March 27th, 2013

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Executive Assistant


Let’s Talk with Kalola, where targets can share their experiences with WBI’s blog readers. Here we go!

Dear Kalola,

I was an Executive Assistant for a major company for seven years. I had been working with a CIO for two years, who then decided to retire. When told of this, I was also informed that the Company’s plan for me was to demote me three grade levels. They were then going to allow the new CIO to bring his current Assistant to replace me. I didn’t want to take the demotion and the company supported me. I was excited to work with the new CIO and was certain that once he worked with me for a bit, he would like me, as all of my previous employers had. However, for four years, the new CIO bullied me and then fired me.

From the start, this person micro-managed me. Putting every little typo, and other menial nonsense into my employee folder. He would disregard my calls (he traveled a lot), he left me out of meetings that I had attended in the past, he claimed on several occasions, that I surely had a “thing” going on with my previous boss, in order to secure my position. He would humiliate me in front of his old assistant, calling her to his office to show me how to do menial tasks. He would contact his old assistant daily and leave me hanging on major issues. He had made it clear to his direct reports that any and all mistakes made, by me, were to be reported back to him. He took the majority of the good work that I was doing, and gave it to others. When I did do great work, he gave credit to others, even monetarily, but never me. He left me out of everything. He even went as far as to crank called me at a hotel, where I was staying at for a work function, pretending to be my boyfriend. In fact, he did just about anything that he could do to get me to quit. Ruining my home-life, and actually pointing out, that I couldn’t keep a loving relationship with a man and asked me, why this was? He was constantly causing me undue stress to the point of having to see a physician for anxiety and depression. I was completely segregated from the rest of the department.

I reported the harassment to Human Resources on several occasions, but the Human Resources representative was also intimidated and nothing ever came of my complaints.

I have been severely depressed since, and it’s been over a year now. I lost my health insurance immediately, and when I needed it the most. I am on unemployment now, but it’s about to run out and I’ve not found comparable adequate work. I’m terrified. I have lost everything. The love of my life is gone, along my motivation, my confidence and the love my career. I was never able to have children, so I was always a completely devoted, motivated and loyal employee, with a good attitude, regardless of the situation.

I can’t find an attorney to help, as I was an “at will” employee.

I wish that I could give advice, but really, I’m seeking it. There must be something that can be done.

I need help and have no place left to turn. I feel stuck running in place. I don’t even have one letter of reference from this company and I really don’t know how to explain this to a potential employer without being negative.

I just want my life back and feel that I’ve been completely wronged. I really find it so difficult to believe that people can just destroy someone’s life out of selfishness and unprofessionalism.

Can anyone help?  I’d even be will to pay an attorney to help me compose a letter to the CEO of the company. I’m desperate to also find medical counseling.

Any help would be appreciated. Obviously there is much more to the story, but honestly, the things that were done to me, would take up much more space than allotted.

Michelle


Dear Michelle,


Please know that what happened to you had nothing to do with your ability to do the job or you as a person.  The incoming chief information officer  (CIO), a high-level manager, had more leverage than you.

You worked for the employer for seven years, and worked two years as an executive assistant to a CIO until she/he retired.  All was well until the new CIO was hired.  The new CIO wanted to bring on board a member of his old team which may have been included in the terms of his employment agreement..  Your employer offered you another position, however, the salary was significantly lower, and constituted a demotion.  You declined the transfer offer and, at the time, felt that the employer supported your decision to stay on as the CIO’s executive assistant.

 

From the very start, the CIO micromanaged you.  He began creating a paper trail on you.  You were held accountable for every error that you made no matter how small.  Employees who reported to the CIO, who discovered your mistakes, were expected to report those transgressions to him.  The CIO humiliated you in front of others, gave your work to others to do, and gave credit for your good work to others.   To humiliate you further, he would bring in his assistant to show you how to do tasks.  He ignored your telephone calls when he was out of the office.  Your office was relocated away from his office which isolated you.   You also allege that he ruined your personal relationships outside of work.  To the CIO you were persona non grata.   After four years, you were terminated.

 

The big red flag was when the employer informed you that the incoming CIO wanted to bring on board his assistant, a member of his old team, to replace you.  The employer, in my opinion, erred in not offering you a transfer to a position with equal pay and benefits or some type of severance package.  Instead, the employer offered you a transfer to a position with significantly lower pay.  This would have been the time to consult with an attorney.   An attorney might have been able to negotiate a severance package which might have included a continuation of health benefits for a specified period of time, as well as a good letter of recommendation so that you could find another job.   It is not unusual for employers to give outstanding, glowing recommendations when they want a person to move on.

