May 26th, 2011

How to Get Your Boss Fired

by Susan Adams, May 17, 2011,  Forbes


The new chief executive at a mid-size Atlanta technology company was technically brilliant but totally lacking in management skills. He turned everyone off, including customers. Morale started plunging, and employees began to grumble. Then they became emboldened, and they reached out to members of the company’s board, laying out how the CEO dampened motivation, wrought havoc with teamwork, and drove customers away. It took a long time, some four years, but the board finally let the CEO go.

Countless workers fantasize about getting their boss fired, but few succeed. I talked to five career coaches, a corporate consultant, a lawyer, and a management professor about how disgruntled workers might oust their superiors, and although I gathered a handful of success stories, all of the sources agree: Think many times over before you try it, because you will likely fail.

“Organizations are power hierarchies, and your boss is automatically one level up from you,” says Marie McIntyre, an Atlanta, Ga., career coach and author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. “All of these situations come down to leverage,” she adds. “If you declare war on your boss, 90% of the time you’re going to lose, because your boss has more leverage than you do.”

That said, my sources came up with several stories about employees who succeeded against the odds. I’ll share them here and draw some lessons, in case you feel compelled to take on the challenge.

McIntyre offered the tale of that technology CEO’s ouster. The lesson from that story: Persistence and patience can pay off, but it may take years.
McIntyre also described a near-miss that’s worth relating. A hard-driving salesman was promoted to serve as a district manager for the top sales group at his pharmaceutical company. He tackled the job by riding along with team members on sales calls and critiquing their performance. “He really ticked people off,” recalls McIntyre.

The aggravated employees started calling the new boss’s boss to complain. But they didn’t just say they were unhappy. They spelled out how he was interfering with their work. The district manager was on the verge of getting fired, says McIntyre, when the company brought her in to consult. The group’s approach was effective, she says, because taken together, each of the six employees’ strong track records gave them leverage. They also made a convincing business case: The manager was driving down sales. McIntyre says that after she led several sessions with the manager and the team together, he changed his style and saved his job.

Sarah Stamboulie, a New York career coach, told a story about a major bank with its headquarters in New York City and a human resources office in New Jersey that ran by its own rules. The main office wanted the New Jersey branch to get in line with corporate practices, but its head preferred to do things his own way. The department’s number two started ingratiating herself with her superiors in the main office and modified her own work to be in line with the central office. When the company had to cut costs, it laid off the head of the division and kept that number two, who had proved she could do a better job at running the department. “The lesson is to look for alliances where your boss is weak,” Stamboulie said.
Two of my sources offered tales from academia. Marcie Schorr Hirsch, of Hirsch/Hills Consulting in Newton Centre, Mass., told of a woman who came in as the new director of a university office with 30 employees. She was following in the footsteps of a much-loved boss and quickly developed a reputation as a very difficult manager. People in the department soon started quitting. Four left, and others became disgruntled and wrote letters to senior officers at the university. Prodded by the university, the boss wound up taking a leave and then not returning to her job. As in the case of McIntyre’s story about the sales manager, there was strength in numbers. “It takes a village,” Hirsch said.

Gary Namie, a Seattle corporate consultant, psychologist and author of The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels and Snakes from Killing Your Organization, recounted the story of a tenured math and statistics professor at a junior college who felt he was being “persecuted” by a new dean, despite having job security and being well-liked by students. The professor collected evidence carefully, documented the dean’s attacks on him and others in his 15-member department, and approached the college’s chancellor and members of its board. Three of the professor’s colleagues had felt so berated by the new department head that they had had emotional breakdowns and sought psychiatric help, according to Namie. The professor prepared a report that laid out the extent to which the department head was costing the college money. One of the colleagues had filed a harassment suit, and students were becoming discouraged. The college let the department head go. The lesson here also echoes that of McIntyre’s sales manager story. Said Namie: Keep your emotions in check, and lay out a case that details how the boss is costing the institution money.

Despite these tales, the consultants, coaches and lawyer all agree: “Rather than get your boss fired, I would use my energies to find a new job,” in the words of the New York City career coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, who is a consultant to the career website Adds Atlanta career coach McIntyre, “If you can’t think of a business case against your boss, then you probably just have a personality case, and you’d better get over it.”

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  1. tamiam says:

    Great article, except that last quote. Bullying is not simply a case of personality conflict, and we, of all people, should not allow it to be minimized with that sort of unaware characterization.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      This article gives faint hope to the victim and an argument for the bullies.

