Verbal Abusive Language

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about abrasive reprimand:

I work for a large company but my department is small. Other departments consider the tension to be thick and avoid my department although they adore me and I adore them.

My manager has always used abrasive language such as F, Sh and GD which is particularly disturbing to me but we all accept it. The verbal abuse crescendoed over the last six weeks and a few days ago the manager called me in with blind rage and barraged me with obscenities to the point that I had dirtied myself and had to come home to shower and change. That incident was so traumatizing that I was afraid to come back to work because I was becoming paranoid.

I tendered a two week resignation immediately and was called up later that afternoon to be told that she thought I should leave immediately even though they would pay me for the remaining weeks with benefits. I asked if I need to sign any papers and they said no but wanted me to reimburse them for tuition reimbursement. Even though I feel redeemed for making the choice to leave, I am grieving with apprehension about what my co-workers will face. They accept her salty language as a part of their job and are quite understanding of my leaving. Upper management seems impervious to this and did not ask me about the circumstances when I left.

Even though I am gay and everyone was accepting of this, people are urging me to consult a lawyer. Even though I’m somewhat miffed at paying back the tuition, it was worth it to preserve my self-esteem. I am more concerned about my co-workers and the repercussions my manager may have on my future job searches. Do you think I am being paranoid because of the trauma of the final episode of verbal abuse? Do you think it is worthy to file a complaint to keep this from happening to my co-workers? Should I just chalk it up to experience? Am I reasonable to assume that this is verbal abuse taken to the extreme?

Signed, I’ve Quit, Now What?

DearĀ I’ve Quit, Now What?:

You would certainly not be harmed by consulting an attorney, and might be helped, especially to avoid repaying tuition benefits. Almost all attorneys will provide you with a free consultation, to determine if there if a case has merit–and potential profit for them. There are many details involved that you would be able to explain better to someone who can review records, consider witness statements and so forth, so a legal adviser is in a far better situation than we are, to determine where you stand in that regard.Having said that, let me make some general comments. If you see an attorney, develop a document containing some key information. Reviewing that key information will also help you as you consider the situation.

1. List as many specific dates as you can, of the times when the manager used obscenities to you. Using swear words is not necessarily the issue–the nature of the words is the issue. So, list some of the sentences or phrases and show the context of the words. There isn’t a law about swearing. There is a law about using words that have strong sexual connotations. It does sound, based on what you said, that you had a verbally abusive boss who had been allowed to act like an angry parent or a spoiled child. That’s what is particularly sad–that apparently no strong complaints were made to HR or others. If every employee who was offended had complained, something would likely have been done. But without that united voice it may have appeared that she was well accepted, in general.

2. List the number of times, or the dates, when the manager yelled or screamed at you, and the nature of the remarks. If she threatened to harm you, that’s a serious issue. If she referred to any issue that involved an EEO area, that’s also a problem. If she was angry about something you had done or not done and was chewing you out about it, that is likely not a situation that would come under the law. Employment law does not require bosses to be nice–only to not violate the law.There may be a civil case if the nature of her conversations with you would have made it impossible for any reasonable person to work in that setting. An attorney can advise you. You will need to clearly explain why what she said, how she said it and where and when she said it, made it so particularly frightening or threatening to you.

3. List witnesses who will provide additional information. State what their testimony would likely be about.

4. Show your loss. You felt you had to quit and you will now have to pay back tuition. An attorney will want to know how much you were damaged financially. You will also need to show the damage to you physically and mentally. That will require a statement from you and from your doctor if your situation became that bad. Once you have your material together, you will be in a much better position to talk to an attorney.As for your co-workers, they have the same options you do for quitting. Unless they absolutely can’t find work elsewhere, I can’t imagine why they would work in such a place. But ultimately, adults have to fend for themselves. It may be they see it as a bad situation, but not so bad they want to give up their jobs. Or, they may find there are times they like the boss and they put up with her for that reason. Or, they may simply not feel it as strongly as you do.

It is not uncommon for entire offices to talk about how terrible a boss is, but then when asked officially you’d think they feared for their lives. That is highly, highly unlikely. So, if they don’t have the courage to speak up or to leave, they will have to learn to adjust.The HR section of the company surely doesn’t know about the extent of the problem. They are usually fully aware of liability concerns. Or, the company has a legal adviser, that person should be notified. If there is someone higher than your manager’s boss, those people need to know the impact of her behavior.If they don’t care, that may indicate there have been no negative effects from her actions and the work product is being delivered just fine. That is where current employees may be able to make a difference. If they could develop a plan for letting upper management know that some good work is being prevented and some bad work is being caused, that might make a difference in tolerance for the manager’s actions by those higher-up.

You may want to write an exit letter to HR or others, stating your reasons for leaving and letting them know of the feelings of the others.As far as your references go–most employers limit that to hire date and exit date and that’s all. In fact, that’s almost become the unwritten law for employers–to the detriment of good background investigations. Your manager was only your manager–she doesn’t own the company and it is doubtful she’d violate a policy just to create a problem. While you are talking to an attorney, you might want to ask them about a letter to the HR section, emphasizing the illegal aspects of giving false information or slandering a former employee. You quit. You weren’t fired, and that is a matter of record. It sounds as though you are fortunate to be out of that situation. I only wish others there would have the courage to do what Dr. Gorden often suggests, and “vote with their feet” about the manager. Best wishes. Use these experiences to help you find an even better place in the future. One day you’ll probably wonder why you waited so long!

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.