The Wife of My Boss is Harassing Me, What Can I Do?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to deal with the wife of the boss, who is sending harassing text messages and spreading lies and rumors in a small town. 

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Question:

I am the office manager of a small office and am happily married–however, my husband is very ill.  I had previously worked for my boss for ten years, but moved away when I married my husband. Because of his illness we moved back to be near to family and after having another job for a while, my current boss offered me employment as his office manager, in August of 2013

His business had been failing until then, but after months and months of work, unpaid overtime and effort, I was able to help him bring it back. I respect him and wanted him to succeed, as well as wanting to be successful in the work myself.

Everything was going fine until July of 2014, when we had a terrible storm and houses in the area were damaged, including ours–which we were renting from my boss, because it was wheel-chair accessible and had been available when we moved.  There was a lot of damage and we were living in a hotel while the house was being repaired.

Apparently my boss’s wife–who had been a close friend of mine years earlier–resented that her husband was helping us with our house repairs instead of working on their own house. I had never seen her act bipolar, have anger issues or act irrationally before, but she sent her first harassing text to me during that time. It said, “Stop talking to my husband and texting him.” She followed that with horrible accusations and language. I was in complete shock and told my boss that I could not deal with this and with the vicious rumors she was spreading.

He apologized profusely and begged me not to leave his business, since it was finally being successful. I prayed about it and told him I would stay but he had to stop that harassing behavior by his wife, which he said he would do. But, you can’t repair a damaged reputation caused by the lies a woman made up when she couldn’t get her gutters repaired, even though we were homeless.

Everything calmed down until September. We had hired my daughter part-time, but apparently my boss’s wife didn’t like that and said she was unstable and other vicious lies. The boss didn’t want to have a problem, so he decided to keep the peace by terminating my daughter. I didn’t argue about it, but it hurt.

At the same time, she was posting things on Facebook that everyone knew was about my family. Then, she started coming to the office every day to pick up one of her children when he got out of school. She won’t talk to me, she just glares at me, and I’ve started getting sick every afternoon, wondering if this is the day she will humiliate me in public or attack me physically.

Everything was quiet for a month, until we started discussing our Christmas party. We’re a small office and I told my boss that after all I had been through with his wife, I couldn’t attend a party and risk having something happen to upset my husband. I could be civil to his wife, but I couldn’t forget the humiliation she had caused my family. He agreed that it would be awkward and decided to just give a bonus to employees instead of having the party.

I received a text message from my boss last Saturday night, telling me not to respond to any texts from his wife, as she was on a rampage and was out to hurt someone. Within five minutes I started getting harassing texts with horrible accusations. Then she says, “FIND A NEW JOB”. That’s easy for a woman who has five vacations a year and doesn’t work, to say to someone who has a terminally ill husband and a family who has been devastated already, and who is working to support a family! Then, I got the next text message that says, “Oh, never mind, I’m leaving him so you can have him all to yourself.”

I was hurt and humiliated but I still went to work on Monday. The boss showed up with a black eye and scratches on his face. He said she had destroyed everything in their house and tried to choke their daughter, all because she was angry because I wouldn’t go to the Christmas party. That’s an example of her violence and why I’m afraid of her. He says she is bipolar and has anger issues and sometimes just flips out.

Then, I found out she had sent a message by email that morning to all of the employees saying degrading things about me. I left the office, crying hysterically. I’m already overwhelmed with my husband dying, yet still I work (half day from home and half at the office). I can’t afford to quit this job, because our medical bills are astronomical and the schedule is accommodating.

Another issue is that my boss’s daughter works in the office. She has seemed sweet and I’ve been teaching her about the work and training her in everything. But, she has started acting differently lately and I find out that actually, she has been working with her mother to take my job, because in her eyes and the eyes of the other children in their family, I’m a home wrecker. They blame me for their mother’s anger and outrages at home.

Over and over again the boss begs me to stay and says he is sorry for her behavior, but he hasn’t done anything to fix it, nor can he fix what people are saying about me–that I’m the kind of person who would cheat on her dying husband.

What can I do? I have a contract until August of 2015. Can I file a lawsuit? Is there anything else I can do? I can’t quit because I need this job and I can’t let my husband suffer any more than he already has.

Overwhelmed

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Dear Overwhelmed,

There are some things you can do to deal with this situation, but they will all require some changes on your part, because you can’t easily change any of the rest of it.

It doesn’t sound as though you have a basis for a restraining order and there isn’t any employment law violation. Even if you are able to file criminal charges about harassment, not much would happen as a result and you’d still be in the same workplace with the boss–and the wife would be even more angry.

