my new boss ran his own background check on me

A reader writes:

I have worked in my department in a large organization for 17 years. A coworker was promoted to be my boss. I suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety, and while having a high-stress day, I was called to his office. I just needed a half day to take a timeout and speak to my therapist.

He stated that when he was promoted, he did a background check on me. He had said he had done it on his own “to know who is working for him” and that he was aware of my arrest, over 30 years ago. It was a juvenile mistake (being at a scene of a crime and not stopping it) and was paid for.

This has caused a uncomfortable work relationship. It feels like he has something over me and thinks I can’t be trusted. He’s also stated that those with mental health issues are weak.

Now if I need a mental health day, he will approve it but state that we will have to talk when I get back (which just adds to the stress causing me to need time off). The talk we then have to have is him telling me that my attendance is worse than anyone else in the shop, which is completely made up. What can I do?

So, there’s what you should be able to do and then there’s what’s realistic to do, and those two things may or may not be the same.

First, though, it’s insane that your new boss did his own background check on you. I assume that means he used one of those online services where you can look up public records on someone, not that he went through your HR department for the sort of formal check they might do on new hires — because if a newly promoted manager asked HR to run a background check on an employee with 17 years tenure so he could “know who is working for him,” they’d presumably explain that’s not how they do things. So it sounds like he did his own check, and that’s incredibly weird, boundary-violating, and Not Normal.

In theory you should be able to go to HR and report this, as well as his comments that people with mental health issues are “weak” — because that’s creating a hostile work environment for people with mental health issues, risks violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, creates legal liability for your company, and is generally a shitty thing for a manager to say or believe. That’s a sign that he needs, at a minimum, some seriously remedial training on his legal obligations as a manager. A good HR department would want to know about it. (The same is true if he’s hassling you for taking legitimate sick days. And if he’s making up the thing about you having the worst attendance of anyone on your team, that’s additional evidence that he’s giving you a hard time because of a health issue — more legal liability.)

However … in practice you need to consider what you know of your HR department. As we’ve discussed many times here, some HR teams are excellent and some are not. A good HR team would put a stop to all of this, have stern words with your boss, do some remedial training with him, help you get formal accommodations on file for the time off you need (and/or help you take intermittent FMLA, which I’ll get to in a minute), and make it clear to your boss that they’ll brook no retaliation against you for talking to them (making it clear that retaliation against an employee for making a good-faith complaint of discrimination also violates the law). A good HR team would not only do all this but would know how to do it skillfully enough that you wouldn’t come out on the other end with permanent tension with your boss.

A weak or less competent HR team, though, might handle it differently and leave you vulnerable to retaliation. I’m particularly concerned about that because your boss has already shown himself to be playing by his own bizarre set of rules and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s particularly punitive.

So you’ve got to think through what you know of how your HR operates and how skilled they are. If you’re not sure, ask around and find out what your coworkers’ experiences with them have been.

Even if you don’t take the whole thing to HR, though, either way it would likely be a good idea to get some formal accommodations on file, as well as look into having intermittent FMLA available to take when you need it. In fact, you could then use that as an opening to request they talk to your boss about ensuring you’re not discriminated against for using those rights (without getting into the rest of the situation, if you decide not to). That would get you more protection than you have from your boss right now, which sounds like it would be a very useful thing.

{ 252 comments… read them below }

  1. quill*

    Thing to keep in mind with your new manager running a background check on you: now that he’s your manager there is some possibility that he has privileged information that went into the search, which is potentially a concern to bring up with HR.

    Another thing: was this guy hostile to you before promotion? Because it seems bizarre that he ran his own “background check” on you specifically, and from what I can tell not anyone else?

    1. Sue*

      If this is a small team I could imagine him doing it to them all tbh. Drunk on power. Ask your teammates if he has done the same to them and if true take it up as a team to HR.

    2. JustA___*

      Yeah, if he ran a check on *just you*, that could also possibly be viewed as discriminatory behavior since it would be reasonable to link it to his comments/attitudes towards people with mental illness, and his insistence that you have a talk if you take a mental health sick day, etc. Or if you’re part of any other protected class, for that matter.

      I hope you have good hr, OP. They could really be helpful here. If not, are there any other managers there you’ve worked with that might support you? If you’ve been there for 17 years, maybe you could leverage some of your other relationships to get moved to a different department or chain of command?

      But yeah, this guy should NOT be a supervisor. His judgement is really bad, and he’s opening the company up to potential legal issues, imho. It might be helpful to document these kinds of things, and I’m sorry because that’s putting more on you.

    3. Silly string theory*

      At all my former workplaces, you had to sign a dated form with a one time request for a background check.
      To get another one, say, for a promotion, you had to fill out and sign another one.
      Is this not standard? Because, basically he did on behalf/under the guise of the company/you being his employee.

      1. dawbs*

        yeah, I’m the person who runs them at my employer, and potential employees/volunteers sign something saying it’s OK.
        AND, there are rules about this crap. The state polices’ website (where I run them from) makes me select the reason for the search– if I’m logged in and ‘doing a background check as an agent for my nonprofit on volunteers or employees’ I have to agree to the TOS of that stuff–the privacy rules. I can *technically* pay for and do a background check as a member of the public, but I have to pay for those and it’s a different system with different rules.

        The ones I do for my employer = strict rules about how to use them–both from my employer and from the TOS from the site.
        If I were running them on a whim as a part of my employer, there’d be a record and I’d be in deep. I could, right now, go into my employer’s account and see all the checks we’ve run and when and where they were run from–and there’s not a way to delete that so that we CAN look and see if someone’s been dinking around on there.

        (Also, FWIW, I can’t promise everyone does it this way, but, if I run that and have a old minor crime…nobody knows that but me. If there’s something of concern, I take it to my boss. But if you shoplifted lipstick 10 years ago or had a possession charge from 10 years ago or an old DUI, none of that goes past my files {except the DUI will mean you can’t drive the truck}. And it should work like that! Honestly, yes, I know things about my coworkers, but I keep my mouth shut and nobody but nobody but nobody knows this info. In fact, because it’s ancillary to my actual role here, I think 1/2 of them don’t even know I’m the person who runs them.)

        1. Where's Norma Rae when you need her?*

          Google FCRA
          The FEDERAL Fair Credit Reporting Act. What this person did was illegal in every state, because he is your employer. The FCRA requires an employer to provide you with a summary of your rights and get a signed authorization from you prior to running a background check. (FCRA covers more than credit reporting).
          Combined with the comments and behavior about you exercising your accommodations, it sounds like he is violating 2 federal laws, ADA and FCRA. His behavior also seems paranoid (see “I want to know who’s working for me”) stalker-like, abusive and all around creepy. Rarely does this type of behavior de-escalate on its own.
          I hope you will consult a labor attorney to clarify what your options are and to advocate for you if there is blowback from your company. I think I would give HR exactly one opportunity to deal fairly with me and swiftly with him. If they did not, I would put them in touch with the attorney and let the chips fall where they may. So sorry you are being subjected to this BS.

        2. Essess*

          Agreed! I just went to a public background check site for the first time yesterday to look up a neighbor. I had to check a box stating that I wasn’t using this as an employer or landlord or several other reasons. He used it illegally and that needs to go to HR.

      2. quill*

        My assumption is that it’s probably legal, but stupidly shady, to pay for this as a private citizen. But if he gave that company ANYTHING that he only knows from being her manager, it could actually be illegal, or at least against company policy.

        1. RabidChild*

          But since he did it as OP’s boss, would that apply since he’s acting as their employer, even though he wasn’t sanctioned to do the bg check? In any case, I’m with everyone else advising you to run (don’t walk) directly to an attorney on this–it’s BS and a huge overstep.

      3. Shiba Dad*

        There is an app that allows the user to search court dockets in my state for free. All you need is a first and last name. I wonder if this “background check” is something like that.

    4. emmelemm*

      Right, if he used your SSN because he had access to it, that’d be a pretty big no-no, I think.

    5. Ace in the Hole*

      Additionally: check your state’s law. This may be illegal. Some states have restrictions on how far back employers are allowed to look at criminal convictions, or more stringent rules on when background checks are allowed.

      Regardless of what state you’re in, there are EEOC protections on discriminatory background checks. There’s also a requirement that employers get your permission before doing a 3-rd party background check.

      1. BlueStarGirl*

        Our releases are only good for 90 days, so an old release in your employee file may not be sufficient for a new background check if your boss tries to use that as justification!

        1. quill*

          It certainly wouldn’t be good for SEVENTEEN YEARS, presuming the last background check was at hiring.

          1. Lexie*

            I’ve worked at places where the background checks had to be done every two or three years. We had to fill out a new form every time and that included submitting a new set of fingerprints.

            1. CatPrance*

              In case you got new fingers in the last couple of years? Wow, they’re tough at your job!

              I worked at a place that required you to have a background check to get hired and then refreshers every so often, but we didn’t have to sign and re-sign forms — the original gave approval to, basically, “yeah, sure, whenever.”

      2. JSPA*

        right; i’m thinking he likely has fewer rights as your boss, than he would as your nebby / nosey neighbor.

