Can my manager stop my job transfer?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I've been with my extremely large organization for 12 years. This last year has been really tough in terms of morale, finances, etc. The future is going to get worse. Due to this, an "important" person took offense to an email and I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) (with no other offenses in my records). I decided to take this as constructive criticism, and put it behind me. In the meantime, a position came available in Corporate and I applied for it, specifically asking that my current boss not be contacted.

There were no complaints nor discussions during the 90 days and finally after 4 more weeks after it was due to be finalized, my final PIP was scheduled. The day before my final PIP, my boss was told I applied for the job (don't know by who); now I'm being asked to work 17 miles further (already at 50 miles from home) and my PIP is no longer "final." She told her boss that that there were a few things that she needed to address (wouldn't do it the day we talked) but hadn't had the time.

We met twice out of 12 scheduled meetings and all she said was, "I have nothing." Her boss wants me fired, she wants to send me to another facility where we will have very little contact, with the PIP still in effect. She also says that the PIP won't affect the move to another facility nor the position I am applying for but now I don't believe anything! Should I tell the person hiring (whom I know very well) about the PIP? He likes my boss so I can't say anything bad or how she is handling the situation, but I am afraid I won't get it without trying to do something to save face. I'm so stuck!

Any thoughts or advice would be totally appreciated!

First of all, you need to speak to the hiring manager about your PIP. I wouldn't actually be surprised if he didn't know about it already. If I'm looking to hire an internal candidate, one of the first things I do would do is call up HR and ask for a copy of that person's file, which includes things like performance reviews, performance improvement plans, awards and any disciplinary information. Most companies have policies on how long that stuff remains in an employee's file.

But, let's assume that the hiring manager doesn't know about it now. Now that your boss (who I am willing to agree, for the sake of drama, is slightly evil and set on destroying you) knows you are applying for this position, there is nothing to stop her from picking up the phone and telling the hiring manager that you are on a PIP. And believe me, when it comes from her, it will sound much, much worse than it really is.

Many companies have policies which forbid people from posting for new jobs when they are on PIPs. I'm actually surprised that you were allowed to post out while your PIP was in force. (Big companies tend to have set policies on this type pf things.) And, to make matters more complicated, many companies also allow the current manager to have a great deal of influence over whether or not you can take a different internal position. Sure, most don't require that she approve, but many let her hold you during a "transition" period that can be several months long. While this sounds great for continuity of business, sometimes hiring managers cannot afford to wait and hire someone else.

Your bigger problem is not that your boss has done a lousy job with your PIP, but that her boss wants you fired. The higher up the food chain people are, the more power they wield. There is one possibility for knights on white horses to come running in to save you. That is your Human Resources Department.

I realize these are the same people who cannot seem to get your insurance processed properly and signed off on the PIP in the first place, but they also are probably the people that have prevented your termination in the past.

Companies have policies which they are legally required to follow. Now, they can change those policies whenever they feel like it, but they generally have to change it for everyone. Not just for you. So, ask your HR person what you should do here. She should have enough guts to push back. Additionally, if the hiring manager you've been working with does want to hire you, HR can be invaluable in figuring out what is going on here and finishing up the PIP.

Hopefully, they can manage the political nightmare as well. Because, let's face it, it's not your performance that is truly at issue. You made a mistake and now a powerful person wants you to pay. It is possible that she can make you stay working for her. It's possible that she will attempt to undermine any transfer, and that she may well be successful.

And because life is not all sunshine and roses, I will say that it may behoove (there's a word you don't hear often!) you to start looking for an external position. This transfer may not come through. Your current manager and her boss may continue to torment you. And, on a more neutral note, while longevity in a company is seen as a positive, it can switch to being a negative after 10-15 years. Why? People start to assume that you didn't move because you couldn't find anything better. (Now, if you've shown regular promotions and increases in responsibility, that can counteract that view.) So, it may be time for you to move on anyway.

In short, tell the hiring manager what is going on. (Try to remain positive about your current boss, and don't get sucked into a negativity fest.) And, speak with HR about ending the PIP. They are for set amounts of time for a reason.