When A Good Internship Goes Bad

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I’m not here to lay the following information out for you in an effort to make a bad circumstance even worse. No, on the contrary, I’m writing this post with the hopes of generating some unbiased feedback in regards to my role in an uncomfortable situation.

I will do my absolute best to only give facts as I explain the whole ordeal. I’ve already been accused of gossip, slander, lying, backstabbing, and a whole list of unsavory transgressions.  I don’t wish to supply ammunition for further accusations.

As I have explained in several other posts, I recently did a short (6 months) stint as Media Director and contributing writer for a newly launching magazine. It was an internship; therefore I was not paid for my services during my time with the company. I enjoyed the job, however, and would still be a part of this venture today had things not gone so terribly awry. I had even signed a non-compete, non-disclosure contract.

I got the gig via a friend of my husband. He had been friends with her and her family before we had ever even met and married. So, he had known this woman for many years, even watched her mature from her early teens into the budding young entrepreneurial woman that I had agreed to work for.  As you can see, there was clearly history there. She was the one launching this magazine, and took on many roles as Editor in Chief/Owner/Founder. I shall just call her Boss Lady, for that’s what she was; my boss, and a lady.

Immediately after she agreed to grant me this internship, I eagerly dove into the job. My hard work didn’t go unnoticed, either. My insane organizational skills and work ethic lent considerable resourcefulness to the job. I hope that I don’t sound egotistical when I say that I quickly became an integral part of the team. She had told me on several occasions that, once my time of trial was up, I would definitely be hired on as a full time employee.

Boss Lady made mention of the fact that she was looking for a social media intern, so I had recommended my best friend (let’s call her Bestie) for the position. After asking Bestie if she wanted the position, she agreed, and I offered her number to Boss Lady. After a lengthy phone discussion, Boss Lady had decided to give her a chance with the company as well.

I also met several new people during my time there. One in particular, though, the boisterous and humorous art director, whom I shall just call ‘AD’, befriended me right from the start and we quickly fell into an easy and comfortable rapport.  Even more so than with I, was the close relationship that was starting to emerge between AD and Bestie. They liked each other right from the start, and talked often.

All of us on the small start-up team had our roles, some of us even taking on additional tasks until we started generating income and could further expand the employee roster.  Everything was running as smoothly as could be expected, with the occasional kink here and there that needed to be worked out. All was good, and dreams were being made reality. Or so I thought.

Not long after the team returned from a company trip to New York (this trip did not include me), all hell broke loose.  AD was, unbeknownst to the rest of us at the time, unhappy with the way that the company was being run. Apparently some words were exchanged during the trip, but I was not there so what I have heard was said boils down to a matter of heresy.

The fact though, is that AD then did some digging to find that the company name had never been registered or licensed.  I don’t know why. I have heard several reasons, none from the source, though, so again, heresy.

AD, given her newfound information, then decided to buy the company out from underneath Boss Lady. She met with her after to lay it all out on the table, explain what she had done and why, and see if some sort of agreement could be reached. AD said that she had offered Boss Lady a 50/50 partnership, but again I was not there for that fateful meeting, so I could not claim this statement to be gospel truth.

Now let me just stop right there and say that once I had found out that I had been working for a company that technically didn’t legally exist, asking for product samples and sending emails with my name attached on behalf of the company, I wasn’t overly happy. I had put my neck on the line, as did the rest of the team. Had any of the companies that I had contacted and made requests of decided to look into the matter and discover the fact that we were non existant, I could have gotten into a whole mess of hot water.

Still, I didn’t agree with the move that AD had made. I feel that a discussion should have been had prior to this point. Had AD gone to the Boss Lady and said, “Look, I know the company isn’t legal, and we need to do something about this for the sake of those involved,” the entire catastrophe that followed could have possibly been avoided.

Boss Lady was understandably upset. She wanted no part of a partnership.

