“Bully Boss gave me a PIP; what now?”

Question: Hi, Alan. On October 15th I complained to HR that my Bully Boss of two years was creating a hostile work environment. Sure enough, on November 15th, my Bully Boss placed me on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”).

I refused to sign the PIP which, I believe, was retaliation and manufactured as a result of my complaining to Human Resources.

I have been out sick since then, and have not been at work. After having used up my paid sick time, I took a FMLA leave of absence.

I reported the problem to three bosses up, but it is still not resolved. One boss called me at home yesterday and asked if I plan to return to work, to which I said that I hoped to. He said that he was tasked to act as an intervention between the Bully Boss and me.

What should my next step be? Thank you very much.

         Napa, California

Answer: Dear Diane, First let me express my hope that you get better soon. And let me also congratulate you on standing up to a “bully boss.” Almost always it is the wisest thing – not necessarily the easiest thing – to do. From your brief note, I don’t know all of the facts I wish I knew, but from what you’ve expressed, let me share my thoughts: 

First, it is probably time that you direct a written letter to the “top of the company.” As you can see by reviewing all of the articles, Q&A’s and videos about Performance Improvement Plans on our blogsite, what has happened to you is wrong, improper, probably a violation of company policies, and potentially fraudulent and illegal. It just may be time to report what happened to the highest levels of your company, meaning the CEO and/or members of the Board of Directors. Of course, you should do so in writing (email and/or FedEx), and do so soon. Your FMLA leave of absence lasts only 12 weeks; sooner than you think you will be faced with the prospect of returning to work, and your PIP and Bully Boss.

In our blog’s Model Letter section, we offer an Employee’s Second Response to Receiving a  PIP, directed to the highest levels of a company, that you can use as a guide. If interested [click here].

Second, you might consider contacting the “Intervener” you referred to, and suggesting a severance package might be best. If you don’t want to return to your former employment, you might consider telling the “intervener” that, while you intend to return, and insist upon protection from the Bully Boss, you would consider accepting – instead – a reasonable and fair severance package. As in almost every such communication, my preference is that you would put this in an email, so that what you say cannot be (a) mistaken, (b) mischaracterized, or (c) forgotten. If you should do this, make sure you (i) mention that this is not a resignation, (ii) do not accuse your Bully Boss of illegal behavior, as that could be defamation, and (iii) never, ever express this or anything like this: “I will say bad things about someone if I am not paid money.” That is a criminal act – extortion – and is not something you should ever express. On the other hand, you can express, “I believe I have legal claims against the company and the Bully Boss, and I would be willing to give up those claims for a fair and reasonable severance package.”

In our blog’s Model Letter section, we offer a Proactive, Pre-Termination Request for a Severance Package that you can use as a guide. If interested [click here].

Third, it may be time to consider retaining an attorney to counsel you, oversee your efforts, and/or assist you. I never like to send blog visitors to seek legal help, but sometimes it is the wisest thing to do. I don’t know the depth of your health issues, your confidence level, or how well you handle the stress of these things. If these things are under your confident control, you probably do not need an attorney. But you just might benefit from finding one “just in case” you do end up needing one. You should be able to locate an experienced employment attorney by contacting your local bar association referral service. 

Bully Bosses, hostility, retaliation, and fraudulent Performance Improvement Plans are becoming all too common. We hope these ideas are helpful. Please let us know how things go in your standing up for yourself in this situation.

          Best, Al Sklover   

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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