My Boss Threatened To Destroy My Career — Can He Do It?

Dear Liz,

I worked for an abusive boss we can call “George.”

Working for George was starting to affect my health so I got another job. I gave notice at work last Monday. I told George I would work for two more weeks. He said, “You’re going to quit? I’ll ruin your career. I’ll make you unemployable!”

I said, “George, just let me work these last two weeks without any drama. I’m going to train two people on my job so they can handle my desk until you hire someone.” I left his office shaking but I thought “I can make it through two more weeks.”

George didn’t bother me again on Monday or Tuesday. On Wednesday he called me into his office and said, “Have you changed your mind?” I didn’t understand him at first. I said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “Have you decided not to quit?”

I said, “George, I got a new job. I’m starting the job in a week and a half. Right now I’m training Beth and Rick on my job so they can cover for me until you hire someone.”

George freaked out. I guess he thought he was going to be able to intimidate me into staying.

He said, “Really? You can’t quit. I’ll give you a bad reference if you do.”

I said, “That’s defamation and it could get you and the company in a lot of trouble.” George knows nothing about employment law.

I worked until Friday afternoon. By then Beth and Ricky had a basic understanding of my duties. Beth asked George if she could organize a going-away lunch for me. I’ve worked for the company for almost four years. That’s a long time.

George said no. He said, “I’m not sure I need her around her for another week.”

Beth told me what George said, and I decided to make last Friday my last day.

After four years on the job I don’t need George walking up to me at some point and saying, “Pack your stuff and get out,” so I left on my own.

I met my coworkers on Sunday for a going-away party at the tavern we always go to. We played darts and sang karaoke and ate pizza and had a great time.

Now I’m unemployed for a week and organizing my life before I start my new job. Do I need to worry about George’s threat to “destroy” my career? Is there anything I need to do?

Thanks Liz! You are a big part of why I got my new job. Thanks for the constant mojo boosters!



Dear Faith,

Congratulations on your new job! I’m excited for you.

It sounds like you handled your exit as gracefully as anyone could while working for a guy like George.

There is very little George can do to “destroy” your career.

You already have your new job. You don’t need a reference anytime soon. Also, there’s a difference between employment verification (a process in which a previous employer verifies that you worked for them) and a professional reference.

It’s awesome when your previous bosses are your professional references, but plenty of other people can fill that role if your previous bosses don’t want to or you don’t want them to.

Here are some other people who can provide references for you:

1. Your former coworkers

2. Your former customers

3. Your former vendors and partners

4. Other managers in your company who can vouch for you (especially if they no longer work there)

5. Other people who know you professionally (e.g. leaders of professional associations you volunteered for)

We all need references, and situations like yours (where a former boss is not the right person to provide a reference) are not uncommon.

That’s one reason it’s so important to network. When you are out in the community participating in volunteer activities, joining in community projects and interacting with a lot of different people, you will never worry about having enough references again!

The next time you look for a job your prospective employer will probably verify your past employment. That process goes through the HR department. Virtually every HR department handles employment verification requests the same way.

They will verify only your job titles and dates of employment. They won’t add any extraneous information, so even if George wanted to slime you his company’s policies and process would likely make it difficult or impossible for him to do so.

If you ever fill out a job application and the application form asks for your previous supervisors’ names, put the name of the company’s HR chief instead of George’s name, just in case.

With luck George will retire soon or go to work somewhere else and you can blot him out of your memory banks altogether.

Sad, angry people like George are all too common in the business world (and everywhere else).

The good news is that George is already receding in your rear view mirror.  Now your focus is on your brilliant future. Forget George and his idle threats and sail forward on your path!