A blow up of epic proportions ensued, with a lot of mudslinging, threats of lawsuits, lawyers, police, texts, phone calls and just plain ugliness. Again that’s just one side of things. I was forwarded some of the texts, but I don’t have both sides of the story. I can say with utmost certainty, though, that both sides did not just walk away peacefully. I was there for one of the angry, confrontational meetings.

Both women went their separate ways to eventually start up opposing magazine ventures. I was asked to choose a side. I really liked AD, and I had listened to many of her ideas and thought she had good business sense and could make the venture work. There was history and friendship with Boss Lady, though, and things there were much more involved than just a simple job. Our kids are enrolled in her mother’s private school. My husband was friends with the family before my time, and I didn’t want to destroy that bond. No, working for AD wasn’t really an option for me.

Still, however, I struggled with joining Boss Lady’s team. She wasn’t always the best at communication during my time working for her, and the drama of the whole situation was just getting to be way too much. I felt like I was the rope in a crazy game of tug of war, and it was really stressing me out. I liked them both, and the battle wasn’t my own, so I couldn’t understand why Boss Lady thought that it would just be a no-brainer for me to walk away from AD altogether. It had to be all or nothing, though, and I figured that I would be met with anger and opposition from Boss Lady if she knew I hadn’t turned my back entirely on AD, so that made the whole ordeal that much harder on me.

I had a Bahamas cruise coming up in just a few short weeks, so I asked Boss Lady if we could discuss my decision whether or not to stay on after that time. We agreed to meet for coffee upon my return.

I had continued to struggle with a decision, until Bestie informed me (2 days before my cruise, no less) that she had decided to go to work for AD. I knew that this wouldn’t go over well with Boss Lady, but it was a business opportunity for Bestie, and it would be ridiculous for anyone to think that I had control over her actions and could tell her what to or what not to do. She was happy in her decision, and I was happy for her.

I then knew that the decision had been made for me. I would step away from the job entirely, because the conflict of interests that would be created by me working for Boss Lady while Bestie worked for AD just wouldn’t be good at all. If any information got leaked from one to the other, or if one of them came up with a similar idea to the other, all fingers would have pointed immediately in my direction. Thank you, but no thank you.

So as soon as I got back from the cruise and some much needed rest and relaxation, I called Boss Lady to break the news to her. I admitted to her that I had known about Bestie’s decision to work for AD since a couple of days before my cruise, I just didn’t want to deal with it until my return. Understandable, right? Since my idiot self admitted that fact, though, in the interest of full disclosure, I was accused of “withholding information” from Boss Lady. I wasn’t withholding any information. I was simply putting it off until a more feasible time.

Boss Lady wasn’t happy with Bestie, either, as I had predicted. Bestie was accused of “stealing” from Boss Lady, right along with AD. Stealing what, I don’t know. Ideas I suppose, even though Bestie didn’t walk away privy to any more ideas than she had entered with. Or perhaps AD and Bestie were being accused of stealing the company? Kind of hard to steal something that no one actually legally owned to begin with, I suppose. Either way, I was told that Bestie would then be investigated for stealing. The only crime that she’s guilty of committing is agreeing to work for the opposing team, and that’s only a crime committed against Boss Lady.

So I stepped away completely from both parties to the accusations from Boss Lady and family that I really hadn’t, and was in fact, working for AD. Now, the truth to that statement depends on how you look at things.  I, of course, still talk to Bestie. Bestie has admin rights to AD’s blog, and is often in charge of writing daily posts. Bestie will occasionally ask me, “Hey would you mind red-penning my post before I put it up?” I of course always agree. So, if that is, in fact working for AD, then well, I am guilty as charged.

A short while after my phone call to Boss lady letting her know that I would be stepping away from the job and why, she removed me from her friends list on Facebook. Reason being is that I had written another post pertaining to the seeking of vengeance, and she decided that it had just hit too close to home in the illustration that I had used in my post, and that I was gossiping about her.  That was it. Back turned, bridges burned. Apparently, what I had been trying to avoid by stepping away completely from both sides was not, in fact, avoidable at all.

