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

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose ex-boss wanted her to pay a phone bill for months she didn’t work there? Here’s the update.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly eight months since I wrote that letter. And what an eight months it has been – especially for the ex-boss!

Fortunately, blocking her seemed to do the trick, and I haven’t heard another word about her insane request for me to pay two months of HER cell phone bill. Of course, I have blocked her everywhere imaginable, but I also assume someone finally convinced her she had no leg to stand on. But I also found out that MONEY (or lack thereof) may have been the reason she was pushing me to pay the bill.

I decided to reach out to the two former employees that I mentioned had left to start their own business right before I was hired. And boy, did I get a LOT of info. We had shockingly similar stories about the level of crazy with the ex-boss, and that was helpful to me in recovering from the toxicity and guilt about what happened after I left (and yes, I did seek therapy about it!) I know a lot of people thought I was nuts for staying for two years, but these two guys? One was there for ten years and the other for 12!!

Most interestingly, I found out they had offered to buy the business from her when they left. They offered her a very fair price, and the clients would have transferred to their new company (given they were doing all the work for them anyway, it made total sense). The ex-boss was pushing 65, so it was reasonable she might want to retire. Per her usual MO, she reacted with emotion instead of thinking it through, got completely offended and fired them on the spot. Within a few hours, she re-hired them knowing she needed them to stay out their final weeks so she could get her act together (which included hiring me). When they eventually left, three clients decided to go with them to their new business. Over the course of the two years I worked there, two more got fed up and left for their company as well. They then had five of the original client list.

Fast forward to a month after I quit. What I was sure would happen had happened. On the day I left, the company still had 12 clients. Just four weeks later, they were down to THREE. Two of the 12 left as soon as they heard I had quit. Six more left within a month and went to the company of the two former employees – the same employees who had tried to buy her out. The ex-boss could have been paid and retired peacefully. Instead, she let her pride prevail, and two years later, she had lost 11 clients to their company anyway – and they didn’t have to pay her a dime. She’s apparently had to get temp jobs because she isn’t making enough to live on with just three clients. It’s honestly sad.

The only thing I’ve heard from her (sort of?) was about a month ago. She mailed our company a box of cookies with a note wishing us “well in your future endeavors.” First of all, WEIRD given there’s no longer any association between our two companies, but even MORE weird – our employees work remotely, and she knows that. How was it supposed to work with this box of cookies? Were we supposed to mail each employee a cookie? My boss ended up giving them to her partner. A couple of weeks later, ex-boss texted my boss to ask if she had gotten the cookies. Since my boss didn’t immediately text to GUSH with appreciation over a random box of cookies, ex-boss apparently assumed I hadn’t let anyone know they were received (because I’m a terrible person).

There are truly hundreds of crazy stories I need to write down from my time there. I once mentioned I’d never been to New York. Ex-boss suddenly decided we were going TOGETHER for a weekend (at the height of the pandemic, might I add), that she was paying for it and we would be staying with some friend of hers that I didn’t even know. I declined the offer (multiple times). She said she understood but called me a week later to rant how upset and hurt she was that “you don’t want to go to New York with me!!!” Or the time I went to her house to help her fix a computer issue – while she stayed in her bedroom napping!

BUT! I made it out alive! My hair is growing back. I am beyond happy at my new company, love my boss and co-workers and even got a promotion that starts in January! And without that crazy job, I never would have met my current boss. So at least there’s a silver lining!

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. TypityTypeType*

    That was a thrill ride. I’ve had some interesting employers — including the one who inspired the one and only shouting match I’ve ever gotten into with a boss — but nothing close to this level of bonkers. So glad, LW, that you got out and are doing well!

  2. TomatoSoup*

    Think of all the smoothies and bread you could make with all of those bananas! That situation was a big ol sack of bananas. Glad you escaped.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Literal LOL at “big ol sack of bananas.”

      The most poignant line of this whole update is “My hair is growing back.” That speaks VOLUMES right there about the road LW traveled.

  3. Jedi Mike*

    I can’t believe how normal some people think it is to visit other people’s homes whom you work with. I would never hurt a million years propose going to another employee’s home unless I was extremely good friends with them. Yet…. People’s bosses really just try to require it as part of their job?? (Assuming visiting homes isn’t inherent to the field or something)

    1. LW (OP)*

      I probably should have clarified that the reason I went to her place to help her with the computer issue is that, by then, we had gone 100% remote and one of her bedrooms was an office where we also sometimes met clients. She actually required that I work with her in that tiny room for about three weeks, and all she ever wanted to do was “take a break and have coffee” or go for a walk. I never got ANYTHING done there. Then the pandemic got worse, I went back to my own home office and she never asked me to do that again.

