#684: My boss brought a machete to a disciplinary meeting with staff.

Oh, Captain, my Captain,

I’m a lawyer, working at a small-ish firm in the Midwest. As a bit of background, my last job was at a non-profit, where I believed in the work, and loved my co-workers, but it was a bad fit. My old boss shredded my self-esteem, and my leave-taking was not entirely voluntary. I was also hella depressed, and having constant panic attacks, and I was completely burned out. I feel very lucky to have found this job, where I’m able to help people, work decent hours, and make a good living, with folks who think I’m awesome.

So, on to the question. There’s been some drama at work among the support staff, and my boss restructured to help reduce friction, putting me in charge of a law clerk and an admin that I’ll call S. S is young and pretty. She’s also a hard worker and a lot of fun. We get along great, and as a team, we’re doing really well.

The problem is that my boss (who is the head of the firm, and so has no one in authority over him) has a Thing for S, and when S started hanging out with one of the other attorneys, he took it badly. I know this because he confronted S about it, asked if she was fucking the other attorney, and asked if she preferred him. That would have been bad enough, but a lot of the other staff people have been complaining about S’s breaks being too long, or her visiting this other attorney during working hours. The boss ignored the complaints for the most part, I think until he realized how much time S had been spending with the other attorney, and until he had a rather disastrous anniversary date with his wife. (I wish I didn’t know this, but holy inappropriate comments, Batman!)

At the end of last week, the boss calls me and S into his office, along with the other attorney, the office manager, and the staff person who had been complaining the most about S. He yelled at just about everybody except me (and really, nothing he said was out of bounds or inappropriate because it was all about being late to work or screwing around). And then he pulls out a machete. A real machete. And then he says that while we’re all very important to the firm, if he has to have this conversation again, not everybody is going to leave an employee, and then he brought the machete down on his desk, leaving a gouge in the wood. I still can’t quite believe it happened.

The next day, I expected him to at least acknowledge how nuts/over the top/whatever his behavior was, but instead he said, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” I was speechless.

The thing is, I love the work. I’m good at it. I want to stick with it. While we could deal without my income, we want to adopt in the near future, which will be impossible without a second income. But I also have no idea what to do with a boss who thinks swinging a machete around is an appropriate response to ANYTHING in the workplace. I have no idea what to say to him since he is clearly not operating with Earth Logic. There’s no one else at work I can take my concerns to, because he’s in charge. For now, I’ve told my people to keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain. If the boss carries through with his promise to put me in charge, I’m hopeful that he’ll focus on the other side of the business and leave us to do our thing. And maybe once he pulls his head out of his ass and gets over his bruised ego, he’ll start seeing sense.

But is there a script for this? I know he respects me, and I’m pretty sure he has no idea that at least four of his best (female) employees are ready to walk. How do I even approach him? I’m not afraid for my own person, and I don’t view him as dangerous (machete-weilding notwithstanding), but DUDE. I got nothing. Honestly, ideally, I would stay there for at least a couple of years, and then investigate the possibility of moving to a different firm that practices the same kind of law once I’ve gotten more experience. I love this area of the law, and there’s no other firm in my area doing it right now, but moving might be a possibility in a few years.

Thoughts? Scripts? Anything?

Yours truly,

Stunned Speechless

Dear Stunned:

Reaction shot from Vertigo, with Jimmy Stewart looking incredibly freaked out.

Let’s review:

  • A married boss/CEO has a thing for a young female assistant so obvious and inappropriate that he asks about her sex/love life at work.
  • Then he starts monitoring all of her behavior at work and finally has a “work” reason to censure her.
  • So he brandishes a machete when he reads her for disciplinary issues, and makes sure other employees see it.

This is a Lifetime Movie waiting to happen. This is a patchwork quilt where all the patches are made of red flags and the pattern is someone doing semaphore that means “Get out.” Either he is unstable enough or enough of a jerkass to have lost all sense of consequence and filter (and he shouldn’t be in charge) or he deliberately orchestrated that meeting as a way to hint at S. that he is capable of getting violent (and he shouldn’t be in charge).

I hope S. has documented all of his creepy questions and behaviors. I hope she took a photo of the mark in the wood, that she quit that very day, and that she knows a good lawyer. I can’t not see this as a threat against her, specifically.

It is totally unfair that you might have to leave a good job that you like because your boss is, as you put it in your email subject line, “a machete-wielding maniac.” I keep trying to think of scripts, like, “Hey, boss, the thing with the machete really freaked me out the other day. Can we agree that machetes are for home use only?” but I keep coming up against the problem of, what if he takes out the machete as a response to your question? From that conversation there is no going back. You’d either have to quit on the spot or play it off as a joke as you slowly back away (thereby showing you are a person who is cool with machetes).

I hope you and every single other person who works there can slip out quietly and find a new spot to work. I don’t think you should warn him about your own departure or anyone else’s, and I don’t know what remedies you have short of that. Tell his partners (if there are any)? The Bar Association? Does Ask A Manager have some kind of signal that we can put up in the sky? ALISON HELP US.


Addendum: Now is the time on sprockets when we close this comments thread. I think the LW got some valuable perspective and I don’t think it’s useful to keep cycling here, also, I don’t have the energy to delete or admonish every instance of the word “crazy” that came in in the night when I was asleep. Letter Writer, I think this comment by Rodeo Bob is one of the wisest in the thread because it talks about de-escalation. An excerpt:

Actions like calling the police, evacuating the office, and threatening lawsuits, while righteous and satisfying, all escalate the situation. If this behavior really was an attempt to establish dominance and test boundaries, the reaction will be double-down and increase hostilities. Even if it was a tone-deaf attempt at something silly like you might see on “The Office”, (and I don’t think it was that innocent) framing this as a power-struggle only accelerates the timeline for increased hostilities, and the LW needs to make it through the short-term to find a new job.

The Gift of Fear, while problematic in its handling of domestic violence, is a very apt resource on workplace violence and in most cases de Becker advocates de-escalating potentially violent situations rather than using authority to enforce what’s objectively right. Even in the problematic domestic violence chapter he advocates victims trusting their own instincts about when and whether to file restraining orders, involve police, or otherwise escalate the situation because those measures can antagonize a violent person before the victim has managed to get safely out of the situation. The ability of our institutions to handle this kind of problem is so depressingly patchy and sometimes it really is a choice between “do you want to win” vs. “do you want to get away safely.” Letter Writer, I think you did the smart thing by de-escalating the situation as much as you could. I hope you will encourage S. to seek a new job, and I hope you will also seek a new work environment. Be safe, and do not trust this man to ever have your best interests at heart.




276 thoughts on “#684: My boss brought a machete to a disciplinary meeting with staff.

  1. i kind of feel like the only reasonable thing to do when someone pulls out a machete at work is to call the cops, but i ….i got nothing. what the hell. i would leave the job at the very least though. it’s not fair, but there comes a time when you got to stop worrying about what’s fair and start worrying about the likelihood of death/dismemberment. or at least a terrible work-environment.

    1. agree. when actual, real weapons enter the picture in any way, joking or not, all other considerations fall to the side. that plus the list of other behavior = GTFO right now. it will not get better. you will always wonder when his irrationality will focus on you. i also support reporting it to the police.

      1. Yeah if an employee walked in waving a machete, cops would be called and he would probably go down in a hail of bullets. When the boss does it? People get uncomfortable and THINK about quitting their jobs? Seriously, get out! The call is coming from inside the house. Do not play around with this freak. Especially since he thinks his machete stunt worked because no one immediately called the cops on his crazy arse/quit on the spot/immediately called every lawyer in town and filed a giant lawsuit against him.

    2. my reaction was so very much “omgwtf o.o CALL THE COPS”. someone’s waving around a machete in close quarters (I’m assuming this is your regular conference room). That is hella dangerous. i’m not normally thetype to say “walk off a job”, or quit without notice, but… dude is waving around a weapon and thinks its an awesome idea.

      run away. document all this for s, help her as you can, but RUN. get out of this environment, nothing goos will come of this.

    3. +eleventy for “call the cops.” I know it’s too late for LW to call them in a heat-of-the-moment situation right now, but she should consider filing a police report now, after the fact, just to have that documentation trail in place. HEEEEG.

      1. …Also, I feel almost silly for adding but here it goes, if you file a complaint with the cops now, then if in the future anything happens and the cops have to intervene with an active situation they will have information that this dude likes playing around with knives.

    4. Stunned – this is an awful terrible situation to be in, and I can tell that you are both still processing and trying to figure a way out in an unfair world, with a deck stacked against you, when you’re still beaten down from the last crazy abusive situation.

      Here are what I see as your main choices:
      1) Pretend this is normal, hope things somehow turn out ok.
      2) Pretend this is normal, hope your subordinates leave on their own, quietly take another job yourself.
      3) Pretend this is normal to the boss, take your subordinates aside and advise them to leave/help them get other jobs, quietly take another job.
      4) Pretend this is normal, quietly take another job, blow the whistle once you’re out.
      5) Quit, blow the whistle, advise your former subordinates to GTFO and you’ll help them with recommendations.

      #1 and #2 will likely leave you personally open to lawsuit (and let’s be honest, a pretty easily won lawsuit on multiple counts), which could be far worse for future employment than being a whistleblower (Edward Snowden aside). I suspect that you may end up with a future burden of guilt too, since you are their manager and know the situation is unacceptable.

      #4 and #5 – Being a whistleblower can absolutely get you blackballed, you are absolutely right… but not from every state/province and every field, it’s often only in the small ponds that works in (YMMV – this is based on personal experience).

      I guess my question is, what will help you sleep at night? My personal inclinations would be toward #4 and #5, but #3 might be workable too (though you would know he was inflicting The Crazy on the next crop of vulnerable underlings).

      1. Blow the whistle on what, exactly? There’s not systematic law breaking or corruption here – it’s a deranged employer with a machete he swings around the office.

    5. I second this strongly: if someone is wielding actual weapons in a work environment which is not a combat-related field (such as the armed forces, the police forces or a security force) you call the cops. You call the cops, or you call the local mental health people and get them involuntarily committed for their own good (especially when this guy is saying he thinks waving a weapon about is a good HR decision!) and for the good of all the other people in the office. Quite frankly, this guy is showing a lot of signs of being triggered on the way to homicide – he’s been behaving inappropriately around a coworker of the appropriate gender for his apparent preferences; he is having difficulties at home (you mention “a rather disastrous anniversary date with his wife”) which can act as a triggering stressor; and he’s brought a weapon into the workplace and used it as a means of intimidating people, including the person around whom he has been behaving inappropriately. These sorts of things show up reasonably frequently as “warning signs” in the stories of people who have committed crimes against persons (rape, murder, grievous bodily harm etc). He needs to be dealt with by trained professionals.