Consider the following, as you get this more under control for yourself and find a way to work there until August, at least.  Conditions with your husband may change or things about work and the boss and his wife may change, but if you must have that job and there is nothing else available, your goal will be to make it until August, hopefully with plans for something different after that.

(You may want to see if your boss would downsize in such a way as to allow you to collect unemployment compensation until you can find other work or until he can rehire you after this calms down.  He would be without his prize employee, but you would have a better life and still have money coming in.)

1. Block the phone number of Mrs. Boss, on your phone, if you can. Contact your service provider, if you think they can offer assistance.

2. If you can’t block the number, stop reading the text messages. It does you no good and it upsets your family if you share it with them. You can keep them on your phone as a record, but stop reading them and re-reading them and re-reading them. If you can’t resist, just read them and reflect that she is mentally ill, then move forward. If you don’t have that kind of resilience, which wouldn’t be surprising by now, stop reading them.

3. Get a new phone number or get an inexpensive month-at-a-time phone with new number, until this harassing situation stops. Only give the number to family and friends.

4. Tell your boss to never contact you after work hours. If he is fearful for your safety, as he apparently was last week, he should call 911 and ask them to have an officer come to your house and to stop his wife if they see her. He should not be contacting you away from work and doing so is clearly causing many of these problems.

5.  Keep in mind that you only have your boss’s word for what is going on at home. You don’t know what else is going on or what other issues are breaking up their marriage, if that is what is happening. You don’t know if his wife has bipolar disorder (a person is not bipolar, they have bipolar disorder, but that is much different than just being an angry, hurt and jealous wife, even a vengeful and hateful one.

6. From the wife’s perspective, it could be that in spite of concerns she has, her husband and a former close friend have an alliance that shuts her out. He is placing a priority on you and your situation and maybe expresses a lot of sympathy about it at home. It seems petty of her to resent that, but if she has emotional issue herself, she isn’t thinking rationally.

She may also resent the money you make from the business, especially if they have financial pressures.  She may think that having their daughter working there would be preferable to having you making a percentage as well as a salary. Perhaps your boss has tacitly agreed, to keep the peace.

All of that is to say that your boss’s wife has a perspective that seems valid to her and she thinks the only solution is for you to not be working there. Perhaps if she can see that your work has nothing to do with her marriage or her private life, it will help calm things down.

7. Whatever the situation with the wife, instruct your family to not open the door to either the boss or the boss’s wife if they come to your home. You can’t stop her from coming to the business, but it would present more of a threat or at least an upsetting situation, if she comes to your home. They can say that you’re not there and there is nothing for them to talk to her about. If you’re there and know it’s her, shout out the door that she can send you an email at work, but you are not going to engage her in conversation. Call the police if she persists.

8. Take a completely different approach about this with your family and friends. Stop talking about it with them and tell them you don’t want to hear reports about what she has said or what she is doing. Be adamant that you do not want to add that negative energy to your life and to the thoughts of your husband who is ill.

Completely separate your work from your home life and be the person who is able to move on and not be in a rut of drama, angst and upset. Yes, you will still feel upset, but at least you won’t be sharing it with others who cannot do anything about it.  And, you will find that the less you talk about it, the less raw the feelings are. Give it a chance for a month and see if the holidays aren’t happier as a result.

9. If you and your boss do not communicate outside of work and if you focus on work while you are work and do not talk to him about his marriage woes, that will help appreciably.  If you do not have a phone number where she can contact you, that will take the pressure off as well. If you don’t read the Facebook posts and don’t let others tell you about them, that will also help. If you don’t talk to people who may want to sympathize, but mostly want to gossip, you’ll do them a favor too.

You can bet, in a small town, that anyone who sympathizes with you has said something to someone else and it ultimately gets repeated to the wife, who then can view YOU as the gossiper who is trying to make problems for her. So, don’t do it.

As for your reputation and the gossip: You can’t control that either. If you are known to be a devoted wife, people won’t believe it. If she is known to have mental issues, the people she talks to won’t believe it. If her husband is respected in the community, people won’t believe it about him. But, if they believe all of it, it really won’t have an effect on you unless you let it. I doubt that they tell you anything to your face, so you only would know about it, if others report to you. Stop them from doing it.

10. Keep your goal in mind—keeping your job until you no longer need it or can find a better one. If I were you, I’d be looking all the time. You could deal with a longer drive and even a bit less money, to have peace of mind.

You’ll see that much of this response has been about things you can stop doing, to help yourself. One thing you can start doing is to seek counseling during this stressful time with your husband and your work.  A professional or a church counselor, can assist you personally and provide guidance based on ongoing aspects of the situation.

Best wishes to you and your husband through all of this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens as you are able to regain control of your work and life.