      3. Jaime Rullan*

        Thank you all for the advice and affirmation that this person has gone too far.
        To answer a couple questions:
        When he was in line for the job, we spoke at length about how we would work together. His weakness is his computer knowledge and he asked if I could fill that void for him. We were never friends, but we got along, and at times worked well together. Untill his promotion which brought to light his insecurities. As soon as he was promoted, one coworker, was transferred to basically a basement office. In time, 2 others that rubbed him the wrong way were moved to other departments. One quit within a couple months and the other put in his 2 week notice. This has been happening just after covid became an epidemic.
        In March 2020, I took precautions to, first to protect my family from bringing covid back home and for my co workers which 2 had pregnant wives. I was taking weekly tests, I did become positive, and as per requested, forwarded all medical paperwork to a department dealing with reporting to the CDC, and tracking those who I was in contact with. Upon returning, this manager said I’d never sent him the paperwork, so, with air quotes, he didn’t think I really ever had it. To top it off, he charged me sick time for the close to a month I was out. I had argued it with the personnel office and they said I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Aside from that, the man in charge of receiving and reporting, had left. And the next hire was completely useless.
        It was a good job, at one time, I do my job very well, and have a good relationship with those around me. When my symptoms rear their ugly head, I’ve just separated myself, worked it out the best I could and did the job I’m usually happy with. But the past two years have been very difficult, causing me to take more time off then I ever had, to just get away from that atmosphere.

        1. mb*

          I would keep a log or journal documenting the date and what was said or occurred at the time. This will bolster your claim of discrimination based on your disabilities and mental health. Just in case you may need to go to court over this – the only other option is to go over his head if you can. I don’t know how the organization can’t see the disastrous performance of this guy. Also, it’s probably time to start looking for another job.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          What a complete tool. Strike that, at least a tool is useful.

          Your boss sounds terrible. I think short of upper management deciding to remove him, the only way your work life will get better is if you find a different job. Hope you’re able to get off that ship before it finishes sinking.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I agree. It is both time for you to consult a lawyer and to leave. Not only is he abusing his power, but his comment about you taking more time off than anyone else is concerning given how he handled the COVID situation. Cover your butt but find an exit.

            Also, I’d make sure no one is using my SSN for ID theft/running an unwarranted credit report (which can affect your score).

    6. Chauncy Gardener*

      Oh my gosh! This is so wrong on so many levels. I am so sorry you’re dealing with this, OP!
      Please let us know what you decide to do and how it works out. I totally agree with Alison that it ALL depends upon what you know about your HR department
      Good luck!!

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        Also, I do know that to run a background check on a company’s behalf, you must have a signed release from the employee. So there’s that….
        What a total jerk this guy is!

    7. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      THIS. Depending on the state this could be very, very illegal.
      Please go to HR. If one of my new managers did this I would want to know.

    8. Magenta Sky*

      If that privileged information included things like Social Security number (how handled the on-boarding paperwork?), it could quite possibly be illegal. HR should be *very* concerned about that.

    9. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      That would be a good thing to consider. Although, I once had two colleagues (peers) who were great to work with, but once they became managers (one of them became my manager) they suddenly acted with an air of superiority (in an obnoxious way) and talked down to anyone who wasn’t a manager. And they were always looking for opportunities to ‘coach’ everyone. I do remember they both went through a training on managing soon after they were promoted so maybe that came from there or they took it the wrong way. Sometimes that promotion to manager gets to one’s head and they are not the same colleague they used to be.

  2. Rolly*

    What an @skhole.

    OP, it may not help you, but remind yourself this person is revealing their own deep deep insecurities.

    1. Pants*

      And if you feel like exploiting those insecurities, which I sure as hell do, run a background check on him. Everyone has skeletons. If a BG check doesn’t come up with anything, hit me up. I guarantee you I’ll find something. Old skill I picked up in a former job.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        I’m feeling like it’s probably not a great idea to offer services to someone that, at best, drag LW to the level of their out-of-line supervisor and, at worst, could put her in a precarious position with respect to her job. Not really within the tone or terms Alison sets out.

        1. JSPA*

          Boss doing the search on their employee is pretty arguably the “company” doing the search (even if boss emphasizes they’re doing it privately). Employee doing search on boss? Less so. Still probably not a great idea, but not two equivalent wrongs.

      2. Eagle*

        I was thinking the same thing. Level the playing field and do a background check on him. When he balks at you mentioning something in his past at your new one on ones after need time off, you can remind him that he set this standard. Personally, I think I would be looking for a new job based on this.

        1. JSPA*

          That’s going to add up to blackmail, in many minds. Possibly even a court’s. I don’t see a good end game here, of doing the search. Unless he tries to get you to do something illegal, I guess, in which case having it as an ace in the hole might be useful. But only if you have truly excellent powers of staying silent, in the meantime, even if the meantime is 20 more years.

      3. Chauncy Gardener*

        I needed a good belly laugh today! That is a great idea. Just to have something in your back pocket, so to speak.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        I think if OP wants to put this guy’s feet i the legal fire for discrimination and possible federal FCRA or equivalent violation, then doing the same right back badly undermines the possibility of building a case. I’d at minimum consult a lawyer on better ways to handle the situation before even suggesting that idea to the same lawyer…

  3. Kevin Sours*

    This is at the point where I would, if you have the means, strongly suggest consulting an employment attorney. That doesn’t mean you need to engage in legal action or even bring the attorney into play (which would be an escalation). But a good attorney can advice you on your specific rights, the consequences of and wisdom of exercising them, and suggest specific language you can use when addressing the issue. It sounds like this company if they haven’t crossed any lines is dance right up to them.

    1. quill*

      Also possibly worth asking if there was any legal overstep in running that “background check,” because depending on laws and where you live, there may actually be some relevant legal circumstances to your manager running one without your consent.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        Virtually every state has laws which require both direct consent as well as the option to receive copies of background checks completed for the purpose of employment.

        I’m going to echo others who have suggested contacting an attorney – this is *VERY* important, because at a minimum, there’s an argument to be made that your manager violated not one, but likely several laws in conducting a background check.

        IANAL, IANYL, but please, please seek employment counsel on this. It’s a *huge* overstep.

        1. Random Bystander*

          Yeah–recently, I changed employers (technically) due to a buy out and the new company wanted background checks on all of us who were being given jobs at new company. I not only got the copy, but it included every single database consulted in the process. I had to sign a release (though not doing so would mean no job) before that happened.

          I know there’s things like “been verified” or whatever, but I know at least “been verified” has a disclaimer that users “may not use our site or service or the information provided to make decisions about employment, admission, consumer credit, insurance, tenant screening or any other purpose that would require FCRA compliance.” So, very likely that it violated the terms of service of the site (assuming one of those advertised sites) as well as violating laws.

    2. Ama*

      I would definitely check with an employment lawyer because there may be certain jurisdictions where performing a background check without OP’s consent or at least informing them in advance is illegal. If this is the case where OP is they should definitely go straight to HR — pretty sure they’d want to know boss was opening them up to this kind of liability.

      1. The Seven*

        Even if HR is weak, if you report all of this to them at least you will have documentation if needed for a future lawsuit. It would be helpful to show that you made them aware and they did not do anything. So, it won’t be like a lawsuit is the first they’ve heard of it. I would seriously consult an attorney so you know the rights in your state, most attorneys will at least give a brief consultation w/o charge.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Even when a lawyer doesn’t provide a free consult — and many won’t due to people taking advantage of them — an initial consult is usually not very expensive.

          1. The Seven*

            I am referring to a 5-10 min phone conversation, not an actual meeting. Attorneys that smell blood will often do a first meeting w/o charge also.

        2. Accountant*

          Something else worth considering is that a lawsuit isn’t your best or only option. Some kind of settlement, if you are directly or indirectly forced out, can often be easier, cheaper, and less stressful in the long run. You don’t strictly need an attorney for that but if it’s an option for you it could help.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Even if you aren’t pursuing formal legal action, knowing how hard you can press and how is valuable.

          2. kaefha*

            You don’t need an attorney, but you are not going to get a good settlement unless the organization has the fear of a ugly, public lawsuit alleging discrimination against those w/ mental health conditions and allowing managers to breach privacy. That fear is only triggered by a demand letter on a law firm’s letterhead.

            1. Christina*

              Some years ago we had an issue with my kid’s school. I called a friend and asked if I could cc him at his law firm when I responded. He said “sure” – you’d be surprised how fast the school backed down and apologized when a lawyer was simply copied on the email. Had they not backed down, I’d have found a different lawyer as my friend doesn’t do that sort of work.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I feel like even if you don’t file a formal complaint or anything it’s worth at least bringing it up with HR like “hey, my boss told me he ran a background check on me and I feel a little weird about it–I know it may be standard when first hired but is it normal procedure here to run background checks on people who have been working here for years?” Then in addition to getting it documented you can like… gauge their response and how outraged they seem about it?

      2. Critical Rolls*

        This stuck out to me, too. It’s not even clear if the boss abused the in-house ability to run a check, or if they took privileged personal information and ran it elsewhere, but hooboy that seems pretty unlikely to be legal.

        1. Jaime Rullan*

          I believe he is the type to do it on his own. Multiple times he’s stated he keeps records of his workers in his home office. Which I picture as a wall of post it notes, each person with a different color.