      Call the police, give them the background and a picture of the machete gouge in the surface he hit, and at least bring the matter to their attention. This guy is not on a safe path, and he needs to be helped by trained professionals.

  2. And I think I speak for us all when I say : HOLY CRAP. When it was discussed in the last comments section about the dudely tactic of “I’d never hit you but I totally could”, I don’t think anyone imagined a MACHETE would be involved.

      1. Yes, that is *precisely* the subtext – but it’s deniable! Ha, ha, ha, what a gas(light)! And it’s even *awesomer*, because if you object to it, shitty abuse-enabling people will say “What’s your problem? It’s not like he hurt *people*, he just hurt a *desk.* Are you saying objects are as important as human beings? Give me a break.”

        This happened a few years back, with that horrid father who literally shot his daughter’s laptop on video and then put it on YouTube “to teach her a lesson.” I still worry about that girl, and I hope she GTFO of her toxic family.

  3. I got *nothing.* I entirely believe this is a real letter, but it could easily also be a movie plot, like you said. My jaw is still on the floor. Hacking up people’s desks with a machete is ever a response to anything in the workplace? Did I not get a memo somewhere? I don’t think my brows can move any higher without taking up residence in my hair at this point.

    Is this illegal? Can the LW be like “hey police, my boss is threatening us with a machete” even if he wasn’t actually saying “I’m going to cut you if you do badly”? Would the Bar Association strip this guy of his permission to practice given his BATSHIT CRAZINESS? Wow.

    I also understand why the LW doesn’t want to run like the wind, because there isn’t exactly a pile of open legal jobs just waiting for workers out there, and because said LW wants to adopt a kid soon and doesn’t think it’s feasible to raise the child on their partner’s income. Such a rock and a hard place, wow.

    (Totally irrelevant here: if S was indeed using her work hours to go see friends or boyfriends or whatever else, that’s poor form and she should be talked to about that. But the boss’s response was so unjustified my head is still spinning from the amount of headtilt going on here.)

    1. The only way I can reply is to pull out my hair and yell THIS CANNOT BE REAL!!! I don’t want to admit a world where this could really happen.

      1. I KNOW. If it happened in a movie, I would. not. believe it. Like, I might laugh at it for being too over-the-top.

        Well, I might HAVE laughed. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t now, because… AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.

        This office is full of Evil Bees.

        1. Yeah. I see this as a facet of gaslighting– weird and over-the-top is harder to talk about, harder to get other people to take seriously if you need to get help. Even when you’ve seen it happen yourself, a certain amount of unbelieveable-ness makes it hard to even comprehend what happened, much less figure out how to respond.

          1. Someone on tumblr dubbed this “trenchbulling” after the Matilda character: abuse so over the top, people are inclined to think you’re exaggerating or lying. Basically, refuge in audacity for abusers.

          2. Sadly, that is so true.
            Once in my high school, a teacher chased a student around the room with a morningstar (medieval weapon). And at first no one believed him even though it happened in front of a whole class because, WTF, a MORNINGSTAR? Who just has that in their classroom closet?… Well, a teacher who’s a military veteran with unresolved issues, apparently.

          3. OMG rory, I was thinking of Matilda too!!
            (Sorry, we seem to have reached the bottom of the comment nest, so I can’t reply to you directly here…)

      2. Sounds unreal, but having worked for a boss that would do this kind of thing, I believe it. And my boss was also in charge of a law firm too.

    2. I feel like this is almost definitely illegal? Maybe it’s worth investigating if weapons can be brought onto that property, that might be sideways way to say something? I’d imagine most law firms would have rules against bringing weapons to work, but I don’t really know so I could be totally off on that.

      1. Yeah, this.

        Look, OP, you’re the lawyer, but I am 99% sure this is assault. I don’t just mean de facto (because the Captain is totally right about it being aimed specifically at S. for her “crime” of preferring another man to him); I mean under law. I would be very surprised if it didn’t count as criminal assault and I’m POSITIVE it counts as creating a harassing work environment, not to mention asking female employees aggressively about their sex lives does.

        You know better than I, I’m sure, all the reasons why suing would probably be a bad move for reasons of professional politics, even if you and the others have an ironclad case. But please do leave, and if S. considers suing, please support her? You’re all going through crap nobody should have to, but she’s at the epicenter.

        Good luck. Stay safe.

        1. It’s not assault if the machete wasn’t aimed at a person. I’m not defending the behavior, but it doesn’t sound like a crime.

          1. Considering a machete is pulled out during a telling off, I’d say a reasonable person would be in fear of imminent unwanted attack.

          2. Yes, it is. The criminal code in most states calls it “menacing.” On first offense it’s a misdemeanor, but can rise to felony level if the behavior is repeated.

      2. Yeah, like even if Boss is the owner (and if not HOLY BALLS talk to whomever owns this place and tell them that your boss HAS A FUCKING MACHETE AT WORK), I feel like this is one of those situations where there is a board of directors (if nonprofit) or some sort of governing agency or institution that Boss is answerable to and if not AT LEAST A LANDLORD!!!!! What are the laws in your area about machetes on premises? Can you call your local law enforcement agency and just say, “WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO ABOUT THIS MACHETE?!” Maybe they go, oh hey, it just so happens we’re investigating this guy, or maybe they know what to do? At the very least people who bring machetes to work should totally have a written legal record that they bring machetes to work.

        Also, I cannot say WHAT THE FUCK enough.

      3. Yeah – especially since he was making jokes about making it a regular thing to encourage his workers. Definitely Consider an e-mail along the lines of “I was thinking about that comment you made and, I think it’s a bad idea because (legal reasons). In fact, on reflection, bringing a machete to work was a bad idea in the first place. Your actions in that meeting could be seen as (assault, intimidation, coercion, violence). That’s probably not a reputation that you want to cultivate for your management style.”

        But I also agree that, like. This dude brought a machete to work to intimidate specific staff members. Speaking up might really not be a safe thing for you to do. If you contact other partners/his boss/association/whatever, it’s very likely gonna get back to him and your name is likely to be mentioned. Unless you can communicate that you want anonymity/make an anonymous complaint. But even then. Idk. I know that the LW wants to stay in this job for money and career reasons. But I think maybe you could find another place to get experience in this area of law? A place where weapons aren’t brought to performance meetings?

    3. Would be completely illegal here, and would be grounds for if not outright dismissal, then definitely suspension.

      1. He’s the head of the firm, guys — there’s no firing or disciplining him, at least not from within the firm. He owns the place.

        Now, the state bar, or the labor commission, or even the police might be able to do *something* — but it’s not like you can report this guy to *his* boss, because he *is* that boss.

        (If there were other name/senior/founding partners, it might be another story — they could theoretically vote to buy out his share — but that doesn’t sound like the case here. Also, senior lawyers are not necessarily going to make that kind of expensive, divisive decision over a member of support staff. SHOULD they? Yes. WOULD they? Maybe. But that’s assuming they exist in the first place.)

        Having been a member of support staff getting illegally harassed and terminated by a name partner — the other partners voted to offer a settlement ($10K, which they paid as a “bonus” rather than salary, so half went to taxes) in exchange for me signing away the right to sue — but that didn’t REMOTELY cover my expenses for the 5 months that I was out of work, and the job I finally found was a salary cut — and this was BEFORE the recession.

        It’s in S’s best interest, and the LW’s best interest, to find another job rather than getting fired, which it sounds like Machete, Esq. is planning on doing to S, by starting a “discipline” process.

        Also, while S is not going to be able to hide that she answered to Machete, Esq. when interviewing, it would be a kindness if the LW (who seems to currently be S’s *direct* supervisor) offers to provide a reference for S, separate from Machete.

        1. Definitely second the idea of offering a reference. Depending on how young S is, she might not realize how not okay the situation is. I know a ton of people who look back on things that happened in their first few jobs later in life and are shocked at what they put up with, so bringing up that conversation will hopefully allow S to see the situation the same way everyone here is reacting. It’s always harder when you’re used to the people involved and if Mr. Machete has been breaking down her boundaries for a while, she’ll probably stay way longer than she should. Proactively bringing up “if you’re job searching and need a reference, I’d be happy to tell anyone how awesome you are…” would hopefully nudge her in the job hunting direction or at least start the conversation about appropriate workplace behavior and let her know that machete-wielding is a huge red flag.

          You would think that’d be obvious, but it’s amazing what working in a toxic environment will do to skew your judgement if you’re there long enough.

        2. Excellent point regarding the reference! Aside from being the ethical thing to do, it’s a good concrete way to help S get out of here too.

        3. LW here, and you’re absolutely right. He IS the boss, there are no other partners, or even senior partners. The only other person who might be able to say something is his dad, who is mostly retired, and is (by all accounts) actually worse. I could lodge a bar complaint or a police report, but I’d literally never work again in this state. Sucks.

          That being said, I’ve got S covered. She’ll get a good reference from me, and my husband works at a place here in town that could always use someone with her talents. I will send her that direction if she decides she needs to leave with a glowing reference.

          1. ” I could lodge a bar complaint or a police report, but I’d literally never work again in this state. Sucks.”

            Ugh, I am so sorry. That is horrible.

          2. Um. First of all, Stunned, you have my total sympathy. My God, what a nightmare. Especially when you truly *thought* things were going so well.

            Second of all… if the entire legal establishment in your state is run by the personal cronies of a machete-wielding maniac, may I respectfully suggest a different state? I wish I were kidding, because my parents and ex-husband are all lawyers and I *know* how hard it can be for a lawyer to pull up stakes and relocate across Bar Association lines, especially when it sounds as if your husband owns a business there. But you are in at LEAST three major kinds of trouble at this job. You are at risk physically, working for a machete-wielding maniac. You’re at risk legally, being the underboss who is potentially a codefendant if S. sues (which I really kinda think she should). And you’re at risk professionally because your workplace is rapidly becoming untenably toxic. You understandably don’t want to leave because there’s nowhere to go, but for that very reason, you’re in far worse trouble if you stay, because you will have to be a part of things getting worse and worse, with the constant threat of the lack of anywhere to go over your head if you don’t carry out his unethical and probably illegal wishes.

