Yelling General Manager

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about verbally abusive boss: I’ve confronted her about it and she says she can talk to us any way that she pleases and she can tell us whatever she wants because there are no laws against it.

I have been working for the same company for over 4 years now. I am only 20 years old. The general manager at the store yells at us and calls us stupid and other things. I’ve confronted her about it and she says she can talk to us any way that she pleases and she can tell us whatever she wants because there are no laws against it.

I am wondering if there are any laws against it. It is a very uncomfortable place for almost everyone to work. There are only a few who like it here and that’s because they are her “favorites”. So my two questions are: are there any laws against favoritism in the workplace and are there any laws that prohibit managers from yelling at us and telling us whatever they please.

Signed, There Ought To Be Law

Dear There Ought To Be Law:

Your general manager is correct in saying that she “can talk any way she pleases.” There’s no law against her calling you stupid or other names unless she discriminates on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability. Before we had unions, she also could have ordered you to work long hours and overtime even when you were under 18 years of age.

I’m sure you don’t want legal history, but since 2003, some 17 states have considered laws against bullying, but as yet no law makes offensive supervisor conduct a crime such as shouting, using foul language, invading employees’ personal space, and making threatening gestures, unless it is directed more at one protected group than at another. The same applies to boss’s playing favorites.Our site does not provide legal advice, but your questions are not matters of law. Of course, boss yelling you’re stupid is disrespectful and is poor business; of course she should not play favorites. I can’t tell from what you wrote how long ago you confronted her about her behavior, but if you have worked there for four years apparently those who manage have said what they like. Therefore there is little reason to expect her to change.

Since you don’t like how you are treated, isn’t it past time to find another job, or better still think through what you want as a career? What would you like to do and what kind of training will you need to not just have a job? Don’t quit until you think that through and/or have another job in hand. Now you must decide if you are going to vote with your feet or make a case for civility and respect within your current place of work. How?

I’m listing steps you might take, some or all of them.

1. Log what your manager does and has done to the best you can recall. Be specific as to what words she said, who she directed them at, when, what prompted her yelling and name calling. This will help you see if her misbehavior is a pattern or occasional.

2. Note how and when you confronted her and her response, such as you wrote us.

3. Include any of you performance evaluations and your record of work in this store.

4. Check with the corporation that owns your store. If it’s large, check with its personnel/Human Resources department. Make copies of what is stated about how managers should and/or shouldn’t talk to employees. Does it provide steps for employees to voice their complaints about their superiors?

5. Make copies of all you collect.

6. Avoid gossip about the manager.

7. Don’t obsess about all this. Have a life outside of work that you enjoy; workout, volunteer tutoring, sing in a choir, cook, etc.

8. Consult with a former teacher, pastor, or family friend about these matters. Ask their advice. If they recommend you again confront your manager. Do so.

9. At such a meeting, you might start by asking for her evaluation of your performance. Don’t come on antagonistically but as one who wants to examine your own behavior and pledge to be the kind of employee that wants to make your manager’s work easier and as one who has worked there four years and wants the business to succeed. But don’t be afraid to firmly state your unhappiness with being called names, yelled at and treated unequally if you have evidence of her playing favorites.

10. If this doesn’t go well, request an investigation of your manager from those above. Most likely you will not be willing to follow such advice until and if you are frustrated and angry at the way it is. Work is hard enough without a boss that yells and calls you names. You want a job in which you don’t hate to go to work. So think long and think big. You are young and there is time for you to do what it takes to be qualified for work where you feel you are doing well and doing good.

Admittedly, jobs don’t grow on trees and you probably will have to work in jobs you don’t like. But over the next few years, I predict if you do your part, you will learn from your current work situation and others you will have what you don’t want and what you do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. To achieve a communication rich and enriching workplace requires you must do your part.

William Gorden