          1. Nanani*

            The fact that he’s your boss can still put it on the illegal side of things. Ask a lawyer!

          2. Critical Rolls*

            There are laws governing how employers can use your personal information, and what they are obligated to do to protect it. Stealing it for an unauthorized private background check is very likely to be illegal. I do hope you consult a lawyer — this is one of those instances where my (non-lawyer) impression is that the behavior has crossed over from “potential liability” to “actively breaking the law.”

          3. CatPrance*

            He keeps records of his workers AT HOME?? And boasts about it?

            Tell HR. And tell your lawyer. They need to know — HR, because they need to know how deep a hole this guy is digging, and your lawyer because s/he needs to know how expensive that hole is likely to be for the company.

      3. Mockingjay*

        Echoing the recommendation to consult an employment lawyer. They can help OP lay out the facts of the case, suggest next steps within the company and if those don’t work, how to proceed. OP, I’d also consider if there’s anyone in senior management you can talk to, if you aren’t comfortable with HR. After 17 years, surely there’s someone who knows you, your work ethic and performance, and can help you navigate this internally.

        1. WoodswomanWrites*

          This is great advice to consult an employment lawyer. Just because you talk with an attorney doesn’t mean you go straight to filing a lawsuit. The idea is to understand what’s legal and what isn’t, and get advice about your options for the best way to move forward. What your manager has done is outrageous and the more info you have, the more empowered you are for deciding how you want to respond.

        2. Jaime Rullan*

          I consulted with the previous supervisor, who I felt I could trust. I let him know I don’t trust him (the current supervisor) , and promoting him would be a bad idea. It’s one of those, relationships where you talk at work, but that’s as far as it goes

    3. Jora Malli*

      And if you don’t have the means, contact your state or county law library and see if they know of any free clinics taking place where you can get a no cost consultation. I think you would feel so much more secure in your next steps if you could talk to a legal expert about what you can do.

      1. Whynot*

        Further to Jora’s comment, some law schools also do free clinics, so if there are any near you it is worth a call.

      2. DesertRose*

        Legal Aid may also be an option, if the funds to pay for an attorney’s time are a stumbling block. Google “legal aid [your municipality/region]” and you ought to come up with something helpful.

    4. Anonymous Koala*

      Also if you have an EAP, they may be able to connect you with a free or discounted legal consult for this. And if you haven’t formally asked for ADA accommodations, I would start that process now so you have something to fall back on if your boss keeps pulling this “mental health needs are weak” thing (wtf).
      I’d also start job hunting. I know it might feel overwhelming after 17 years with one company, but it is a job seekers’ market and there are places with better bosses out there that will be able to offer you the flexibility you need.

      1. Christmas Cactus*

        Just and FYI: EAP usually exclude their services from being used in an action involving the employer. If cost is a concern, contact the nearest law school and ask if they run a low-cost clinic.

        1. chidi*

          Yup. The EAP I used to work for had a strict policy about this. EAPs are paid for by the employer, so they ultimately represent the employer’s interests, not the employees’.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This is at the point where I would, if you have the means, strongly suggest consulting an employment attorney. That doesn’t mean you need to engage in legal action or even bring the attorney into play (which would be an escalation). But a good attorney can advice you on your specific rights, the consequences of and wisdom of exercising them, and suggest specific language you can use when addressing the issue. It sounds like this company if they haven’t crossed any lines is dance right up to them.

      That’s what I was thinking. Stop by HR by way of an attorney.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      I totally agree with this. If an attorney is not an option, look for law school clinics, community drop-in programs, the EEOC, your state employment department, or other resources like that – they do exist! – your state’s bar association may have a resources page that lists such low- or no-cost consultation programs.

      The boss’s actions are concerning. Running a background check on a long-time employee on his own, demanding debriefs on sick days… that’s a lot and possibly running afoul of multiple laws. Particularly if HR is not great, having a lawyer coach on how to phrase things to trigger the right responses or even writing a letter could be useful, especially if the situation devolves to litigation.

  4. Allornone*

    Ugh. The is the second boss in a week that has the potential to be nominated for “worse boss of 2022.” Best wishes, to you, OP.

  5. Prefer my pets*

    Since you’ve been there so long, how is your relationship with grandboss? Everywhere I’ve worked, this isn’t something I would go to HR over but I absolutely would be discussing it with the next level up the chain.

    1. Moonlight*

      It possibly depends on who is next up in the chain of command – I have worked places where I wouldn’t go to my grand boss if I had a problem with my boss because they were basically the devil incarnate. Thankfully my boss was a sane human being but yeah…

    2. Jaime Rullan*

      The first 4 levels of the chain are buddy buddy’s. Once it gets higher, the employees become insignificant. I was once told, if I need more money, find another job.

  6. Goldenrod*

    This is awful. OP, I hope you have a decentHR department….I’ve never worked anywhere with good HR, but I keep hoping.

    I’m having a bad flashback to a boss who created a chart comparing “dates out of office” for our whole team and then sent it all to us. The stated purpose was so we could compare our “out of office time” with one another. I guess it was supposed to shame us? The weird thing is (well, one of the weird things), it only spanned 6 months, so if you happened to have a planned vacation or illness during that time, it just looked like you were a slacker. (The graph didn’t provide any detail about why you were absent.)

    Anyway, all this is to say – I’m sorry your boss is such an a-hole, OP, and I hope you have the option to find another job! No one should have to work for someone like this.

    1. Retro*

      I wish your group would’ve flipped the script on your bad boss and said “wow looks like I need to take more time off like Goldenrod does to recharge. Goldenrod is always so refreshed, recharged, and productive after time off!”

      1. Goldenrod*

        Ha, ha, yep, I wish we had done that! We tended not to push back because it just made her worse….but in retrospect, I wish we had.

    2. Ama*

      At a previous job, I helped bring in temps when certain office staff were going to be absent (including our kitchen staff, this was a grad school that had an onsite cafeteria). When staff scheduled a day off I’d put it on my calendar so I could make arrangements. When the main chef was out the everyone hated it because the cafeteria didn’t run as well, but she really didn’t take that much time off (the cafeteria was closed all summer so she’d just take vacation then). One spring she did ask for a couple days off for a special trip, and unfortunately a few weeks after, a close friend died and she asked to take a day to attend his funeral. The Dean happened to hear me telling someone that she was going to be out (although not why) and got all huffy about it being “entirely too many dates to take off.”

      I showed him my calendar and pointed out it was three days TOTAL with one of them three weeks after the other two and that those were the only days she’d asked off all school year. The reason he was actually mad was he was only in the office six days himself that month (he did a lot of field work) and the three days happened to all fall in those six days. (I also kept the Dean’s absences on my calendar as I was the de facto department receptionist.)

      I still keep my own absences and my direct reports on my calendar to this day because I want to be able to look at hard facts if anyone ever makes comments like that.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “The reason he was actually mad was he was only in the office six days himself that month (he did a lot of field work) and the three days happened to all fall in those six days.”

        This is classic, irrational boss behavior! My husband had a job where he got to work at 8am, but his boss rolled in after 9am every day….and then acted like he was “leaving early” when he left work at 5pm.

        1. Workerbee*

          I always hated those “You’re leaving early!” people. I would fire back, “You came in late!” and escape during the split-second of fear that would temporarily cloud their consciousnesses.

          Fortunately I work with real adults now, not just grown-up kindergarteners.

          1. Sleeve McQueen*

            I once met a “aren’t mum hours fun?” with a “I didn’t see you here at 7.30am”

            1. Salymander*

              Mum hours? As in, “Women with kids are less reliable (and btw I’m a sexist jerk).” Wow. What a snotty thing for someone to say to you. I’m glad you had a snappy comeback for them. :)

        2. Karia*

          Ugh, I had that. I got in fully two hours before my boss and she always acted as though I were skiving off when I left at 5pm

        3. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who came in at 7 who was forever irritated by our coworker who came in about noon. “He’s never here!” “When does he even work?”
          This was especially weird because the early coworker had an ADA accommodation to work a reduced schedule.
          Finally I got tired of the complaining and said “You know [Afternoon Guy] is still here when I have late days and leave at 6, right?”
          Early Coworker had never even considered that Afternoon Guy might work later than 5 (or have been working from home in the morning).

  7. Dona Florinda*

    Nothing to add to Alison’s adivce, I’m just really sorry you’re going through this. Your boss sucks.

  8. ChemistryChick*

    OP, I am so very angry on your behalf. Your boss is completely out of line and a gigantic butt nugget.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with tis.

  9. SweetestCin*

    **Raising hand because I’m puzzled**
    The background check itself is disturbing as you’ve been there for 17 years.

    It discovered an arrest from 30 years ago?
    Does “juvenile mistake” equate to “happened when a juvenile”?
    I’m just baffled. My spouse owns a business and has sporadic luck with potential employee background checks actually finding things that are truly important before they’re hired (think loss of driving privileges due to DUI in a position where driving is 100% necessary), yet this boss-run-not-HR-sanctioned background check comes up with this?!

    1. Sad Desk Salad*

      I’m puzzled too! The use of “juvenile” makes me think this sort of thing should have been expunged or sealed. What legal system expects a teenager to stop a crime in progress?

