Blackballed

I’m in an at-will state, and as a non-permanent employee, I was terminated with no reason (after months of bullying and harassment). Then I had an interview schedule in another section (different boss, different clients), and HR called to rescind the interview. No reason. No one will talk to me. I’m over 68 years old. Any recourse?

I also have a BA degree in psychology (others did not).  Jealousy had a lot to do with it. They asked why I came out of retirement, didn’t I have enough of a pension, soc. security, etc.  I explained my late husband was an alcoholic and refinanced the house several times due to his illness and that I needed to earn money to keep the house.

I was hired as a non-permanent, which means that had the right to terminate at will.  I worked from October through January 18.  They gave no reason.  The Ward has a reputation for bulling newcomers.  The person before me filed a formal complaint; they did an investigation, and found it was a hostile work environment.  So they assigned her to another ward.  She was in her forties.  They usually don’t hire anyone my age, but the hiring specialist said I qualified for several positions, but I had to take the entry-level one to “get my food in the door.”  I usually get alone with coworkers.  I have many letters of recommendation.  That was my first experience in a health care setting (psych. hospital).

I am a responsible and pleasant employee and the patients liked me very much, which bothered the supervisors (for some reason).   I guess they were jealous.  The hospital has had problems for decades.  They withdrew their accreditation, but hope to get it back soon,

I applied for another job at the institution and said in my cover note that if I had two job offers, the deciding factor would be whether I had a supportive supervisor and friendly coworkers.  Upper level nurses (RN4) offered their names as reference.  But the bullying nurses have been there for decades.  They always get by with their harassment.  The treatment team appreciated my charting notes (lengthier than average) as I was able to get a lot of information from the patients.  Others would chart a sentence or two.  I would sometimes write a page or two.  I was good at my job (although I didn’t like taking out the trash, linens, helping with food, etc.)  I wanted a counselor position.  I was way overqualified for the job, but never called in sick, was never late, etc.  I was a good employee.  My best friend stated I was in the right church, but the wrong pew.  I was determined to stick it out.  However, I did let an internal investigator know what was going on and I think they got into my computer and found out I was communicating with this person.  I also sent a note to the bully (see attached); two days later I was fired

Signed Any Recourse?

Dear Any Recourse?

Probably there is little to no recourse, but in light of what you describe in additional remarks and since you need to work, I think pursuing reconsideration of your termination is worth the effort. You were hired despite you were older than almost anyone else this hospital has hired and you could quit at any time for any or no reason just as the company could fire you at any time for no reason. You know this because you stated you work in an at-will state. I doubt that you could charge the company with age discrimination although an attorney might see it differently. Apparently you got into a workplace that doesn’t value experience that comes with age and years working at a job related to the kind of one for which you were hired. Worse than that, it is a company that permits bullying and harassment.

One possible recourse suggested by your words “months of bullying and harassment” might be found in the specifics that prompted those words. Temporary or permanent employees should not be harassed for several protected classes—race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age. From your description, it doesn’t appear that the bullying and harassment fall within any of these categories. Do you have or can you document the specific of what adds up to your assessment that you had months of bullying and harassment? By specifics I mean, when, where, and who said what and acted in ways that harassed; also who observed it and what did you do to stop it, such as the one note you say you sent “to the bully . . . the two days” before you were fired? If you could compile a list of instances with the language and nonverbal acts that cause you to conclude you endured months of bullying and harassment, you might find an attorney who would represent you.

An aggressive attorney likely could force upper level administrators to open up the files of the previous investigation that you characterize as – “a formal complaint; they did an investigation, and found it was a hostile work environment.  So they assigned her to another ward.  She was in her forties.”  The decision to re-assign that individual should merit comparison with your termination.   An attorney could prompt a further investigation of this hospital that you say had lost its “accreditation, but hope to get it back soon.”  A further investigation would show your qualifications and careful performance as compared to others in your kind of position. Upper management prefers to back up those in positions of authority, such as head nurses and Human Resources, but those at the top also don’t want bad publicity that can surface if a case such as yours forces them to look below. They undoubtedly would prefer to reassign you than to get bad publicity. I understand that it could be difficult for you to afford an attorney, but such a case might appeal to some attorneys and they would take your case on contingency of getting one third of a settlement or a small fee if you were reassigned without a monetary settlement.

Now, whether or not that you seek the counsel of an attorney, it’s time to take stock and hunt a job where you will be valued for your skills and sense of responsibility?  In light of your goal to keep you house, you must find what kinds of work are available for one of your age and skills? And or what kinds of services might you offer? You to learn if any in your network has leads. The next paragraph suggest an indirect way for you to articulate your job direction—even when nearing retirement.

