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I work at a state mental health hospital. My position is in administration. I work making sure the hospital is in compliance with state and federal rules and regulations.

The bullying began early on. I was called names and threatened with being fired to the point I was told I was suspended and told to leave. I wasn’t suspended, and with the union’s help, I returned to work. Initially it started with public ridiculing and suggestions that this job was not a good fit. I was offered a severance bonus and a good reference if I quit, all of which was bogus. I was told I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone and, if I did, it would get back to the boss — and it did. I would be discussing work, and the boss would follow up asking me why I was talking to so-so on this date and time.

(This job was what I had been working toward for a long time; the pay and the hours were good, and I was still in school with young kids. It was not a good time to switch jobs. I was hoping to put in a respectable amount of time and move on until I saw how truly hostile the environment was and how unhappy people were.)

I feel cheated; I was never given a chance to excel at the job because the boss kept changing the rules. The boss would ask for one thing then publicly degrade me that everything was wrong with random, nonsensical statements like “This doesn’t make sense!” The boss would rant and rave, asking questions but not allowing for answers.

I was not the first nor will I be the last; before me, the boss/bully did the same to another administrator. He eventually quit. I have witnessed this boss curse and make fun of people’s clothes and speech. Other administrators, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and MDs witness the boss’ abusive erratic behavior and say nothing. I have heard screaming in the hallways: this boss targeting some poor soul. People shrug and return to their office.

It started as subtle hints and public taunts and moved on to ignoring and publicly snubbing: gossiping, complaining about nonsense, and telling people I am a bad parent. I was shut out of computer programs I needed to do my work. Then it graduated to name-calling and outright threats of being fired (both times behind closed doors).

The HR department refused to speak with me because I was in a union. The union has filed multiple grievances against this boss for more than 10 years for similar complaints up to and including blackmail. There have been court cases ordering reinstatements. The union admits that the hospital refuses to address this person’s behavior, so there is nothing they can do.

The first time the bullying occurred, I was still new. I figured I didn’t have a prayer, so I would just ride it out until I got fired. I needed the paycheck and experience. Everyone who witnessed the bullying and me come out the other side verbalized being impressed with my strength. My coworkers admitted to first thinking I would never survive and that from all the abuse they had witnessed except for one other, I gotten the worst of it. Coworkers told me stories going back ten years: what they witnessed and experienced from name calling to threats of physical abuse and lies.

After being reinstated, the boss/bully left me alone for a while. But it began again with ignoring me and canceling meetings. When we finally met, I was told that the plan was to get rid of me and that nothing would get in the way. The impact has been utter disbelief in the level of hostility and the number of licensed professionals who stood by and said nothing. Absolute helplessness and hopelessness at the possibility of moving on after such brazen abuse complains were escalated to the highest level of the department for years and nothing was done. Over and over again. Friends and family can’t believe what happens at this facility. And moreover that it is legal. I’m out on an extended leave due to the stress; I have three medical professionals recommending I not go back to such hostile environment for my health’s sake.

The overall impact on the hospital is that the bare minimum gets done. Morale is in the toilet. It always has been, I’ve been told. The turnover is high and continuous. Every new hire is told not to trust or speak to anyone — by the boss/bully all the way down. The boss/bully told me if I said anything to anyone, it would get back to them. Any and all questions only go to the boss. The boss’ admin and another worker make regular rounds and report everyone’s whereabouts and to whom they’re talking. No one is allowed to discuss anything with anyone without checking in with the boss first, including the most mundane work-related topics.

Workplace bullying legislation is necessary for people to be able to work in a collaborative atmosphere toward agreed upon goals and not have to worry about personal agendas to threaten and demean others, regardless of class, color, race, etc..

I should have seen the writing on the wall about six months after I started. My manager was in way over her head and stood me up for countless meetings when I was in the office. When we did finally meet, there were all the bright discussions around what my plans were for the future. I had even drafted documents outlining how my position could progress into one with greater responsibilities, and they were well-received. However, these fleeting conversations were met with negatively-charged directives to continually re-do work that had been previously approved and that I wasn’t working fast enough. My family was beginning to hate Friday afternoons because that’s when I had my 1:1 meetings, and there was nothing collaborative about them. I was constantly yelled at to do my own work when I was told not a month before that we had a copywriter who was supposed to be available to me to develop content based on my guidance.