      1. The Ginger Ginger*

        In the US juvenile records aren’t sealed by default, I don’t believe. You have to request that.

      2. Kali*

        All these questions rely highly on the jurisdiction, but I agree that it is very strange for most places in the US when you’re talking about a public record search. Many states seal them as a matter of course, and many others simply will not disclose names unless compelled to do so by court order. As LE, I can find most juvenile arrests (unless they’re expunged, which a juvenile usually has to proactively apply for, which means $$$ and lawyers that many aren’t privileged to have), but most people/companies cannot. I happen to know that some very, very well-known security companies only go back 5 or 10 years in background checks (which is asinine, tbh – there’s a reason most robberies of armored vehicles are inside jobs).

        I can think of several crimes that might be rephrased as expecting someone to stop said crime. Any ‘conspiracy’ or ‘accessory’ level of offense, basically. You see it most often with murders though – someone is killed in a botched robbery or burglary or whatever, so everyone that was going along with the original crime gets snagged under the murder. (I can’t think of any crimes where being a simple bystander will get you caught up, but of course, the CJ system is far, far, far from perfect. Civilly, you can get caught for that, but criminally? I’m hard pressed here.)

        That said, all this goes out of the window if OP isn’t in the US.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I would tend to think something like “I was out with a friend, and they were shoplifting, and we were clearly together and laughing about it and I didn’t stop it so we both got arrested”. I feel like with lots of stupid Juvenile crime you could ge popped because you were there while someone did the thing, and while you weren’t actually doing the thing, you were egging them on or loosely participating.

          Vandalism comes to mind especially hard. You can say you weren’t doing it, but you and three other kids all had the paint on your clothes. No one actually confessed, so there you are. All four get charged.

          1. quill*

            TBH in the US, I’m thinking the most likely thing to get a youngster into serious trouble the way LW described is being tangentially involved when someone got caught selling drugs, such as driving them to the place where it happened, etc. But literally all of our speculation is going to lead us down a rabbithole about inequality and arrest records, without producing much actionable advice, I’m afraid.

        2. Lyngend (Canada)*

          I’ve been watching a lot of first amendments auditor videos lately. (mostly ones analyzing them). And see a lot people incorrectly arrested for things like refusing to identify themselves on the ground of things like “interferening with an investigation”
          (usually its audit the audit on Facebook)

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Yeah, I’m a little confused too because aren’t juvenile records kept sealed? Unless they background check didn’t say what exactly happened.

      1. dawbs*

        This is very state by state, but….
        As the person who runs records for my employer, I’ll say that when I run a check on someone who is currently a juvenile, the system gives me an alert letting me know that there may be information it that won’t be shared because the check is on a juvenile.

        And when I do have a record show up for someone, it tells me VERY little real information; I have to detective work it out. So ‘3rd degree sexual misconduct’ can vary WILDLY from “romeo & juliet laws should cover the 18 yo and his/her 17-3/4 yr old girlfriend, but didn’t” to “rape that they couldn’t make the charges stick” or ‘assault but victim couldn’t testify’. And “retail fraud” might be shoplifting or might be attempted embezzelment they couldn’t make stick.

        Sometimes, I can figure it out…it will show the arrest record, then the charge record, then the plea record. So, at the time of the the arrest the charge was an assault against an officer & resisting arrest & DWI & something else. And the court charges later were DWI & resisting. And they pled to DWI, and that’s the only thing that’s ‘current’…I can probably put together an OK idea of what went down. (and that was 5 years ago. So the person this almost describes can’t drive a vehicle for us, but is allowed to be here)

        But by default? juveile not default sealed in many states. default sealed in some states. Varies a LOT. If you ahve a juvie record, check with your state, and figure it out to protect yourself!

      2. Gypsy_AcidQueen*

        To add to this, my spouse was dinged for years in his early 30s on background checks (we did not know) with a juvenile arrest record and for something similar as OP. We believe it was separate from the court records coz i think he attended the juvenile court of the county he lived in rather than where he was arrested. We only found out when he applied for a temp Fed job, the employer FINALLY asked why he didn’t tell them about the record! The arrest record said one thing (unemployable things) but the final court records when it was sorted out said another (trespassing). Getting it sealed/expunged took an absolute effort as it was something that happened 15+ years prior and took 2 records centers to figure it out.

    3. Gnome*

      There are, apparently, websites that will go through public arrest records and post them online and try to get folks to pay to take them down. It’s entirely possible that’s how these came up. Juvenile, in context, might not mean literally as a minor, but maybe something like “I was 19 and stupid and didn’t know that was an issue”)

      1. Aarti*

        Yes, I can tell you a domestic dispute situation will stay on your record even if you were 19 and even if he was hitting you first and you just hit back. Not that either is good, but I did feel a great deal of sympathy for the woman who had kept her nose clean for the next 20 years and yet a thing that happened when she was 19 was still following her around.

      2. Clisby*

        In my state, a juvenile (for criminal charging purposes) is someone under 17. A 17-year-old is a minor, but not a juvenile.

        1. Margaretmary*

          I don’t think saying “it was a juvenile mistake” necessarily means the person was a juvenile by criminal charging purposes those. They might just mean “it was immature lack of judgement rather than criminal intent.” Like Gnome says they could have been 19 and still behaving in a juvenile way even if they weren’t legally a juvenile.

      3. Timortalla*

        My ex has a security clearance job with the feds and has so many misdemeanor offences and convictions. I can’t believe he stays employed.

    4. Retro*

      It’s possible that even if the “juvenile mistake” record was sealed or expunged, there may have been some kind of article written about the incident. It’s crazy what you can find in the archives.

      It’s still incredibly toxic and drunk on power of this new boss to think that a mistake from 30 years ago is a better judge of OP’s character than the last 17 years OP has worked there.

      1. Antilles*

        The idea that a manager should CARE about an arrest from 30 years ago when there’s no history of recurrence since then seems pretty absurd to me, presuming we’re not talking about major felonies or something horrific. At some point, it’s in the “people learn and grow” and “you’re not that same person any more” category.

      2. As per Elaine*

        I found out that a former coworker had a drug possession charge when she was ~17 because I googled her. (I wasn’t digging for dirt — it was just a “Oh hey, I wonder how she’s doing, maybe google will have something.”) Honestly I was BIG MAD that something non-violent she did as a minor will show up in police blotters any time someone googles her name, even ten years after the fact.

    5. Pool Lounger*

      They could just mean, a mistake made when young. A nineteen year old could commit a crime that would show up on background checks, but I could still understand refering to it as s juvenile mistake.

    6. Mrs. D*

      If OP happens to be in the state of California, anything older than 10 years can’t be used. So potentially more legal issues for the company.

      OP, your boss sounds like a real gem. /sarcasm

    7. Jaime Rullan*

      To be forthright, I have been at this place 21 years, took a lateral move 17 years ago, which is the job I still do.
      I am 52 years old. My plan is to get those 30 years in and retire. I have been completely cleared through security. My finger prints were taken along with any information I divulged or they had seen.

  10. blackcat lady*

    I may be off target, but the insecurity of the boss is sending off major alarms. By any chance were you eligible/considered for this promotion? Do you think he has any reason to be jealous of you? fear your long standing with the company? think of you as competition? Do you think (or know) that he has run background checks on other people? It’s awful that he could make your life miserable, but you may have to come to transferring within the company or leaving altogether.

    1. Autumnheart*

      That’s where I’m landing too. 17-year tenure + digging around in your background + putting additional hoops for you to jump through when you take sick days (nothing in the letter seems to indicate that you’re using more PTO than you have, or whatever) = this guy is building a case to terminate you. Maybe he’s doing it on his own, maybe he’s gotten a directive to figure out how to get rid of long-timers without getting nailed for age discrimination, but I would definitely consult a lawyer and bring it up with HR. You may very well find out that HR sucks and is on the manager’s side, but that’s where the lawyer comes in.

    2. pancakes*

      I don’t think you’re off target. Whatever motivated him to do this, he’s someone to be very wary of. This is not normal and not cool.

    3. Jaime Rullan*

      I’m presently contacting fellow employees concerning his background checks.
      I think his big problem is that he can’t fire me or move me. My vocation is very specialized, and no matter who I work with, I never tell them everything.
      I do have a much better relationship with my fellow employees. Most respect me, and come to me first for advise.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Not exactly a stellar move on his part to be harassing you if you’re indispensable to the department.

        1. RabidChild*


          I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got some buddy he wants to hire/place in your spot. Watch your back.

      2. Lab Boss*

        Sounds to me like he’s playing a dangerous game of chicken, then. He’s probably aware that very specialized people are very hard to replace and therefore have power at work regardless of where they fall on the official org chart. So the quickest way to make sure you aren’t too powerful is to destabilize you. Assuming he truly believes that mental health issues = weakness, it would make sense that he thinks you’ll be easy to browbeat into submission so you don’t feel like you have power in your relationship with him. Based on your letter and your responses in the comments it seems like you’re not letting his plan work, which is a great move on your part :)

  11. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    This sounds like something my old boss would definitely do. Please 1) document everything, 2) go to HR if you think you can, 3) consider chatting with an employment lawyer about everything going on to see what advice they have for you. The whole situation sounds horrible and bananapants and I am sure that it is taking a huge mental and emotional toll on you–none of that is okay!

