Thrown Under the Bus at Work -- How to Deal?

Updated on April 07, 2012
M.M. asks from Detroit, MI
12 answers

So my boss, who is on vacation, completely dropped the ball on a project. The client emailed to ask him where it was and to express concern that their MONDAY deadline wouldn't be met, and he responded to the client, cc'ing me and the other person on my team (I'll call him Harry), and said something to the effect of -- "I talked to M. about this last week. Harry, can you step in and assist to get this done?" Now, when the boss talked to me last week about the project, which at the time was only a vague thing on the horizon, what he said was, "I'll assign this one to Harry. You have enough going on right now." Then he promptly left for vacation WITHOUT assigning it to Harry, and left neither of us any details on the project -- what it entails, what the deadline was, contact people, etc. Now he is making it sound like it's all my fault! We still have no idea what the project actually IS, so unless we go directly to the client (which would totally break protocol and make it look like our operation is completely disorganized), we can't do anything until he gets back.

I am just so upset and angry about this. Has this happened to you? How did you deal with it? Did you say something to your boss? Or just suck it up?

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the great suggestions. Ultimately, I did email back my boss and Harry, with something like, "I'm sorry if I misinterpreted our conversation, but I understood that you were going to assign this project to Harry. I'm more than happy to help get this done in time, and Harry and I will get started as soon as we get the information we need to proceed." Boss replied, "Thanks M.. Harry, please step in and assist." UGH! We got it done. So when my boss got back, he popped in and I reiterated my statement that I really understood that Harry was assigned the project. I said, "I hope you don't think I dropped the ball." And he said, "Of course not! What gave you that impression? I definitely should have assigned it to Harry before I left." I was brave and said, "Well, your email made it sound like it was my project and I'd somehow messed it up." He said, "Hm. I'll have to go back and reread it. I specifically wrote it so that it DIDN'T sound like you were to blame." Huh???? In any event, I totally feel like he's just lying to everyone. Still trying to get over it!

More Answers


answers from Dallas on

He knows good and well what he did. He worded it carefully as to be technically accurate. He did talk to you and he does want Harry to do it. He was too busy on travelocity to assign it!

His only option to avoid making the company look bad and losing the account is to lay it at the feet of an underling and promise to have someone else take it over. That was all for the clients benefit.

Reminding him of his maistake will only embrass him and make him angry at you and distrust you. I'd take a joking approach to it with Harry right away and with the boss when he gets back. Go to Harry and explain the situation with a gentle nature and joke about him being your knight in shining armour riding to the rescue or whatever. When the boss gets back, joke about not being able to make in his absence without Harry swooping to the rescue. If you show that you can laugh it off, you show that you are a loyal and valuable member of the team. If you get all serious, let's talk this out about it, you become the insecure girl with a chip on your shoulder.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I'm sorry, but I disagree with those who tell you just to let it go. That's how you become the scapegoat. Your performance reviews will suffer, and if your boss were to suddenly leave the company, what would the higher-ups know about you? That you ignore assigned tasks? If you let this go, that's the position you're putting yourself in. You need to professionally, but quickly, nip this in the bud. A boss who throws subordinates under the bus like this is not a good manager, and likely is in trouble with his boss for more issues than this. Protect yourself.

Here's what I would do. Reply to your boss' email. Do not cc anybody else, but save the e-mail for future reference, should you ever need it. Simply say, "Bob, I'm confused by this e-mail. When we spoke, you mentioned that you were going to assign this project to Harry, and that you didn't have any details on it yet. From the content of your e-mail to the client, it sounded like I should have been working on it already. Did I miss an e-mail on this? I sincerely apologize if so. At this point, Harry and I are short on details as to how we should proceed. Specifically, we need to know X, Y and Z. Please advise! Thanks, Michelle."

This accomplishes several things. One, you haven't copied anybody, so you're not throwing HIM under the bus. Two, you are gently calling him out for throwing YOU under the bus, giving him the out of "I may have missed your e-mail on this" - which you both know didn't happen, but at least you aren't calling him a jerk to his face. Three, you are showing that you've already moved on, and just want to get this project handled ASAP for the client, no matter who dropped the ball.

My instinct is that once you allow him to throw you under the bus unchecked, it will come back to haunt you. Good bosses don't do what he did. Stand up for yourself, but be professional about it. This has worked well for me in my 15 years in the corporate world. Now I own my own business (in a male-dominated field) and I would never - NEVER - throw an employee under the bus like that. A failure by my team is a failure by me, and blaming an underling will not fool anybody. Your boss has shown he can't be trusted, so just bear that in mind and put EVERYTHING in writing going forward.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

It sounds like he left it open just enough for the client to assume that you dropped the ball without actually saying it, taking it off his own butt. That's why I hate assuming stuff because he didn't blame you, but the client will likely assume that he has.

I don't know your dynamic at work, but I would be tempted to "reply to all" with "Harry, let me know if there's anything that I can do to help you meet this deadline." Don't try to bring up that under-the-bus issue with the boss or Harry. Just move forward to get it done.

Later on (informal meeting), you can get with Boss and Harry and say, "Hey, what happened with THAT project? I remember talking about it, but the last you said to me was that you were giving it to Harry. Should I have followed up with you in some way before your trip?"