      1. Jedi Mike*

        That’s even crazier. Glad you’re in a better spot now. Also COVID transmission risks much? She sucks : O

      2. Zorak*

        How do people like that get so old without maturing/getting their more bonkers edges sanded off? It’s like they’re careening through life like a bumper car.

        So glad you’re free!

        1. MigraineMonth*

          People who think that they are always victims of circumstance can make it through their entire lives without learning that their actions have consequences. The ability to accept feedback and change behavior in response is really one of the most important traits to cultivate.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Basically the bonkers edges are more like a bacterial culture in some people. The longer you leave it, the more it grows.

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I don’t think it’s inherently super weird. I’ve been to a couple of my coworkers’s houses for semi-work/social related things (it’s been a group of us), and there’s been nothing weird about it. The events were actually 100% optional, and there are generally decent boundaries in place, so no lines get crossed.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah. I haven’t been to a coworker’s home since my high school graduation. To be fair, we were friend-friends until we eventually drifted apart (I went to college, the oldest had a kid and later got married, I’m not sure what happened to the others). When I was in high school, my only extracurricular was working in a grocery store about 20 hours a week. I loved my coworkers, many of them were about my age or a year older or younger, and I invited three of my friend-friend coworkers to my high school graduation party, and later visited them at their homes. All of us lived within walking distance of the store.

  4. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    I love this update! Your ex-boss got exactly what she deserved. I’m glad you made it out and are doing well!

  5. Sunny days are better*

    So if any AAM readers’ hair is FALLING OUT and you are trying to figure out if your job is really stressing you out as badly as you think? The answer is always: YES – GTFO!

    So glad you are in a better place now OP. Thanks for the update!

    1. Jj*

      To be fair, it’s not always the job- mines been falling out for years, including a job change, and my doctor’s response is “sometimes that happens.”

      When I left my terrible job my lifelong habit of nail biting suddenly ended and the muscle in my back stopped spasming though

      1. IEanon*

        I stopped grinding my teeth in my sleep! It’s amazing how physically the stress from a bad boss or job manifests.

      2. Cat Named Brian*

        I stopped grinding my teeth and could actually sleep a full 8 hours. Hair still falls out! Thyroid ia a mess.

      3. cardigarden*

        For my last year at Most Toxic Job I’ve Ever Had, I had a constant daily eyeball twitch. Two days into NextJob, it was gone.

    2. Duke Flapjack*

      I agree wholeheartedly (although I have absolutely no hair left to fall out, but that’s by choice).

  6. ecnaseener*

    It’s always impressive when a workplace is this full of bees, but it’s just one bee. Full of one really huge angry bee.

    Glad you’re out of there!

    1. Danish*

      I’m picturing a bee so large it’s basically wedged in the entire shop, floor to ceiling, with LW having to awkwardly squeeze around it to get any work done.

  7. New Senior Mgr*

    “My hair is growing back.”

    How awful you had to go through that stress and psychological warfare. Glad you’re doing so well. I could sense your happiness just reading this letter.

  8. Danish*

    Mature, adult human response: That is very sad, that she orchestrated her own downfall, and that she’s not making enough money to get by on, especially right around when she might reasonably want to retire. I hope no serious harm befalls her – I have so many concerns about the elderly in our current capitalist hellscape.

    With that said

    Thank you LW for this delicious food. I think it’s the kind of just desserts we all secretly hope for, with update season.

      1. Danish*

        Haha, I hope not! I had to add the Mature Adult response first because I was definitely enjoying the schadenfreude myself.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I frequently do that in the AAM comments. Glad I’m not the only one. I try to rise above my schadenfreude but sometimes I just can’t be as mature as I want to be.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The best revenge is escaping to live well, while the other person reaps the fruits of their labors/dysfunction/bad choices. That is exactly what happened here.

  9. Rebecca*

    I just read the original letter and for a second I genuinely thought OP was talking about my old work. I can’t decide if it’s comforting to know others understand what I went through or depressing that multiple of these bosses exist in the world! Either way I’m glad you also got out of the toxic nightmare!!!

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Toxic narcissists like that can’t work under other people because their egos are too big, so they have to be a boss (I have had two like that).

  10. Curmudgeon*

    This sounds like someone I used to work for.

    Despite having 0 business acumen, she bought a grooming/kennel for her friend who was a groomer. While there, she appointmented me manager despite me having no managerial experience (or inclination) and then undermined every single choice I made. (Example: she put me in charge of researching and purchasing a kennel grade cleaner. So I did…then she read the warning about needing the product to fully dry before allowing any animals to be in the space and she claimed I was trying to give her cancer. no I’m trying to prevent a kennel cough breakout!)

    When an employee very nearly lost an eye bc of an extremely aggressive dog that NEVER should have been in a kennel, the owner bitched at me because now her worker’s comp rates were going to go up. Ok??? Your fault for allowing this dog to board without any prior trial!