      The bully might say, “Why don’t you get me fired if I’m so bad. Other people have gotten their boss fired. I guess you have no case.”

      Just how often are bullies fired?

      I wanted HR and the executives to let me work somewhere else. I did not ask to have my boss fired. They would be lieing if they put those words in my mouth.

  2. Jay Jacobus says:

    Shouldn’t the bully make a business case for bullying? Or are business cases the sole responsibility of victims?

    It seems to me that bullies are allowed to take whatever action they want to take without any rationale whatsoever.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      The bully is like a terrorist. He answers to no one but himself.

      He is the judge, jury and executioner of whoever he chooses to destroy.

      • kay says:

        That’s right, and sooo manipulative. Definitely he holds all of the cards.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        But the ultimate manipulation is to get bullies to give up their destructive ways.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        Of course the bully boss is in a much better position to manipulate a target.

        Where I worked I was:

        Hired for a job and then ignored.

        Given a temporary job that lasted 4 years.

        Told to redo a job that I had just completed (and not given any guidelines as to what was wrong.)


        Given many unfavorable and career ending “opportunities”.

        Finally, after 10 years, I was told why the boss was manipulating me. (I was suppose to voluntarily take a job I didn’t want.)

        People who are manipulated or bullied into unwanted positions have reasons to sabotage their job. But that would be passive aggressive and therefore the target would be at fault. Or so the manipulator would say.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        If every bullied or manipulated employee decided to sabotage their company’s work, how long would their company exist?

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      AIG had difficulties that resulted in big changes.

  3. A.M says:

    i am a paraprofessional, for ditrict 75 school p.s q26 ive been working for 12 years. Now i have a health problem and my cordinator is always making fun of me, laughing at me tell others about my problems this has me with alot of stress ive had operations from anurisums. all of the staff from the school keep picking on my i have tryed to kill myself twice. my problem is my bad breath i have gone to doctors dentist and no one can tell me whats wrong with me. please somebody help me


  4. elsienorman says:

    I’ve been at my job one year, learned fast and irritated the chief bully on my unit. She recruits people to harrass others. Recently one of her “recruits” put a 8×10 inch sign on the outside of her cubicle with a quote about people being responsible for their own happiness. She told me that she put it there for me because I am “negative” and she is apparently telling my coworkers the same thing. I mind my own business and have always been polite to this woman. Not sure what to do. I hate going to work now and when I get home I am upset. This paper is still on her cubicle. If I let her know I am upset about it, I will be labeled sensitive since I already told my supervisor and he blew me off, telling me to let it roll off me and how smart and wonderful this woman is. This is not the only thing that has happened but I definitely feel upset over this and I know I have to do something about it.

  5. J. says:

    The only place I could imagine this being successful is in an organization that does not have a culture of bullying. If upper members of upper management are bullies, the mid-level boss will remain employed because his/her supervisors support, encourage and enable bullying. However, I could imagine the methods described in the article being successful in some organizations where bullies are the exception and not the rule. The organization’s culture may be the key issue in removing a bullying supervisor.

    Did the college faculty member(s) want to fire the dean, or the department chair? These are two different positions. Department chairs are at the bottom of the administrative ladder and work for deans, who are mid-level administrators. Either way, it would take all, or most, of a department or college to get rid of an administrator and, usually, even abused faculty members are afraid to stand up to administration.

    People in academia are aggressively fed the myth that standing up for themselves is a career ending move, no matter how severe abuse becomes. The idea is: suck it up and say nothing, or someone in administration will retaliate against you. This disempowering notion is pushed on entering graduate students and continues until through their faculty careers and until they become emeritus faculty (if they make it that far). Tenure will not protect a faculty member from abuse, but it makes terminating the faculty member for political or retaliatory reasons very, very difficult. Abuse may be worse for those who are tenured because it can be extremely long term and a truly vindictive administrator will try to manufacture a cause to begin termination proceedings against a tenured faculty member target.

    I survived as a tenured faculty member bullied by a vicious dean, patently corrupt department chair, and their dim-witted and enabling provost only because I was willing to stand up for myself. If I had not fought back, they would have ruined my career and left me with no way to support myself – that was their goal. They failed.

    As for the cost to the university, administration did not care. Apparently, there was no financial cost they were unwilling to accept. I thought this was because the state pays the bills, but that turned out to be only partially correct. A large portion of the cost seems to have come out of the institution’s budget, in a period of extreme budget cuts. The administrators kept their jobs, even though it cost more than their individual annual salaries to keep them.