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Yes, I have. I had a big VP come down and I got called into my bosses office.

Turns out we had failed an audit for not having the proper insurance on specific loan. I was in charge of the insurance, so I was going to get the blame.

This is what I told the VP.

"Yes, I do handle the insurance. However, I am not allowed to force insurance policies unless I get the loan officers permission. When I email those officers half of the time the request is ignored. In fact I know there is a policy that has been cancelled for four months. The officer refuses to let me force a policy. This puts the bank at risk. Also, there are list of expired insurance policies that the loan assistants are supposed to be calling up on. I am not supposed to do this myself. I have sent several reminders out for it, and some are good about and some tell me they are too busy. Here is what I propose to fix these problems."

The VP left knowing that though I was "in charge" of the insurance, I really had very little power to make sure it was done. She changed that, and gave me more decision making power, and that was the very last audit we received less than perfect for insurance.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Happens to me all the time. You should see my email files I call them my CYA files (Cover your A$$) I make sure I do things in writing and follow up so I have things and can go back to them and say here is what you told me.

I would CC everyone back (Except the client) and tell him what was said in the meeting. Tell him you will do everything in your power to help get this done, but that you were told not to worry about it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You need to call the boss or email him and remind him that he told you he was giving it to Harry, but even if you wanted to pull a rabbit out of a hat, neither you nor Harry have the information needed to get it done. Does he have a file or an email or a folder on his desk you can use for reference?

While it would totally irritate me, take a breath and see what you and Harry can do about this project to make your company look better and address the dropped ball thing later. Bosses are not foolproof and it sounds like the boss misrememembered the conversation you had.

In the future, document this and send the boss an email. "Boss, I understand per our conversation today that my tasking is x, y, and z but a, b, c are being assigned to Harry. Client X's project will be assigned to Harry as well since you said I had enough on my plate. If any of this is inaccurate, please let me know."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I ditto Tracy K.

Don't you have a way of communicating with him while he's gone? Apparently the client does. I wouldn't wait until Monday, I'd try to figure out how to get started NOW.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Ditto Tracy.

You need to read between the lines, and be a team player.

You're not looking long term - you become INVALUABLE if you can read the boss' mind IN FRONT of clients.

Or you can complain to someone, make him look foolish, and make sure that everyone else knows that you only protect yourself when the small stuff hits the fan.

I routinely cover for my boss - that's part of the job. Because she signs my paychecks, not the client.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I've been there many times. I used to get upset (afterall, it does feel like a personal attack!) but then I figured out something - something that's helped me to not take these situations personally: We are ALL on the same team. And the goal of our team comes first and foremost - keeping the client happy - or else there is no reason for the team to exist. You need to separate the perceived personal attack from the job that needs to get done. Deal with them on separate levels. First and foremost, work with the other team member to do whatever you can do to satisfy the needs of the client come Monday morning. Trust me, the client sitting there with an un-finished project does not care if feelings were hurt. And your boss will admire his entire team for pulling it out. Second, step back and realize that "throwing you under the bus" may not have been personal, just something the boss needed to do to cover with the client. If you freak out on boss, he's going to tune out on you. A simple question on Monday in line with "Boss, did I hear you wrong last week when you said you were assigning this to Harry?" Their response will let you know if their was a misunderstanding and let you clear the air. If he did throw you under the bus, he will know you know it happened when you ask the question. No need to reprimand them any further.

The fact that your boss is even having to deal with any of this while on vacation tells me he has a lot of pokers in the fire & isn't going to want to be bothered with he said/she said ramble that at the end of the day won't make a differerence.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Yeah, no. Your name got thrown into the boxing ring, are you going to get your behind handed to you or put up a good fight?

Respond directly to your boss, cc Harry but leave the client out. Boss is obviously checking his emails so be direct and clear and respectful and recount the conversation you had with him when you discussed the project last week. I find that keeping myself from being long winded, not using a lot of words and sticking to the point is more effective than being emotional because something unfair happened and I was thrown under the bus.

Remember, this is your boss and if he is the first point of contact between your company and the client he may need to make someone else a scapegoat when he forgets things-so long as you and he have a clear understanding of what is really expected I wouldn't get too burned up about this but definitely make sure things are clear between you and him.



answers from Detroit on

Work with Harry. Two is stronger than one. Email or better call him on a conference call with Harry and ask where the file is on this client so that you can work on it. That way both of you have each other's back, and he can't play you against Harry and vice versa.

Both you and Harry will come out looking great and your boss well not so much.

With regards to the client, give them the impression that you just came up with an even better idea and if they would allow you x amount of time to work on it before the presentation. That they are your priority and you and Harry are devoting your time to them.

Hope this helps.


answers from Hartford on

DO NOT LET THIS GO. If you had any of this conversation with the boss through e-mail you need to make sure that you resend that back to your boss to remind him who he assigned it to and that it wasn't your project. It will be up to Harry to remind the boss that he was never given details on what the project was supposed to be. Let Harry know you're going to do this and CC him in on the e-mails to the boss. If your boss has a supervisor, I would escalate it to him and save those e-mails if your boss doesn't step up to the plate when he returns.

Someone is going to have to apologize to the client. Right now, or Monday, you're going to have to take one for the team and use a lot of "we" language.

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