull.”

  17. Jean-Luc Picard*

    I had a supervisor like this once upon a time. They couldn’t be counted on for anything and their narcissistic and toxic attitude led to the most profound anxiety I’ve ever had. I left without another job lined up because no paycheque is worth feeling like that.

  18. ecnaseener*

    The one thing I would’ve advised you to do differently (other than quitting much earlier) would be to stay focused on the main message in your responses to her. No doubt it was satisfying to tell her that you did exceptional work, you know about her email, you’re still going to take the high road – but all it probably did was distract from the important part, which was “I returned this phone, I don’t owe you any money and I will not be paying this.” After all, even if you had been the world’s crappiest employee, you still would not owe her this money.

  19. BA*

    LW I had one more thought/question: How was the phone set up? You said that your boss had to go in and help you if you wanted to take your number to a new plan, so does that mean the phone/plan were under the workplace’s name? You already had zero responsibility for the money, but if the plan is the workplace’s, or your boss’s, you have less than zero.

    It takes an act of Congress as someone “not authorized” on an account to make changes to an account. I had to when my former boss took another job and I had to try calling a cell phone provider to cancel the contract he was on. There were A LOT of steps. So all that to say, you aren’t responsible no matter what, and couldn’t be responsible if the phone was set up on behalf of the workplace. If they take you to small claims court, there’s no way they could suggest that you have any type of responsibility.

    What are they out? A couple hundred bucks, at most? That’s awful.

    1. Momma Bear*

      This is a good point. I can’t get off the joint phone plan or make changes without dragging my ex along. If OP couldn’t get the number transferred without the boss and ultimately took another number, than it was never OP’s financial obligation.

    2. TR*

      Yep! When she got me the phone, it was 100% on the company plan. I bought a new phone, on my own personal account, when I quit and got an entirely new number. I erased the phone she had given me and gave it back to her. We even talked about how I’d had to get a new number, but she “assumed” I had somehow taken care of cancelling the number on the phone I returned to her, even though I had ZERO access to her cell phone account.

  20. CW*

    This is bananas! Do NOT write her a check. And you did the right thing by blocking her.

    And I already know another boss who will be nominated for Worst Boss 2022. This is just bizarre! I can’t believe you stayed two years. I would have left in 2 months, should I be so lucky to last that long.

  21. Typo*

    Oh my god. I worked for a woman like this. She was BAT SHIT CRAZY. Everything the OP mentioned also happened in my situation. From the woman/owner forgetting everything and then buying me things to try and keep my happy, then going psychotic on me and clients. I finally quit. I now have serious PTSD from it.

    1. RT*

      I COMPLETELY understand! This whole thing has given me massive PTSD. I hope we didn’t work for the same woman!!!

      1. Lurker2022*

        I think I also worked for this person. The accusing former employees of espionage and threatening/going through with legal action against them is too spookily similar. Unless there are more people like that out there…

  22. WellRed*

    The first mistake was taking a job where the owner badmouthed employees before even starting the job. Keep her permanently on block.

    1. pancakes*

      Big yes. This woman seems to have been trying to depict herself as the victim of her own employees from the very start. The letter writer says they “felt bad for her since she’d had this business for decades,” but broadly speaking someone with decades of experience running a business should have a pretty good grasp on how to not let the employees they hired and are ostensibly supervising run it into the ground. Pity is a terrible reason to want to work for someone. So is a history of making bad choices in hiring!

  23. I should really pick a name*

    It’s probably for the best that you didn’t transfer the phone number. Now she doesn’t have your phone number.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is a really good point. It’s kind of a pain for a little bit to have to change everything and tell everyone your new number, but it also insulates you from people who you don’t want to have your number. So, maybe an inadvertent win for OP!

