Monday, June 11, 2007

Bad Boss, Bad Reference

Question
I am currently employed in a job where my boss is sure to give me a terrible reference due to the fact that we have had personality conflicts all along the way. I do not respect her or the vile things she has done to me and to other coworkers (I truly believe she is unbalanced, quite honestly----for one, she lies, without batting a lash, about the most outlandish things) and I am afraid that I will never get a good reference out of her.

Furthermore, she is the person to talk to about job references about me...no other manager/authority will intervene. The common remedy for this situation is usually: "Oh, by law, so-and-so will not give you a bad reference because she cannot say anything damning about you for fear of being sued." Trust me, this woman can put across her poison to any potential employer to let them know what she really thinks of me without getting herself into legal trouble. I've seen her knife others in a similar fashion.

I have just graduated from Howard University with a BA Degree in Arts Management and she is the most prominent obstacle to my escaping from this horrible situation and into a dream job.

I repeat, no good or neutral reference to be had from this woman. What possible remedy can there be for me??

Answer
by Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer

Oh man, that sucks! When a person is both messing up your work life and happens to be the gatekeeper preventing you from seeking new employment – that's a really tough situation.

Here's my advice: Get out of there anyway. Now. Today. Don't wait to find a new job, just quit.

I agree that this will make finding your next job more difficult – but this is unlikely to change any time soon. Her review will be just as vile in 6 months, 1 year or 5 years. Get out of Dodge now, while you still have some energy, sanity and optimism left.

Here are a few ideas when you're looking for your next job:
Can you get away with not mentioning your employment at this company? You're a recent graduate, after all. Maybe it won't look so strange on your resume to simply leave out this job.

Alternatively, can you get 3 or 4 references from other people in your current workplace? From other bosses, co-workers – possibly even customers. These should be glowingly positive. You can then use these references to offset her bad one.

Finally, you could simply explain the situation to future employers. Interpersonal conflicts are nothing new, and you're hardly the first person who doesn't get along with a boss. If you choose to do it this way, make sure to say nothing negative about your old boss. Not one word. Simply say that you didn't have great chemistry.

The important thing is for you to get away from her. The sooner the better!

22 comments:

Ellen van den Berg said...

I do so recognise this situation. I have recently 'escaped' a boss that acted no different then the one you described and I have lived in 'horror' for nearly a year before I could encourage myself to move on... I guess I had major difficulties with being loyal to my colleagues (and not to myself) is what explains the 'late response' to what I can only describe as an 'abusive' 'professional' relationship. I fully agree with Alexander: you should try to get out of there anyway and as soon as you can, because a situation like this does consume your energy more than you probably even realise at the moment.

My boss did respond in the negative way I feared and you express to fear as well. It hurt but I stood strong and refrained from responding in an evenly immature and unprofessional way. Most (if not all) people he approached got in contact with me explaining openly what happened because they felt I had always been a hard worker and an open and honest employee, colleague and business partner.
The intent of most responses was (and I quote from one of the recent e-mails I received on the matter): “Be frank with people, be open and honest. Anything else is not only a business matter, but all the more a personal disqualification!” Maybe it helps trying to look at it from that angle?

FireAngel said...

I am going through the same situation except I had a good relationship with my boss for 2 out of 3 years. It fell sour with her daughter who worked there and caused me daily stress with her immaturity and rude work ethics or lack thereof I should say. I am currently job hunting and this boss was my only job reference I can use. It was my only job out of college in this field I studied. I put it on my resume without contact but I do risk it hoping she will be a professional about it.

Is this worth it? How can I prepare my potential employer for a bad reference? Is it safe to be "comfortable" and open with them and be real since you won't always "get along" with your boss and especially their family that works there. The dynamic of a family owned business is difficult to stand sometimes when family becomes more important than the companies work ethics.

Help! Do I keep my only reference even if it is a possible bad one? I quit my last job but on so called good terms, until the found out I tried to file for unemployment.

Susan Ireland said...

I recommend that in the future you keep a friendly but always professional relationship with your boss. Business and friendship rarely mix well together. I'm sorry you had this experience but from now on you can avoid a repeat performance by keeping good boundaries between you and your boss, and you and your co-workers, especially when the co-workers are part of the boss's family.

Anonymous said...

I disagree completely. You should start looking for a new job and not quit that one until you have something secured. That way when they ask for references you can say that you don't want to give her (or him) because they don't know you're looking for new employment.