    1. RunShaker*

      +1000 totally agree. document, document, document. Note time, date, what was said & if anyone was around to possible hear or see you being pulled into his office. Also, file for FMLA!

    2. Curious*

      I would definitely change the order here. Given the threats — both explicit and implied — this new boss is making to your employment, and his sketchy behavior around things that may or may not be illegal, you should consult an employment lawyer *in your jurisdiction.* They can advise you of what rights you have — and what the limits of your rights are. They can advise you of how you should approach this with HR, or whoever else. Given that your job is at stake, it will be worth paying for this consultation.
      This is a case where listening to well-meaning commenters, even those who are lawyers, can lead you astray. You need an employment lawyer with expertise in *your jurisdiction* (state. Province, etc.)

  12. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

    This is horrible. Document everything your boss does disparaging mental illness. Good luck. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation.

  13. Colorado*

    I’d tell him you ran a background check on him because you want to know who you’re working for. He sounds like a complete asshole. Best of luck and keep us updated!

    1. Jaime Rullan*

      I’m presently contacting fellow employees concerning his background checks.
      I think his big problem is that he can’t fire me or move me. My vocation is very specialized, and no matter who I work with, I never tell them everything.
      I do have a much better relationship with my fellow employees. Most respect me, and come to me first for advise.

  14. Meg*

    In addition to all the good advice here, I would stop telling your boss that you’re taking mental health days. Don’t give him anything else to potentially use against you. When I take mental health days I just tell my boss I’m not feeling well and will be out sick. Since covid I sometimes add that it’s not covid (hey boss, I’m not feeling well (not covid) and will be out sick today). It’s a legitimate use of a sick day regardless of what I call it.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Right. DO NOT SPECIFY mental health day. Claim it’s raging diarrhea, if you have to.

    2. Wendy City*

      This this this.

      If he’s a jerk and presses, which he probably will because bully bosses are predictable, I’m a big fan of “stomach trouble” as a catch-all ailment for when I need to be home and take care of my brain. If he continues to press, which he probably will because, again, bully bosses are predictable, just get more and more specific. Food poisoning. Unable to leave the bathroom for more than 5 minutes at a time. Comin’ out both ends, boss. Etc. etc.

    3. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

      YES. As a person who occasionally gets migraines, I strongly encourage you to lie and say you have a migraine. That way you can truthfully say it’s nothing contagious. Your terrible boss may also believe migraines are weak or whatever but I think it’s worth trying. I’m all for more people being open about mental health but you have to protect your own mental health first.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        “You’re taking a day off for a headache? For shame.”

        But with people like this there’s really nothing that they’ll think is legit. This guy would probably send you work to your hospital bed.

        1. quill*

          And by doing so he would be part of an illustrious history of bosses who snagged their “worst boss of (year)” nomination that way.

      2. LCH*

        i’m also a fan of using migraine when i’m really home due to insomnia. migraines are more unpredictable and common than sudden puking. too many days out puking doesn’t seem likely and may possibly be suspected as a drinking problem.
        but you shouldn’t have to provide any reason if you have the sick time to use.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, please stop telling him it’s mental health days. Others offer good ideas, I’d like to add “touch of food poisoning”. And sometimes I can get a head full of congestion, it seems like a cold. Matter of fact it can take me a good part of the day to realize that, no, it’s just heavy allergy. So there is that.

      I worked in a place where I definitely could not say I needed a MH day. And it was human service, go figure.

      I know first hand lying like that bothered me. And it was just one more piece of proof that I needed a different job. I suspect this is the road you’re on, OP.

      1. Ama*

        Eh, I think it’s only really lying if they have a right to know. It’s easy to get hung up on the idea that lying, for any reason, is wrong (I also struggle with this), but if you break it down, I think it’s no more immoral than giving a fake diamond necklace to someone robbing you and telling them it’s real so they leave you alone.

        1. Mollie*

          I also struggle with lying. I’ve used versions of the truth:
          I’m under the weather today.
          I need to take a sick/personal day today.
          I’m ok, but need to take a sick day today.
          I’ll be out sick today.

          I try to keep it really general. Follow up for the inevitable question is some version of what I’ve seen Alison write here (also vague):
          Thanks for checking- nothing to worry about!
          Nothing a little rest won’t heal!
          Thanks for asking- I’m in good hands and will see you tomorrow.

  15. Goddess47*

    If some of that sounds intimidating (i.e. finding a lawyer, using FMLA, etc), I’m going to guess that your company might have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Like HR, some will be better than others, but helping you with those things is their *job*.

    The intake may feel intrusive, esp if you’re having a bad day, but it’s something worth checking out. Any help you can get is worth getting!

    You’re not wrong here. Hang in and good luck. We’re rooting for you.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Also, as for any EAP I’ve dealt with, it is completely confidential. So it shouldn’t get back to your boss

    2. SomebodyElse*

      Agreed except for the EAP helping to find a lawyer. I was told by mine that they wouldn’t do employment lawyer referrals when I was looking for one for my spouse (and his job). I have no idea if this is common or unique to my EAP. A good place to try is your state’s bar association website. A lot of lawyers will do free consultations.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        My state bar association has an online matching service. If you use it to find a lawyer, your first 30 min consultation is a flat $50 fee. Which isn’t free but is low for legal fees. You put in your county and area of law and they find you options. I’ve used it and know others who have as well. (State is NC)

      2. AM*

        My EAP has legal advisory services but also can’t help with employment-related issues. I think it’s a conflict of interest since the employer pays for the EAP, which means they’d be funding your lawyer in a case against themselves.

    3. Delta Delta*

      I’d skip the EAP for finding a lawyer.

      I’m a lawyer. I recently started getting totally random calls from some EAP that declares itself “desperate” to find lawyers to connect to people. The EAP legal service companies pay pennies (like, less than a third of many lawyers’ regular rates). They promise they have lawyers available for people. They don’t, and then they have to scramble. this leaves EAP beneficiaries frustrated – unfair all around.

      Call your state bar association, which should have a lawyer referral service. Often the first half hour is free or a discounted rate.

  16. Evonon*

    I always think nothing more can surprise me when I log onto his website. But here we are.

    OP get a lawyer yesterday and start documenting your interactions with this horse’s ass. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s calling you into his office to “chat”/ make these awful comments versus emailing you. This is red flag city you are not the odd duck this weirdo is. I hope you have good hr but more importantly I hope you have good coworkers who will vouch for you

    1. Gnome*

      Oh, good point. Since he’s doing this verbally, there’s no record. Make a record!

      Email something like:
      Subject: notes from meeting
      Here are my takeaways from the meeting we just had. My use of sick leave for tomorrow is approved as a mental health day. However, you said my mental get issues are “weak” and I use more sick leave than anyone else on the team. Did I leave anything out?

      If that’s too direct for you, email it only to yourself at an outside account. Regardless, email it to yourself (BCC) at an outside account so you always have a record.

      Also, you may want to gently challenge him in the moment. E.g. You say I’m out more than everyone else, is this causing problems, because I’d like to know if it is so I can take steps to fix it?

      That way, you can reference a negative reply in your notes OR if there is a problem he thinks he sees, you’ll get to actually know about it… And document that as well.

      1. JM in England*

        Also, if the OP lives in a one-party state, they should try to get a recording of the boss saying his opinions on those with mental health issues.

      2. Evelyn Carnahan*

        Yep, I’ve been in a situation where I needed to document a LOT. I made my notes in a Google Doc where you can see the edit history, but emailing yourself is good too. OP, I would consider checking your state’s laws around recording (assuming you’re in the US). If you’re in a one part consent state, you may be able to record in person conversations without telling your boss.

      3. Artemesia*

        In that note confirming the conversation add
        ‘additionally you indicated that you had done a private background check on me and discovered a legal problem I had 30 years ago (as a juvenile if that part is true). I am not sure how that relates to my current work but you seemed to think it was important.’

        Get it all on record and make sure you have copies of anything you need from your computer before engaging in any of this — or just generally since it looks like he is trying to plan to fire you. Copies at home.

          1. Lab Boss*

            That’s a good way to trick the boss into confirming that he DID get a check run as well. If he’s devious at all, I can see him refusing to engage if OP sends e-mails like are suggested above. Then the “documentation” is still just the OP’s statements that the bad things happened, without corroboration from the boss. If OP requests a copy of the report I can definitely see the boss sending a refusal or deflection, confirming the report DOES exist.

      4. Salymander*

        Seconding sending email about these discussions.

        I used this very technique just recently, and it worked beautifully. I was sexually assaulted, and experiencing some retaliation and hostility from the organization that my attacker and I both volunteered with. The supervisor of my particular program resisted terminating my attacker until I used this email technique to document her inappropriate words and cc’d her boss. The attacker was then expelled from the program. Then, this same supervisor tried to push me out of the program and I once again used the email technique to document her words and cc’d her boss. I also took the letters and emails the supervisor sent to me and forwarded them to her boss. Then, I wrote a number of letters to the boss about it and made it very clear in the most professional yet assertive language I could muster that I wasn’t going to be pushed out without a fight.