 

Why didn’t Human Resources (HR) help you?  HR reports to management and supports management.  You reported the harassment to HR who did little or nothing.  Show your complaint letter(s) to an employment and labor attorney.  It is not your fault that HR was impotent.

Did you ask HR about COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) continuation health insurance coverage?  You would have had to pay out-of-pocket to continue your health benefit coverage if you qualified.   Although it is now too late for you to obtain this coverage, the information is included for our readers.

Reference:  U.S. Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions for Employees About COBRA Continuation Health Coverage http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-consumer-cobra.html

The anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute has suggestions for “Finding a new job after your bullying experience” which can be found at:  http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/finding-a-job/

Consider contacting the retired CIO that you worked for, and ask for a letter of reference.  When contacting her/him, do not badmouth the employer or the CIO that replaced the now retired CIO.   If he/she doesn’t provide you with a letter of reference, you will have to just let it go.   Were there other supervisors that you worked for that could give you a letter of reference?

  

If you believe that your former employer is giving you a bad employment reference you could contact a reference checking service, for a fee, who can determine what your former employer is saying about you to prospective employers.   With the proof that you are receiving a bad reference, you could contact an employment and labor attorney to see whether or not the attorney can write a cease and desist letter to the employer on your behalf.  Employers, however, can say negative things about a worker if those negative things are in fact factual.   The attorney will determine whether he/she can write a cease and desist letter or not.

 

Based on the information that you submitted, from the employer’s point of view, your termination was likely considered a lawful, good faith (or good cause) personnel action.  Why and how could this be when you were mistreated?  It would appear that the CIO knew what he was doing, and created a negative paper trail on your work performance.   However, should you possess any documentation such as e-mails, letters, performance evaluations that appeared to be unfair or unprofessional or harassing/threatening text messages or telephone messages that he may have left on your home telephone or cell phone, or statements from others who observed how you were treated, show the documentation to an attorney.

 

The anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) does not give legal advice.  We are not lawyers.  As of this writing, workplace bullying is not against the law in any state in the United States.   An employment and labor attorney can best tell you whether you have any legal recourse.    See an employment and labor attorney that works with workers only versus those employment and labor attorneys who work with employers.  If you wish to pursue your matter, it would be in your best interests to follow-up as soon as possible due to statute(s)of limitations that may affect your ability to pursue the matter.   WBI has suggestions for finding a lawyer at:  http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/finding-a-lawyer/

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, etc.  These laws apply to workers as well as to job applicants in hiring, firing, job promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.  Reference:  http://www.eeoc.gov/

Also see:  Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission:http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/phrc_home/18970/employment_discrimination/707816

If there is no illegal discrimination, a worker can be terminated at will for good cause, bad cause, or for no reason at all with a few exceptions such as a defined employment contract, the public policy exception that bars an employer from terminating employees in violation of well-established public policy (for example:  when the employee reports that a public policy or law was violated or refuses to violate a public policy or law), etc.  The state of Montana is the exception to the at-will employment doctrine where beyond a probationary period, a worker can only be fired for good cause.   Unless a worker can show that their particular circumstances are the exception to the rule, the worker is considered to be employed at will.  An employment and labor attorney could best advise you.

See:  Find Law—At-Will Employee Frequently Asked Questions http://employment.findlaw.com/hiring-process/at-will-employee-faq-s.html

Other Helpful Web Sites:

If you do not now have a physician that you have been seeing, you might ask your close friends and/or family for a recommendation.  When you find a doctor, tell her/him what happened to you, and any physical or other symptoms that you are experiencing.  You can ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional.  WBI also has suggestions for finding a mental health professional at:  http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/selecting-a-therapist/

[Some good news for low-income Pennsylvanians who need medical care:  In the Philadelphia Inquirer online posted March 6, 2013:  "A state judge has ordered the Corbett administration to reinstate funding for programs that provided health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians.  In his ruling Tuesday, Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini found that two statutes that stripped money from the AdultBasic and Medicaid programs were unconstitutional because they diverted money from the federal tobacco settlement to finance items other than health care in the general budget."  An attorney who represented former AdultBasic recipients in a lawsuit said, "This is a significant victory for people in Pennsylvania who work hard and play by the rules, but can't afford private (medical) insurance."  See story at:   http://articles.philly.com/2013-03-06/news/37503432_1_adultbasic-health-insurance-pennsylvanians]

Although your unemployment benefits are about to end, I’m glad that you were able to receive those benefits.  Often times, the employer will fight the worker on receiving unemployment benefits.  However, I don’t know the details as you may have had to appeal in order to receive those benefits.  I hope that you will check out the free services that your local state Department of Employment offers to help people find work.