Anonymous said...

I am in exactly the same situation at the moment. I left my last job because my boss and I had some major professional differences which resulted in a very cool reference. I have been offered a job and have put down a previous line mnager before my most recent boss as I had several within the same company and two work colleuges one of whom was my supervisor. The whole thing is up in the air at the moment because my prospective employer may well insist on having my most recent boss. It is a very scary and stressfull time. You are not alone!! Keep plugging at it. Try and get some other positive refs and be ready with a good explaination that doesn't slag of your last employer andthen just hope and pray. Thats what I am doing. Its good to know that I am not alone however.

Anonymous said...

I work for a non-profit. I was approached for this job by someone I had known years before, and at the time was working for a book bindery, lifting 40lb boxes 12hrs per day. When she offered me the job as Office Manager/Funding Developement Assistant, I jumped at the chance. Once I got there, I found out that I was the SEVENTH "Office Mgr" in TWO YEARS. I also found out that the only person I was managing was myself, and I am currently doing the job of about 3 people. I enjoy and EXCELLENT reputation among the 5 organizations I work for, and have recently learned that my position is about to be eliminated.

My boss is a liar, vindictive, a manipulator and a control freak. She's also a brilliant liar, and I have no doubt that she has spread lies about both who I am, and what I do. I've tried to file a grievance, but she won't even give me the names of our Board of Directors! I'm currently preparing a resume, but as an African American male, I'm pretty nervous about my job prospects, given the statistics. But you know what? I KNOW I do good work, and that I would be an asset to ANY organization, and I'm going to continue to put on my best face, and use this job to learn as much as I can, and to forge good connections. For all of you good people out there: Stand up for yourselves, and don't let these people mess with your head too much. Michael

Susan Ireland said...

Michael,
I applaud your conviction to take care of yourself, and to do so with integrity!

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar position currently in that I was laid off and my previous employer gave a "non-reference". More specifically, he would give ratings on a scale to attest to my abilities however when asked to comment or explain why 2 out of 20 ratings were "failing" he would not offer any explanation. When I was given the titles of the areas he gave me failing ratings in it was a complete surprise as they were areas he consistently gave me praise in while employed.
After approaching my past employer regarding the "non-reference" he stated that he did not want to be held liable but assured me the reference was "raving". Another employee at the organization stated that this was not the case and that he was being vindictive for no apparent reason. Since then the remaining employees have been searching for other employment but also fear the same result from offering him as a reference.
He was an extremely difficult man to work for simply due to his personality and lack of professionalism. My question is, should I be affected by his ineptitude or do I have any rights/ options to rectify this situation?
Whitney

Hannah said...

I am in the same situation where I have an old boss who not only made up lies about me, but spread them, he now goes out of his way to call possible employers to "warn" them about me (this in the industry i work in is very easy to do), he not only made racial comments to me while I was working for him, he is the most horrible man. It's been a year and I have not been able to work because he continues to haunt me. I went as far as to take him off of my resume and it didn't matter. I don't know what to do, I spent a lot of money on an education to do what I do and entering another industry at my age is not option. I don't know how to stop this man.

Anonymous said...

I'm going through the same thing now. I'm no longer at my old job due to a Bi-Polar, nutball of a boss (not to mention I was his #1 money maker) and now he heard I'm looking and called people he knew that I may interview with and told them horrible things. I am going to badreferences.com to see how I can put a stop to this.

Anonymous said...

hi am in the same thing,i have been off with this swine flu my boss being very persistant and phoning me up every day,she telling me to get a sick note i am alot better now and i phoned her saying i can get a back dated sick note,i have been offereed another job and want to take it i have put my ex boss down for a ref can she give me a bad reference?because i have been off sick?i told my boss i am still a bit ill while i am handing my notice in she told me she will not except it and that will have to quit with no pay,can she do that?can she give me a bad reference?

Susan Ireland said...

You may have to meet with an employment counselor to see what's legal in this situation.

I suggest you try to work it out with your boss. See if you can reach a happy medium with her. Try to understand what would be an agreeable compromise from her perspective. Maybe she'd be happy if you trained the person who replaces you. If that's something you're willing to do, then it might be worth it to smooth your boss's feathers.

Usually in situations like this, each side feels they're being taken advantage of by the other party. If you can break that mindset, you'll come out with a good reference and some good will to boot.

