This question is from Caitlin in San Francisco:
My supervisor is an abusive jerk to me but she's as sweet as pie to her superiors and they love her. I'm nervous about blowing the whistle because it may backfire. What should I do?
Here's my response:
She's a bully. You're probably right about losing your job. California's "At will employment" is a real b*tch and the truth is that even if you stay on your best behavior and work as hard as you can you'll probably last for only about four months. Right now your best option is to find a new job or transfer to a different department or a different location.
I am not a lawyer and I'm not qualified to give legal advice, but I have a few ideas. None of them will help you keep your job but you might be able to get a little money out of this in about six months:
• File a Worker's Comp claim for stress. Your hospital may have an Occupational Health clinic to diagnose work related injuries. Get there as soon as you can and tell the doctor about your boss. Doctors usually refuse to support stress claims by writing weak medical reports and so in order to get a decent report you'll have to twist his or her arm really hard. For example, if you tell them that the beast owns an illegal gun and she mentioned bringing it to work than the doctor will be forced to agree with you that you have a legitimate problem at your job. As soon as you receive a copy of the doctor's notes immediately find an attorney who specializes in worker's compensation cases. They do not charge their clients up front. They wait until after they've won your case and then they take their legal fees out of your award. Unfortunately, once you file a claim, Worker's Comp will notify your employer within a few days and they'll probably put you on "temporary" leave and then they won't let you come back. Some companies routinely fire employees who file a claim whether it's legal to do so or not.
• Consult a real labor attorney about a possible Wrongful Termination lawsuit. Do it before you get fired.
• You can sue The Beast personally without notifying anyone at your company. She'll get slapped with a huge fine, or multiple fines, instead of getting a verbal warning from her boss. One advantage of suing her directly is that she'll have to hire a lawyer to defend herself and labor attorneys charge over $200 an hour. Even if you lose the case she'll still have to pay her lawyer and that in itself is a huge fine. You want to increase her legal expenses as much as you can, and so sue her for a variety of different reasons so that she'll have to hire different kinds of lawyers and expert witnesses. With that said, there are certain dangers that you need to be aware of: If you lose the case than you may be held responsible for paying for all of her legal fees. That does not mean that you should keep her fees to a minimum, it means that you have to win your case. There are certain factors to winning that you need to know about. Firstly, labor cases require hard evidence and witnesses just like any other kind of case. Hard evidence is difficult to get on labor cases, however, if she emails nasty things about you to other people than you can use those records. Even if she deleted it you can still get it. Your labor attorney will know how to do it.
■ Witnesses are easy to find. The Beast probably got fired from her last job for being a bully, and so use Facebook and LinkedIn to find her old coworkers because if she was mean to them than they would love to testify against her. Verbal abuse hurts people on a really deep level and they never forget it, and so the people she has hurt in the past are probably foaming at the mouth to get their revenge.
■ The Beast is keeping a diary about you and when you read it you'll be shocked by how crazy she really is. Find her log because it contains her future cross complaints that she'll use in court, and also it contains her entire defense. Years ago all diaries were kept in old school notebooks, little black books and memo pads. Now it's more likely to be in her email account saved as a draft, or in her cell phone, or it's a Word document on her laptop. I just want to briefly mention that I've read diaries and personnel files about me that were way out there. For example, when I got sick somebody wrote that I was on drugs. When I loaned a three dollar wood sample to a customer the showroom manager reported it to the partners via email and she accidentally sent it to me directly. Crazy people thrive on following others around and taking notes as if it's a symptom of their compulsive disorder, and when you read it you'll be amazed by how insane they are.