  24. Caroline Bowman*

    The only thing I might do, since you’ve obviously been at your current new role for a little while now, apparently peacefully and with no hassles, is to *in a low drama way* just explain to your new employer that your old boss has had to be blocked and you’re a tiny bit concerned that there might be weird emails or calls coming their way. It’s such a fine line, one wants to remain professional and not appear as though one is the source of drama (which you are not by the way), but then, a nut job whackadoo could do all kinds of bizarro stuff that will almost certainly make her look insane, but if they have a small heads up that it is a possibility, that might help a little.

    You know your current work situation best, and whether that would be a brief conversation you could have or if it would stir things up more, but if it’s feasible, I say do it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Well, it sounds like Old boss knew where they went already because they sent a crazy-pants reply to a reference check from new company (and OP still got hired). But may not be a bad idea to let manager know in a low-key way that ex-boss is all of a sudden emailing. I’ve blocked them, hopefully that ends it, but just FYI.

    1. RT*

      No, her thing is spending THOUSANDS of dollars on Amazon krap! I told her a few days before my birthday one year that I’d bought myself something, and she said, “OMG, I bought you that SAME thing for your birthday from Amazon!” She then proceeded to tell me how hers, she was sure, was MUCH better, and I should donate mine to a homeless program. I told her I really liked the one I had and maybe she could just return and get me something else. NOPE. I ended up giving hers away, unopened, in a Buy Nothing group.

  25. Jerusha*

    Throwing money at a problem to make it go away is only worth considering if the problem will actually go away. Just based on what you’ve written here, I’d say the chances of your ex-boss going away if you pay the phone bill are so low as to be indistinguishable from zero. She’ll just find something else to hound you about.

    And there’s nothing else you could do to make her go away, either. I say this not in a defeatist manner, but to absolve you of any responsibility. There is no behavior on your part that could make her go away or even behave in a rational manner, so you don’t have to try. (The pithy summary I’ve seen here is “reasons are for reasonable people”. This is not a reasonable person, so reasons won’t help.)

    Block the heck out of her (or, as mentioned upthread, filter everything from her so it will accrue unread somewhere you don’t have to look at it) and get the help you need to move on with your life.

  26. be_safe*

    I’m glad you blocked her, OP. People like your old boss act as if they are, as my teenage son likes to say, “the main character.”

    By ignoring her on all fronts, you are dealing a crushing blow.

    Plus it gets you out of those inevitable 3am texts.

  27. Goldenrod*

    “enjoy your freedom from this nut”

    HAHAHAHHA! So true.

    “If your boss is telling you monthly she doesn’t know if she can pay you, get out!”

    SERIOUSLY. I’m someone who has also stayed too long in super toxic work situations, so I can relate. My feeling now is: NEVER AGAIN. I hope you are feeling the same way, OP, and congrats on getting outta there!

  28. Emotional Spock*

    I once had a friend go through and then end an emotionally abusive relationship. Dealing with her I realized that I spent 5 years being emotionally abused at an office. (I am a him/he BTW)
    Why didn’t I leave?
    – Terrible job market for 4 years so a feeling there was no place to go.
    – I was new and insecure
    -5 years of college so didn’t want to switch very specific career
    -Boss would occasionally reward me with lunch, presents etc…
    – You get worn down and it all becomes a new normal.

    Best of luck – A great decision OP

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yes! It took going through an emotionally manipulative/abusive relationship and that breakup to realize my toxic ex-job wasn’t just bad, it was “get help” levels of bad.

      If therapy isn’t an option, OP, I recommend reading about emotionally abusive relationships and other forms of coercive control. (I found Steve Hassan’s BITE model useful, but YMMV.)

      In general, we as a society need to get better at understanding that work situations can be abusive, imho.

    2. RT*

      YES YES AND YES! All of these things!!! It’s like that boiling the frog phenomenon – you are there and dealing with the crazy for so long, you don’t realize you’re boiling. Thank God I found a way out – and I’m so glad you did, too!!

      And yes – therapy is in the cards BIG TIME.