Anonymous said...

what about verbally abusive bosses? and the no a--hole rule--that excellent book regarding toxic bosses and the harm they inflict to skilled and loyal employees?
There needs to be legal safeguards in place to protect former employees regarding these vile "humans." what is being done to combat this serious work problem on the county,state and federal levels The sheeple need to wake up in the USA; conducting one's self with integrity is great, however, that a--hole rule is overwhelming in MANY corporate offices etc... thank you.

Anonymous said...

I believe some of this advice here is without legal substance. The first thing an employee should do who is in an "abusive professional relationship" is to go seek legal advice. DON'T QUIT! That looks even worse. FIND AN EMPLOYMENT ATTORNEY PRONTO! Most attorneys will at least give the first consultation free - and many will take your case on contingency. In most states it is considered libel, slander or defamation to give bad references (or to not respond which implies a bad reference).

The next thing to do is find a "reference checking agency" or private detective agency. If you google "bad references" you will come up with some articles which name reputable employment screening companies and reference checkers. Allison & Taylor is one of them. References-etc is another. (no I don't work for either, but I've used them). And they both WORKED really well!

Anonymous said...

I've had two bad experiences -one was with a female boss who is exactly how you described - It turns out she was "bi-polar" and the company did NOTHING about her insane abuse to employees for fear of getting sue by her, if they fired her. It finally got so bad that they "reorganized the department" in order to get rid of her. She did get fired, but so did many others who were hired by her. It was nightmare. But to add insult to injury the former employer (company) wanted to sweep the whole mess under the carpet so they gave no one references (they avoided phone calls for anyone). I hired a reference checking firm to find that out. After sending a letter from an attorney the situation was remedied! They now cheerfully state that after economic difficulties, many employees were let go due to a corporate re-organization. When sending a letter to the former employer (from an attorney), the letter should go the former boss (if still employed) AND a copy to the company's HR Dept. or Legal Department. Your attorney will know what to do.

Anonymous said...

If you are being sexually harassed - CHECK THE LAWS IN YOUR STATE, to see if you are legally permitted to tape phone conversations or meetings (in which you participate) - seek an ATTORNEY immediately! Don't wait! I did research it, and I discovered that (in my state) I was within my legal rights to tape phone and meeting conversations -as long as I was participating in the conversation. After being sexually harassed and continually turning him down, I feared that he would get angry and start to slander me or disparage my work. Sure enough! He did! At that point, I was no longer worried about the job - I was fearing for my future reputation! I finally did seek legal advice. But a little too late however. I saved all of his lurid sexual emails and text messages. I had previously avoided taking legal action because did NOT WANT THE DRAMA. I couldn't afford to lose the job! But what we (the target) don't realize in cases like this - is YOU WON'T LOSE THE JOB! Especially if you act promptly and seek legal advice EARLY. 99% of the time, you are advised to go to their HR Department! That's a WASTE of time! It also gives them the opportunity to do damage control and cover their tracks. Seek an OUTSIDE independent attorney! Most times you can get a free one hour consult or even retain them on contingency. My attorney instructed me to start documenting everything!

I didn't want to end up like the lady in the Hewlett Packard scandal! Nor did I want to end up on CNN news. But that is exactly what predators counted on! They count your on shame and silence. I waited for my project to be completed successfully and I made SURE I performed in an exemplary manner and that other employees recognized that. I just wanted to do my job. I told him I wasn't interested in his advances, nor interested in being involved with him personally. Logic and decency doesn't work with predators! You've got to hit them where it hurts - their company (their boss), and their pocketbook! If a senior executive is causing a major $$$ liability (potential sexual harassment case)-enough so that you've found legal advice - and they are contacted by YOUR attorney -the company will act quickly and firmly. An attorney in your court will make sure that YOU negotiate a fair severance, or at the minimum - GOOD REFERENCES! BEFORE YOU LEAVE!

So, after project completion, (I'm a consultant) I was ready to just move on and find new clients, new projects. After sending out my resume, I'd been eagerly invited to many interviews, in each case, I'd received a very positive reception and a great reviews by the interviewer -with an implied offers upon checking my references- but then after a few days, no offers arrived; only rejections. So I realized something was seriously wrong.

