Dear Thelma: My new boss is harassing and threatening me

Dear Thelma,

I'm 31-years-old and have been working in company A for the past five years. This is my third company and the longest that I served. All was fine until two years ago, when a major change of management took place and the company employed a bunch of newcomers, especially for the top positions. This affected my department as well.

I was the team lead for my department and once my new department head (HOD) joined, she implemented a number of new things, especially regarding an increase in daily workload which I disagreed on, knowing that it was impossible to achieve with the existing number of staff. This caused her to be unhappy, and she changed the organisation chart and placed someone else as team lead.

Nonetheless, I continued my performance as usual and even was named Best Employee of the Month in September 2012. That year end, I had a knee injury and had to undergo a knee arthroscopy. I was given a two-month medical leave from work, of which I had already informed my immediate superior. However, my HOD e-mailed the CEO and chief operating officer, and told them that I was absent for unknown reasons.

I started work again at the end of January last year and provided all the necessary documents to the human resource department. They said that my salary should be deducted due to the prolonged MC. But I said that I had proof that it was hospitalisation and not just regular MC. My HOD also pressured the rest of the staff to do more work but refused to pay overtime.

Our productivity bonus was slashed drastically. After all this happened, I began to look for another job. Last year was not a very good year for me as my family and I kept falling sick. But all the time I was being examined by the panel clinic doctor, I was given a proper MC. Finally, I had a job offer last December and tendered my resignation to company A. I am currently serving my three-months' notice.

One day, I wasn't feeling well and went on MC. I then received a call from a manager from company B, of which I will joining soon. She questioned me rudely about how I was "always on MC" and warned me not to take medical leave so frequently. I asked her who told her this and she simply answered me that she had her contacts.

I immediately figured out that it was my HOD's work (as all this information should be confidential and only known by my immediate superior. Besides, my HOD came from company B). After this, I couldn't sleep or eat properly as I thinking of what would happen to my future in company B. I started looking for other jobs as well.

Meanwhile, my HOD is still not satisfied as I am no longer performing. She threatened that I would not be able to resign easily and said that she would spoil my reputation. I'm wondering if I should report my HOD to my CEO and HR chief, perhaps even to company B as well in case I happen to encounter any problems there as they are friends. I'm confused and feel really hurt and depressed by this situation.

Should I report this matter to anyone else to stop this harassment from my HOD? I'm confident I can perform well in company B but what if the new manager harasses me as well?

Frustrated Employee

In cases like this, it may be advisable to consult with a lawyer with expertise in employee rights. You must find out what your rights are, and also know the limit that company A can go to when it comes to providing information about you to Company B.

If, as you say, there was a leak of personal information, then company A would have to be held liable.

If your HOD is previously from company B, it may be that there was an "informal" discussion about you. If this is the case, then her motive is in question. And, it would have been unprofessional for her to divulge information about your health status.

Her threat of destroying your reputation is something to think about. Why would she say something like this? It seems like a huge threat for something as simple as going away on medical leave for a serious health issue. Are you sure there were no other issues between the two of you?

Granted, even if there were other issues, a threat like this is out of hand. It is unprofessional, to say the least. Whatever the issue an employer has with an employee, it must be handled and settled professionally. That is why companies have codes of conduct, or standard operating procedures. Even if she is a HOD, her role has limits and boundaries, and the company is obliged to protect the rights of its employees.

Having said that, it may have also been a case of company B contacting company A for a reference of your work performance. That may seem strange since you have already signed a contract with them and had made plans to start at the company.

So, do consult a lawyer. Make sure you have with you all the paper evidence of communication and letters from your doctors and hospital records. In future, it may be advisable to have written documents as evidence of any communication or decision. Make sure these are saved as necessary. It is not devious. But, it is a way of safeguarding your position in an organisation and also your rights as an employee.