open thread – March 29-30, 2024 — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

For background: I work for a small state agency that runs like a non-profit organization: 100% grant-funded with oversight from a Board of Directors. A public agency running on public funds, state and federal. We have one grandboss and three teams: each with a team manager, one to four team members, and seasonal interns that double our total workforce. We have two offices at different ends of our service area, spend a lot of time in the field, and are free to work from home or elsewhere within the service area.

Grandboss is young, smart, ambitious and works very hard – all traits I admire. She also has a steamroller personality and often lets ego get in the way of what is legally right (there are examples other than what I’m writing in on today). On top of this, she is strongly faith-based which, in and of itself, is not unusual for our conservative pocket in a liberal state. However, she has a history of bringing it into the workplace, and being open about how her faith colors her different expectations for men vs. women.

I am one team manager and have navigated to a place where our interaction is minimal (my program is a low priority for her) and keep my small team (two F/T team members and an intern) as separate as possible. Recently, one of my team members, a project manager (PM), left for another position. I’m wondering if, now that they’re gone (if I got permission from PM), I could speak with grandboss about issues PM had with working here.

Early in PM’s short time with us (six months total), grandboss invited her to a church social event. Grandboss mentioned it to me offhand, and told me PM had randomly asked about her church; which I found highly unlikely. I asked PM under guise of asking about weekend plans, and learned that in fact, grandboss had approached PM when they were alone in the office and specifically asked what church they attended. I told PM to not feel pressured to go. I followed up the next week, and PM let me know their dad had researched the church (way to go, Dad!) and learned it has anti-LGBTQ teachings. At that point, PM shared they are queer and that they told grandboss they were sick and couldn’t go. I thanked PM for sharing, said I would keep their confidence, and to please stay open with me about any concerns. From then onward, I made sure I was present for any in-person meetings where grandboss would be, which wasn’t difficult since we tend to work apart.

Back to current day: we had an exit interview with grandboss that went well, and then PM and I met for breakfast on their last day. PM was candid at breakfast and shared grandboss had made them so uncomfortable that they didn’t even like being in their presence (all-staff meetings, occasional office meetings, etc.). I don’t think this was a primary factor in their leaving, but I know it made leaving easier.

Given that another team leader who is openly out shared they worry about being held back due to grandboss’ religious beliefs (they don’t know about PM’s issues), and my concerns about having this situation come up again with any new hire, I’m wondering about any value in bringing this up with grandboss. I suspect she would push back on her own rights to her faith. Despite my researching, I can’t find actual statute on what makes this wrong in the eyes of the law; I just keep finding protections for those who want to express their beliefs in the workplace. Are we in a grey area here? To grandboss’ side, she hasn’t openly stated any discriminatory beliefs (that I know of), but it’s not hard to put two and two together for the potential.

She also doesn’t have a history of taking criticism seriously. Some months ago she pressured my other team member into asking his family for an inappropriately large favor to the agency, which they declined. It all happened very fast and at the time, I knew some of it, but not the whole story. The poor guy was very upset and I ended up apologizing to his family on behalf of our agency once I learned the full backstory. I brought it up to grandboss and she was very dismissive.

We are so small that grandboss is HR. The only next level is the Board of Directors, and knowing them as I do, I think this is too nuanced for them. I don’t like that staff feel uncomfortable and that they have to hide their personal life. I also fear grandboss’ behavior surrounding their faith (amongst other issues) is exposing the agency to a potential lawsuit. I am actively searching for a new position as this is not tolerable long-term, but any guidance for what I can do in the interim would be greatly appreciated!

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