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One of my managers at my new job has been spreading gossip accusing me of misconduct against management at a previous job.

This is causing a lot of hostility and made my work environment very difficult, especially because a lot of senior managers, including director level, are tacitly endorsing the gossip to make an example of me of what happens when one goes against management.

My complaint to HR was dismissed because HR doesn't consider gossip to be a serious offence, and will only take action if someone does something as a result of the gossip. But nobody is dumb enough to do something blatant; the hostility and ostracization is hard to prove objectively.

HR told me I would be fired if I persist in my complaint. Meanwhile the gossip mill has been given free rein to continue its activities. They have even managed to spin-doctor my complaint into a validation of the original gossip, exacerbating the situation.

This is a serious matter for me because I have lost a number of jobs because of this gossip. When the general hostility reaches a certain level, management makes up an excuse to get rid of me, or to start giving me bogus negative reviews until I leave of my own accord to avoid getting fired.

How can I break this chain of gossip?

EDIT: I am specifically looking for suggestions how I can break the code of silence for someone to even acknowledge that there is a gossip, so I can present my side of the story. Also, for people saying "just get on with work", I have tried that in other jobs and it doesn't work. These managers want to make an example of me for allegedly going against management, and the ultimate example is to eventually get rid of me. There are 1001 ways to get rid of a contractor.

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    You say "I have lost a number of jobs because of this gossip." Does this mean that you have had this occur in multiple workplaces? – Jane S Nov 2 '15 at 22:45
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    Maybe it's bad assumptions, but I think it's pretty unlikely to happen to have multiple jobs where everyone just turns against you for no reason. It's more likely the op is actually doing something to get in this situation. If they were aware what that problem was, then the question should be what can they do to fix it, and we cannot begin to guess what the root cause is, in order to suggest a fix. Meanwhile, the current situation they describe sounds so hostile, I don't think it's salvageable. – Kai Nov 2 '15 at 22:58
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    I am also in Australia, and I know for a fact that workplace bullying is covered under various legislations. I'm genuinely surprised that no-one would be willing to take it up under that banner. – Jane S Nov 2 '15 at 23:00
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    is your professional network so small that this information has followed you through five jobs? Perhaps this is a case where "letting it go" might be effective, to focus on the future rather than the past. – mcknz Nov 2 '15 at 23:42
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    @mcknz Pretty common in Australia. Very small professional circles in most states. – Michael A Nov 3 '15 at 0:25
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This sounds like a classic case of workplace bullying. When there is a concerted effort by people to cause you distress within the workplace, then this is something that needs to be taken seriously.

What can you do?

Well, the first thing to do is to approach HR again and use the specific term "workplace bullying". It's not gossip, it is bullying. You may find that using the correct terminology that has real, legal implications may get your HR department to sit up and take more notice.

What if that doesn't work?

I don't know where you are in the world, but many countries have strict legislation to protect employees against workplace bullying. You can look to your local government organisation who may be able to help you to proceed with mediation within the workplace.

What else?

Another option is to talk to a lawyer who specialises in this area. There's nothing like a legal opinion to give you your options, and if they speak to your employer, having a real, legal representation may well see them pull into line.

What if none of this works?

If none of these resolve your issue (which is possible but unlikely), you may be left with no option but to pursue other employment. I don't like this approach because you state yourself:

I have lost a number of jobs because of this gossip.

This means that this problem is following you around. It needs to be properly resolved and called exactly what it is: workplace bullying!

  • I agree about talking to the Fair Work Commission. I am surprised that a federal government agency doesn't take workplace bullying seriously. – Jane S Nov 2 '15 at 23:44
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    Clearly this is an awful situation -- scenarios like this cause people to become bitter and hostile, so that they continue to fight. Has the OP "lost a number of jobs" because of the actions of the employer? Or because of the reactions of the OP? Sometimes the best revenge is just doing your job the best you can, and try to ignore the gossip. – mcknz Nov 3 '15 at 0:01
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It sounds to me like your company is using every resource it can to run you out. When you have absolutely no one supporting you, there's pretty much no recourse but to find a new job and quit before they manage to get enough inertia to fire you.

  • The OP states that they have lost a number of jobs because of the gossip. If it's occurred in different workplaces, doesn't it just take the problem with you? Wouldn't it be better to try to resolve the issue? – Jane S Nov 2 '15 at 22:48
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Usually the best thing to do with gossip is to ignore it as the hobby of petty minds, and trust thst management is sane enough to do the same. Too late now, but for the future...

  • Well, that sounds like you've convinced yourself the problem can't be fixed, and if so you should start job-hunting. I can't tell from here whether you're right, or overreacting, but in most cases it can't "get worse" if you refuse to feed it -- it just gets ridiculous and dies out., Do your job, do it well, and illegitimi non carborundum. – keshlam Nov 3 '15 at 2:34
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Clearly you managed to anger someone with a lot of power in your industry. This type of thing only rarely goes on at more than one job. This will not stop until you leave the industry or the geographic area where everyone knows everyone. That's unfair, I know, but you can't keep these people from spreading their tales of whatever happened because they are seeing things from their buddy's perspective, not yours, and likely his view of whatever happened is very different from yours.

Are there people in your industry who actively dislike the person you originally angered (whether that anger is justified is irrelevant)? If so, they are most likely the people who will believe your side of things. Try to get a job with them. Or change to another industry and above all the next time you change jobs, do not tell people where you are going. You have to break the chain in this. It may involve the need to go to a lower job and work your way back up. It may involve the need to move to a different location. Basically, you need to escape this particular old boy network.

You are on the way out at your current job if HR is telling you that if you complain again you are out. At this point everyone believes the stories about you.

You also need to look back at the original incident that caused this. I am not saying you are right or wrong, just that you need to see what happened and what you could have done differently to prevent it from happening. You can;t change the past behavior of others, so you need to concentrate on if there was a better way to have handled whatever the issue was. Likely one thing you need to learn about is how to handle office politics.

It is really difficult to tell you more specifically what you need to do differently without knowing what happened to originally get people so mad at you.

  • Is it the gossip thag is costing you the jobs, or a specific item they're gossiping about? I'm assuming the latter, in which case you may need to come up with a direct answer to it, bring it out in the open, and deal with it rather than waiting for it to catch up to you. – keshlam Nov 3 '15 at 5:20
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Many people are discriminated against for many reasons, there is one cure. You won't be popular or make many friends but it does work over time. Ignore anything negative as if you have no idea, and just do your work professionally and cheerfully.

You ever meet that foreign chap who everyone takes no notice of anymore, who just does his own thing and is always smiling? He's a bit of a joke around the place but he gets the work done. Well, he's probably doing exactly the same thing. You can only be hooked if you bite at the bait.

This is a strategy that will break the cycle long term and permanently, complaining to HR isn't, it will just antagonise people who didn't even care prior to it.

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