        Documenting everything and using emails to reiterate what was said in conversations gave me a lot more power in this situation than I might have had otherwise. The attacker has now been investigated by police and they referred the case on to the DA. The retaliating supervisor has been demoted to being a part time receptionist with no power to supervise anyone. The program I volunteer with now has a supervisor who actually understands the work we do and is helpful and supportive. This really does work. The boss started out being vaguely friendly and giving me meaningless words about how he was sorry and how life is difficult. Once I started documenting and using email this way, the boss actually started trying to help.

        1. Airkewl Pwaroe*

          THIS. The power of the written record!

          (Or to quote the inimitable Terry Pratchett: “‘They think written words are even more powerful,’ whispered the toad. ‘They think all writing is magic. Words worry them. See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers.'”)

          1. Jaime Rullan*

            His last threat, I came back with both barrels. I don’t think he knew what hit him, but I did mention many of the things I’ve brought up here. He never responded.
            And inevitably I’m slowly remembering more instances.

  17. LKW*

    Agree with those noting that all you need to do is call in sick – you really shouldn’t have to describe your symptoms. However, if you must then things that come and go without warning include: Migraines, Vertigo, and upset stomach – or as I phrased in a work email many years ago “I’m going home. My lunch and I are going through some issues and have decided to part unexpectedly. I should be back tomorrow.”

    And I also second calling an employment lawyer, that background check is creepy as hell.

  18. Salad Daisy*

    HR is not there to help you. They exist to make sure the company does not get sued. Unless they see this as a situation where you may sue your employer, they are not likely to do anything.

    1. Wisteria*

      This all sounds like potentially sue-able stuff, so talking to HR is a good route to take (with the caveat that it depends on HR being competent enough to realize the liability that the manager is opening up).

    2. Jora Malli*

      If OP’s HR is bad, then yeah, you might be right. But a good HR department would recognize this supervisor for the legal liability he is and take appropriate steps.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, part of protecting the company from being sued is realizing “wow, this guy’s a petty tyrant and if he’s going to do this to one person there’s no guarantee he won’t do it to enough that it’s going to cost us lawsuit time and money.”

        1. Salymander*

          Exactly. If HR is competent, they will see the danger he poses to the company.

          Even if HR is not competent, documenting everything and following up all conversations with email of what was discussed will probably give HR a push to deal with the tyrant, and ammunition with which to do it.

      2. Rolly*

        “Unless they see this as a situation where you may sue your employer, they are not likely to do anything.”

        Good HR companies don’t try to protect dysfuncational employees who are helping hurt the company’s bottom line (in staff retention or output or other ways)

    3. FormerInternalRecruiter*

      I know this website has a very negative view of HR (as as someone who works in HR, though not in employee relations, thats sad to see) but any decent HR person should realize that this is a huge legal liability and step in.

      When I worked in recruitment, we did background check through a third party company. The hiring manager never saw the results of those checks, they were kept confidential. We would only inform the manager if something was flagged that prevented us from hiring the individual.

        1. Trawna*

          Yes, but that makes it wise to approach situations in the way HR cares about, which can often get you what you need: “HR, there’s a situation you need to be aware of [insert highlights]. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I’ll leave this with you.”

      1. Goldenrod*

        I wish I had ever had a single experience with HR, at any of my many jobs, that would change my view! There are some good individuals here and there, but overall, HR never helped with anything.

        I had a chance to be proven wrong when I worked as the executive assistant to the President of HR at my company. But man, was that a nest of vipers! They were way more evil than I ever imagined.

    4. BA*

      This definitely seems like they’d want to be aware then… It is likely illegal that the supervisor ran the background check, and if an employee with 17 years of tenure with the company is being told they’re “weak” for legitimate medical conditions, they’re certainly inching ever closer to lawsuit territory.

      1. Alldogsarepuppies*

        Public records are public meaning anyone can look it up. It may be against policy but it’s not against the law.

        1. Autumnheart*

          It might not be against the law to run a background check on someone, but it may very well be against the law to use that information in a work environment, such that it detrimentally affects the employee’s ability to do their job.

          1. Everything Bagel*

            Also, boss may have used LW’s personal info to get his record, info he would have got from work files.

        2. Accountant*

          I don’t think you have enough information to say that with any confidence, it’s going to depend highly on the state and what, if any, internal info or resources he used.

    5. BuildMeUp*

      Alison literally mentions legal liability and that this may be creating a hostile work environment in her advice. It is a situation where the OP could potentially sue their employer.

    6. Reluctant Manager*

      True… but HR probably doesn’t want supervisors going around looking for things they’ve “missed” and creating shadow personnel files, either. Even in a crappy HR situation, I think most HR departments believe that staff background checking and health issues are their purview alone.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      Buckets of what this boss has done is a huge legal liability to the company and HR should want to stop it to ensure the company does not get sued. If they know this and are not concerned – whether OP intends to or not – they’re not even a functional HR dept as you’ve defined it. In this case helping OP is in the company’s best interests. AAM’s response laid that out pretty clearly.

  19. Redhead*

    I run background checks at my office and I can say that a random background check after 17 years and without your permission is 100% against the law in the state I live. If they used online public records that are free and anyone can access, that’s a gray area. This guy needs reined in by HR. I hope you have a good one.

  20. Essentially Cheesy*

    Even of new manager’s “background check” included simply looking up public local/state circuit court records – people need to realize that something like that can backfire too. If you’re not careful to verify an identity – you could falsely accuse someone of having a “checkered” past!

    In my own state, there is someone with a small claims court case from 2005. They the same name as me , but live in a totally different part of the state. If a manager doesn’t know me well (and know that I have never lived across the state), they could very incorrectly accuse me of being financially irresponsible. That could be very damaging to someone’s career!

    In fact – while my last name is rather uncommon – there are at least four of us in my home state (based on my driver’s license number anyway – there is a way to decipher that). So it could affect (at least) four people. Can’t imagine what a headache a common name would be.

    1. Higher Ed*

      A relative almost lost out on a job due to information in the background check about someone else with the same name and other similarities.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        “A relative almost lost out on a job due to information in the background check about someone else with the same name and other similarities.”

        Which is why the FCRA includes steps that candidates can take to dispute the background check. Employers have to then consider the updated information.

        This whole scenario the OP posted is ringing more bells than a cuckoo clock store at noon.

    2. Dinwar*

      “If you’re not careful to verify an identity – you could falsely accuse someone of having a “checkered” past!”

      This happened to me. When I got engaged to my wife and bought the ring they ran a background check on my father instead of me. I hadn’t told them I was getting engaged, and they had something set up where my parents were notified when someone ran a credit check on them. It was not the most enjoyable conversation I’d had with my mother!

      There’s also apparently a doctor with my same last name and the same first initial of our first name. I get notifications all the time about how he’s published a new paper and “Is this you?” Nope, I don’t deal with squishy biology, thanks!

      I’ve got a fairly uncommon last name, to the point where most people don’t even know how to pronounce it. If this happens to me, the odds of it happening to someone with an even slightly common last name are pretty freaking high.

    3. Julia*

      I worked for someone who was very particular about using a middle initial because his father had a criminal record that included sexual assault of a minor. Many of his father’s crimes were in a state where he lived.

    4. As per Elaine*

      I have a very common last name. My father has a common first name (and the same last name). Back in landline days, he would get upwards of a call a week from bill collectors, insurance adjusters, etc. trying to find “Robert Brown.” If someone used public records to do a background check on him, I bet there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day for him to feasibly do all the things that would come up!

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        My father had a NOT hugely common name, but there was another one in the local phone book (different middle initial). The “other one” was younger and a bit of a playboy, shall we say? A few late night phone calls were met with “you must be looking for the younger guy. Yeah. The sexy-sounding-career one.”. The two men actually did meet a few times in passing, I understand that not-Dad was always apologetic, especially to my Mom, for the fairly frequent phone calls.

      2. JustaTech*

        This happened my friend’s sister: a bill collector was looking for Susie S Jones, found Susie L Jones in the phonebook (this was back in the day), decided “close enough” and put in the info of a 15 year old in the case file of a 40 year old with terrible credit.

        It took her family *years* to get everything cleared up.

    5. Rana*

      Sometimes a more common name is actually a benefit – people are much more likely to at least consider the possibility that there is more than one “John Smith” than if you have an uncommon name. Not everyone though, as PP demonstrates!

    6. Tau*

      My dad still talks about the time he had a doppelganger who was apparently in trouble with the law. (Possibly one with his birthdate, too?) All the threatening letters he’d get that were meant for the *other* TauDad. Up until one early morning someone rang the doorbell, he opened it and immediately a man on the other side stuck his foot in the door: “I’m the bailiff!”

      He says it was probably the first time that guy saw someone burst into laughter after that intro.

      In the end he went to the citizen registration office (this is Germany, btw) hoping there was some way to get it straightened out. “Um, this is a little awkward and I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done, but I seem to have a doppelganger and it’s getting a little annoying-”

      “Oh, you must be the TauDad who lives on Insertnamehere Street!”