            You need to get out. If he and his friends run the state, then you need to get out of the state. But you need to get to someplace HE ISN’T IN CHARGE.

            You’re in an extremely large House of Evil Bees. It sucks rocks and I am sorry. There is no good answer. But there’s also only one remotely viable one that I see, and that’s get out, and protect his other staff by *any* means necessary, even if that leaves a stateful of charred earth for you. I wish I had anything better to say.

  4. So firstly whaaaaaaaaat the…..

    But secondly – have you researched the state labour laws? There could be legal protection against workplace harassment and violence that could be worth pursuing. I used to work in HR in Canada, but the US varies so much place to place that I can’t possibly guess what the situation in your state would be.

  5. I don’t know if this is legal or not, but can you talk to S? She’s basically getting disciplined because she doesn’t want to fuck her boss, and she’s getting disciplined in a really scary way. Maybe she is totally on the ball, has this all documented and plans to pay for her PhD with the proceeds of the lawsuit…but maybe she’s a really young woman in a field that encourages/hires for/fosters diffidence, emotional labor and Putting Up With Inappropriate Stuff (I can say this; I’m a secretary myself) and is basically blaming herself.

    If it doesn’t violate some kind of HR rule of which I am unaware, can you say to her that what happened was really out of line and concerning and that you’ll back her up if scarier stuff happens? And tell her that if she isn’t already, she should be documenting?

    I just feel like S is going to get abandoned over this (because honestly, you need to get the hell out) and I worry.

    If this would be a terrible idea for Law-Type Reasons, I understand, but seriously, S needs some actual mentoring from someone with her interests at heart.

    1. See, I know a lot about HR laws in Canada, and here there would be quite a few possible courses of action, but the US is so varied. But yeah, I think S definitely has grounds for a case, it looks like there are federal laws against sexual harassment, but I don’t know the process in the USA.

    2. Speaking as someone who just went through Harrassment Prevention Training ™ at work, this sounds an awful lot like quid pro quo and retaliation. The underlying (well, sort of underlying) threat is “fuck me or I’ll hurt you.” If that’s not tit for tat, I don’t know what is.

      Document, document, document! Give her copies of everything you can document and get thee to a lawyer. Both of thee. And tell her it’s not her fault that your boss is a violent douchenozzle. Because he’s just off the rails here.

      1. Totally agree with this. Especially in light where the boss asked S if she preferred the other attorney. (Hell, *I* prefer the other attorney at this point, and I don’t know the parties involved!) This is so icky and horrible, and that’s before one takes into account the machete.

        1. Yeah, I pretty much would prefer anyone who DIDN’T wield a machete in my presence.

  6. I second the “call the Bar Association” suggestion. Also the “call the police if he doesn’t remove that machete from the premises” option. Having a lethal weapon in the work place is NOT COOL. I’m sorry that a position you enjoyed is turning sour, but I firmly believe that job searching is better than dying/maiming by machete. Good luck.

    1. Quite. And, now it’s out that a lethal weapon is on the premises, what’s to stop someone else using it if passions run high? Personally, I would very quietly and politely ask that the machete be removed, and if it is not, that would be the end of my time there.

    2. +1 to calling the bar association. That behavior is so bizarre that he may need to be evaluated for fitness to practice. I see your comment below about “managing up,” but to my mind, “managing up” is more like “how do I help my boss make sure he’s responding to emails when he’s really bad at it but also kind of prickly about being reminded about it?” and not so much “how do I prevent my boss from future machete-wielding in disciplinary meetings?”

  7. LW here: as an addendum, I did call him out on the machete wielding (while he was in my office and there were no available weapons), and he did (sort of) apologize. He’s also basically left me in charge of this side of the practice, so any disciplinary actions taken in the future will be my decision and completely weapon-free. So, there’s some small hope? But really, any advice on how to call out a boss and manage up would be appreciated.

    1. i totally get that this sucks for you and eveyone else who likes working there, but i kind of think that amy hope that he would behave in a responsible/sane manner went out the window when the machete entered the picture? i honestly think the best thing you can do is to get out before things get worse. but that’s just my opinion, and i do hope you can find a better option that is safe for you.

      1. Yeah, seconding this. Nothing about him has changed – he’s going to apologize, act slightly nicer for a bit, and then threaten you guys again when it works for him. I don’t think there’s any managing you can do that will make this not happen.

        1. Exactly. Typical cycle of violence. I see the apology & putting LW in charge of the area as a manifestation of the honeymoon period. Things aren’t getting better. They are just getting started on the merry-go-round from hell.

    2. Personally, I think once there’s a weapon being brandished there’s no talking someone down or ‘managing up’ (unless your job is crisis negotiation for law enforcement but then you get paid a LOT to do that kinda thing with backup and, you know, stab vests).

      My suggestion at this point is to back up your direct reports, do everything possible to keep them safe physically, mentally, and emotionally, and also do everything possible to get yourself the heck out of there.I’m personally pinging on the first half of your letter, please feel free to disregard if I’m reading too much into it– you left a bad situation for this one which is a little bit better, but still has a bro with horrible personal boundaries who’s swinging a machete and causing property damage with said weapon.

      You deserve better. You deserve so much better. I’ve dealt with job burnout and stress before and I know it can look like there’s nothing else out there and this is the best you can get. Please please please be looking for another job. Throw those resumes out there into the world. Go for the long shots. Call up friends at that other firm and let them know you’re looking. And let S know if you’d be willing to be the reference as the direct manager.

    3. Look, I appreciate that in a stressful situation dealing with an unreasonable person, all of us try to file the experience under “normal-ish, questionmark?” and move on. That’s what I did when an abusive roommate flipped her lid and accused me of stealing money from her by giving my clothes an extra rinse.

      But here’s the thing: this is not a normal dispute and he is likely to escalate. Like my roommate did when she shoved me against a wall, yelled racial slurs at my boyfriend and told us she’d have the cops throw him out of the apartment if we didn’t leave.

      you’ll notice that story doesn’t involve weapons.

      I think “managing up” in this case is a fantasy and I think you don’t necessarily want any disciplinary authority in a company that features open sexual harassment and machetes. If S decides to sue, could it be your ass on the line too?

      1. I think you don’t necessarily want any disciplinary authority in a company that features open sexual harassment and machetes. If S decides to sue, could it be your ass on the line too?

        This is an excellent point. LW, if you are in a position of authority – and it sounds like you are – and have management oversight over S to any degree, which it sounds like you do, then doing the right thing here also potentially protects you at least somewhat in the event of a lawsuit (if S were to sue rather than just flee). I don’t know what culpability might apply otherwise in a case where the message becomes “so-and-so knew, but did nothing.” Talk to an employment attorney, maybe call the local bar association on your own behalf to ask for advice, talk to mentors in your field if you have any. This situation is untenable as it stands because OMG MACHETE WTF, so self-protection and protection for S at the very least in all ways possible would be very, very good to pursue ASAP.

    4. OK. I get that you’re trying to manage this. And I see everyone saying “run for the hills” (I’m sort of doing that too)… but I’ll say this: Step 1) if you are truly in charge of that side of the practice, then first and foremost – get an HR rep hired ASAP. Step 2) sit down AGAIN with this guy (with the HR rep) and review what happened and _why it will never happen again_. Step 3) EVERYONE goes through harassment training. Everyone. If this guy is serious, he will not only *let* you do this, but it’s imperative to have it in place at your workplace (read: HELLO LAWSUIT! You’re a law firm!). This cannot ever happen again. Especially by the boss. And it all needs to happen tout suite (meaning within the next week or so). Good luck – this is a serious nightmare.

    5. Does S work under you as well? If so then I think you’ve got some breathing room and should see your remaining time here as boosting your resume – what specific projects or types of experience do you need and how can you get them in the shortest amount of time? Ditto for giving S the experience she needs for the next role.

      If S does not work under you then I think you need to make sure she is safe in the workplace. Even if this means being a reference for her to get a new role, she deserves to not be afraid of her boss.

      Finally, as far as talking to your boss… I can’t think much past “This is completely unacceptable behaviour and you can expect a lot of people to leave if it is repeated.” – and I would say it to him in a fairly public place, with some friends or family waiting to pick you up right outside. Someone who though that was reasonable behaviour to bring a machete to a work disciplinary meeting is not someone I want to help understand why it’s not reasonable.

    6. I just left a rambling comment that got eaten by the spam filter. Let me just repeat: You have disciplinary authority in this firm of Yelling, Harassment & Machetes, Attorneys At Law?

      That’s not hopeful. That’s a reason to lawyer up, document and cover your ass in case S. or others are preparing to sue.

      1. I almost feel like that might give LW an ethical, if not legal, obligation to report this to the bar and the police, in that case. Even if/when the LW quits. If he/she is an attorney, there are licenses that are probably dependent on maintaining some sort of ethical standard that if S. gets fed up and reports Boss, would be put in jeopardy.

        1. I feel like this is an ethical issue in terms of reporting on LW’s part, too. Why did the LW tell their colleagues to hush about it? Why “heads down and noses clean”? They should be allowed to report if they want to. Also, LW, I think YOU need to report this to the police as well. This behavior is unacceptable and it’s not something that deserves a second chance. And you, in a position of leadership, would be (I imagine) both liable and ethically obligated to advocate on behalf of your colleagues in this kind of violent situation, especially if it recurs.

    7. Sadly, that doesn’t mean he won’t do it again. I’m not sure you can manage up on this. And honestly, do you want to mitigate the damage to your coworkers and staff or to your boss? If it’s your coworkers, you need to report him to the bar. Because, dude, NOT OK. I couldn’t recommend trying to keep your staff in place with a machete hanging over their heads. You might be in charge of them, but he’s in charge of you. What happens when you are on vacation? Do you want to chance another “friendly” disciplinary chat?

    8. I have many times been the second-in-command to some scary men (mostly cult leader types, not violent), and I am here to say that the sense that I was trusted and had control and autonomy over my side of things, and that I could counterbalance them if needed… was always false. Me feeling that way was just a way to keep me around and on their “side.” Being “basically in charge” and getting a “sort of apology” sounds like just a way to keep you in place.

      As a corollary, there’s a possibility that the situation is even worse, but S. hasn’t felt comfortable letting you see it because she perceives you as being on Boss’s “side.”

      I hope you get good advice on calling out a boss, but– would you feel safe really contradicting him? Based on this story, I wouldn’t.

