Extremely abusive boss

My boyfriend and I were employed at a restaurant as servers. I had worked there for two years when there was a verbal confrontation between the owner and some of the employees, including myself. The owner became verbally abusive and, in my opinion, irrational. The next week my fellow employees, who were friends of mine, were fired. They were told if they wanted their jobs they would have to apologize to the owner, even though they were not at fault, in order to appease his ego. They left. Work conditions became difficult for me and I left voluntarily because I needed time off and didn't want to be fired. (Which I'm certain would have occurred).
Eventually I was rehired, but it was made clear to me the boss was mad at me. After many discussions I thought the problems had been aired out. About the same time the man who would become my boyfriend began working there and when we started dating we kept it secret because we knew there would be issues, but eventually the boss found out and gave us a hard time about it. On many occasions he was verbally abusive to us and when my boyfriend was not around he would make sexually explicit comments. (He had done this from day one and it was clear that in order to be in his good favor you should play along, it justs happens too much in the restaurant industry). He knew this was inappropriate and made me uncomfortable, but he took satisfaction from knowing he had the power to do this because "he was the boss". He even made comments in front of business associates and customers. At one point he fired my boyfriend for unclear reasons, the manager stated that he felt we shouldn't work together. Our relationship had no effect on our performance and,if anything, made it better. The owner later admitted to me that he had made a hasty decision and rehired him. Still there were many more confrontations, culminating with the night we left. With no other way to say this, the owner "picked a fight" with my boyfriend, verbally, and when my boyfriend didn't come back at him and quietly submitted, he continued to try and make him fight. When that didn't work he pulled us aside and began screaming curses in our faces. We felt we could no longer work under these conditions, and honestly felt he was looking for a reason to get rid of us anyway, but couldn't use our performance, so we left. Later we were told by fellow employees that he said he had "orchestrated" the whole thing to make us quit. Everyone agreed he had been irrational and didn't really understand what his problem was. We think it just boils down to the fact that he didn't like us dating. Of course, he has had problems with many employees for many reasons, but we don't understand how he can get away with this kind of behavior. The final blow came when we were told he is allowed to act any way he wants because "not agreeing with someones supervisory technique" is not a good enough reason to leave. Is there any recourse for us, can we even file a complaint? Thanks for your consideration,
Unemployed servers

1 answer  |  asked Dec 7, 2003 9:32 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
The Abusive Boss

Because of the employment at will doctrine, generally, a boss can be as abusive as he pleases to employees. Under the employment at will doctrine, the remedy open to employees is to quit, on the spot, and without consequences.

But, when dealing with an abusive boss, it is always important to ask two questions: Why? and How? Why is the boss so abusive toward a particular employee, or group of employees? How is the boss abusive? That is, what does the boss do or say that is so abusive? The why and how questions will often point in directions which can give employees additional remedies.

For example, you mention that at some point a GROUP of employees had some sort of confrontation with the boss. Afterward, the boss seemed to turn up the abuse to anyone who stayed. This set of facts suggests that the abuse after the confrontation may have been motivated by the collective action. That is, the answer to the WHY question is the group action.

On the assumption that the facts bear this out, the answer to the why question points to a possible violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Even though the employees at this retaurant may not have been unionized, they may have been protected under the federal law governing labor-management relations because of the collective action of the employees at the restaurant.

You also mention that the boss was in the habit of making sexually explicit comments to female employees. This goes to the how question. How was he abusive? In part through sexually explicit comments. Even if we assume that his true motivation was not gender based, the how nonetheless points to a possible sex discrimination (sexual harassment) claim.

Very often the HOW point to the WHY. That is, sexually explicit comments directed to female employees but not male employees suggest that the conduct is motivated by gender. The boss may profess that this is not true, but his actions speak to the contrary conclusion.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Dec 8, 2003 2:40 PM [EST]

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