    Cost to the employer will not stop bullying in an organization with a culture of bullying. The cost is viewed, by bullies in upper management, as one of the costs of doing business.

    • J. says:

      The post above suffers from an obvious lack of proof reading. Sorry.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      I wonder if there is any way to get some good examples of managers that provide a fostering, enriching environment.

      Positive management stories would be something that we could use as an example for poor managers to follow. These could also serve as insinuations regarding poor management.

      Universities, in particular, should provide an enriching environment. Enrichment is their main reason for existing.

      • J. says:

        I think most universities see their enrichment responsibilities as intellectual, or solely educational. They will all try to sell something more to students, but that is just hype. In reality, the primary goal of almost every university is to keep enrollment up and bring in tuition and donations.

        I have worked in about six universities and I have seen some administrators who handled their budgets fairly responsibly. I have encountered a few administrators who treated faculty with some professionalism and were polite, at least on the surface. Adequate levels of responsibility and professionalism and surface politeness to subordinates are the best behaviors I’ve seen among university administrators. In my experience, those administrators are the minority. I briefly worked in administration, but decided to return to faculty – I do not have the personality for academic administration.

        Some of the administrators I encountered were abusive to the point of engaging in real criminal behavior. I have seen just about everything between reasonably professional behavior and gross brutality. I have never been employed by a university that I would consider enriching from the employment perspective. Some are professionally enriching in that they support research, but those are increasingly hard to find. I could not recommend higher education to anyone as a career choice. In my roughly 15 years of full-time experience, I have found universities very bad places to work.

        My employer for the past eight years was horrible beyond anything I had seen before and turned me completely against academia as a place of employment.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        The mindset of leaders is the ends justifies the means. The means are conformity and control.

        Many times this means that creative people must give up their creativity to conform. Or independent people must give up their independence to be controled.

        A leader should see himself as a follower and create the environment in which he would thrive if he were a follower. And he should not have to give up control to do so.

        The goals can be the same, but the means should maximize the capabilities of each individual.

        Leaders need to open their eyes to the potential of each follower and bring out the best in them. Bullying does just the opposite.

        If I was a rebel, it was because I didn’t want to be less than my potential. But my bully wanted to crush my individuality.

        The mindset of many leaders is to maximize their results by controling the minds of their followers. They fail to understand how stupid this is.

  6. Luckymoonrun says:

    I fought back; I fought back hard, and a senior administrator apparently lost his job because of what was allowed to happen under his watch. He was taken out from the above, and his partner in crime, my immediate supervisor, was eventually taken out from below.

    I never launched a campaign against either of them, but after years of abuse, I took steps to protect and distance myself from the situation. It was not pretty, but justice can be done however it takes a long time and in the meantime, targets need to take care of themselves.

    My story is not unique.

    The harassment/bullying/mobbing was at a 10+. I was lied about, ganged up on, resources readily given to others were denied, I took medical leave, I asserted myself, yet none of these red flags worked.

    I certainly did not think anyone would lose their job when I took the actions I did because I knew taking on a boss with the hopes the boss would actually be punished was a waste precious energy when I was already exhausted from being ganged up on and harassed for so long.

    The first step I took was to name what was happening to me as bullying, harassment and mobbing. I named it about a year and a half ago; the act itself didn’t make things better over night but it allowed me to distance myself from a situation that I finally realized was abusive and one that I could not fix.

    I read everything I could about workplace abuse and as a result could watch the power plays in action from a distance; it was like I was spectator even though they were playing with my life! Naming it also allowed me to shift my focus from trying to fix the problem to one of survival and healing.

    An important part of my new mindset continues to be mourning. I had hoped for so long that if I worked harder things would get better. I finally let go of this fantasy and realized that I needed to mourn the career or at least the idea of the career I once wanted at my employer. I am still with my employer and hope to stay there for the next few years or perhaps for my entire career but it is now a “new normal” Doors that were once open to me are permanently closed; I have a Scarlet Letter even though I did nothing wrong.

    How did the demotion of the boss happen?

    I documented everything and, in the end, while malicious and cunning, the bullies were pretty darn stupid. They were so desperate to use the persecution of me as a bonding experience, they violated policy left right and center and most of it is documented.

    The key message from my experience is that “justice” was years in the making — years lost to sleepless nights and out of this world anxiety and I’m still not sure what will be the final outcome; an outcome that could very well take another few years. And even with the bosses gone or on their way out soon, I have to always remind myself that things will never be the same.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      Stories like yours are important. We need to build tactics that work. Perhaps we can piece together a number of successes to create a strategy that provides a complete solution.