So I hired a professional REFERENCE CHECKER! Just a NOTE: IN MY past EXPERIENCE (I cannot give you legal advice here, I can only state what I've learned through my own experience and legal advice given to me) - YOU CANNOT LEGALLY USE A FRIEND TO CHECK YOUR REFERENCES. IT WON'T HOLD UP IN COURT! You MUST use: a law firm, a professional (licensed) reference checking service, or a licensed private detective. The service provider generally will hire a court reporter to transcribe the conversation with your previous boss(reference) - which can be used as a legal document.
Also not answering calls (or providing no reference) is just as damaging as providing a nasty negative reference. The reference checker will note the tone of voice, everything in the conversation will be legally transcribed! I can't tell you how valuable this is, in fighting against unfair and vindictive past bosses. After the receiving the transcript from the reference checking service - you can take that to your attorney and 1) have them send a cease and desist letter 2) litigate against the offending person (or company)

YOU HAVE RIGHTS! USE THEM!

Anonymous said...

I loved my job, I loved going to work, until "the boss" left and an incompetent person replaced her. We didn't get on at all and she went out of her way to make it clear she wanted me out of there. In the end I was exhausted and ended up getting depression. I managed to get a good job and for some reason she felt the need to discredit me at my new position with a friend of hers she had there, trying to make out I had some mental illness. It was terrible!!! I had rung my old job's HR department let them know what was happening in tears, 3 mths later after an investigation they dismissed her. I"ve got a new job I love, but she is definitely made it her career to stigmatise me.

Anonymous said...

I work in a highly charged field of heart surgery. Jobs are few and difficult people abound. I left a job of over 4 years due to a toxic boss(he had a drug addiction and was prosecuted) and the supervisor and colleague he hired were both described as "bipolar and toxic." It was the only job where the entire team had to meet with a psychologist monthly(which I only found out later). I transferred to a sister organization where my work doubled, call doubled, and my one colleague was described as having an "anger management issue" by the surgeons. My supervisor insisted on calling me back from vacation yearly and made incredibly ridiculous demands-that I still met. When I refused to return from funeral leave to bail them out my evaluations deteriorated. I left with a severance package but I know they have badmouthed me for several years later. I have accepted that demons like that exist and made peace with myself. How do you respond to interviewers who ask about that job or bad references, despite the truth??? Ralph

Anonymous said...

Statistically, 40% of us have been in the same situation. You need to gain independent verification that your former supervisor/boss is unfairly portraying you and if so take action. Legal action...no practical action. Help them find a new job...call their supervisor every 3-4 wks and conduct a background check on them...let their supervisor know that they are looking for a new position and then use your former bosses name with different contact info and let them give you the reference you deserve.

Anonymous said...

If you are working for an abusive boss, you must document everything in detail. Keep a daily diary at home with dates, times, and exactly what your boss is doing/ saying to you. If it happened over the phone write down the extension and time of the call, and describe everything in detail in your diary. If a colleague witnessed your boss' behavior, make note of that too. Then see an attorney who specializes in employment law. It will not be cheap but it is worth the money to talk to a lawyer. Do not quit your job until the above steps have been done and your attorney advises you on what your next steps should be.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, do any of these comments refer to a male bosses? I guess even I found this site with paranoia about a female boss. We had a strong relationship, but the environment she created WAS toxic, and eventually the whole team had a meltdown. I cannot put unprofessional communication with recruiters past her :(

I never wanted to be "that guy"... but I think I'm done working for women. It's wildly unfair, but it's MY career and these types of outcomes outcomes are unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

I am in a doubly difficult situation. I left my job due to a very abusive bully of a boss. She was forced to resign 5 weeks after I left. I knew of 5 complaints filed against her. Those complaints were filed by resident doctors, and we're taken seriously. I spoke to my supervisor ( one of those arrangements where your supervisor is one person hut you work for another. In my case my supervisor even worked in a different building and had no idea what I did.) I spoke to my supervisor after my boss starting making very inappropriate and hurtful comments about my personal life and was ignored. I had to quit. I knew of the the complaints but couldnt wait to see if they resulted in positive change.
Problem is, I took another job in haste. It has been 7 months. I am not happy. I am bored. What work is given to me is not explained and I struggle, so they seem to think I am stupid. I need out.
But, a reference? None from the last job. And I don't want this job to know I amlooking.
I have stellar references from all jobs previous. But I keep getting asked for current supervisor.
One badbjob experience shouldn't be allowed to matter that much.