  29. voluptuousfire*

    OP, I don’t want to add to the pile of anxiety this particularly bananapants ex-boss has created, but I’d prepare for a potential small claims court suit. It wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility, considering her antics. Even just googling what to do/how to respond to a small claims court case so you have a general idea of how this would pan out would be a huge relief. If I were in your shoes, doing that would help calm me because with people like her, expect the unexpected and document, document, document! Better to have all your ducks in a row even if you don’t need them and be able to respond with real authority if you need to. Being able to calmly lay out all the datapoints on how absurd your ex-boss is in a courtroom and win would be a fantastic win.

    1. Dr. Prepper*

      If thus should ever happen (doubtful,) countersue for tortuous interference and harassment. Bring up the emails/calls to current employer. Be sure to have her served.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t see any reason for the OP to think about this. Yes, it is possible, but HIGHLY unlikely because it does require the ex-boss to take some organized steps.

      OP, don’t worry about this. In the HIGHLY unlikely event that you do get an actual, real summons to small claims court, you can find all the information you need. But I would seriously suggest that you avoid spending any mental energy on what this person MIGHT, MAYBE, POSSIBLY do.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        True, but sometimes having pie in the sky contingency plans does help (at least for me!).

  30. rage criers unite*

    Oh LW I’m so sorry you dealt with that crazy narcissist for so long. I am proud of you for blocking her. You definitely did the right thing!!

  31. Anonymous Again*

    I think LW is handling it just fine, having explained and then blocked her. Just don’t unblock her! I think it is extremely unlikely she’ll get organized enough to go to court over this, and if she does, it sounds like you have documentation about when you left the job, so she’ll sound as unreasonable as she actually is. Don’t allow her to contact you, don’t respond if some message does get through your defenses, and go on with your life.

    1. RT*

      1000% this is what I’m doing! I had another thought today – given the amount of the two months worth of bills, it would cost her more in the small claims filing fee to even TRY than the bills are worth. Given she’s financially struggling right now, I don’t think she’ll do it. The financial struggle is one of the reasons she’s trying to get me to pay these bills, no doubt. I AM DONE. As someone so succinctly said above – “let her scream into the void.”

  32. exhausted hr*

    This boss is an abuser. She may escalate – and not via a lawsuit. Hold on to all paperwork/communication with this person as evidence – create a file and compile all your communications — screen shot old texts, log the phone calls and emails to your new work email. As Allison mentioned, your boss probably realizes she’s crazypants, but she may also try to contact your new boss so it may be helpful to give them a heads up that you are taking steps.

    Block her from your new work email. Change your bank accounts if you think she still has access to this via old payroll records. Keep a record of times she has harrassed you since you resigned. She’s a crazy person with just enough sanity to cause you issues.

    However, most times legally you have to show that you have directly and succinctly told her to leave you alone and that you feel the matter is settled re the cell phone bill given the timing of your returning the phone and the months she wants reimbursement. State it in writing and send it certified. Don’t presume she knows/remembers anything. Keep meticulous records. This will help if you do have to go to court/deal with an attorney.

    Remember that you did the right thing by leaving. You should be proud of yourself that you got out when you did. Best of luck to you!

    1. GTFO*

      Changing bank accounts is a really good idea. I’m sorry that OP has to go through anxiety-producing steps but it’s probably necessary. I’d get a quick lawyer appt and have the “don’t contact me anymore” come from lawyer on their letterhead.

  33. Nomayo*

    I worked in one of these jobs, small company, threats of non payment and then love bombing. I ended up changing careers completely.

    We ended up having to CASH OUR CHECKS because if we deposited amd rhey went to a hold, the owner might spend the money on a vacation and holt crap.

    After he was ousted (forcibly) it still wasn’t great. I had to take stress leave after a family member died and it was Demanded That I Bring In A Note, and finish a client work. I was livid. I went in at midnight, dropped the note off, noticed I couldn’t even finish the work because we were STILL MISSING THINGS I HAD ASKED FOR MONTHS BEFORE.

