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I worked at a large retailer as a sales manager for almost six years. My store manager made my life miserable.

I was in charge of women’s apparel, lingerie, and kids’ clothing. I also oversaw other departments when coworkers were out. I trained and managed 25 employees. I monitored and provided coaching on selling behaviors, which resulted in significant productivity improvements. I resolved customer complaints regarding sales and service, reviewed operational records and reports to project sales, and determined profitability. I resolved conflicts and determined salaries.

Here’s how the abuse from my store manager played out:

Spying. On numerous occasions, the store manager hid behind clothing racks to spy on my meetings while I went over sales plans with my team. She later asked me what I was talking about with my associates. She seemed to hate the fact that my associates loved working on my team and that we had fun together. I made my team members feel comfortable and listened to their concerns.

Harsh reprimands. My store manager did not want us to speak Portuguese, yet the majority of our customers spoke Portuguese and no English, so we’d have to translate and help them to pick out outfits. It was okay for us to make the sales goal for the store and to make the bonuses for her, but I had to reprimand my associates for speaking Portuguese. It got to the point that I went into work everyday not knowing what I’d be reprimanded for that day. I was afraid of her. She was intimidating and loved power and control. She knew she could do whatever she wanted without consequences. She wanted everybody to know she was boss. Meanwhile I felt worthless and was ready for a nervous breakdown.

Unreasonably heavy work demands. One day after the holiday season, I was in my office trying to finish an inventory project under a deadline. My store manager interrupted me to tell me she needed me on the sales floor for supervision. So I planned to finish the project during lunch break the next Sunday but wasn’t able to take a lunch break due to our shorter hours. I left a note for the store manager saying I wasn’t able to finish the project, so she called me at home on my day off and asked me to come to work to finish the project. I went in and gave her my two weeks notice. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to unemployment and didn’t get a check for about a month, but they let me collect for six months. I struggled financially. I finally found a new job making a third less than what I previously made. I went to see a lawyer and Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). They denied my claim even though I had witnesses.

My store manager still works there. Many employees call Human Resources about her with no action from management, while I haven’t been able to get interviews for a new job.

It’s not ok for people to abuse others and cause pain. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re worthless. Your feelings matter.

An advocate’s story of being pushed out of a museum from workplace abuse
Derek worked in a museum as a Museum and Gallery Assistant. He considered his line manager a serial bully. “The bullying was covert. It took me five years to understand that I was being bullied at all,” he explained. “Bullying tactics ranged from a blame culture to micromanaging. The controlling bully got some type of kick from seeing his staff suffer and struggle under their large workloads. He would often come in late, do little work, panic, and them spread that panic onto others. He was lazy and manipulative, hiding his incompetence by taking credit for other people’s work yet putting their work down.”

The bullying made Derek feel stressed out, tired, and that his work was never good enough. He developed constant headaches.

Then the bullying escalated.

“Once I confronted the line manager on his behavior and made a formal grievance a few years later, his bullying escalated. The bully acted like the victim and called me a bully,” Derek said.

Even worse, the employer took the bully’s side. “Human Resources made a plan to get rid of me. I was called the troublemaker. Five other managers made up false statements and a well-being report about me. They claimed I made managers ill and had to be terminated. HR isolated me from my workplace for an ‘investigation’ — all dragged out over 18 months. A complete farce,” he added.

Meanwhile, Derek’s health only got worse. His doctor put him on antidepressants, which made him drowsy and bedridden. When on sick leave, his employer made up more lies and got rid of him.

The impact: the employer lost a competent staff member and kept an incompetent one who went on to bully others.

“Workplace bullying should be a crime,” said Derek. “It is mental violence that ruins lives and careers, and currently, managers are unaccountable in the workplace and can treat their staff like trash. This problem must change.”


Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

We believe America’s workers have a right to safe workplaces where their psychological health is recognized as a vital component of overall well-being. All people — regardless of their gender, race, color, national origin, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, size, income, faith, religion, and political affiliation — deserve to lead healthy and productive lives and to work in safe environments free from workplace abuse, workplace bullying, workplace mobbing, and oppression.

We are part of End Workplace Abuse, which strives to protect and promote workers’ right to psychological wellness – critical to physical health, by advocating for the elimination of abusive behaviors (bullying, mobbing, and harassment) from the American workplace. We achieve our mission by organizing and leading a collective movement advocating for psychological safety at work. We lobby for protective legislation and policies, raise public awareness about psychological harm at work, build leaders who campaign for abuse-free workplaces, and collaborate with other organizations advancing workers’ rights. Because bias and prejudice are often an integral part of workplace abuse, we advocate for protections against discrimination.

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