How to Deal

Reporting a Difficult Boss? Be Prepared for Possible Retaliation

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; 5:50 PM

I have been a manager for about a year and a half within the health care industry. I was hired by the executive vice president of my company, whom I met when she and I ended up within the same continuing education class. We quickly became friends, and week after week that friendship grew. Upon completion of the class she informed me that her company was looking for a medical technician manager and she thought I would be a good fit for them. Even though I went through the normal hiring process, what she says (I soon found out) pretty much goes. I was on top of the world. She had given me an excellent opportunity and an extraordinary pay increase.

I am truly passionate about a lot of things, but almost to a fault about right and wrong. As time went on with me feeling like I owed the world to this lady, I started to realize that all of the other managers, employees and so on were extremely fearful of this lady, as one would be of a dictator. If these people would so much as suggest something other than what she had said, their time left with the company was complete hell. At that point I remember feeling thankful I wasn't on her bad side and that I was in her little click of "brown-nosers." However, as time went on I too fell on her bad side, due to the fact that what I believed to be wrong and wouldn't do, she didn't like. Ever since then, I notice that even the HR department manager and this lady are good friends and most of the doctors whom she caters to think she can do no wrong. I can't win for losing with her. Whether or not she knows how wrong she is, she will find a way to make it something that I did or didn't do. I mean even as weird as telling me to do something, then I do it, and she then asks me who told me to do that. Just how despicable and without character this woman is makes me absolutely sick. To think I was once this woman's friend.

My question to you is, what do I do at this point? Because apparently she has zero accountability and is a "dictator." We have a compliance hotline within our company but I have been warned that anyone who dares complain about her will also be made to work in agony until they get fed up and quit. HELP! I may be naive about some things but I know that where there's a will there's a way and that everyone has a boss. I just haven't figured out who or how to approach without fear of losing my job. She is pretty much in bed with everyone of power. Any help would be very much appreciated even if my article doesn't make print. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and I will be anxious to see your response.

To sum it up, you work for an unscrupulous and demoralizing supervisor who has managed to escape accountability for her behavior by ingratiating herself to the ethical gatekeepers. Who, in your position, wouldn't feel like giving up?

It is not at all naive for you to think that you could have an impact on the situation by reporting your supervisor to the compliance hotline or raising concerns with more senior company officials. However, it does sound like reporting comes with its risks. So you need to decide whether you are prepared for the possibility that your boss will find out what you did and retaliate against you.

I am not suggesting that you abandon your cause, just that you think carefully through the possible outcomes so that you are ready to weather what may come. If your supervisor has a track record of making the work lives of whistleblowers intolerable, then you might ultimately find yourself with little choice but to leave. Do you have a realistic expectation of finding a comparable job with similar pay in today's job market? Can you count on someone in your company other than your boss to serve as a strong employment reference?

In a way, the choice is made easier for you by the fact that you have fallen out of your supervisor's good graces. No employee can long endure the type of treachery that you have described, so the chances are good that you will soon be looking for other opportunities anyway. What do you really have to lose?

No matter what you decide to do, you will be enriched by having encountered this situation. Workplaces are replete with Machiavellian types who "buy" loyalty and influence by doing favors and preserve their power through fear and intimidation. Study your boss's behavior. Try to isolate her defining personality traits, think hard about what it is that drew you to her. What warning signs did you miss that might have saved you from this predicament? Thinking about this now will help you to avoid ending up in yet another abusive reporting relationship.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, June 10 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit and publish submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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