      Your success came from naming the problem and documenting the abuse.

      What was your action that finally brought you help? Did senior management change their perspective?

    • J. says:

      I think you are absolutely correct – fight back.

      Your comment about your bullies’ using the abuse as a bonding experience is interesting. I had never thought of it that way, but I see your point. Administration at my former place of employment is bullying at every level. I can see how members of administration have bonded over their abuses. They spent lots of time emailing each other and discussing how to deal with any underling who believed he/she had rights. If they had spent as much time on legitimate work as they did plotting against faculty, they might have managed to get something worthwhile accomplished and they would have wasted far less state money. If nothing else, they all worked to hide where they buried the bodies, so to speak. They bonded over their desperate need to cover up too.

      I also found documenting to be essential. I kept every email, memo, etc. It is hard for bullies to lie successfully about their actions when the target has a written trail. When you document everything, you can look back over all of it and see how stupid bullies are. Some of the stupidity I saw was almost incomprehensible. If the target ever manages to get outside review, documentation can make the bullies look like the pathetic idiots they are.

      I did not get my boss fired, though I wish that had happened. I did try. My immediate supervisor is nothing more than a corrupt and sycophantic pawn under the control of the college dean. The dean is vicious and I believe evil (“evil” is a word I never used in the past because it sounded overblown – not now). I would like to see both of them unemployed. However, I did manage to save my professional reputation, my ability to seek other employment, and I was paid – finally, after a long fight.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        Being left with employment possibilties is a great success.

        I was completely ignored and no matter what I did I could not find favorable employment.

        How did you convince your employer to perserve your employability. That seems like a difficult thing to do.

      • J. says:

        I sued. For reasons I do not understand, the dean of my college loathed me beyond all reason. But, she left a paper trail. Upper administration generally facilitated the abuse.

        In early 2010, I filed suit to enforce my state’s open records laws after the university denied me access to records illegally. The records contain information that is damaging to the university and upper administration. I know at least one misdemeanor was committed and I believe there were actions beyond that. University police refused to take any action.

        We litigated for about a year and a half. In April, we attended court ordered lawsuit mediation. In May 2011, we finally reached an agreement.

        In settlement of my suit, the university paid me approximately two years salary in lump sum (less than I had left on my contract and less than I felt was owed, but enough to accept). I was also paid my regular salary for April and May. I resigned in mid-May and, on May 31, I became entirely free of them. The university was permitted to keep its records, but its employees are gagged by the settlement. They must follow a written statement when a reference is requested and cannot slander or libel me, as they would have done otherwise. I am not gagged and can now say whatever I want, since the suit is settled. My best guess is most of the records no longer exist, they were likely destroyed after suit was filed.

        I wish my department chair and dean had been fired because they both richly deserve it. They are grossly unethical. The dean has no conscience and seems incapable of basic humanity. However, the university president is almost as bad. He was hired about three years ago despite a record of faculty abuse and lawsuits at his prior institution. Last year, he lost a confidence vote here. The current provost, the dean’s supervisor/enabler, is one of the stupidest people I have ever met inside or outside academia. The university was willing to pay me more than my dean’s annual salary (the half-witted provost is paid less than the dean), to keep its secrets.

        I will never know exactly what was in those records, but the university was willing to spend quite a bit of money to keep me from knowing.

    • c says:

      This story is a big help to me, Lucky. Thanks very much for sharing.

  7. Luckymoonrun says:

    I went to an attorney. I have not sued yet, but the option is still on the table. I’m not sure if it changed upper administration’s perspective, but it finally got their attention enough to act.

    I also read a lot about workplace abuse, bullying and mobbing (see the work of Kenneth Westhues for more on mobbing). The Chronicle of Higher Education also discusses the topic on occasion. I pulled the excerpt below from one of the Chronicle’s discussion forums about bullying. Here is what the unknown author said he did to “fight back” – a strategy that proved extremely helpful to me:

    Here is my advice for effective survival of this horrendous form of “academic violence” — based on research, VERY PERSONAL experience, and observation of and intervention in the mistreatment of colleagues:


    2. CONSULT WITH A GOOD ATTORNEY/LAW FIRM (an attorney associated with a pretigeous law firm is a better choice than a single-office attorney not unaffiliated with a firm).

