Reader: I am a divorced mid-career professional. I have an online dating profile. A few months after starting a job, I found out that my married boss also had an online dating profile — because he viewed my profile. The way online dating sites work, he must have known that I knew he was on the site, but we did not discuss it. After that, my boss refused to meet with me, refused to communicate with me on projects and started giving me bad reviews. I ended up leaving.
I am now a finalist for a new job. I found out that this former boss knows the recruiter leading the search and has been bad-mouthing me to the recruiter.
Any suggestions on what to do now, or what I should have done at the time?
Karla: It defies logic that a man with a possibly marriage-ending secret would preemptively attack someone in a position to reveal that secret to his spouse — but logic and lust are rarely bedfellows. Whether he was nudging you out because of your knowledge about his profile, or for reasons unrelated to his extramarital endeavors, your safest approach is to be neutral and non-accusatory.
Although the boss’s petty behavior effectively drove you out of the job, it probably wouldn’t have been something you could sue over, unless you could connect it to some kind of discrimination against your sex, race, faith, etc., or a violation of your contract or specific legal rights, according to employment attorney Tom Spiggle. But there are other options.
At the time, you could have gone to HR — but because you and your boss never confirmed in person what you think you both saw, any statements you might make about his motives would have been speculative, says Edward Yost, HR business partner for employee and management relations at the Society for Human Resource Management. The best approach would have been to say that you believed your performance warranted a higher rating and to give concrete examples of how your boss avoided communicating with you about projects. Ideally, HR would have worked to confirm whether your poor review was based on legitimate, quantifiable factors, and asked the boss to adjust it if not.
If your former boss is actively smearing you now, that behavior could qualify under tort law as interference with prospective business advantage, according to Spiggle. A letter from a lawyer to that effect might persuade the boss to drop the campaign.
When you are asked by recruiters or interviewers about your departure, Yost recommends trying to “control the messaging” with a neutral-to-positive explanation. Disclose that you and your former boss were perhaps not the right fit — but also acknowledge the boss’s strengths and highlight successes you had while working with him. That way, you’ll come across as a professional who performs with integrity, regardless of personal conflicts.
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PRO TIP: Workers who believe they have been fired unjustly might have more legal options if they work in Montana. After an at-will probationary period, Montana employers must provide just cause for a firing.