      1. Agree with this very much. I don’t think there’s any functional way to be second-in-command or an equal-ish partner to someone who thinks a machete is in any way a solution to an office-based problem.

        I’m a lawyer too, and I’ve worked for sociopaths, and there’s no “managing” them. They may let you think you have some sort of autonomy or control for a time because it’s convenient to them for some reason (like, say, for example, using you as evidence that he’s not in fact a creepy stalker sexual harasser, because would a creepy stalker sexual harasser have a woman in charge of half of his business?), but you will not ever have the upper hand, because he will always be the guy who’s willing to pull out the (literal and/or figurative) machete.

        The only solution I have ever found to the challenge of working with sociopaths is to stop working with them. I don’t like my work as much as I used to, but working for decent human beings has done far more for my mental and emotional health than stimulating legal work ever did.

        1. “like, say, for example, using you as evidence that he’s not in fact a creepy stalker sexual harasser, because would a creepy stalker sexual harasser have a woman in charge of half of his business?), but you will not ever have the upper hand, because he will always be the guy who’s willing to pull out the (literal and/or figurative) machete.”

          Yup. Also, LW, whatever you decide to do — tell S. to RUN. RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN.

      2. This is such a wise comment. Right now, LW, your mind is doing all it can to normalize this experience and make it something you can cope with. Our brains are not made to deal with Extraterrestrial Logicians and will do everything to slot their actions under “That was weird, but…” so none of us are quick to realize the extent of the badness.

        That was weird, but he kind of apologized.

        That was weird, but he’s had a blow to his ego.

        That was weird, but he was talking about legitimate work discipline issues while swinging a weapon.

        That was weird, but there aren’t any weapons in this room, so there won’t be a repeat performance right now.

        No, no, no. Focus on That Was Weird. Know that he may well escalate his behavior. Stunned, I am worried for you, knowing that THIS is likely how he tests the waters to see if his employees are ready to tolerate MORE. What’s the next step? :/

        1. This.

          That Was Weird.

          Like… ten out of ten for visual metaphors about “job cuts”, but minus several million for “good thinking”, Weird.

          Basically, you should Run Screaming.

    9. You’ll have a better barometer for how successful this might be than I do, since you’re there. But I suggest researching all the applicable employment laws and Bar Association rules related to an incident like this. You may not want to report/sue him, but the fact that somebody easily could may make for a good bargaining chip. The idea is not to say “This is not cool” so much as “This exposes you and the entire firm to potential legal ramifications, potentially affecting any cases we have out there right now, so for the good of everybody you absolutely need to cut it out.”

      1. I would call the Bar Association regardless of what the research reveals. They is the closest thing to someone with power over the boss, and even if they don’t take action or if the machete thing doesn’t fit under a specific ethics rule, at least this guy will be on their radar.

    10. In all honesty, I’m not sure how much recovery there is from threatening employees with a machete. I highly doubt there an be any trust again between boss and employee (anybody threatening me with a machete is someone I don’t ever want to associate with again, and would be someone I’d never want to face without some kind of backup, so there’d definitely be no regaining trust). I fear for S’s (in particular) safety. She definitely needs to get out of this office, and fast. If someone can report this behavior to the Bar Association (or other relevant oversight organization) without revealing within the office that they’ve done so. I also fear repercussions if he’s contacted about “someone made a complaint about you”-if he threatens employees because he’s jealous that they might be sleeping with someone else at the firm (“hanging out” can mean a lot of different things, so I can’t say that it’s sure that they even are dating!), I can’t imagine what horrors he’d think up if someone “went behind his back and tattled”.

      It kind of seems like he’s in the “sorry, not sorry” mode, and I kind of can’t help but feel that everyone should be in “planning my escape route” mode right now. It all just seems so unsafe at the moment, and I’m not sure that you personally can do anything to fix it. If someone attacked their desk with a weapon while stating that if we had to have this conversation again, we wouldn’t all still be around, no matter how many changes they made, or how many times they apologized, I’d still never feel safe around them again. And if they had threatened someone else, how could I be sure they wouldn’t do that to me (or carry out those threats against me!) in the future. Like I said, no matter what he does, how could anyone ever trust him again?

      I think the thing to do is to keep him in the dark and plan your exists in such a way that nobody gets abandoned by themselves to face his ire at all his staff “stabbed him in the back”. I’m sorry you’ve been thrust into this situation, where he’s placed you responsible for mitigating the effects of his bad behavior and minimizing the severity of the violence he’s threatened.

      1. Get the next job, then report him to the Bar. The Bar really needs to know about this. He’s out of control and not competent to practice. There’s plenty of witnesses to this event, apparently, so it shouldn’t be difficult to substantiate. That’s what makes it so scary to me — he doesn’t seem to think there will be repercussions, which means he’s totally lost the plot. I suspect substance abuse, which unfortunately is a big problem in the legal field and also leads to other unethical practices, like robbing the trust account. Get out, stay safe, then make the world safe for others.

    11. I keep trying to think about my advice on managing up, and I keep ending up at “don’t try to call out or manage up a boss who threatens people with a machete.” I don’t think it’s safe for you to try to fix this. I think if you feel you can’t afford to be unemployed, you should keep your head down while seriously job-hunting. But in your place, I would strongly consider quitting right now, even if that messes up your plans. This is a scary situation, and I’m afraid it will only get worse.

      1. Also, LW, for now, consider taking work that’s outside your normal field. Doing data entry for someone reasonable is a thousand times better than this.

    12. Ehhhhh somehow I’m not reassured. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

      I know that I’d probably say, at a later moment, something like, “If you EVER brandish a weapon at me again, I WILL quit AND have you arrested/sue you.”

      However, I’m more comfortable with direct conflict than most people, so I don’t know how that would work for you.

      I mean…… wow. A machete. Are weapons banned on your location? if they are, you can try coming at it from that angle.

      I would definitely try to talk to S if you can. If I were her right now, I would be terrified. This man knows EXACTLY what he’s doing, I don’t believe for a moment that this was just a whim of something. You don’t actively plan BRINGING A HATCHET TO WORK, threatening your employees, and striking a desk without some definite deliberateness. Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this at all, he’s not clueless and I’d bet money on that.

      1. Yes, this – please let S know that you subscribe to the normal person version of reality in which threatening employees with machetes is not okay. If she starts job hunting and you can be a good reference for her (and it sounds like she should and you can), let her know that’s an option.

    13. There isn’t a way to call out a boss who thinks it’s fine to threaten people openly with machetes. Scripts don’t work for people like that. They work for people who aren’t violent maniacs, and for people with self-control and a certain level of sanity. They require people to have some level of understanding of what is socially acceptable, even if that level is very low. But this maniac has no level at all. He’s not going to say, “Oh, my goodness, you’re right! I need to seriously rethink my whole view on how acceptable violence and threats are in the workplace!” He’ll make a sort-of apology or laugh it off, at best. “Oh, a lot of my best employees are about to up and leave? Well, I’d better stop being a dangerous live wire!” isn’t going to happen. I wouldn’t warn him about these people leaving, because doing so might prompt pro-active “discipline” from him towards them. You don’t want that on your conscience, if nothing else.

      It’s worth keeping in mind also that your job isn’t stable while this guy is around. Sorry, there isn’t any small hope. He’ll treat you well enough and leave you in charge of your side of things only until he wants to fuck someone working there, or whatever. If he sees you as competition (I assume you get on much better with your coworkers than he does–he has already demonstrated that he’s *exactly* the type of person to misinterpret that and jump into jealous aggression mode) then your job isn’t worth much any more. Not when this guy can cut the strings if he feels compelled to.

      1. Wow, so this is a shitty comment.

        There is nothing ‘insane’ about swinging around a machete to control people.

        The LW’s boss isn’t within a threshold of ‘sanity’, he’s a violent piece of shit. He is purposefully manipulating people with fear of violence, not lacking in self-control.

        1. Sociopathy is a recognized disorder, so yeah, there’s a pretty reasonable chance he’s insane. Of course, he’s also a violent piece of shit, he just happens to be a medically categorizable one. I get where you’re coming from regarding ableist language, but sometimes sick people are bad people, too.

          1. Well, according to that “Why Does He Do That?” book the Captain regularly advises (and which I’m having a dryly good time reading now, if only for the satisfaction of thinking, “I *told* you so!!” to all the professionals who tried to convince me of all the wrong things about my abusive exes), abusers are very rarely sociopaths; they’re simply massively entitled people with a values problem. Sociopaths are incapable of empathy; abusers simply choose to suppress theirs because of the rewards it brings them.

            Not that it makes a hell of a lot of difference to the people around whom he’s swinging a machete.

          2. There’s also a policy on CA of not diagnosing strangers on the internet, especially when their behaviour is independent of any disorder. Whether or not he’s internet-diagnosable as having antisocial personality disorder, the advice to the LW remains the same. So his internet commenter diagnosis is irrelevant. It would be irrelevant even if it was confirmed.

            If you get the point about ableist language, don’t use ableist language. :/

          3. Insanity is a legal term, it’s not an actual state of being. It’s also a word used to dismiss people that you don’t want to deal with or don’t want to listen to.

          4. But here’s the thing–it doesn’t fucking matter if he is can be diagnosed as mentally ill. This is a man with a machete who has shown that wow, he might actually use it. This is terrifying.

            But like, this ableism assumes that his behavior indicates his ability to logic and reason has been impaired. Nope. What you’re seeing here is logic and reason functioning EXTRAORDINARILY WELL. Violent pisscouch is able to logic and reason so well he’s able to be a violent pisscouch without anyone really realizing how much of a violent pisscouch he’s being. He’s able to logic/reason so well he’s the boss of a law firm and choose his moments of intimidation/control and his targets spectacularly well to meet his goal of being a keeper of evil bees that nobody would suspect would have anything to do with said bees.

        2. Exactly – this is not even remotely an insane “I’m totally out of control” thing, it’s a control and manipulation thing. Calculated.

    14. So, I don’t have any advice for machete-wielding bosses specifically, because as you say, this is outside the realm of Earth-Logic. But maybe you could check out some general resources on “managing up”? This is something that I have been trying to get better at lately and there a lot of books and articles out there. I’ve liked Crucial Conversations, Just Listen: Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, and Getting to Yes. It might be that there are some good articles in places like AskAManager and Harvard Business Review. They all seem to focus on the idea of reframing the conversation around the other person’s interests, and asking questions to expose the pain points to get to a resolution.