    I was guilted out of taking another job and when I finally treated my depression, realized JUST HOW DONE I WAS and left, the project I came in to finish at midnight a week after my brother died more than a year prior still had not been completed.

    1. CW*

      Sheesh! You should have been going to work, not hell. I am glad you are out of there. But it is just a shame that it ruined your mental health.

    2. RT*

      I am SO sorry – I feel you completely!!! I am not a spring chicken by any stretch, so I’ve done a lot of work over the years, and NEVER have I ever experienced anything like this. I can’t imagine having a family member die and having to deal with that krap. I’m so glad you got out of that situation, too!!! <3

  34. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    I’ going to say “Judiciously Ignore” the former boss. By which I mean, take some time and get all your documents for why the boss has no case organized. Make that “unread” folder to shunt her stuff to (and maybe find a person to periodically skim any of her missives for things that really do warrant a reply). If you have a spouse, prep them to watch for “odd or unusual” bills in case boss try’s that approach. But then you ignore her. There may be an extinction burst of activity – but I really bet there is only so much you can expect from a person who sounds as “distractable” as former boss was while you were her employee.

  35. Essess*

    You really really really should speak to a lawyer.
    1) She deliberately did “employment interference” by contacting your employer and attempting to ruin your employment. I am not a lawyer, but from what I understand this is illegal. Giving facts would have been legal, but this was deliberate attempts of sabotaging your employment. You can’t be sure that she will be honest in the future for any reference checks and this behavior should be put on record.
    2) As others have mentioned… getting a cease and desist. Plus getting it from a lawyer that you don’t owe that bill so she can’t try sending you to collections for it and use it to harm your credit rating at any time in the future. She might not try suing you, but instead silently harm your credit.

    1. Essess*

      Adding to my own comment… Although blocking her would give you peace, I would be tempted to not block but don’t respond/answer. This way you have warnings if she attempts to do anything else that has potential to harm you and you can share any written texts and emails with the lawyer.

    2. RT*

      I can’t imagine a scenario where she could ruin my credit. The phone and the number were on the company cell phone plan, which is in her name/company name. I returned the phone to her (and have email documentation of her acknowledging that fact), and I even have her admitting that while it’s in her name and her responsibility, I should do it because “I know it’s the right thing to do.” So I feel covered on that front.

      In my final email to her, I mentioned that I knew she had trashed me to my new boss and that it was highly illegal in the hopes that would put her on alert. Her previous two employees had to get a lawyer and threatened to sue her for a host of labor law violations (I found that out much later), and that got her to leave them alone, so I feel fairly certain she doesn’t want to go down THAT road again.

    3. Observer*

      She deliberately did “employment interference” by contacting your employer and attempting to ruin your employment. I am not a lawyer, but from what I understand this is illegal.

      The bar for illegal interference is a lot higher than sending a ridiculous email.

      You can’t be sure that she will be honest in the future for any reference checks and this behavior should be put on record.

      I’d say that it is pretty certain that she will NOT be honest in future reference checks. But lawyer’s letters and Cease and desist letters are not going to make a difference in terms of dealing with future employees.

  36. TR*

    Hello everyone! I’m the LW, and I cannot thank both Alison and ALL of you enough for your wonderful comments! It really helps validate to me that I’ve done the right thing, both with NOT paying a bill I don’t owe and blocking her. This whole thing has been beyond crazy making, to the point I have sometimes been unable to figure out WHAT my proper response should be!! I have experienced guilt (that I know I shouldn’t, and yes, therapy is in the cards for that!) because when I left, half the clients did, too, and now she’s in ruins. She has never, EVER taken any responsibility for anything (if a client got mad at her for a mistake, she’d tell me they were just “big babies.”) You all are definitely right – she will NEVER go away on her own, so I’m DONE. I have also become friends with one of the former employees, and BOY oh boy, do we have a lot of similar stories!! He was there for TEN YEARS!