    3. HAVE THE ATTORNEY WRITE A STRONG LETTER TO THE TOP ADMINISTRATORS AND THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES (a good attorney who has maticulous documentation from the client will know exactly how to phrase the demand for remedy and the consequences for lack thereof)

    4. GO PUBLIC (In my own case, an egregious wrongful dismissal, the attorney called the press himself. As a result, I found my case aired in several newspapers for weeks on end. Surprisingly, I found that exposure to be a liberating experience. I assure you that it beats being violated behind closed doors. Nothing is worse than anonymous suffering). There are other venues of publicity that your attorney may want to pursue, aside.

    These organizations (at FIRE, ask to speak to Adam Kissel and/or attorney Greg Lukianoff)will write about your case on their website and may have other remedies, suggestions.

    6. HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH! (You have done nothing wrong.
    Portray strength and confidence, no matter how much you hurt. There is something about a confident aura that commands respect)

    7. DON’T BE AFRAID (You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The bully(bullies) have already smeared your reputation, and he/she/they will not take pity on you even if you begged. In the end, they will only be put into their place through actions #2 and #3 above.
    Therefore, do not show weakness. The time for negotiating and hoping for improvement is OVER!

    8. YOU MAY WISH TO DO ALL OR SOME OF THE ABOVE. (I did ALL of them simultaneously, and it got resuls)


    10. Finally: THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS!

  8. J. says:

    This is a very good list. I did most of these. There are a few elements I would like to add to the items listed above:

    1. DOCUMENT METICULOUSLY: Keep every email and shred of paper, but do not stop there. Request everything in writing. Try to keep all communications with bullies in email. When you must meet, take a recording device. If the bullies refuse to be recorded, record the refusal and then take clear notes. After each meeting, send an email or memorandum to everyone present restating the meeting’s contents and results. Never fail to document all meetings in writing and copy participants. Set up a private email account and transfer all relevant work related emails into that account for safe keeping. Never send emails to work from this account.

    4. GO PUBLIC: This may be hard to do, but do it anyway. If you cannot get media access, start talking. Tell everyone you know and anyone who will listen. In academia, this goes against everything you are ever told – ignore what you were told. University bullies depend on operating in secrecy, so take the secrecy away from them.

    7. DON’T BE AFRAID: Do not let anyone tell you that fighting back will end your career. If you do not fight back, the bullies will ruin you professionally – that is their ultimate goal. Your bullies want you to be frightened. They depend on people being fearful. Do not give them what they want.

    I would like to add three items to the list. I did all of these and they helped:

    11. KEEP UP WITH ALL DEADLINES: Be sure to file all required internal and external complaints on time. Even if you get nowhere filing complaints with upper administration (which is likely what you will get), you may need to show you followed internal policies before you resorted to a lawsuit. More importantly, you will leave an evidence trail showing that upper administration knew about and condoned the behavior. Know whether you have an EEOC complaint and get it filed on time – this is a required step for a discrimination suit.

    12. UNDERSTAND YOUR CONTRACT: This is key for people in education. Most university faculty members are contract employees. You have rights under that contract – know what they are. The most successful lawsuits filed against universities are breach of contract suits. If you do not understand your contract, take it to a contract attorney and ask. Knowing my contract saved me. I would not have succeeded if I had not understood the elements of my contract and fought for my rights under it.

    13. BECOME FAMILIAR WITH RELEVANT LAWS: This does not take a law degree, just some time. Learn what discrimination is and whether you have it. Check out your state government website – there may be simplified labor law information readily available. States have open records and open meetings laws requiring government to be open to the public. If you work for a state university, or other state government organization, you may have open records and open meetings laws available to you. Know what organizations fall under records and meetings laws in your state, there may be more than you think. A records request, where applicable, costs very little and can be extremely useful.

    ABOUT ATTORNEYS: I disagree somewhat with number 2 on the list. A prestigious law firm is more than most people can afford and will take a contingent fee case only if it is very lucrative. The best attorney is one who has sued your organization and won, or reached a favorable settlement. Look for successful experience over prestige. A local attorney who has practiced in the area for several years may be the best choice. A firm’s prestige will not help if the firm has no record of success against academia. A sole practitioner, or member of a small firm, who has had success with similar cases will be more personal than a big name firm and may treat your case with more interest. Be clear when meeting with any attorney and choose one who listens.

  9. Luckymoonrun says:

    Thanks J. Your additions are very useful to me as I explore my next steps, and I hope to others.

    I also became familiar with various laws, and ultimately went to the EEOC too. While awful to go through, a lot of the harassment was done by supervisors, documented and directly tied to “tangible employment actions,” which pretty much renders an employer legally defenseless.