      That said, I am inclined to agree with the Captain and other commenters that someone who thinks its appropriate to bring out a machete is beyond help. It really sucks and its not fair but I think the safest course is to GET OUT. Obviously you are in the best position to judge your own safety, but I think its clear this is crazy unacceptable behavior. Have you seen any other red flags from this guy? How is it possible he manages to run a successful company when he is given to this poor behavior?

    15. As long as he is your boss, he is also the boss of everyone that you boss. Any disciplinary actions taken in the future will be your decision… until he thinks you made the wrong decision.

      He may be deliberately playing Good Cop / Bad Cop with your subordinates, casting you as the Good Cop. (“Hey, guys, let’s make sure we all get our TPS reports filled in by Friday morning, because I don’t want to see that machete again any more than you do.”) Or he may be truly unhinged, in which case, God only knows what stunt he pulls next or what will trigger it.

    16. (Two decades of dealing with inappropriately behaving, high powered men powers ACTIVATE! Form of: Lots of Lists!)

      Here’s the thing about calling out powerful people with their heads that far up their asses: you can’t.

      They either get defensive and ignore you, or go on the offensive and it’s a toss-up as to whether the shit will rain down on you or on someone else. Either way, the call out has a very small chance of actually making it past their egos, and an even smaller chance of effecting any real change.

      In this situation, you have a responsibility to two parties:
      1) Yourself and your family. To second omj: start developing an exit strategy because the only way this ends well is if one of you leaves and it’s probably not going to be him.
      2) Those who have less power in the organization than you do: Particularly S. and any other admins because they’re going to need what protection you can provide. To second lasers, you absolutely need to figure out the lines and laws governing your profession ASAP because it’s far too easy to become habituated to this kind of behavior and your view of “appropriate” becoming skewed.

      Please note that I didn’t say you had a responsibility to your boss, because outside of a Dickens novel there’s really no chance that anything you say is going to make a dent and your focus doesn’t need to be on saving them from themselves.

      As for managing up, I’ve found the best way is to actually manage sideways:

      1) A solid strategy to communicate the behavior change you want to accomplish is to make sure to make sure to displace the source of the consequences of their behavior. The urge to say “You are an abominable jackass and I am going to make sure you never practice law again” becomes “You remember when the SEC came down on Charlie for doing blow in the bathroom last year? Those assholes are always looking for something to hang a guy out to dry with, so let’s be careful and not give them any ammunition”. It’s how you remind him there ARE consequences while focusing his ire on a party that he can’t actually hurt.
      2) Figure out where the landmines are, avoid stepping on them, and know that they will move.
      3) Stay solid but nonthreatening: be the stone in the river, solidly unmoving as the water rages past. Appear too easily threatened and your boss will use you like a chew toy. Be too aggressively firm and your boss will start attacking you out of fear. Either way you get nothing accomplished. It’s a difficult balance and is different for every boss, but the goal is to be the one they don’t mess with because they can’t get the reaction they want and they do take seriously because they know you won’t budge when they try to push you around.

      Finally, as one manager to another? You have to get S. out of there. I would recommend sitting her down and discussing her future career goals, gently guiding her to goals that are outside of your firm, and then assisting her in her job search. Just have that conversation after you figure out the lines and laws so when she inevitably sues your firm you can’t be implicated in the giant mess.

      And finally, I leave you with the Harvard Business Review and their link roundup “What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up”: https://hbr.org/2015/01/what-everyone-should-know-about-managing-up

      Good luck!

      1. In to say I think this is a fantastic comment. Especially with balancing LW’s responsibility as a manager and as an employee. Kudos!

    17. Well, as far as ‘managing up’ goes, Alison at askamanager dot org is pretty awesome… but I think her response to a machete-wielding boss is likely to be “get out as quickly and safely as you can,” possibly with a side order of “check your legal responsibilities and options on the way out BUT SERIOUSLY RUN.”

    18. LW, please consider how this looks from S’s point of view. “My married boss is sexually harassing me; he confronts me about my sex life in the office; he threatened me with a deadly weapon in front of my coworkers. Because he is my employer, he knows all of my contact information, controls my income, and knows where I live. He is the type of person who will bring a machete into the office and threaten me with it in front of witnesses.”
      You can’t “manage up” this situation. Your best bet is to help S get out from under his control at this office and then get out as quickly as you can, while warning your coworkers that they need to start looking elsewhere. Please consider making a complaint to your state’s Bar Association and/or the police. I know it’s scary, but none of you are safe while he is in your lives.

      1. And also factor in that S’s line manager, the Letter Writer, responded to this by telling her staff to keep their heads down and noses clean, indicating that the incident was their fault to begin with and so would future incidents. That is really not a reassurance for her, and it’s something you should keep in mind if you talk to her – she has a good reason not to trust you. There’s a chance that your encouragement for her to find a new job could be seen as her being further punished – being run out of her job because of her creepy, abusive boss who has chosen to loose control over her. Be really, really careful. If you can access a HR rep, or maybe someone from a union or something and ask for advice on how to handle this, do it.

      2. Also, “And even though everyone in the office knows he’s scary fixated on me, nobody said anything when he started swinging a machete, so I can’t count on any of them.” I second all the advice to reach out to S. as discreetly as possible.

    19. Stunned, you need to be clear on the amount of legal jeopardy you are in here. If (ahem, when) he next threatens or harasses S and she decides to sue, you as her immediate supervisor could be personally named as a co-defendant. The fact that you were present for a previous act of extreme harassment (the machete) and knew about others (demanding information about her sex life) will be used as evidence that you’re partially responsible for future harassment. (Her lawyer’s line will be “You knew about all that and you STILL [conveyed his orders to her/required her to attend meetings where he was present him/assigned her tasks that involved walking past his office/other normal work things that are now terrifying for her (or should be)]?

      You should talk to a lawyer, get REALLY clear on sexual harassment laws in your state, and find another job.

    20. Okay, So, I agree with everyone here, that this is an unacceptable action on the part of your boss. You should be looking for another opportunity if at all possible. A Machete is a deal breaker.

      Buuuuuuuut…. Okay sometimes people are tone deaf. They think something is a great idea, or a little funny, or makes a point. When really it is sending a whole other set of signals. (I work for a classically tone deaf boss, and I have had some success with managing how he manages me. Though, no amount of eye rolling at his lack of common sense could keep him from telling the whole company I had to put my dog down right in front of me at a meeting. So awkward.)

      So these are what I see as your options:
      1. Find a new job, leave quietly, RUN FOREST RUN. (No seriously, you should do this.)
      2. Work at this job, keep your head down, deal with fall out from increasingly terrifying issues until you finally find a new job.
      3. You could confront your boss about this, with the caveat that you may get fired or have to quit after you do this.

      Here is my script for you, I would seriously consider sending this as an e-mail.


      I want to discuss with you something that has been of concern to me regarding how we manage expectations for employees internally. Recently during a meeting to discuss performance issues you employed a prop as a means of emphasis. Unfortunately, that prop was also a weapon.

      While I respect that you wanted your concerns about employee performance to be taken seriously, I now have another set of concerns about possible legal action to the firm and the security of the company that you have built. POSSIBLY INCLUDE INFORMATION ABOUT THREAT WITH A LETHAL WEAPON STATUTES IN YOUR AREA.

      While you know that i respect you greatly, and love working at this firm. I’m concerned that what you likely thought was a quirky or offbeat addition to a serious conversation, could be grounds for legal action against us. I wanted to convey to you that such an unprofessional addition is both alarming for your employees, but also a serious legal threat to all of our livelihoods. And I hope that you will carefully consider the tone of any gestures in the future, and that despite some jests, no weapons will remain in the office. I believe that this is a very important step to take to avoid both legal action and the costs associated with replacing personnel.

      On a more personal note I know that our job can be very stressful and emotionally taxing, on top of already stressful lives. And sometimes the stress of being the boss and managing a company can take it’s toll in a variety of ways. I hope that you have considered taking advantage of our corporate health care benefit of counseling, to help you deal with the unique challenges of being the boss.”

      Key points about what to say:
      Do NOT imply that he threatened anyone. Whether he actually did or not is immaterial, then it will be a conversation about what happened, which is not a thing you want to debate.
      Make the issues LARGELY financial, it is EXPENSIVE to replace people, they take forever to train, it is hard to find qualified people.
      Maybe don’t recommend counseling, I don’t know, I was trying to come up with an oblique way to say that but I think he obviously needs this.

      NOTE: He obviously DID threaten people, and the issue is really not about money it is about him being terrifying and assholey. However, the way to get through to assholes is money, and not pointing out the thing that they did that was wrong. So this letter is about giving him an out. Also, avoid talking about how things made you FEEL. Focus on professionalism, and business risk. So pretty much the opposite of a conversation you would have with an actual human.

      Odds of this working, extremely low, so you’ll have to use your own judgement about how your boss will react and what his true intentions were.

    21. Since you manage S, can you let her know that you’ll provide a reference and let her take time off for interviews? I think there’s ultimately no way to “manage up” on this one, but you can be a good manager for her and help her get out of a scary situation. Even if your boss completely changes his behavior and never does anything like this again, I doubt that she’s going to want to keep working in a firm where he’s her superior.

      I’m not sure if your office is set up for this, but if she can work from home (and if she doesn’t prefer to quit immediately, which she might want to do), I think that would be a good thing for you to suggest and help her set up.

    22. I don’t want to put a bunch of pressure on you, but this is, you know, a GIANT red flag. I mean, yes, you could get out or you could keep on keeping on like everything is normal, but it’s not normal. Ignore red flags at your peril. I mean, just look at the Germanwings crash. People don’t just do terrible things out of the blue. There are lots of signs, but most people really, really don’t want to have to deal with what those signs might mean or take responsibility for doing anything. The bystander effect is strong. This isn’t an indictment of you or anything because this is a terrible, horrible position for you to be put in and responsibility for it is 100% on your crazy boss. I just don’t want you to be looking back at this moment years down the track thinking, what if I’d done something back then?

  8. He is threatening his staff with a weapon??? I don’t think there’s anything you can do (besides, eventually, reporting it to the cops, if your state has laws against it. *After* you’re out.)

  9. Whoa. Holy Threatening Abuser.

    You need to contact someone from your Bar Association NOW – and get necessary affadavits from other staff – as well as pics of the machete damage. This is not the only law firm on earth – or probably even in your community. Leave now, and find work elsewhere. This is serious enough that criminal charges could be laid against him.