I suppose I’m not entirely innocent in that, though. I had used an example of a story that I had heard from Bestie via AD, as an example to make a point regarding something I had learned about vengeance. Not to actually gossip, though. I never mentioned any names in that post.

I had not heard from Boss lady again after that.

Until today.

Now, during my time with the original magazine, I had written several articles, most of which never had the chance to be used. I did research and had time invested into each one. It’s safe to say that I even worked hard on these articles.

When I walked away from the job, I offered the articles to Boss Lady. Verbally. She never responded as to whether or not she would indeed use them. I figured that the removal of myself from her friends list and the accusations that followed were enough of a giveaway that she would not, in fact, want my articles.

One month went by. Then two, three, four, five. Five months now, and still, no articles of mine were used. I have some great articles that I poured hard work and time into sitting in a folder on my laptop virtually rotting. So, I told Bestie, when she was so swamped with work that she hadn’t had a chance to come up with a daily blog post yet, “Here. Take these articles. I hate to see them go to waste. Just please put your own name on them. I don’t want to be accused of associating with or working for AD.

So she did. One went up on the blog today.

That’s when the message from Boss Lady, who I had not heard from in months happened. The accusations and drama started up again. I asked Bestie to just remove the article, and I spent the rest of this afternoon stressed out.

So after all of this, the real question that I want to pose to anyone who will bother to read this is:

Was I in the wrong for not wanting to see my articles rot and offering them to Bestie to be used? Should I have let the articles rot anyway as to not further burn my bridges with Boss Lady and potentially even ruin my husband’s relationship with the family? I had said that I was not working for AD and wanted to remain true to my word, but these articles were written back when the original magazine existed. I have not written any new ones since the implosion of the company. If we really want to delve into the who’s and the why’s, the articles were written during the time of the original magazine, which AD has legal ownership of now, essentially giving her rights to them anyway.

I’d love some input on the matter. If I am clearly in the wrong, please let me know.

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5 thoughts on “When A Good Internship Goes Bad

  1. Sounds like a lovely mess and the perfect example of something I could point to as an example of why I have social anxiety. I am no expert on property law, or intellectual property rights so I went and looked up whether interns have the rights to things they produce or if it belongs to the company. This seemed to be helpful http://www.insidecounsel.com/2012/04/30/labor-when-unpaid-interns-become-unpaid-employees

    It sounds to me like you were considered to be a student. As a student you produced some essays or reports which were used for your education, and not for the company’s profit. Later after leaving the company you allowed own reports (which presumably did not contain any information owned solely by the company) to be published by a different company.

    Personally I would have stuck my name on it.

    You are so worried about burning bridges with “Boss Lady” but she already burnt her bridges with you. She doesn’t like it – too bad. If you had been a paid employee things would be different, but you were technically a student. I am no lawyer but as far as I can tell they have no right to profit from your unpaid labor.

    • I appreciate the input and the research!

      I was honestly trying not to further burn bridges with her, and yes, you’re right, it seems as though she’s already burned them with me- for the sake of my hubby. As far as I’m concerned I’d say meh,let her be mad, but my hubby has a lot invested in his friendship with the family. Fortunately, though, they haven’t let their animosity toward me cloud their relationship with him. Yet.

      • Well, one thing I am pretty sure of is that they were not abiding by fair labor practices. From your description they would have had to hire someone if you were not doing that work (rule 3 broken). They did derive immediate benefit from your work (rule 4 broken). I also don’t think they treated you as a student or had you ‘shadowing’ the other employees as an intern is supposed to do.
        You have bent over backwards trying to be nice, but if she is going to give you and your family a hard time you can inform her that you have legal grounds to give her one right back. Sometimes you have to stop being nice and start being firm. She does not own your work.

  2. Sounds like Boss Lady has her own issues and nothing you do is going to change that. She will probably always be surrounded by drama. Don’t blame yourself for her insecurities. There is no winning in a situation like this.

    • Thanks. I try not to blame myself. I’m just such a people person, though. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realize that you can’t please everyone, but it’s still hard for me knowing that I’m on someone’s crap list.

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