As part of a theme issue on the future of work, this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has a series of advice features by Malia Wollan, one of which is “How to Deal With a Verbally Abusive Boss” (go here and scroll down). I was quoted extensively in this piece, and I give major kudos to Ms. Wollan for pulling together a lot of information and advice on a topic that is hard to capture in one short column.
I’d suggest reading the piece in its entirety, but here are a few highlights:
“Ask yourself: Is the content of the abuse legally actionable?” says David C. Yamada, a professor of law and the director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. If the yelling is related to your race, gender, disability, religion, age, national origin or sexual orientation, consult a lawyer, look up your state’s fair employment practices agency and consider filing a workplace-discrimination complaint. If, however, your abuser stays clear of those topics, you will find yourself in what Yamada refers to as “the void” — murky, psychologically dangerous terrain with little protection. “Generic verbal abuse is generally legal,” says Yamada, who drafted model legislation under consideration in multiple states that would make severe verbal abuse an unlawful employment practice.
The piece goes into greater detail, starting off with my advice that one should engage in “thinking steps before actions steps.” I touch upon the importance of reading one’s employee handbook, the merits of approaching human resources, and the possibility of standing up to an aggressor.
I didn’t mince words in terms of the likely outcome, especially in the absence of legal protections against workplace bullying:
You’ll most likely need to find another job. “I frequently hear from people who stayed too long in these abusive work environments,” Yamada says. “The psychological and health effects deepen to the point where there are long-term repercussions for their well-being.”
Wollan specifically wanted to discuss verbally abusive bosses, so we didn’t have an opportunity to get into other forms of bullying, such as covert and indirect behaviors, mobbing campaigns, and peer-to-peer aggression. Nevertheless, I think we managed to cover a lot of ground in this interview, which hopefully will be of help to some readers.
For those dealing with workplace bullying situations, the Need Help page of this blog and the abundant resources of the Workplace Bullying Institute are good starts.