My Boss is Also My Brother-In-Law and He Is Becoming More Angry and Controlling

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a potentially violent boss/brother-in-law. 

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Question: I work for my sister’s husband. He’s an angry, controlling man who has been worse of late. After an incident where he was screaming at her, calling her a B**** and threatening to commit suicide, he was take away in handcuffs and all of his guns were confiscated, but he played nice with the mental health folks and released. I told her not to be home when he got home, so she moved in with me. He told me if she divorced him, he’d fire me, but right after she had him served, both of his other employees quit, so he’s had to rely on me and couldn’t fire me. Last week he casually, totally out of nowhere, told me that he’d gotten a concealed weapon permit. When I mentioned it to my sister, she recalled a recent incident where they were with mutual friends and he told them that he’d had the weirdest dream, that he’d awakened in the night and thought there was an intruder in my sister’s bedroom, so he got a gun and went into her bedroom, and there was no one there, and then he’d wakened in her bedroom– and wasn’t that a funny dream? No one laughed.

So, yesterday, I went with my sister to the house they shared (she pays the mortgage and owns the house but it’s a communal property state). He had installed security cams in the kitchen, so when we got inside, he called MY cell phone, not hers, and accused me of entering his property without permission. I told him I was there with her (which he knew because he was watching us on the security cam. He then threatened to call the police, which I told him — very casually and not with any “attitude” — that I was okay with that & we’d be happy to wait and talk to the cops. He then then warned me again in a very aggressive tone that he was calling them RIGHT NOW. I again said, “No problem. We’ll be here.” The cops called his lawyer and quickly determined that he had lied to them when he told them that my sister was not allowed on the property.

Later, he apparently panicked at the idea that I would quit, so he called and apologized for putting me in the middle. But he’s told my sister more than once that he feels he made sacrifices for her and he won’t be happy until she’s had to lose something important to her and “suffer” like he has.

So… now I have to go to work on Monday because I can’t afford to quit, and I’m not entirely sure that he won’t show up with a gun. I’m not intimidated or scared, and honestly, I expect Monday to just be another Monday, but I’m trying to be proactive about the situation and just keep in mind that it’s a remote possibility. Have you dealt with this kind of work situation? Any advice? I wish I could quit but I would get less than $500 a month from unemployment, and of course, if I quit there’s a chance I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment at all and would have no income.

Response:
We will share a few thoughts that we hope will be helpful. However, as much as we would like to provide you with comprehensive assistance, our site responds to questions about workplace communication issues, rather than about situations as serious as you describe.

I hope you are aware that many men and women have killed their spouses and the people who have sheltered their spouses, during break-ups. What you describe sounds as though you and your sister could become tragic statistics, unless you both take the action needed to get away from an apparently violent and threatening man. It sounds as though the two employees who quit, were wise—and you should follow their examples.

Consider this: If you continue to be an employee for your brother-in-law, you are helping him maintain his business and lifestyle and supporting his behavior. If you can’t immediately quit, at least take as many safety precautions as you can, until you can find another job.

1. Your sister should be guided by her attorney in matters related to property and finances. If she must go to her house for something, she should let her attorney know and ask for the police to stand-by, to prevent a disturbance or violence. Most police jurisdictions provide those responses.

2. Keep your conversations with your boss/brother-in-law, focused on business, especially if there is good news or something positive going on, as a way to give his thoughts another path. If he wants his business to continue, he will be interested in the things that contribute to its success. Unfortunately, that will require you to maintain an outward appearance of being interested and caring about it too, even though you no longer respect him or feel comfortable around him. That is another reason to work somewhere else.

3. Do not discuss his marriage with your sister or anything related to their relationship. If he tries to draw you into a conversation about it, be a broken record about telling him you only want to discuss work issues and you don’t want to be more involved than necessary in the problems he and your sister are having.

4. At the same time, make sure you keep the same approach with your sister, if you intend to keep taking a paycheck from her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

Don’t talk to her on the phone when he is around and don’t do things that remind him of your loyalty to her. For example, don’t go with your sister again, to get her property from their shared home. Even if your boss was a stable person, that kind of action from an employee he sees every day would be irritating and create unnecessary conflict. In that way, you placed yourself in the middle, rather than him placing you there. Don’t be a pipeline to your sister about your boss’s actions, unless they involve her safety. Passing along everything you hear him say or see him do, will only keep hostilities going. If they are getting divorced, let them do it on their own.

5. If your boss seems to be angry, agitated or talking in a way that seems threatening to himself or others, leave the building and call for 911 assistance. Don’t try to reason with him, just leave.

6. Keep your cellphone with you at all times.

7. If at all possible, your sister should find temporary lodging, other than with you. If you are intent upon her staying in your home, keep your doors and windows locked; look at the surroundings before you enter or leave your house; have a code word to alert each other to a problem; travel in separate cars, rather than together; and, make sure close family members also are alert and ready to call for assistance if they see something developing. If you have close neighbors who know you well, tell them to let you know if they see your bother-in-law or his car, around your home. Consider a basic security system. Never agree to a meeting in your home, between your sister and your brother-in-law.

8. Given your brother-in-law’s recent arrest, it’s doubtful he has been given a concealed carry permit. If he is illegally carrying a weapon, your sister’s attorney should alert the proper authorities. If you or she calls the police, they should be warned that he may have a concealed weapons permit and/or may be carrying one.

Hopefully, your sister will continue with her divorce plans and you will be able to find a job elsewhere, thus ending this fearful time in your life and letting you both find some peace of mind.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know how you are able to successful move through this serious problem.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Follow-up: 

Tina,
Thanks so much for your great input on this issue. You have some great ideas that I’ll incorporate with my other precautions.  I wish I could take the advice to quit but I would get only $500 a month on unemployment and just got hit with a veterinary bill that was more than 25% of my annual pretax salary, with more expenses to come, so quitting would leave me homeless, I’ll see what tomorrow brings and keep looking for a way out of IT hell.

I really appreciate you taking time to get back to me, and the great advice. I’ll share your response with my sister as well.

 

Be well!