    Your points about employment contracts are also important. My contract had been violated for years — in black and white. The problem was no one bothered to read it, and when they finally realized that they got the basics wrong in their sea of subjective attacks… and I’m talking really basic facts here … they were too far down the river to correct the situation on their own it seems.

    And yes, meet all applicable deadlines and try the often futile internal route too, which will demonstrate a good faith attempt to fix the problem on the inside (but no one listened or acted) before pursuing outside remedies.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      From my experience and from what I have read bullying cannot be resolved through the law.

      The law does not recognize mental health problems as evidence of bullying. The law does not recognize unemployability as evidence of bullying.
      Nor does the law recognize a person’s statement that he was bullied as evidence of bullying.

      The law enables bullies.

      To resolve bullying one of the things we could do is to vote out the enablers in offices.

      I imagine that there are lawyers who know how to protect themselves using the law as a weapon to bully their employers into compliance. But most of these lawyers use laws that don’t apply to most victims of bulying. I don’t blame people from using whatever sticks that they have available to them. I unfortunately have no sticks and must rely on softer pressures.

      For lawyers to be recognized as advocates of vicitms they need to resolve the many cases of workplace abuse.

      If a lawyer helps me find employment, I will sing his praises but for present time, I am skeptical (and unemployed).

      • J. says:

        I don’t think forcing an employer to comply with existing law is bullying. If employers voluntarily complied with state and federal laws, there would be no need to look for legal remedies. I was an attorney, before entering academia, but I did not know how to protect myself until after I became a target. I spent months doing the research necessary to learn how to fight back and I continued doing research throughout litigation. My legal experience helped me do the research and find the possible lawsuits before going to an attorney, but it did not protect me from bullying nor did it influence the bullies’ behavior.

        It does not require a law degree to fight back, but it does take work and commitment that some bullying targets may not be ready for after living through abuse at work. I did not have a choice. I also had family support and a few friends who believed me that some targets may not have. It did not hurt that the defendants were stupid. I was ultimately successful but it took almost a year and a half, with abuse rapidly escalating during that time, to get resolution. I had the stress of dealing with my employer at work and the stress of suing my employer simultaneously.

        My attorney successfully represented someone against my employer in the past and sued another university, but even he encountered surprises. Litigation was frightening, exhausting and depressing and I had real doubts that I would ever get anywhere. However, I could not afford (financially or professionally) to allow the abuse to continue. As difficult as the legal process was, suing my employer was never as exhausting and depressing as going to work in a toxic environment.

        Bullying, as such, does not currently exist in law for most adults. Until it does exist, it is necessary to use any available laws to fight back. For example, some bullying may, in extreme cases, be assault. Some bullies may have violated discrimination laws. There is more to discrimination than most people seem to think and that information is available online from EEOC and most states. For those who are fortunate enough to have employment contracts, bullying employers cannot seem to avoid breaches. My university system has lost numerous contract suits.

        Attorneys cannot correct all of the problems bullying targets experience, no one can. Legal assistance can help, but it cannot do everything. It’s far harder to keep the lights on and rent paid in a law office than most people seem to believe, especially now.

        Targets should not tell themselves that because adult/workplace bullying is not illegal they have no hope of getting legal help. There may be no way to get legal redress, but it takes research and effort to be certain. Based on personal experience, I believe it is worth the work and pain to eliminate all possible legal avenues before abandoning the idea. I do not want to sue and hope I never need to do it again, but I will if necessary.

  10. Jay Jacobus says:

    I contacted 30 lawyers. None helped.

    One said sarcastically, “You might try a good Jewish lawyer.” He also said I didn’t have a case.

    Another said that I might file a suit myself in order to perserve my right to sue, but he didn’t offer a possible issue under which to sue. I tried to do research but I was very sick and quickly got confused.

    Few of the other lawyers returned my calls and only one agreed to meet me. The one who did listened to my plight but turned me down without an explanation.

    After fruitlessly calling many lawyers, I concluded that I was out of luck and stopped.

    Some laws come originaly from the Bible. The Bible story that relates to bullying is the book of Job. Job, like me, was denied a trial, but he was finally restored.

    If a victim / target was not given a trial, he should be restored (according to the Bible). To a lawyer this won’t sound legal, but destroying victims lives does not sound legal to me.

    • J. says:

      What you describe is one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to sue. It does often require going through lots of lawyers. There may be several reasons, some legitimate and some ridiculous, why a lawyer would not want a particular case. It is essential to explain your story as clearly and as simply as possible.