    Is there any sort of Women’s Law Association that could offer support/advice ? Not only is boss dude being an inappropriate TMI dude – he is being a scary dude who is making a not so thinly veiled MURDER threat – all because a younger female employee is dating someone in the office who is not him. There is no way this is “okay”. He is not the first ego maniac older lawyer man I have heard of who is sexually inappropriate and abusive to younger, female staff, but I will bet you one internet that he was also abusive to his former wife.

    Document everything, speak privately to other staff in the firm. I suggest you quit en masse and issue a strong statement to your boss AND the Bar Association. No good will ever come of a man – boss – lawyer – whatever – who thinks like this – who also BEHAVES like this.

    1. Because female employee is MAYBE dating someone who is not (MARRIED EMPLOYER) him.

      Every time I think “Maybe I should have gone to law school” the universe hands me a great big pile of NOPE.

      1. That struck me too. “hanging out” can mean a lot of different things, so I’m not sure we can say for sure if S is even actually dating this other attorney (not that any of this would be ok if they were definitely dating, but right now this could be solely based upon boss’s imagination). This is scary. Document everything, and look for outside organizations (the Bar, Women’s Law Association, police, etc) who might be able to help.

  10. Holy moly. This man is a really unsafe person. I know you don’t feel personally threatened by him, but S. seems to be in some danger. I STRONGLY second reporting him to your local bar association, who will certainly want to know if an attorney is sexually harassing and threatening fellow attorneys and employees. S. could also pursue a sexual harassment suit, if she wanted to. It sucks that you’re stuck with this psycho. I wish you could quit for your own safety and sanity, but if you can’t, please PLEASE just try and keep yourself and your co-workers safe. Bring mace or pepper spray to work, maybe coordinate arriving/leaving work with other employees so nobody ends up alone with this psycho? So sorry you’re going through this, LW.

    1. All of this, with the caveat that if S takes legal action and LW supports her, LW might need to gtfo of there. Boss-man doesn’t presently represent a threat to LW because she doesn’t have anything he wants, but that can change, and quick.

      1. Yeah, this is an excellent point. He’s not dangerous to you right now because you aren’t really standing in the way of what he wants, but that can absolutely change.

      2. I’ve realized that LW didn’t ID a gender, and I assumed either based on my own bias that everyone who writes to CA is female unless otherwise stated (demonstrably not true), or based on the “four best (female) employees” bit, which still doesn’t ID LW as one of those four. Apologies for assuming, but whether you’re a woman or not, my point stands: Boss-man might unleash his scary threatening brand of rage on you if he begins to see you as an obstacle to his happiness, and you have the luxury of having been tipped off before it happens.

  11. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what a nightmare. I’m so sorry, LW! And I’m so sorry for S!

    If S happens to be clerking while in law school it would be a great idea for her to contact her advisors I think. It would also be smart for you to get an employment law lawyer of your own (PLEASE tell me you’re not working at the only employment law focused firm in the area) and explore your options.

    Above all, stay safe. Work on your nest egg. And prepare to GTFO.

    1. Oh goodness, yes. I was in an internship that went bad. I wish I would have talked to my adviser when it started happening, because they would have gotten me out of there immediately. If S has any kind of school or organization behind her, this is the time to call them in.

  12. Wow. Stunned, i hope that you will find quickly a new job because ,for me; he’s dangerous. A machete is a weapon. On my head, you don’t come at work with a weapon if you are not a policeman or someone whose job needs a weapon. I don’t feel as the boss’ job make him need a weapon so try to find a good job, please. I really think that it’s dangerous.
    I agree with all captain said too.

  13. I…

    I really don’t think there’s any script that can turn this man from someone who threatens staff with a machete at work into someone who is safe to work for.

    What’s really important is your safety. I understand that you may feel stuck right now, but try and find a better place of employment, document EVERYTHING, and report him to the relevant authority once you feel it’s safe to do so.

    And the poor young woman he is obsessed with especially needs this. I hope she’s left, because otherwise I’m genuinely concerned he might assault or kill her.

  14. This is beyond a simple need to manage up. We’re not talking about a boss who isn’t reachable, or who doesn’t delegate enough, or who doesn’t give helpful feedback. Those are good reasons to manage up.

    We’re talking about a boss who uses a deadly weapon as discipline and who implies “what I did to the desk I can do to you.” There are very few times when it’s smart to leave a job with nothing new lined up but LW, this is one of them!! If the idea of Secretary sleeping with someone leads to a machete threat, what would Boss do if you screwed up a case or made a mistake that cost the firm a key client? And why on earth are you still sticking around to find out?

    Report him to the bar so it’s on record in case he tries to retaliate, and then get the heck out!!

  15. Um, WHAT???? This situation is so far outside the realm of regular office complaints I can’t properly process it. And I think it says something about how bizarre and unhealthy your boss is, LW, that you seem to be second guessing your reaction to *your boss bringing a freaking machete to the office*. Really, just run as far away as you can, eeesh.

  16. I had a moment of wondering if this letter was an early April Fool’s prank, because the situation is so bizarrely, horrifyingly, over the top.
    Gee, maybe machete cuts to the desk will be his new management style, he says? Surely that will A) improve employee morale and performance, and B) increase young employee S’s romantic interest in older married Boss! Win for everyone!
    I would also keep an eye on the support staff person who brought word of S’s transgressions to crush-having-Boss, rather than to LW, who seems to be S’s direct supervisor. That strikes me as someone attempting to stir up lots of fun exciting workplace drama/ punish slutty transgressors!, not someone attempting to improve workplace performance.

    1. In the real world, there are any number of crazy things that happen, many that are tragic. The news that the shootings at the NSA may be the result of a wrong turn, for example. ( check out Daily Beast for story ).

      However,, I second Brassica here in calling prank on this letter. IF LW is a lawyer, then she knows the correct application of the law. If she were a tax lawyer and unsure of what is criminal or not she should have the resources to contact a lawyer or have contacts to a consult with law enforcement. She should have alumni from school to contact. Sshould have any number of resources available to pursue this.

      John Oliver #no-prankpledge youtube

      1. I’m not sure it’s helpful to assume the letter’s fake. As ashbet said below, this comes across as blaming/disbelieving the victim. The LW is obviously terribly shaken up and is trying to process what happened; let’s try to approach with good faith.

      2. I wouldn’t assume this is fake. Admittedly, my past experience of “more senior employees wielding deadly weapons”* isn’t in a field like law, but like this shit does happen.

        *Thankfully did not witness this; it did not occur at my workplace (everyone in my workplace thinks is SUCH A FUNNY STORY THOUGH BECAUSE LOL IC EAXE INCIDENT SUCH FUNNY. SO LAUGH.). The person wielding the weapon currently is a coworker of mine, and to be fair, the “ice axe incident” probably wouldn’t have occurred if his anti-psychotic meds hadn’t run out (due to insurance issues/cost) coupled with a boatload of PTSD, but still. This is scary. This is a thing that happens.

  17. In addition to all the other advice, have you considered delaying the adoption plans for a year or two while you look for and get settled in another job? Any boss that does this is likely to pull all kinds of other stuff that will leave you horribly stressed. You don’t want that while adjusting to life as a new adoptive parent.

    1. Yes, and once you have a child and need the money more urgently he will have even more power over you, and by extension your family. You’ll need a certain amount of job stability and trust that you’re not about to be fired over something unreasonable, and you’ll probably need other things like occasional flexibility in your hours, too. He sounds at worse potentially violent, but most certainly untrustworthy, narcissistic, and unstable. You don’t want someone like that to have power over your family’s finances or time together, let alone your personal safety!

      To me if you want to have a child soon that’s more reason to get out of this situation, not less. Now is the time, while you don’t yet have a child and so have a little more flexibility and can afford it more, to find a better position.

  18. LW, I’m scared for you, but I’m really scared for S. I don’t have any advice, except that I think she needs to get out of the firm as fast as possible, and possibly file a restraining order against your boss. I don’t even know if that’s a thing she can do, but he sounds like he is the very definition of Not Safe.

  19. 1. Get out now, ALL OF YOU. 2. S. needs a restraining order, because when/if she quits/escapes, this maniacal machete boss is very likely to take it personally. 3. The Bar Association needs to know about this. 4. GTFO NOW.

  20. I don’t wish to sound disrespectful, LW, but your reaction suggests you may still be processing what happened, or be so involved in the situation that you can’t fully see how crazy it is. Your boss cut a piece of office furniture with a machete in a work meeting, and you ask for advice on how to call out a boss? The situation is above and beyond talking it out between yourselves. Call the police. Please call the police. Even if they can’t do anything, even if he hasn’t directly broken a law, it should be recorded that a guy who is obsessive about the sex life of an employee *owns and uses a fucking machete.* The police are literally there for when someone’s behaviour supersedes reasonable talk.

    Abusive people thrive on the fact that reasonable people don’t like taking big steps, preferring to try and see it from the abuser’s point of view and not cause a fuss. His behaviour smacks of “I can do this because everyone will be too scared to call me out on it”, and from all experiences I’ve ever heard of, extreme behaviour always escalates if indulged. I know we secretly think that if we’re really nice and explain things well enough, that we can get people to change their behaviour, but someone who has behaved like he has already knows and is comfortable with what he is doing. I understand your concerns about moving through the job market, but your situation is presently way out of the “I need to be a good employee” realm, and way into the “This is a wrong and probably illegal situation” realm.

    I sincerely hope you and S are able to get out of there quickly and safely.

    1. His behaviour smacks of “I can do this because everyone will be too scared to call me out on it” <– This. A thousand times this. He's acting this way because he thinks he can get away with it. And if you stick around, he'll continue acting this way because nothing's happened to make him stop.

      Please get out of this dangerous situation. Please do what you can to help S get out of there. Can you offer to be a reference for her? Can you call local firms or other lawyer friends to see if they're looking to hire an assistant? Help her document all this? Maybe find a good lawyer? I also like Awkwardly Awkward Lee's advice below to reach out to S in a private way. As a more senior (and probably older) employee, you have the opportunity to validate her feelings if she's feeling scared and is unsure what to think about Crazy Boss Dude's behavior.

      Even if you decide to stay, you need to formulate an exit plan. If this guy is off the rails, who knows what he could do next.