This situation escalated to where we had to create our own goals, which I did for the upcoming fiscal year. They were dismissed and quickly re-written by my boss. One month later, on another Friday afternoon, I was asked why I wasn’t performing, and I was honestly shocked. I’ve never in my career missed a deadline nor a goal and when I asked for clarification, I was told rather angrily that I didn’t know what I was doing because I wrote the goals so why wasn’t I performing up to expectations. I still wanted to make this work because I believed in the company, although I didn’t believe in my boss anymore.

At this point, my life went from bad to worse. My mother passed away, and I was so concerned about what was happening at work that I only took one week off. When I got back, I found out that my goals had been totally re-written back to the ones that I had generated and were rejected. Now I was behind the 8-ball and at risk of disciplinary action.

I was confused and frustrated and took my concerns to one of the executives who was involved in hiring me and asked for advice on how to handle the manager because I felt like I was being singled out and bullied. He asked me what I wanted, and I said I believed in the company just not in my boss anymore and asked him if a transfer out of the department was possible. He told me he’d get back to me and never did. I escalated this situation to HR and repeated the same story. I was asked if I had evidence of this behavior and I did and forwarded it to the head of HR. I had a conference call with HR and was rather brusquely told that I did not have a bullying claim without any kind of internal due process and now I was being put on a 30-day Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) where my boss was the judge, jury, and ultimately executioner.

I had to endure a series of harassing hang up calls and weekly meetings where my boss and HR wanted to talk about everything except how I was performing on the PIP. When I asked for clarification to a comment my boss made, I was told that I didn’t need the information at that point in time and that they would provide it later. I was shut out of meetings and told not to communicate with anyone on my team. I had expense accounts that from the day I was put on the PIP my employer refused to pay me on. They put roadblock after roadblock after roadblock up for reasons why they refused to pay me back. I was repeatedly told that their reasons where in our employee manual, when there was no such language in the copy I have on file. I documented and sent back to them that they paid my previous expense accounts under the identical set of circumstances, so in my mind the only reason why they refused to pay now was that I went to HR with documentation that I felt that my boss was a bully.

This went on for 30 days. I was medically depressed. I woke up screaming in the middle of the night because of what was happening, and when my spouse held me, I just remember crying and saying just make it stop. I was finally let go even though I had documentation supporting that I made each ridiculous goal they set up for me to do in 30 days. Ironically, those few outside of the department who I was friends with texted me after I was let go to wish me well in my new job. I told them what took place, and they were shocked because everyone was told that I voluntarily left the company.

I tried to fight back, but the legal system was no help. I live outside of Massachusetts, and it became a huge jurisdictional issue. After I finally went through the EEOC and countless attorneys, I found one who in the beginning at least took me seriously. That didn’t last long. I ended up filing a workman’s comp claim, but even though my doctor had strong documentation supporting why I was depressed and unable to work, financial reality set in. After over nine months of fighting this, I had to settle and find a new job. I did eventually, but the damage is still being felt to this day. I get headaches and stomach aches easily and have a short fuse when I’m given constructive criticisms at work. I have been able to hold all of this in check during the day and I have a great support system at home, but the demons from my past employer are still with me. I think in some degree they always will be.

This must stop. Treating employees like this should be a crime. If I was sexually harassed or there was innuendo by an individual in a position of authority over me, this would be illegal. Make workplace bullying illegal, too. NO ONE should have to go through this. No one.

 

Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

 

We believe America’s workers have a right to safe workplaces where their psychological health is recognized as a vital component of their overall well-being. All people – regardless of their gender, race, disabilities, sexual orientation, age, income, faith, and political affiliations – deserve to lead healthy and productive lives and to work in safe environments free from abuse 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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