      In my case, very few local attorneys were willing to take on the local university. It is not politically expedient to sue one of the largest employers in town. The university has paid attorneys all over town to do small bits of legal work with the intention of creating conflicts of interest when someone wants to sue the university. It makes it far harder for a faculty member to sue, if he/she cannot find an attorney who has no conflicts of interest.

      Some lawyers do not relate to what you are saying and do not listen. I once spent about 30 minutes on the phone listening to an attorney out of town tell me I could not sue because of at will employment, even though I told him several times that I was a contract employee. He was so locked into the idea of employment at will that he could not get his mind around anything else. Attorneys rarely see contract employment and they don’t relate to it and that was a problem in my case. Avoid any attorney who does not seem to understand what you are saying. Do not waste time listening to an attorney who you know is going off in the wrong direction, move on to another.

      Attorneys do not want cases they think they cannot win, or settle favorably. Winning and being right are not the same. A case may be hard to win because it is too complex, or unusual, or hard to make a potential jury understand, etc. The obvious reasons for turning someone down are time and money. Also, there is an intense backlash against lawsuits now. It seems that every lawsuit is labeled “frivolous” no matter what the facts and state legislatures are limiting individuals’ lawsuit rights (a huge protection and benefit for big business). Attorneys in some states are becoming increasingly reluctant to file certain types of suits. There are lots of problems that may influence an attorney’s decision.

      It may also be true that you do not have an issue for which a lawsuit can be filed. That does not mean you are not correct, or that you were not damaged. It just means there may not be a legal cause of action that you can use as the basis for a suit. Or, you may not have a cause of action that an attorney can identify, but the result is the same.

      Not finding an attorney does not mean you were wrong to look. The only way to learn whether you can sue is to start interviewing attorneys. It would have been better if a few of those attorneys had told you why they believed you could not sue – it’s something you need to know. If you talk to another attorney, ask for her/him to explain. If you don’t immediately understand the explanation, ask questions until you do understand.

      Looking for an attorney can be very discouraging. I spent months doing it and quit looking for a while. I could not give up because I had exhausted all my other options. After several months, I found a very clear way to sue that could lead to a larger suit. Finally, I found a local attorney I had worked for in the past and I was fortunate that he did not have a conflict of interest. We got a better outcome with the one fairly small suit than either of us ever expected, but it took a long time and lots of stress. It appears the defendants settled because they wanted to stop the additional suits they knew would likely be filed.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        It seems to me that bullying is neither legal nor illegal and no one argues to make it legal. Our opponents want to leave bullying out of the law. Those who favor blocking legislation making bullying illegal do not have a moral or ethical argument. They have a financial argument.

        This is bizzare. Of course bullying is wrong but it will cost the perpetrators too much money if they lose a lawsuit or criminal trial.

        Is this good law?

        I would like argue that I should be restored to financial and mental health, but I have given up on that. Now, I just want to be allowed a job.

  11. Laura says:

    I was reading through the commentary and agree that there is a bonding that occurs between the bully and their minions. I have worked at a credit union for 3 years and have found it to be the case. With a new hire, there seems to be an initiation that occurs. If the new hire speaks to me, they are shunned. If they are rude towards me, they are accepted and rewarded. There are other peers that do not agree with the treatment. One colleague of mine referred a sale to me. Over the next few weeks I noticed how she was shunned from the group. There is very little that a targetted person can do. There are few resources if any to utilize. The cost of having to juggle vacation and sick days to find another job is stressful. The internal channels simply do not work. And if the org is able to cover up very well, you’re out of luck. The CEO has had litigation battles in 2 other instititutions prior. The last one went on strike to force him out. But our credit union hired him regardless. Management is getting away with alot more abuses and favoritism. Those who engage in office gossipr, nit-picking, sabotage, are rewarded routinely. Having to find another job, especially in this industry is hard. I am starting to feel so powerless. I am trying to stay detached and keep in mind that their crazy-making has nothing to do with me. But how do you deal with being prodded over and over again, thus their behaviour and decisions impacting on yours and your family’s life. These sub-human perps know what they do. And they obviously do not care. I only wish they will receive 100 fold, what they have put towards me.

    • Eva says:


      You’re not alone.

      “there seems to be an initiation that occurs. If the new hire speaks to me, they are shunned.”

      From day one.

      “The cost of having to juggle vacation and sick days to find another job is stressful.”

      Especially if you have to use those days for medical/car/home/kid issues.

      “But how do you deal with being prodded over and over again.”

      You try not to have a nervous breakdown. And you will either lose/gain weight.

      Sorry, don’t really have an answer – it’s been longer for me, but just wanted you to know, I HEAR you.