    She also stole tips from the groomers (but not from her friend of course) and asked me to cover up evidence of a (different, much worse) crime.

    So glad you’re out of there!

  11. Chauncy Gardener*

    It is so sad when people are their own worst enemies. It’s too bad this ex-boss was so nuts she torpedoed her own financial security.
    That being said, well done for getting out of there, OP!!
    It’s true that you can’t care more about someone else’s well being than they do

    1. Ashloo*

      Wow, it’s sad and honestly impressive just how bad she must be at owning a business and managing her finances over the years to be left that destitute at retirement age. Did she save nothing?! What was the plan?

      Glad you got out of that hornet’s nest!!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder if the plan was the sell the business? But now because of her actions there’s nothing left to sell.

      2. Marley's Ghost*

        I don’t think this kind of person makes plans. They just react, and it’s someone else’s fault if their reaction doesn’t get them the result they want.

  12. Yay!*

    I didn’t remember the letter. After reading it, I was surprised I didn’t comment. I know a boss that’s very similar. Abusive, disorganized, attempted guilt trips, manipulation, unreasonable demands of emotional labor….I could go on.

    From the comments of the original letter:
    ” She had a habit of seeming to be fine about things, then stewing on them for a few days and flipping the entire scenario into her being a victim.” Are you me?

    Glad you got out.

  13. Michelle Smith*

    Please send another update if you write the book, or post a blog, or whatever you do. I will be the first reader/subscriber.

  14. Purple Cat*

    “get a time machine and get out yesterday” This gem of Alison’s from the initial response.
    I’m so glad OP got out. Her previous boss sounds a lot like spouse’s ex-boss. She wouldn’t sell to him, but was able to sell to someone else so slightly different scenario. The result of those clients coming to spouse anyway due to bad service and he didn’t have to pay for them, is the same though.

  15. Researchalator Lady*

    OP is well out of there, but I can’t help but notice that the comment about checking on the cookies sounded pretty darn salty:
    “A couple of weeks later, ex-boss texted my boss to ask if she had gotten the cookies. Since my boss didn’t immediately text
    (but OP said it had been a couple of weeks? Hardly immediately…)
    to GUSH with appreciation
    (Ex-boss simply texted to ask if they had been received, did she not? Not to demand gushing? I suspect if she made comments about gratitude due her, passive-aggressive or otherwise, OP would have mentioned)
    over a random box of cookies, ex-boss apparently assumed I hadn’t let anyone know they were received (because I’m a terrible person).
    (well, OP didn’t let ex-boss know they were received; the rest of this is conjecture and maybe a bit uncharitable?)
    Of course OP is probably far past the BEC stage with ex-boss.

    1. coffee*

      I mean, ex-boss has behaved terribly and then sent a box of cookies to create an obligation to be thankful. Being salty in how they perceive it is a fair response.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I don’t think ex-boss is BEC. Ex-boss is a truly terrible person. BEC is reserved for people you don’t like, not evil people. If you have a real reason to not like the person, I believe BEC is not applicable.

    3. T*

      I think you’re mis-reading. It reads to me as
      1. Ex-boss sends cookies. (Strange thing to do, by the way.)
      2. A couple of weeks later, ex-boss texts boss to ask if the cookies were received. (even stranger behavior!)
      3. Boss doesn’t immediately respond to this text, likely because she’s busy and/or because this is a strange text to receive.
      4. Ex-boss responds to the lack of response by immediately contacting OP some other way (text, phonecall, whatever) demanding to know why OP kept the cookies for herself and didn’t tell anyone that she sent cookies.

  16. Deagol*

    As someone who also gets stress-related hair loss (current bout is from ending some terrible friendships), solidarity, OP! It DOES come back!

  17. College Career Counselor*

    While there is certainly dysfunction, stupidity, and incompetence/outright evil in large companies (*cough* Twitter), it’s stories like these that make me believe that there ain’t no crazy like small business crazy. Probably shouldn’t throw too many stones because I work in higher ed, so….

    1. Ah Yes*

      Agreed. I worked for a small business once out of college and… never again. In the US, they’re basically exempt from most employment laws and, boy, do they know it.

  18. Former Employee*

    I actually ended up feeling bad for the ex boss. I know, I know, but I truly believe there is something wrong with her. Losing clients and having to work temp jobs at her age is really sad. I picture her ending up all alone living in a tiny apartment and barely getting by on a small Social Security check.

  19. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Excellent update, but it is so sad how many situations I read on here where a good update includes something similar to “my hair is growing back!”

    I mean, I get how it happens, but it just shouldn’t ever get to that point due to stress of the job!

  20. PennylaneTX*

    Truly, “My hair is growing back” needs to be on merch. I would 100% buy a coffee mug that says that.

  21. Jessica Fletcher*

    Do the cookies remind anyone else of that episode of The Office where Michael tries to win back clients with gift baskets?

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