    In my attempt to keep my letter shorter (which it still was NOT, so thank you for getting through it Alison and all!), I left out some key points:

    I had gone through a major divorce just a few years before this job and also got out of a toxic relationship of over two decades (and yes, I am positive that played a role in my staying FAR too long, but there were other factors as well). Because the ex left me in massive debt, I’d been working four jobs (YES FOUR!) for about four years, and it was ROUGH. I was a casual acquaintance of this boss, and a mutual friend recommended me to her because I had experience in her field. It was an opportunity to work ONE JOB with pay that would allow me to actually pay bills and debts, so that was a big reason I suffered as long as I did. And Alison is absolutely right – within six weeks of getting this job, we were in pandemic lockdown. Some of the previous work I had done before this were in fields (entertainment in particular) that were NOT pandemic friendly as productions were shutting down everywhere, and without this job, I likely would have been in some pretty dire straits. So I sucked up a LOT more than I should have.

    My new boss (who is BEYOND amazing, wonderful, kind – everything you could want as well as amazing co-workers!!) – well, there’s a story there, too. She has known my ex-boss longer than I have as she was a client of this woman. My ex-boss was able to hide all this crazy from the clients for a long time because there was a buffer with her employees. When it was just the two of us and she had to interact more with them, the writing was on the wall. My current boss saw the amazing work I was doing because I was her contact person, and it was a major reason she decided to hire me directly (this was not a direct competition situation, BTW). She is WELL aware of the ex-boss’s behavior and that she is straight up batshit nuts. In fact, my new boss came directly to me when she got that email saying “you shouldn’t hire her because.” The real reason for that email was to try to keep her from hiring me because the ex-boss knew she would not only lose me but one of her biggest clients because, with me on board at the new company, there’d be no reason for my new boss to stay with the ex-boss’s company. My new boss was APPALLED and told me she’d originally thought of sending me the email directly so I could see it, but “it is so hurtful and untrue, I’m just going to hang onto it.” So not only did ex-boss do something super shady and potentially illegal, she shot herself in the foot by confirming to my new boss that she was in the right to leave as well.

    Some other FUN things during my tenure (and there really are enough to fill a book!)

    *Telling me she was giving me a free session with HER therapist because “it’s important that my employees have good mental health.” Even her therapist told her this was a terrible idea, and she got mad when I told her I didn’t think it was appropriate – but finally let it go.

    *I told her once I had always wanted to go to New York City but hadn’t made it yet. She called me two hours later and said she was booking us for a weekend trip, that we’d be staying with her friend that lives there (that I didn’t know) and how much fun we were going to have! I was FLOORED. I made the excuse that I wasn’t really ready to travel with Covid just yet, but she kept pushing. I finally said, “I do NOT want to go to NYC like that! I want to plan my own first trip, and not just for a weekend. I’d like to stay at a fun hotel, see Broadway shows, etc. She said she understood. Then two days later, she called to tell me how hurt she was because “you said you didn’t want to go to NYC WITH ME.” Which I absolutely never said. She had a habit of seeming to be fine about things, then stewing on them for a few days and flipping the entire scenario into her being a victim.

    *My third week on the job, she just didn’t show up to the office. I was there – ALONE – with clients calling and me lying that she was in a meeting and completely freaked out. I was calling and texting her with no answer. By noon, I was convinced she was dead in a ditch somewhere. Her friend showed up at noon to have lunch with her, and I was nearly in tears by then. The friend put a hand on my shoulder and said, “oh, that’s just what she does.” Turns out she claims to have some sort of “disorder” where she can’t be awakened sometimes, even with alarms or phone calls, and she will just sleep most of the day (she did this MANY more times over those two years). Yet when the friend called her at that moment about their lunch date, she picked up immediately. When I told her how frightened I’d been by all of it, she wanted to know why I was questioning her and said, “if you don’t have my back, I need to know now so I can find someone else.” Then later she apologized because “I really need you here.” Yeah, I know. Believe me – I know.

