Boss of Intern Acts in Bad Faith

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about mistreatment of an intern: Today he is writing my daughter that her work is sub – standard and that she has a poor attitude. She must “find a way to reinvent and redeem herself” or he cannot sign off on her experience (after she has devoted a year to his firm).

My daughter is working for a solo professional trying to run off hours so that she can credit it towards her future career. He promised to pay her a reasonable rate but has been erratic in his payments and she is owed considerable amounts – all of which she was willing to accept as she was getting experience in this difficult economy. However, not only does he not pay her but he hardly ever comes in to oversee her work. (He currently is setting up a home business and has other extracurricular interests which means he keeps erratic hours and will often not respond to her phone calls.)

She will have her work done but it will sit on his desk for weeks because he doesn’t get around to signing off on it. In fact, many of his clients call my daughter because they are upset that he won’t answer their phone calls and they have threatened to go to their lawyers because of this incompleted work.

I believe his professional business (versus his new business) is in jeopardy and he is so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of his professional work that he is unable to do it. My daughter has spent long hours – sometimes 18-20 hours trying to solve his client’s problems and churn out the work as best she can. Today he is writing my daughter that her work is sub – standard and that she has a poor attitude. She must “find a way to reinvent and redeem herself” or he cannot sign off on her experience (after she has devoted a year to his firm). I feel this is a ploy and a threat to keep her there so he can continue to collect money from his professional business at her expense. Please advise.

Signed, Frustrated On Her Behalf

Dear Frustrated On Her Behalf:

I realize there is value (and maybe a requirement) in having the work hours to show on resumes and certifications, but working for an unethical and disinterested person can harm a reputation more than help. Plus, the idea of internships is that the intern learns the right way to do things. She isn’t learning that. In fact, your daughter’s boss may not be using best practices about anything he does, and that is what she is having reinforced every day.

She may have actually not had a positive attitude lately and shown it. That’s not good either! Snippy behavior or a grumbling habit can carry on into other work and she doesn’t want that.I believe your daughter should leave and let her so-called employer figure out how to find another low paid servant who will look out for his best interests while receiving very little personal attention in return.

She should get the contact information for clients she has helped and ask them for documentation letters she can use to support her claim of working. I saw this used successfully with a legal intern who quit because of another kind of issue. Her boss refused to sign the necessary paperwork, so she asked clients to verify the kind of work she did for them over the year she worked there. The clients were happy to do so, knowing she had been treated unfairly.If the boss is a member of a professional association with ethics requirements (real estate, legal, medical or similar) she might want to check with them about the matter. If she was working in that capacity because it is a requirement of some kind, she may want to check with the group or organization that verifies such work for certification and ask them for advice.

If she was just doing it because it seems like a good idea, she can move forward with the process of getting free from this person.One thing is for sure: Instead of the boss feeling that he has not been very effective as a mentor or supervisor for your daughter, he wants to put her on the defensive with the approach that he’s doing her a favor by letting her stay and grovel for her job–learning to reinvent herself. Who needs that? I don’t think he will change. And being associated with him may not be a good thing down the line! There is more to gaining helpful experience than working someplace related to one’s future career. I think your daughter already has stayed too long there. It is certainly time for her to leave and find a place where she really can build her credentials, not just time. Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.