Let’s suppose that you were advising someone your age with the years of experience you’ve had and with the educational qualifications. Where would you begin if you had to help that individual, let’s call her Tara, prepare a career-direction speech and an elevator pitch. Such a project would entail suggesting that Tara should look at her interests and values that came from her background (what might be called building blocks). Next you might advise her to evaluate what good things she is learning now that might help her do well (what might be thought of as sponge). Then you might advise Tara to investigate what’s available—where are the good places to work if she could land a job in that place (what might be thought of as a compass). Once Tara has prepared a presentation on these three areas, she is ready to make plans for how to get there or something else. One of those things she could do is to learn enough about a good place to work that she could tell her friends that Place A is where she would like to work. Likely those with whom she talks with would say, “I don’t know anything about Place A, but I’ve heard Place B or Place C might be something that you’d like. Why don’t you call so and so, she works there or go straight to HR there and learn if they have something.”

Such an approach might strike you as beneath you, but it’s the approach of the leading out-placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas—that helps thousands of riffed employees of every age find another job at a salary as good as before.

You have an impressive LinkedIn profile. You are well educated and have years of varied job experience. Surely in your area of the country, there are places that need you.  (Incidentally, one of my daughters graduated from Evergreen. And she has chosen to live in Olympia.) I’m sure you have ready a 20-30 second pitch that spells out the kind of job you would like. A friendly pitch about yourself and what you do is much better than asking someone where you might apply for a job. There are places that need you. You are the kind of individual that I would welcome as an occasional guest respondent to Ask the Workplace Doctors. Perhaps you would find my five-part series Profiling You Can’t Outlive posted on Linkedin of interest.

A second tact you might suggest for Tara is to brainstorm what she might do on her own if no offer suits you is found–catering, soliciting care of young or old, joining vista or peace corps, decorating, helping a relater to ready homes for open house,  working for Uber, etc. Have fun with Tara preparing a backup kind of job to keep the wolf from the door.  Most importantly, I expect you would advise Tara not to stay at home and sleep in. Rather she should volunteer for something that helps her feel good such as with Habitat for Humanity, tutoring at a library, working with Hospice, etc.

You say you need to work so that you might keep your house. That limits your freedom to job search elsewhere. However, that wouldn’t prevent a couple of years with the Peace Corps. If you want to stay put, have you considered renting part of it or of bringing in someone to share it with you? Your place might not be practical as a bed and breakfast, but renting part of your home for temporary lodging is a possibility. I’m not personally informed about that but I’ve read that this is widely practiced.

Do any of these thoughts address your situation—assessing how you were harassed, consulting an attorney and pressing that hospital that fired you to re-think what it did, re-assessing what you have to offer and making alternate plans, and, volunteering in some kind of place that makes you feel good about what you do? Resilience is not something we are blessed with. It’s something we learn by trial and error. In the meantime, I hope you treat yourself to things you like to do—daily walks or workouts, singing in a choir, trying out for a community theatre, gardening, reading, writing, painting—whatever buoys up your spirit.

I’ll be interested if you find any of these thoughts make sense.  For now you must do whatever you can to keep the wolf from the door. I can tell you will bring cheer wherever you work. You know there are others in the field of health, like yourself, who need it. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Now, without a job even as a volunteer, you need to put yourself where you feel you are doing good.

William Gorden

FOLLOW UP: Every word you state is one hundred percent right on.  But in the state capitol with so much government work, the workplaces have developed a culture that keeps the long-timers there and enjoys giving the newcomers a hard time.  [I learned that with a temporary job with the Attorney General’s office.  The former AG told me – when I ran across him at a business meeting and I commented that most of the secretaries at the AG’s office hated their jobs – “We strive to have a collaborative work force.”  Yeah, right.

I’m not interested in commuting to Seattle where they have more jobs.  I have applied for other positions in mental health, and maybe I will get an offer.  As a backup, I rent rooms to keep the house and so far, so good.  Except for those who steal from me.  But it prevents a foreclosure.

Anyhow, I would like to work for five more years and then retire.  But I need to retire from a Good Job, with Good References.

Once I can afford the house without renters, I can move back into my master bedroom with master bath and hot rub.  Until then, I will rent it out.  That’s how I survive.

I am talking to a couple of lawyers.  One already said he would take my case (although he has little experience in employment law).  I have filed complaints and motions on my own, so I can help an attorney, especially with interrogatories and even with list of questions to ask deponents, etc.  It’s so draining.  I wish I didn’t have to do it.  But it’s one way to vent my anger.

Thanks for your input.  Yes, I have pages of documentation about the various incidents, which I would be happy to share with you once I am finished.  (Once I climb out of this deep depression I’m in. I’ve had to resort to tranquilizers for the past couple of months.  I have a hard time getting to sleep.  I’m irritable.  All symptoms of depression.