    *After she yelled at me on the phone about a year in, I finally snapped and told her it was NOT okay to yell at me and hung up on her. She texted me the next day, a Saturday, and told me I’d have to get “anger management classes” if I wanted to stay. But she forgot she’d said it by Monday.

    Those are just the tip of the iceberg, I assure you. And yes – I know between the toxic ex and the toxic boss, I have some MAJOR PTSD to deal with, and I am now getting therapy to address that. I had a panic attack so massive that I nearly blacked out when she sent me that first email. I hadn’t heard from her in nearly three months, and that’s when I knew therapy was DEFINITELY something I needed to do. I consider myself a VERY strong woman, but even the strongest of people can only take so much without some additional help.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU ALL!!!!! This really did help so much, and I so appreciate this site and that all you amazingly intelligent and wonderful folks are here to make the crazy a little less crazy!!

    1. Workerbee*

      Wow! All the good vibes to you, OP. And if you ever do write that book / series / sitcom / movie, may you make oodles of money!

    2. quill*

      Congrats to you, also, as someone else with PTSD who stayed way too long at a bannanas job: when everything makes your adrenal gland want to run for the hills, it is indeed hard to figure out if any specific nightmare week at a job is “enough” for you to quit. So definitely bring it up with the therapist when you work on things that you have to re-learn how to cope with. Best of luck!

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Thanks OP, really appreciate the extra info. And I second the wish for oodles of money if a book or movie come out of this!

    4. WindmillArms*

      It’s always nice to hear that LWs who are being mistreated hear our outrage and know they’re the ones in the right! Please do jot down any other tales of this boss as you think of them, because they all sound absolutely golden with the privilege of distance.

  37. Cheap Ass Rolex*

    Yes, I know you can’t include every detail, but the gap between “this was an obvious trash fire situation even a week or two in” to “ two years later I was still working there” is one you should take a good long look at. If you were not job searching that whole time, ask yourself why you stayed week two? Month two? Month six? Are you prone to ignoring red flags? Do you have a hard time advocating for yourself? Do you take a passive hand with your own life generally?

    None of these may be the case, but this is a bonkers amount of time to take between when most people would’ve started jobs searching (immediately) vs when it seems like you did. It might be helpful going forward to look at why that happened.

    1. RT*

      I hear you – but as mentioned above, after four years of FOUR JOBS, I kept looking at what was in front of me and what I’d just been through, and (at the time!) I thought I was choosing the lesser of two evils. I also felt that this boss had some PTSD of her own from these two employees leaving her, and her mother had died that same month. So yes, I was making excuses for her, for myself, etc. By the time I thought, “oh, I need to keep looking,” the pandemic hit, and it was a TOUGH job market in my field where I live. I was so overwhelmed from those previous four years, I was just happy to have a job to go to and a little time to relax after having worked nearly seven days a week for so long. Did it cloud my judgment? You BETCHA. And again – I’m addressing all that in therapy. I’m in the best place I’ve been in a long time, and that’s helping me be able to address what happened in a healthier way because I’m not trying to do therapy while ALSO in a stressful job.

  38. SM Richmond*

    Been there, done that. I’ve worked for some remarkable very small companies (start-ups, really), and the last one was a “we’re all a family” one. It ended up imploding, but more because the business was hit hard by the times than because the owner was a jerk.

    My takeaway: Dear former bosses, no, we’re not a family, no matter how hard you try to make it one. I appreciate the warm atmosphere, the “we’re all in this together” vibe, and the perks that came with that vibe. I didn’t appreciate the expectation that, since we’re “family”, I’d be happy to stay late, run things while you golfed, and find new revenue streams when the original one dried up. At the end of the day, it’s your job to keep the office functioning. I’m just the hired help.