  12. Luckymoonrun says:

    I hear you too, Laura.

    I lost weight and came close to a nervous breakdown — so much so a medical leave was necessary. A little more than a year later, I am back; I am better and I take steps each and every day to heal and move fully forward, so the following is based on very personal and recent experience:

    Know that you are not alone and take steps to protect yourself not only from the bullies but also from the mental anguish that lingers after their psychological assaults. In addition to the resources here, I highly recommend Bob Sutton’s book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t.”

    As trite as the title sounds, it offers wonderful tips on surviving in toxic workplaces. His most useful piece of advice for me was to “care as little as possible about all of the nasty people around you.” It worked a great deal because you’re right: They don’t care. He also recommends to care less about your job in organizations that tolerate abusive behavior. Do the job, but don’t pour your heart and soul into it. An organization that allows abuse does not deserve caring employees. Period.

    Also, take time away from work if you are able to and/or if you can afford it. I took four months off at a significant pay cut; the time and distance were worth the pay cut because they helped me gain back a sense of who I was (before the abuse) and perspective. I went back and cared as little as possible about the people who abused me or did nothing to stop it. I was polite and pleasant and did my job, but inside there were nobodies to me.

    Finally, and to answer your question: “how do you deal with being prodded over and over again?” — learn and read up on assertive techniques, take time to respond to each “prod,” and when you respond don’t feel you have to explain your actions or perhaps consider not responding to prodding at all. Prodding means they’re trying to get a rise or reaction out of you. Don’t take the bait anymore. They will get the message that you’re onto them eventually by your cool-as-a-cucumber actions (or non actions).

    Take care, and take care of yourself.

  13. […] the tables. Until you confront the behemoth it will continue to run roughshod. Tales of how employees got their supervisors fired may provide just the impetus to  confront an abusive situation head on. [This strategy can be […]

  14. Amazed says:

    Curiously enough, I am an HR professional and can’t believe my 18 year old son was put through what his supervisor put him through yesterday. After berating him in front of others–questioning his man-hood, calling him a weak-di__, he literally made him wash his work boots. To me this crosses a line that a supervisor cannot come back from. I am wondering if this warrants termination. I work in a Unionized environment where terminations are generally difficult to have upheld. Any thoughts?

  15. amber says:

    Hi, I had a bully manager. He demanded I do work not in my job profile. As a licensed professional this was his way of degrading me. I sat kept my cool documented. N waited for a few good mistakes. As the abuse continued I hit hr with all my information as a valuable n respected employee. He was let go immediately. Be one step ahead of the bullying!! And don’t tolerate abuse. I showed my son a good lesson stand up for your rights. Your mom isn’t taking any bs!!

  16. Fred says:

    Bad things can happen at state-run universities. Perhaps not all of them are like this. Maybe I have merely been unlucky.

    Here is a list of things I have personally encountered. All of it involved bullying, and it did do some damage to my career. Looking back, it seems so bizarre and out of place, that I’d like to tell others this stuff is out there.

    1. Senior professor acting as broker for bribes for favorable referee reports on grant applications. I was told this after the grant was awarded, and I didn’t pay. He told me the bribes were already paid and he had fronted the money as a favor to my career, and would remember my stiffing him later.

    2. Lab director telling junior faculty hired at the lab that their job was to make him famous. Lab director adding faculty to a grant application who did nothing and had no interest in the grant, so that the proposal looked better. Forging of signatures on documents. Lab director is also problem alcoholic. Divorced, his shuttled 12-year old kid acts out by walking on restricted rooftop ledge of 40 story downtown penthouse apartment. There was a swimming pool on the roof but the ledge was off limits. I felt better when the kid was merely toilet-papering my car. Oh, and female junior faculty at the lab were expected to provide free babysitting for the kid.

    3. Faculty who disagreed with superiors being relocated to a lonely office away from others where periodically, piles of departmental records that must be archived would be stored in their space.

    4. $500 dinners on university credit cards.

    5. Small time cash embezzlement from grants that had cash expenses.

    6. Senior faculty deciding to make it a policy that any of a junior faculty’s journal publications arising from their Ph.D. research could not be counted for tenure.

    7. Forged email sent to dean supposedly from a faculty member asking dean and his wife for a threesome. (some disgruntled students who were computer experts probably did this one, rather than problem colleagues)

    8. XXL faculty member asked to review obesity-related paper for professional conference where it was clearly off topic, i.e. a non-health-related scientific conference.

  17. […] How to get your boss fired | workplace bullying institute […]

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