  21. EDIT: Ok, when I started writing this, there were no other comments yet, so it’s basically repeating/agreeing with what everyone else said, but I’ll post it anyway. But I especially want to second what catiecan and Lark said about possible HR repercussions/harrassment/etc. Talk to an employment law attorney.

    Wow, just wow. When I read the title, I did a double-take because I thought I had misread something in the statement of the boss/machete/meeting. Then I assumed that it was metaphorical, some movie/culture reference that I didn’t know. But after reading the question… yeah, whoa… a machete?!?!

    Aside from reeling at the idea that your boss thinks that is appropriate, my reaction is a very very strong endorsement of what Capt. said. Especially the part about reading the machete incident as being necessarily a very serious physical threat, at least towards S. Even if you don’t think that your boss would actually physically carry out violence, he’s giving lots of signs that he is capable of it (stalking behaviors towards S, machete threats). I don’t know exactly what his mindset is, or what is motivating him to take those particular actions, but it doesn’t matter; his behaviour is so violent, threatening, and abnormal that it is an indication that he is very dangerous to be around. Whether or not he intends it that way is irrelevant; as the Captain said, either way is alarming, whether it’s intentional or whether he’s so out of touch with social norms (or both).

    The only change I would suggest to the Captain’s advice would be to reach out to S. in a very low-key, private way (like an email that doesn’t use work addresses), and say something so that she knows you consider her competent/professional and find the boss’s behaviour inappropriate. Having recently been a young female-appearing person in my first “real grown-up job”, I had an abusive boss, and put up with his shit because I hadn’t yet developed an understanding of normal professional standards, so I didn’t understand how out of line he was, and I blamed myself and lost a lot of confidence in my own capabilities. I suspect that S.’s reaction may have some of those same elements, and that it might help her to know that there is someone (you) who knows the situation and thinks she is effective and a hard worker, but that the boss’s conduct is appalling. That might validate her own judgment of the situation, and help her shake off doubts and go with her gut (hopefully to get out of there)!

  22. Isn’t the boss in this situation creating a hostile work environmental? (Which is a crime). Skimming Wikipedia “Criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury.” That sounds like what your boss just did with the machete.

    You’re asking for advice on what to say to a criminal to get him to stop committing crimes. That doesn’t sound like anything an advice columnist can do. There are no magic words that can stop someone with no respect for the law to start following the law.

    1. It’s hard to say if this would count (in the US, can’t speak for other countries). The name can be a little misleading – it’s not referring to any and all hostile behavior, just that behavior that relates to an employee’s protected class (race, sex, disability, etc), and generally has to be severe and pervasive. Additionally, it’s possible that federal civil rights laws don’t apply to this employer based on their size – usually they don’t kick in until you have 15 employees.

      That’s not to say this isn’t totally inappropriate, it just might not also be actionable.

      1. Yeah, “hostile work environment” as a legal term many or may not apply here, it’s a fairly narrow definition. If the boss has made more than one comment about S’s dating status, it might count. An employment lawyer who’s familiar with local law would know the answer.

        I certainly hope this is illegal under some law somewhere and that S is able to sue the pants off this fool. Because wow. The mind boggles.

  23. WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HECK. Please be careful. It is very good that you are now in charge of disciplinary actions in your side of the practice. What I suggest is document the hell out of everything – get pictures, save emails, copy documents – so you have indisputable evidence for the authorities. They can’t really argue that your boss isn’t dangerous if they see a nice chunk of his mahogany desk gone.

    Keep S close to you – I would make sure she is accompanied when she has to go see this boss or when she goes anywhere where she might bump into him (because he might be actively trying to run into her and corner her), so hopefully he won’t do anything assault-y when other people are around. Keep checking in with her frequently to see how she is doing because I’m sure her stress is through the roof – she is afraid for herself, for any potential boyfriends, her livelihood and future career. Make sure she is up to snuff on her work/has impeccable timing/puts extra effort in/takes few, appropriately long breaks just in case her work ethic/dependability is called into question during disciplinary proceedings.

    Also, I feel like his family, especially his wife, needs to know that this event happened. If he is so misogynistic and violent, she especially needs to know that she herself is in danger. What if she doesn’t do something to his liking? What if he blames her for something, like the disastrous anniversary date, which already signals that their marriage is not going well? I don’t know what would be the best way to inform her (the police might be a bit shocking) and I certainly don’t think it’s the LW’s responsibility or obligation to do so – it could be awkward, the wife might not believe her, the wife might turn on S, it could get back to the boss and then the LW is in hot water even more so. But she should know so she can take steps to protect herself as well and that if he is abusing her/does abuse her in the future, that this behavior is NORMAL for him and that it’s not her fault; hopefully it can help penetrate any gaslighting fog of hell he has surrounded her in.

    I am so sorry for the LW and S. Please get out of there as soon as possible. I had to leave my off-campus graduate lab because my mentor was fucking awful and wreaked havoc on my health and self-esteem. I came back to my university despite making a couple grand lower every year compared to my salary at my old lab because it wasn’t worth the insomnia, panic attacks, and extreme anxiety. In the end, money is never worth it.

    1. Gonna add about S-maybe tell her you’d be willing to write/testify about the situation if she needs to apply for unemployment benefits? It’s hard to imagine machete being pulled not being considered the sort of situation that would make a person feel they had no choice but to leave.

  24. Oh, dear heart. I’m so sorry that this is happening to you.

    I feel like you’re going to get lots of responses along the “run away, bees, red flags, danger will Robinson” variety so I’m going to leave that unsaid. I trust your experiences and what you have said to us is “I want to keep this job.” Fine.

    It is super sweet and faithful of you to write to the Captain with this, but I do gotta say it is above even her earthly powers to give you what you’re asking for. There is no beauty-and-the-beast Jekyll and Hyde magic script that will turn a blade-wielding beast who appears to think that action movies are great models of leadership into a safe and reasonable role model. There are just no magic words for that. This guy is just an unsafe person who doesn’t weather life’s storms with any sort of emotional resilience. Don’t trust him, don’t expect anything from him, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can somehow manipulate him into being the boss you want. He will always be the guy who stabbed a desk with a knife. I mean, really.

    This is a big glaring problem with over-masculine leadership, btw; these big boys that think temper tantrums are impressive, and that the silence that follows is awe and admiration. It isn’t. Anyone who has descended to the level of hacking at furniture has lost the argument – and the respect of all who have witnessed them. Anyone who loses control like this in a professional environment has lost the argument. Remember this, Stunned, despite the cultural pressure telling you it’s the other way around. (Note that emotional outbursts such as tears and shaking are a completely different thing – they don’t hurt anybody – despite the cultural belief that crying at work is unprofessional and inappropriate, while shouting and flinging random bits of weaponry is not.)

    I mean honestly. The man is an embarrassment – a possibly dangerous, definitely unappealing blemish on everything your company represents. If you want to look at his face tomorrow morning, this is the mindset you’ll probably want; channel the Ice Queen, High Priestess, Mother of Dragons, who raises a faintly contemptuous eyebrow at the squalling child who pretends to rule her. Drop the shoulders, elongate the neck, and remember that you are a valuable, powerful, important, responsible woman absolutely crackling with potential, who would never attack defenseless office furniture out of sexual angst.

    What the Ice Queen would probably do next is stage a coup. You say “four of the best female employees are ready to walk out,” I hear “four women would happily help me de-fang the machete monster.” I don’t know if you’re a petition/open letter sort of workplace, or a meeting-holding workplace, or a strike-holding workplace, or a quiet word with the boss in his office kind of workplace, but as of tomorrow you can be a 200% machete-free workplace, moving towards a 2000% sexual harassment free workplace. If he underlines his disciplinary demands with a machete, you can underline yours with actual professional behavior. An open letter signed by the whole company might be a start.

    Good luck, stunned. I’ll hire you in the future – not your boss.

    1. I read through your comments to the LW and thought to myself that elodieunderglass is perhaps the wisest person I have encountered in a very long time. It was like reading Dear Sugar responses – great, great stuff.

  25. Oh, dear heart. I’m so sorry that this is happening to you.

    I feel like you’re going to get lots of responses along the “run away, bees, red flags, danger will Robinson” variety so I’m going to leave that unsaid. I trust your experiences and what you have said to us is “I want to keep this job.” Fine.

    It is super sweet and faithful of you to write to the Captain with this, but I do gotta say it is above even her earthly powers to give you what you’re asking for. There is no beauty-and-the-beast Jekyll and Hyde magic script that will turn a blade-wielding beast who appears to think that action movies are great models of leadership into a safe and reasonable role model. There are just no magic words for that. This guy is just an unsafe person who doesn’t weather life’s storms with any sort of emotional resilience. Don’t trust him, don’t expect anything from him, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can somehow manipulate him into being the boss you want. He will always be the guy who stabbed a desk with a knife. I mean, really.

    This is a big glaring problem with over-masculine leadership, btw; these big boys that think temper tantrums are impressive, and that the silence that follows is awe and admiration. It isn’t. Anyone who has descended to the level of hacking at furniture has lost the argument – and the respect of all who have witnessed them. Anyone who loses control like this in a professional environment has lost the argument. Remember this, Stunned, despite the cultural pressure telling you it’s the other way around. (Note that emotional outbursts such as tears and shaking are a completely different thing – they don’t hurt anybody – despite the cultural belief that crying at work is unprofessional and inappropriate, while shouting and flinging random bits of weaponry is not.)

    I mean honestly. The man is an embarrassment – a possibly dangerous, definitely unappealing blemish on everything your company represents. If you want to look at his face tomorrow morning, this is the mindset you’ll probably want; channel the Ice Queen, High Priestess, Mother of Dragons, who raises a faintly contemptuous eyebrow at the squalling child who pretends to rule her. Drop the shoulders, elongate the neck, and remember that you are a valuable, powerful, important, responsible woman absolutely crackling with potential, who would never attack defenseless office furniture out of sexual angst.

    What the Ice Queen would probably do next is stage a coup. You say “four of the best female employees are ready to walk out,” I hear “four women would happily help me de-fang the machete monster.” I don’t know if you’re a petition/open letter sort of workplace, or a meeting-holding workplace, or a strike-holding workplace, or a quiet word with the boss in his office kind of workplace, but as of tomorrow you can be a 200% machete-free workplace, moving towards a 2000% sexual harassment free workplace. If he underlines his disciplinary demands with a machete, you can underline yours with actual professional behavior. An open letter signed by the whole company might be a start.