    1. RT*

      That “we are family thing” can be SO toxic and manipulative. And OH-MY-GAWD, YES to the “since we’re family,” you can do all THESE things! I was expected to find new clients, be in charge of establishing a website for the company, etc. She would come in and leave when she felt like it, while I was left to deal with ALL our clients (even though we were supposed to be splitting them evenly), which was her “right” because she was the owner. She had to give up the office space she’d had for over 20 years because of the pandemic, and more than once, I was expected to help lug things in and out of our storage unit on weekends. She was there, too, but it was physically taxing and definitely NOT part of my job description.

      1. RT*

        OH. MY. GOD. WOW. This is the PERFECT explanation and describes her to a T!!! Thanks so much for sharing this!!!

  39. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Tell her you already paid her. Sounds like she won’t know if you did or not.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      This is the clear winning suggestion. If that doesn’t work, tell her she can wait for it on the corner of Elm and 3rd Street.

      1. the cat's ass*

        I dunno, folks. Funny, to be sure, but this kind of bananas might actually try to pursue that further when LW should NOT ENGAGE.

        1. RT*

          NOOOOOO, I wouldn’t actually do that!!!! I just thought it was funny that she was pegged so clearly.

    2. Generic Name*

      I don’t think this will work. She will just come up with another crazy demand. I know from personal experience of dealing with these types. If you back down and do what they want, they come back with an even more absurd demand later. It doesn’t matter what you do; they just want to keep engaging with you. The best course of action is the one Alison already suggested: block and delete.

  40. Faith the twilight slayer*

    No need to write a check. But please, for the love of all that is fluffy and cute, write that book. Like, yesterday.

  41. LGC*

    LW. You could have gotten the literal top-of-the-line Mac Pro (including the wheels) and it still wouldn’t have been enough compensation for this woman’s banana crackersery.

    Although, I am interested in how you found out that she emailed your new job to tell them they shouldn’t hire you. (Was it just a recommendation that went south? Did she do this on her own?) As someone who…has ghosted his fair share of “friends” that behaved badly (hi just search my username on old weekend threads lol), worrying about what they’re saying *behind my back* is one of the things I do worry about. But on the other hand, like…1) in your case, they obviously did not listen to her, and 2) I hope most people wouldn’t listen to her (or more to the point, would listen very closely to see if she’s legit or just petty).

    1. RT*

      I found out because my new boss came to me immediately after she got it. I was SO embarrassed and felt like I had to explain myself, but she stopped me and said, “I’ve been working with you for two years, and I have NEVER seen anything like what she’s describing here. I only told you because I let her know I was doing so.” Apparently, my ex-boss tried to backtrack when she realized this plan of attack (to rob me of a new opportunity and keep me there while also keeping her top client, aka my new boss) was backfiring spectacularly. She is very much an “act on impulse” person and never thinks through her actions.

      In case you missed it earlier, my new boss was actually a client of this company I worked for, and I was her point of contact. When she posted a job opening at her own company, I applied (a company completely different than the one I worked at with the crazy ex-boss so it wasn’t a direct competition situation). When the new boss hired me, she realized she didn’t need to stay with the crazy at the company I just left since I could do the same work for her in the position I was in, so she left, too. I think she actually considered staying for a few months out of some sense of loyalty until that email came. She was done after that.

  42. Dangerous Tacos*

    Yes, we must have an update! And info on where to purchase the book/stream the movie when they come out.

    1. RT*

      I know – I screwed up with the initials. I was trying to do different initials in case my somehow crazy ex-boss ever found this site. I AM the OP/LW, and Alison can verify that with me if need be.

  43. NotOP*

    Dear OP, no worries! This post was just a service to future readers: often, people post as OP, and you can search for their comments by adding a * to the end (highlight your username and you will see that extra * in white). So, if people look in the archives and search for OP + *, they will find my comment and then learn to look for the right username. :)

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