      Apparently the constant mixups had made him famous in local bureaucracy :’D

  21. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Consult a lawyer. Document everything. Personally, I’d even follow up with a summary email about that meeting mentioning the things he said to you, and asking him to verify that your attendance is worse than anyone else’s. Either he responds or not, but you’ve documented what he said to him, which would be odd if you were making up his statements. I’d also send a followup/summary email to him after every single meeting.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Even if OP’s attendance is worse than anyone else’s on the team, is OP using more than their earned PTO? I mean someone on the team has to use the most PTO, but that shouldn’t matter, since PTO is there to be used. I’m the person on my team who hardly ever gets sick, but it sure would suck if my manager were to hypothetically browbeat my colleagues with “You’re sick way more than others on the team”. (Which luckily my real manager would never do.)

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Yes, but if the manager actually replies with that sort of information, it confirms that part of the conversation actually occurred. This will give OP more credibility for their claims about the conversation and hostile comments. That’s all I meant by that. This boss sounds idiotic enough that he might actually confirm the reported conversation in writing.

  22. Thomas Merton*

    I would start throwing up on his desk every time he calls you in to talk about the mental health day you’ve just taken.

  23. Emilia*

    This sounds to me like a subtle blackmail attempt by your boss. My guess is he wants to use this knowledge to intimidate you into quitting because he’s unhappy with low attendance (or he just thinks OP is “weak” and wants to replace OP with someone healthier).
    He is probably aware that he cannot fire OP based on attendance if it’s ADA-related, but since paid background checks are legal, he might believe it’s fine for him to us that to hang over OP’s head and pressure them into leaving. HR needs to talk to this boss and explain that no, actually, stalking and blackmailing your employees is not ok.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Sad that people do this, but it’s often true.
      But if he used the company system to obtain the background check without permission he might be the one in trouble.

  24. Seriously?*

    Can’t you just lie about why you need time off? Don’t call it a mental health day. Just be sick or have an appointment. And fingers crossed it’s a good HR!

  25. Just Me2*

    I worked for a major defense contractor that “laid off” everyone at my location who took FMLA that year. One employee was using worker’s comp for an accident (100% the company’s fault) that occurred at an all hands meeting, and she was let go. I’m sure it was all legal.

  26. staceyizme*

    I really don’t know if this is reasonable, but in your shoes, I’d be very tempted to assemble and then take all of the documentation and corroboration that I could find and lawyer up with a view towards negotiating a reasonable severance and future reference and then I’d get the unholy heck out of Dodge.

  27. Kaboom*

    Depending on the database, he may have needed signed authorization from you (that he forged) to run this. Or he accessed your social security number or address from HR records. It may have lead to a hit on your credit if a credit check was run. I personally would demand he be fired immediately, myself. This is way too far.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      You can check your credit history to see whether that was part of his background check. There are laws regulating the use of credit bureau checks for employment purposes.

  28. Sparkles McFadden*

    I would seek out the advice of an employment attorney. Contacting an attorney doesn’t mean you’re going to take action. It’s just getting an outside opinion from a professional. Going to HR and being able to say “My manager told me he did a background check on me and I am concerned he’s using his access to everyone’s sensitive information to do this. I spoke with an attorney and the attorney said…” is more likely to get someone to take this seriously. Remember that HR is not your friend. HR exists to keep the company from getting sued. I’d say focus on the possible misuse of SSNs and your manager’s actions in that area.It’s less nebulous, and, sadly, HR will have less of a bias around this than the manager’s horrid comments regarding mental health issues…but that’s a question for the employment attorney.

    My concern here is that you are already suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety, so taking this on without checking with an attorney would be far too stressful. Doing nothing is also going to be stressful. I wish you luck, and yes…look into intermittent FMLA.

  29. Wildcat*

    This is absolutely horrifying. I’d definitely consider talking to an attorney. I’d also maybe start job hunting.

  30. 867-5309*

    What is holy …. did I just read? He did is OWN background check. On a TENURED employee.

    I can’t think of a company I’ve worked for where that person wouldn’t be fired or at least demoted.

    Good luck, OP. Sorry you’re dealing with this and do check back in to let us know how you’re doing.

  31. JM in England*

    Here in the UK, convictions are considered “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act after a certain time period (I think it’s about 10 years) following the sentence being served and thus don’t show on public record searches. I have filled out criminal record declarations on job applications in the past and the form said not to include “spent” convictions.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Question! Honest question! (Brought on my your use of “convictions”)

      Does “arrest” imply “conviction” anywhere? To me (USofA) it *doesn’t*, but now I’m curious if it does.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        No, it doesn’t.

        Even in law enforcement employment, the mere fact of an arrest is not disqualifying. The bar for arrest is very low relative to the standard for conviction.

        Even for a security clearance, an arrest isn’t disqualifying, although lying about it could (understandably) be.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s from a law enforcement perspective. If we were somehow able to poll the people who are avid readers of small town newspaper police blotter columns, their answers might be a little different.

      2. Peter*

        It depends on the reason for the background check.

        If working with children or vulnerable adults there are records (particularly those gathered by the Scout Association) which would flag up allegations of abuse, arrests and withdrawals of jobs/volunteering roles as well as convictions. If the check is done by a group authorised under this part there is no time limit either.

        However, as JM says, more basic checks are looking only at convictions within a certain period and after becoming an adult.

    2. Bagpuss*

      The period for a conviction to become ‘spent’ varies, it’s linked to the original sentence and the age of the person at the time they committed the offence.
      Some offences never become spent – if the original sentence was for 4 years imprisonment or longer it won’t ever be spent.
      And spent convictions still have to be disclosed for certain types of work (lawyers, people working with children, doctors etc)
      A friend of mine who was a mature student had to have a formal interview with the Law Society and get explicit authority to be admitted, because of a very minor offence 12 years earlier- it was something that was dealt with by a small fine at the time and would have been spent almost immediately

      1. londonedit*

        Is it even possible for people to do these kinds of ‘background checks’ in the UK without consent? Obviously if someone is working with children or vulnerable adults then they have to do a DBS check for every job, but the person fills that out themselves, don’t they? (I have a coaching qualification and have to fill out a new DBS form every couple of years). The idea of background checks is completely alien to me in my working life (you give the names of referees, of course, but this whole combing through someone’s job history etc is unheard of) but could someone really decide to ‘run a background check’ on me without my knowledge?

        1. A nice fish*

          Bit random, but if you’re having to pay for DBS checks every couple of years, they have a system now called the Update Service where you pay £13ish a year and it keeps your search automatically active, and then employers etc can just query it any time either for free or at an extremely reduced cost :)

  32. Llellayena*

    So this idiot is the LW’s boss, but not the top boss? Is that right? Who’s above this guy and in the 17 years LW has been here, how good a relationship do they have with THAT guy? Because I’d want to know that the person I just promoted in a management position is this far off the rails…

  33. Meghan*

    This is the time where I HOPE OP has a functional HR department. Because I’d love for the idiot to get the book thrown at him.

  34. Dinwar*

    I think there are a few issues here.

    First, the background check. You don’t say what your career is in, or where you work. In the right conditions I can see what he did being a bad way to address a reasonable issue. For example: We had a heavy equipment operator–a really good one–thrown off site because he had a felony in his background. It was a drug charge in high school, he did what the court ordered him to do, and cleaned up his life. You know, the things any civilized justice system is supposed to do (I am strongly against the War on Drugs, but that’s neither here nor there). Because he had a felony 20+ years ago, though, he wasn’t allowed on the site. Since then I’ve given subcontractors a gentle warning that this can happen.

    That your manager didn’t follow industry standards is a bigger issue to my mind. It’s his job to ensure those standards, policies, and the like are met. Having someone egregiously violate them in one area is a huge red flag. If you’re doing this in one area you are almost certainly doing it in other areas. I’ve never seen an audit where someone violated one major policy–if you violate one, you violate a lot.

    That he proceeded to act on this information is even worse. I have access to sensitive information on people, but was told when I started this role “If you ever say anything to anyone about this you’re through here.” To hold it against someone is rather wildly unprofessional, ample justification to refuse to work with someone and ample justification to go HR if HR is any good. Again, it raises the question, where else is he doing this?

    That he is berating you for poor attendance when it’s a known medical issue, and he has approved the absence, is simply beyond the pail. This is failing to make reasonable accommodations, and is flat-out textbook bullying.

    This guy should never have become a manager. He should never have become a team leader, or anything where he has people working under him.

    If you want to continue working for him follow Alison’s script. Personally? I’d run, and try to torpedo his career as I left.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t think there is ever a reasonable reason to run a background check on an employee who has been working for you for 17 years. They are not uncommon for new hires, but “your boss just got promoted” is not a reason to run a new check.

  35. WFH with Cat*

    Gotta say, I think we have contender for Worst Boss of 2022.

    OP, I wish you the best of luck navigating your situation and getting the healthcare you need, and that you’ll be able to update us soon with some good news!

      1. irene adler*

        *the* contender.
        Cuz I suspect as time goes on, this boss is going to do a lot more ugly.

  36. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Don’t you usually have to consent for a background check? As in, a real on where your Social Security number and/or driver’s license is used.

    A juvenile arrest is not commonly published without having this additional private identification. Which means this manager may have violated or circumvented some consent norms or even law. Which is super icky. And yeah, it is being used against you.

    1. 867-5309*

      There are number of online background sites that just pull using first name, last name and state. They are notoriously unreliable and often pull in information for the wrong people.

