Why Are We Victim Shamed for Leaving An Abusive Employer?

The term “toxic workplace” has become quite the buzz phrase in today’s society. That’s how big a problem toxic workplaces have become. A simple Google search on the subject will turn up countless articles on toxic workplaces; what they are, how to handle them, and when to walk away.

This is all fine and dandy. However, there isn’t a whole lot of available information on what happens after one leaves a toxic workplace and then has to start over. Instead, most articles turned up by internet queries go something like,

“If your workplace is toxic, stand up for yourself, go up the ladder to HR, or find a new job. Once you find that new job, be sure to give Toxic Central LLC the professional courtesy of two weeks’ notice before riding off into the sunset of that fabulous new career!”

Barf. Like communism, that sounds great in theory, but in real life? Not so much. Especially when someone has gotten to the point that all they can think about is getting out, much less about finding a new job.

Also? Let me mention a little tidbit I learned; much like feeding Gremlins after midnight, one must never, ever say they’ve left a job due to a hostile workplace. Suffice it to say that this case, honesty is never the best policy.

I think that’s terrible. However, research shows that when a job seeker tells the truth about a hostile work environment, that job-seeker will look like an unprofessional, high-maintenance whiner. In addition, it appears that the interviewer will brand the interviewee a flight risk if they left without notice, regardless of why. And if that isn’t enough, a prospective new employer will probably then trash that applicant’s carefully crafted resume the minute they’ve left the interview, because that applicant told the truth about leaving an abusive relationship.

Can you say victim blaming?

Moreover, personal or professional, an abusive relationship is an abusive relationship.  We absolutely encourage those in a personal relationship enduring domestic abuse and physical violence to leave, right? To leave as fast and as safely as they can, right? Do we tell them to give two weeks notice? Of course not, that would be insane! On one hand, what would we say to a close friend suffering abuse in their personal relationship?

We’d say,

“Get the hell out of there as fast and as safely as possible before it happens again! You deserve better!” We would absolutely say that, no question! We would also tell them to TELL SOMEONE WHAT IS GOING ON. Which reminds me, if you or someone you know is experiencing violence at home, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. Or, please visit their website at https://www.thehotline.org/.

On the other hand, what if someone is experiencing mental abuse and emotional violence in the workplace? What would we tell them? Ideally, we’d say that they should tell someone, right? However, from what I understand and from what I’ve experienced; in most cases when someone DOES tell HR what’s happening, they are invited to “suck it up” and “stand up for themselves”. Other responses are to “not be a crybaby” and to “keep a stiff upper lip”. I’ve also heard “don’t be so sensitive” and “develop a thicker skin”.

The last two are my personal favorites.

Two words, dear reader. BULL. SH-uhh, CRAP. That’s bullcrap. That type of phraseology IS A FORM OF VICTIM BLAMING and THAT needs to stop. But also? I’d like to mention that when your paycheck is on the line, standing up for yourself to a tyrant of a boss can be absolutely terrifying, and THAT’S why folks go to HR. So HR? Kindly don’t victim blame folks for asking you to DO YOUR JOB and stand up for an employee in distress, won’t you?

But I digress.

Meanwhile after having complained to the ineffectual HR, when a targeted employee finally has enough courage and strength to leave a horrifyingly toxic workplace and/or a sociopath boss that has literally tortured them to the point of walking out without notice, they don’t get to tell a potential new employer why they left?

Again, this is because they will look unprofessional for their honesty if they tell the truth about the situation at hand. Why, you ask? My dear reader, didn’t you know? Being honest in this case looks like trashing a former employer, even though the former employee is telling the God’s honest truth.

What the hell kind of victim blaming, gas-lighting garbage is that?

If we are encouraged to run and don’t walk away from an abusive personal relationship and not get victim blamed when we do, WHY then if we’re entrenched in an abusive work relationship, are we not encouraged to leave that situation pronto and then GET victim blamed when we do? Furthermore, after getting mentally and emotionally beat to death to the point of ulcers and chest pains, WHY (according to the majority of articles I’ve read) are we so strongly encouraged to STILL be good little employees and give our two weeks notice?

Even in at-will states like California, where we can be terminated by our employer literally at-will with ZERO notice, why are we professionally requested to give the courtesy of two weeks’ notice to leave a hostile workplace? Oh yes, that’s right. Because lest we burn that professional bridge and our career path end in the proverbial dumpster fire.

Let me get out my hip-waders; it’s getting deep in here. But wait, there’s more!

During those two weeks, we are then expected to work our collective asses off and give one hundred and ten percent to the end even though we’re getting belittled, humiliated and screamed at in front of our coworkers; loaded down with work that isn’t ours; excluded from conversations if we are even greeted at all; unsupported by HR; being set up for failure; and getting demeaned, degraded and disrespected ON A DAILY BASIS? 

Nah, homie. Miss me with that corn-fed country-fried chicken scratch.

When I finally got up the courage to leave a horrifyingly hostile work environment because I was fed up with being treated like garbage, I turned in my resignation one bright Tuesday morning at 8:13 AM. I didn’t give two weeks notice. Then you know what I did? I turned around and went home, furious because I didn’t stand up for myself. However, much like a battered wife who doesn’t fight back, I was afraid to do so. The saddest thing is, I was a damn good employee and I know this because they kept throwing money at me. I got four raises in two years, and I will miss that paycheck dearly. However, my mental and physical health wasn’t worth it.

I will never understand why my former boss treated me like trash on the street when I was an excellent employee who could do the job of three people and I have the evaluations to prove it. However, from what I understand from having heard stories about the ridiculous turn-over in that place, that’s their modus operandi. I even briefly saw it first hand right before I left. Well, no thank you. I’ll pass. No job is worth a nervous breakdown or a heart attack. I mean, I can’t very well blog from the grave, right?

Here’s what really grinds my gears, though. For instance, let’s say I look for another job and get an interview. When the inevitable question of why I left my former position arises, I’ll have to say something like “it wasn’t a good fit” or “it was time for a change.” In other words, I’ll have to lie. And according to nearly every article I’ve read, I will probably then be interrogated further. Above all else, apparently if I tell them the truth about why I left, I probably won’t get the job anyway because I was honest?


Repeat after me: 


We don’t expect someone to lie about why they left an abusive personal relationship. When asked why I left my abusive ex husband, I told the truth. I didn’t claim, “it wasn’t a good fit,” or something equally lame or vacuous. Therefore, I refuse to lie about why I left my professional relationship. I will NOT be victim shamed about the real reason I left and I will tell the truth; it was a hostile workplace. And if that is “unprofessional,” then so be it. Long ago I vowed not to be someone’s personal doormat. Consequently, I DAMN WELL will not be someone’s professional doormat. If a prospective employer can’t understand this concept and treat me like the valuable human being I am, then I don’t want to work there.

Sadly, I am in the minority here. The majority of folks don’t have the luxury of telling this particular brand of truth, and I think that absolutely stinks to high heaven.

And by the way? I don’t care if you’re the crappiest employee on planet Earth. Hear this: YOU DO NOT DESERVE ANY KIND OF ABUSE BY YOUR BOSS OR ANYONE ELSE.

Look, as a society we are finally well on the way to stopping the victim shaming and blaming of domestic abuse victims in a personal relationship.  So let’s stop victim blaming and shaming the victims of workplace abuse in a professional relationship. 

Thanks for reading,

Meredith Silverman

What did you think? I'd love to hear from you!