Called the B Word By My Boss!

Question:

I was told by my boss that I was a “Bitch”. I left the premises. What can I do now??

Signed,

Offended and Insulted


Answer:

Dear Offended and Insulted:

I don’t know if your question involves how to handle the remark or what to do about leaving. So, I’ll approach it both ways. If this just happened or happened in the last few days, you are probably feeling very upset and maybe very worried about going back to work–or if you can go back to work. I think this matter can work itself out with some nudging on your part, according to what you want to see as a result.

The totality of the circumstances are obviously important in something like this. For a boss to angrily call someone a b**ch is certainly not courteous. However, unless it is a regular habit, reflecting sexist behavior overall, it is not considered harassing behavior, merely rude behavior.

That word does not have the conotation that a racist word might. It’s not a good word to say–but it’s one of those words that seems to fit a special category of problem or non-problem according to the setting.

Not long ago I was in a meeting where a woman said something that disagreed with others. One of the men present smiled and said, “Ava, you are such a bitch.” She laughed and said, “Yeah, don’t you love it?”

We commented later that if Ava had been looking for problems, she could have likely complained about that. I don’t think anything would have happened except the man would have been told not to do it again, but still it would have been uncomfortable. As it was, it was a smiling moment for everyone and no one thought he was being insulting. She might have called him an ass, and had it be a similar joking statement.

If the boss called you that merely to make a sexist remark that would be one thing. If you had done or said something that seemed rude or unpleasant, he might have blurted it in anger. Or, if he was talking to you about a problem and said it in an explanatory way, that might be less obviously offensive as well. For example, “Lisa, when you look like that or respond in that way, you really come across as a b**ch.”

I’m not saying you did anything wrong! I just want to point out that the totality of the situation is what would be considered if you complained to someone higher in the organization or wondered about civil action.

But, you say you left the premises, so that also presents an issue. In some situations that might be construed as quitting. But, if you were a valuable employee up until then, likely they do not want you to quit.

You may be wondering what you need to do to go back to work, and how you should handle it when you do.

The size of the organization or business makes the difference for that. If the company has someone higher than your boss, I would contact that person or someone else at that level, or HR, and tell them what happened and that you want to return to work but you are concerned about how you will be treated when you get there.

I would imagine you would be told to come back and someone would talk to your boss before that, to make sure there are no more outbursts. If the outburst was part of a situation in which you were getting in trouble already, that might still have to be dealt with.

If there is no one higher than your boss (or the business is a small one) I would call him and just say something basic, like, “Jim I need to work and I want to come back. But I was really hurt over the name you called me. If I come back Monday morning, can we get back to normal?”

Or, “Jim, I want to come back to work. I know I said some angry things and you did too. I reacted by walking off the job. But I don’t want to quit. Can I come back Monday and we can talk about it and get back to normal?”

If you are told not to return, that at least tells you that there much more animosity than you might have realized. That kind of response doesn’t usually happen when someone is viewed as a valuable employee who has added a lot to the team or the business.

Or, it could be that the boss is the kind of person who holds a grudge. So, even if he was 100% wrong and you had done nothing wrong, he will want to put the blame on you to keep himself from looking bad.

I hope that is not the case, but you know the situation and what he is like–and what your relationship with him is like.

Obviously this is going to be awkward for awhile, no matter what happens. Your best approach if you return is to focus on work and not talk to anyone about what happened, unless you have no options. If you need to rebuild relationships do that. If people are very sympathetic, accept that without making it seem you are ganging up on the boss.

Or, it may be that you don’t want to stay anyway. Perhaps you just want to quit, get your last check and move on. What you do about the cause will then be something you would need to consult with an attorney about. I don’t think you would have a legal or civil case, unless there really was long-standing and habitual harassment–and the company is large enough to fit under the regulations regarding such things. But, you would need to have someone look at every aspect of it to make that decision. This situation, as bad as it sounds now, can be overcome. Whether you are sincerely offended, or hurt or angry or whatever, you will have to weigh that against the work environment overall, the job itself and whether you think this will happen again.

It will take focus and purposeful action on your part to move to a better relationship or at least a truce, with your boss, if that is what you want to do. Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.