How to explain why you left your previous job?  Anticipate that the question will be asked in a job interview.  Keep your explanation brief, and do not give unnecessary details.  You might say that a new manager was hired who came with his own assistant, and you were released from the job because he already had an assistant.  Don’t get emotional.  Don’t badmouth your former supervisor or the employer.  Be professional in your words and actions.  You could do a mock job interview with a friend, and practice your responses to typical job interview questions.  Ask a friend to videotape your responses so that you can critique your responses to interview questions as well as check your posture, see what the interviewer sees, and hear how you sound.

 

Until you find a job, consider doing temporary work through a temporary employment agency.  Sometimes temp jobs can lead to full-time employment.   A temp job will also help you to maintain your office skills.  There are also many opportunities to do volunteer work in your community.  Volunteer work can be noted on your résumé.  Although volunteer work is not the same as a regular, full-time job it will help to fill the gap in employment dates.  Doing volunteer work is a good thing that will also help  you to feel good about yourself.  During this time, you could be taking a class to enhance or maintain your job skills.   Your local public community college or community education program may also offer short-term courses on building self-esteem, relationships, communication skills, etc.  You could also enroll in a course for your own personal enrichment or take a fun class such as a dance class, yoga, or exercise class.

 

Michelle—what happened to you was not your fault.  What happened to you was not a reflection of who you are as a person or your ability to do the job.  All was well until the CIO was hired.  You were bullied during the four years that you were employed under the CIO.   Recovery is different for each person who has suffered from the kind of abuse that you endured.  I hope that you can find a mental health professional who can help you to deal with the anxiety/sadness/anger/grief that you are experiencing since losing your job, and help you to build your self esteem and confidence in yourself.

 

Yes, there ought to be a law.  In Pennsylvania, there is an anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill volunteer legislative coordinator along with volunteers/citizen lobbyists working to get a Healthy Workplace Bill in your state.  To see what is happening in Pennsylvania and/or volunteer to help, go to the website: http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/states/pa/pennsylvania.php

For our readers who are now being targeted by a bully or bullies, take a moment and look at the bigger picture.   Anticipate, if you will, your future in your current job. If things are not rosy, your health and well being have been affected, your work is suffering, and your relationships are being affected—then now might be the time to start considering your options.  If you have observed in your workplace other workers who have left the employer because of a bully or bullies, and you are now the target of a bully then you already know what may lie ahead if you choose to stay at the job.  I hope that you will take action and begin to look at your options.  Rarely, will things get better if you choose to stay.  Generally, there is a downhill slide.  If the employer has begun to create a paper trail of write ups that are going into your employee file that is a big red flag.  The red flag could be saying that your days with the employer are numbered.  If you feel this is happening to you, please look at your options.  Your health and safety is paramount.

Sincerely,

Kalola

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. Hi Kalola. I am writing in response to Michelle’s situation of March 2013. Although it is now well over a year later perhaps the recently published anthology, Bully Beyond The Tower (edited by Leah Hollis and Eric Turner), can be of some further help. As a mind-body therapist I have written in this volume about the fight/flight reflex response, which I would view as the driver of Michelle’s terror and depression. The work of Paul Dennison PhD back in the 1970’s pioneered a mind-body approach to remediation for adults and children unable to learn. I have found that applying this Repatterning protocol can also resolve the panic and desperation experienced by those who have experienced workplace bullying. Practitioners trained in either Educational or Neuro Linguistic Kinesiology practice this technique, which is based on the the developmental stage of crawling. Repatterning resolves the physiological responses of body and brain to trauma at the sensory level. A series of sessions with a suitable practitioner can rebuild people in Michelle’s circumstances so that life can be fulfilling again. Best wishes, Marion Pawson Registered Natural Therapy Practitioner, New Zealand.

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