      (Separately, I recommend people pay for those things one time just to see how much information is out there about them publicly and available for anyone to access. I use a service that annually removes me from such sites as a privacy measure.)

      1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        That’s where I’m confused. Unless OPs arrest was very public (newspaper and media coverage), it seems odd he’d find that from 30 years ago without additional identifying information. But maybe it was? IDK

        1. quill*

          OP could live in florida, where IIRC the sunshine laws about arrest records have been around for at least half a century.

      2. Pikachu*

        What service do you use? I randomly google myself and put in requests from data aggregator sites, but it’s cumbersome.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Yes consent is required, for reputable background check companies. The consent form usually includes a statement that you have the right to dispute any findings and have misinformation corrected, and specifies what info will/won’t be released to the employer. I suspect that Boss used an online site that you have to pay a fee to release whatever the mass search engine pulled up.

  37. Too many hats for this salary*

    Wow, so first off…holy data protection, Batman!

    But even if we ignore the completely unethical (and possibly illegal) use of employee information to conduct a background check (neither informed of nor consented to!!) those comments on mental health – wowza with a splash of yikes!

  38. Name (Required)*

    DON’T tell him you need a mental health day – that level of detail is none of his business. It’s just a sick day – call it that.

  39. Dasein9*

    Possibly an aside, possibly relevant: most places I’ve worked offer more PTO with longer tenure. Where I am now, for instance, offers 2 full days off per month after 5 years instead of the 1.5 days per month we get when we start.

    So OP “taking more time than anyone else,” with 17 years at this employer might be . . . OP accepting their compensation? Good grief, what’s next? The supervisor complaining that OP has a salary that reflects 17 years’ worth of raises, too?

  40. CA HR Dude*

    Not sure if anyone mentioned this, but any background check performed by a company needs to follow particular rules, particularly the Fair Credit Reporting Act or state-based laws like the Fair Chance Act in CA. Even if he used one of those databases that looks up publicly accessible information, that still constitutes a background check.

  41. Kacihall*

    This probably violates FCRA regulations, which are federal laws. (Assuming this is in the US). I process background checks for other companies and schools and there are boatloads of limitations that apply to employment background checks. Starting off with a signed authorization form from you.

    I have no good advice but it definitely violates portions of the regulation.

  42. Cube Ninja*

    Accidentally posted this as a response instead of new.

    Virtually every state has laws which require both direct consent as well as the option to receive copies of background checks completed for the purpose of employment.

    I’m going to echo others who have suggested contacting an attorney – this is *VERY* important, because at a minimum, there’s an argument to be made that your manager violated not one, but likely several laws in conducting a background check.

    IANAL, IANYL, but please, please seek employment counsel on this. It’s a *huge* overstep.

  43. LegaltyBeaglety*

    If you are in a location with a Law School, check and see if they have a community program. Most law schools have a program where you can get some legal consultation from 2L’s and 3L’s under the supervision of their faculty. Definitely get some legal advice. And consider looking for a new position, either within the company or a new company.

  44. WildChild*

    FWIW, the OP should also consider not calling mental health days, mental health days. It’s hard without the details, but I’m interpreting that that is happening, and I wouldn’t be offering that information to someone who is going to punish you for it. If I need a mental health day, I usually just say I am unable to come in.

  45. His Grace*

    This guy sounds like he has absolutely no business being in a supervisory position (and that says a lot considering all the bad bosses we’ve read about here over the years). How does someone like this become promoted? What was your relationship with him like beforehand?

    Call HR. Now. If you live near a major city, chances are there’s a law school nearby. See if there’s an employment or labor law clinic. And most important, document every interaction with your boss from now on.

  46. Sylvia*

    You must be working for my old boss. :( I had a similar situation years ago and I was young enough that it didn’t even occur to me to go to HR. My boss told me that he had been Googling me and found something that looked really bad. Even though what he “had” on me wasn’t anything a normal person would care about, I didn’t like him holding it over my head. So I went to my boss’s boss and told him what the very minor thing was and that it never occurred to me that it would be harmful to the company, otherwise I would’ve disclosed it to them immediately–while nonchalantly letting it slip that my boss had been Googling me and threatened to expose me. My boss’s boss just rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah…he reacts to change in very strange ways. I’ll assign you to another manager. I’m sorry that you had to go through this.” About a week later, the HR manager came up to me in the hall and said, “Let me know if something like this ever happens again.” They kept him on, but he wasn’t allowed to supervise anyone after that.

    While I think the FMLA is the more important issue here, if it’s bothering you that your boss is holding this over your head, could you talk to their boss or HR under the guise of transparency? Such as “I’m pretty sure that I disclosed my background when I was hired, but I want to make sure that you know this about me.” And of course, let it be known that your boss disclosed that he did a background check on you, all the while expressing surprise that he didn’t already know about it from your personnel file. Then he will no longer have anything to hold over your head.

    This whole situation is concerning, but the one thing that I wonder about is did he take your social security number and birth date from your personnel file to do this background check? I’ve never used one of those services, but I imagine they want you to fill in as much information as you know, and he would have access to quite a bit.

    1. Christina*

      I run them – I own a small consulting company and some of our clients require background checks. The firm I use doesn’t require a SSN from me – they send the consultant the email and get all the identifying information from them – and send them a copy. Also, none of my client companies want the background check – that’s a problem waiting to happen – they just want me to attest that there aren’t any felonies on record and they don’t show up on a terrorist watch list.

  47. Lobsterman*

    Gonna say the standard thing:
    LW, the job market is good; please consider starting a search.

  48. TweedleDee*

    I’m hoping we get an update to this one.

    I would be contacting a lawyer, checking and freezing my credit, making HR and his boss aware, and taking a look at the job market.

    This boss let the power go straight to his head. Last time I ran a background check on myself I needed my unmarried name, date of birth, ssn, and a driver’s license or passport number. How far into the HR file did he go?

  49. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’ve got schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, epilepsy, OCD and encountered several bosses like yours who think mental illness is either a) laziness or b) makes you not safe to work with.

    I can’t advise on legal stuff (am in the UK) but with regards the sick days/emergency therapy calls it might be a good idea to not tell the boss it’s anything related to mental health. Call it a stomach upset, or that your backside is doing an impression of a blender with the lid off…whatever works.

      1. Christina*

        If they are male and otherwise respectful of women – “female issues” is a good go to assuming you have female parts. No one pries about PMS and uterine fibroids….. If they are not respectful of women in the workplace to start with, then if pressed “need to stay close to the bathroom” today is usually illustrative.

  50. Library Lady*

    If you’re only using the sick time you’ve accrued, could you stop giving reasons for your sick days? Could you just say that you’re sick/not feeling well? If your boss requires more information could you claim a headache to avoid the harassment for a mental health day?

  51. Homer in the hedge*

    I wouldn’t have high hopes of help from a grandboss or HR department who promoted an asshat like this.

  52. LittleMarshmallow*

    Maybe my own company has me biased, but illegal or not this would violate our company’s policies around data privacy for sure (they make us take that training annually) and would be grounds for immediate dismissal.

    LW says they work for a large organization. That may be to their advantage since large orgs often have very specific policies that would prohibit this sort of thing whether it was technically legal or not.

    Like many other commenters I would give HR one chance and then consult employment lawyer.

  53. Retired (but not really)*

    My immediate thought was that in addition to being a raging jerk, he is actively trying to make her mad enough to quit. And maybe also thinking it’s time for her to retire before they have to “give” her what she would be due upon retirement if 20 years is the default and she’s at 17 years. Easy to come up with theories, whether applicable or not…

  54. Alice*

    Talk to a lawyer, then talk to HR.

    Even if you don’t want to sue (you very well might not want to!) just saying you talked to a lawyer ought to light a fire under their butts. The one time I had to do so was with a horrible temp job that tried to stiff me on my last paycheck, at the first mention of “lawyer advises this is illegal because X” they immediately backtracked and paid me in full. I have no advice on how to find the lawyer (I’m in Europe, I went through a worker union for a free consultation) but hopefully in the comments you have some advice that can help.

    Best wishes! Your boss sucks and I hope you’ll have a positive update soon.

  55. Avril Ludgateau*

    Some states in the US – not many, but some – have additional protections regarding background checks for criminal history. However, I think these protections may only last from the application stage to the offer stage, and not beyond. Alison, do you know anything about these, and if they could help OP?

    I will post in a follow-up comment but there is a national registry of employment lawyers through the NELA* (National Employment Lawyers Association), a voluntary fee-membership professional association in the industry (so presumably the list would filter out the lawyers who are not actively invested in employment disputes). I’m not saying OP should sue but it’s a great resource for everybody to have on hand in the event you face a verifiable incident of employment discrimination, or violations such as illegally withheld wages, overtime abuse, contract disputes, mandatory arbitration, and more.

    *I am not affiliated with NELA and make no guarantees as to the quality of any individual practitioner.

  56. Jessica Fletcher*

    I would stop telling the boss you need to take a mental health day. Just say you need to take sick time or a medical issue is flaring up. This is not a person who’s safe to tell anything about your mental health.

    It sounds like he’s trying to create more mental stress for you, to drive you to quit.

Comments are closed.