  26. LW, the short answer to your question is, “No.” No, there is no way to “manage up” someone who has decided that a machete belongs in the workplace.

    Really, it’s not possible to manage ANYone who thinks a machete belongs in the workplace. This is a matter for the cops. Unless you’re harvesting sugar, I suppose.

    Unless you really think you can say, “Hey, Boss, I think you need to put yourself on administrative leave for 6 months while you get professional help, and here’s the paperwork.” ? and that will fly? And don’t EVEN try it until you’ve sent ALL the women (really, everyone) in your office on a 3 week cruise? At the firm’s expense?

    The reality is, this is not even vaguely appropriate. I don’t care what was going on; nothing S. could have done would justify this, not even if she did it with her own machete.

    You may not want to call the cops and expose yourself and your family to retaliation; you may not want to contact a judge for a commitment order … but you need to get out, and make sure S. and the others get out, too.

    I’m sure he’ll tell you it was a “joke” or even apologize for being under “stress.” But ask yourself, do you want to see what the next joke looks like, or what will happen when he gets even more stressed?!

  27. Run. Get out. S in particular needs to be out/away/safe, because this guy is going off the rails if he’s not already there.

    The level of inappropriateness that has to be crossed to 1) obtain a machete, even if just from the home garage or whatever, 2) bring it to work (I mean, you’re a law firm, not a machete-sales place), and 3) brandish it in a threatening fashion in a business meeting and accompanied by actual verbal threat is SO FAR OUT THERE that all my reactions are yelling DANGER as loudly as possible.

    I mean, we’re not talking about hypothetical threat. The threat has already been made, loud and clear. The warning is given that if he “doesn’t like” what happens next – if S does something he doesn’t like – he’s going to hurt her. I can’t see this any other way.

    I agree with what others have said above about reporting… but I think that those in danger need to not be there when he gets word that a report has been made, because I can’t imagine he will react well.

    1. Yes! Yes. S. needs to be provided a fast car and urged to floor it, everything else *aside*.

  28. LW, I am sorry but I do not have any advice about managing up, but that’s because I’m not sure there is any that wouldn’t increase your risk level to an unacceptable level. If you try to manage upwards towards a machete, you risk being macheted.

  29. You could also find the number for your local domestic violence hotline. Though most people associate domestic violence with partner violence, most DV resources should be able to direct you to other resources or know about things like laws around stalking (if it gets to/has gotten to that point). I know on our hotline, we also talk with people who are secondary survivors; that is to say, they were not the target of the violence but somebody they are close to was. What I’m saying is, it might be a useful resource both for S and for you!

    1. This is a very good suggestion! Your local DV people will know what resources and laws apply.

      1. Also, unlike pretty much anyone else local you can talk to, they’ll keep it confidential. Which means that you don’t have to worry about someone else going public with this while you and S are still working out what to do.

  30. A boss who does something like this – will also do other outrageous/unreasonable/threatening/irrational things in the future. Abusers ALWAYS escalate their behaviour.

    There is an author who is a former psychologist and lawyer who has written about high conflict people. His name is Bill Eddy. Look up some of his writing. It sounds like you are being put in a position to be your boss’ Negative Advocate. While you are his second banana you actually have no equivalent power TO your boss – this is not a 50/50 situation. He WILL use you as his mouthpiece and tool, while undermining your efforts, and he will turn on you.

    Get out of there, try to help everyone else there understand how seriously unsafe as in dangerous this dude is. It might take you a few months to find another position that you are comfortable in. Let the dust settle and then begin the adoption process I think ?

    This has the potential to blow up into a super ugly situation – and it should. Your boss should face criminal charges and discipline from the Bar Association. This may be the scandal du jour in your community – and your boss may drag you and the other staff to hearings and/or court. Oh well. A person who behaves like this should not currently be practicing law, have a staff, etc. without some serious scrutiny and restrictions placed on him due to his unsafe behaviour.

    1. “Abusers ALWAYS escalate their behaviour.”

      FWIW, I’ve experienced abuse that got subtler over time. He wound his control tighter and tighter and increased his expectation of mind reading until just the slightest frown made us cower. Escalation doesn’t always look more dramatic, sometimes it moves further underground and the illusion that everything is normal here gets stronger.

      I’m going to look up Bill Eddy, thanks for the suggestion!

      1. It sounds like your abuser DID escalate his behaviour, although the manner of delivery was modified. Gaslighting can be more corrosive than having a person yell at you. Abuse is abuse is abuse. Abusers love it because it suits their purposes with the least amount of effort.

        Bill Eddy is pretty straightforward. Check out George K. Simon’s “In Sheep’s Clothing” and “Character Disturbance” about manipulation. Manipulation is just another way to abuse. George K. Simon can occasionally sound like a old school square – which I think he might be – but I found his books really helpful, too, for calling things what they are.

      2. I think what escalation really is is being more and more insistent on getting their way. A lot of abusers will use the minimum force they have to get their own way. But if you don’t give them their own way (which often you cannot do, because they don’t even always tell you what they want or they’re taking out what someone else did to them on you) then they become increasingly likely to either make the victim do what they want or use the victim as their stress toy. So, as long as the frowns work, it stays to frowns. But the frown is a threat. This is likely part of why leaving tends to be the most dangerous time for the victims of abuse. The abuser suddenly finds that their previous tactics don’t work. Many an abuser will never hit their victim… until it’s clear that other tactics won’t work. I think that’s why we think of it as abusers escalating, because it turns more obvious when people resist more, but it’s not more okay if it’s subtle threats and intimidation and the obvious part is mostly avoided, because the victim is always giving in to the threats.

  31. For a short time, I worked under a supervisor who was known for his temper tantrums. I didn’t understand everything that entailed until it was directed at me, though (he tried to write me up for missing a lot of work because I’d had pneumonia. I went to his boss to discuss it. Supervisor went ballistic at me for going over his head). A grown-ass man screamed at me for 5 minutes while he shook with rage. I don’t do well when someone yells at me, so I stood up and opened the door to feel less trapped. Then, while standing in the doorway, I told Supervisor, “We are adults, sir. When you’ve calmed yourself enough to speak to me as though we are adults, I’ll be happy to continue this meeting. But this? This makes me feel unsafe in my workplace. I need to speak to HR about it.” I quit less than a week later because his tantrums only increased and *nothing* was done about him. I’d just left an abusive relationship – I wasn’t about to take that kind of crap from someone in the workplace.

    Quitting that job was definitely a hardship for my family… but it has not been impossible for us to continue having housing and food and stuff. I fully recognize that not everyone enjoys this privilege. But if LW’s needs can still be met while they seek out new employment, I cannot (in good conscience, anyway), say anything except, “Please, please, please, please, please run away far and fast from this toxic, abusive employer.” Because… a machete, y’all. A flippin’ machete. I am also, of course, concerned/sad/anxious/angry on behalf of S. There’s this sinking, icky feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Bossman is somehow making her feel responsible for his abusive threats.

    LW, I just really want you (and S. and everyone else in your workplace) to be safe. When it comes to dealing with abusers, I’ve only got “How to Get Away Safely” scripts. You’re asking about how to handle and call out an unreasonable boss. We could give you all the scripts in the world for how to handle that, and some of them might work some of the time. But this guy has physically proven that he cannot be trusted to operate as a reasonable adult by jeopardizing the safety of everyone in the office and by abusively threatening people because his love life isn’t going how he wants it to go. Please stay safe, LW.

  32. As a lawyer, I have a hard time believing an experiences attorney would be at a loss for what to do here. Yes, supervisory attorneys do have a generally well-deserved reputation for being unreasonable, mean and crazy, but how do you not know that you cancomplain to the bar association. Particularly if you were just one of a group and it wouldn’t be immediately apparent who complained. Maybe you’re thinking if your boss got disbarred the firm would go under and everyone would lose their jobs and not find other work because they first question they’ll ask in an interview is why you left your last job and if you say ‘my old boss threatened me with a knife’ they’ll assume it’s your fault somehow and hire one of the other 75 fresh faced law grads with no baggage who applied to the 35k a year position.

    And if I had a way out of that situation, I’d take it myself.

    Adding to my skepticism, what kin if script could there possibly be here. “Sir we would appreciate it if you considered how threatening us with a machete makes us feel.” The options here are: quit, sue for assault, report to bar, keep working there. Thats it.

    1. Respectfully, I think that this counts as blaming/doubting the victim.

      Regardless of the LW’s knowledge of law and procedure, there is NO WAY not to be shaken up and horrified by your boss brandishing a weapon in a disciplinary meeting, in the context of a hostile work environment with stalking and sexual harassment thrown into the mix.

      While the LW is less-directly affected by the incident/climate than S, I *absolutely* think that it’s not unreasonable to be questioning your reactions and having “Is this even real? How do I handle this?” thoughts, in the face of an absolutely over-the-top violent outburst.

      Yes, the LW should be able to look up these things, and may already know them intellectually. But that’s different from actually experiencing an abusive, terrifying situation, and not knowing how to pick up the pieces afterward.

    2. I’m also a lawyer, and I disagree that this is an easy situation. I know a number of attorneys who’ve been sexually harassed and one who was a assaulted. Only one sued, none bothered with the bar, and the most typical response was to quietly quit. If it were me, I would pick the quitting option as well, and I’d do it much sooner than two years. I think you’re overestimating how strong the protections currently in place are, though. I mean, who’s the last person you know to have been disbarred? I can name a couple, but none of the offenses were similar to the situation here, and I know of far more people who got a slap on the hand.

      1. I agree. I read our bar reports pretty regularly, and from them I conclude there are only two things that will get you disbarred: stealing client funds, and receiving a felony conviction for something, generally drugs. I know an attorney who’s been disciplined multiple times, has screwed up any number of client matters, put clients into disadvantageous positions that they will suffer from permanently — no disbarment. I’ve never read a report of someone who got disbarred solely for violent acts or sexual harassment. I used to work in an organization with an attorney who was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. Our boss moved him on with a good reference, and a few years later I encountered him again, working for a government agency in a position of authority. His initial accuser? Left quietly, after it was clear our boss blamed her for having to get rid of his buddy and she was never going to rise in the organization. Our profession is indeed a haven for the unreasonable, mean and crazy, and our institutions reflect that, even encourage it.

        I still think the bar would need to know about this situation, however. If nothing else, it will serve as a blip on the radar for the next time this person gets brought up on some issue. A person this out of control is probably doing a lot of things that are wrong, not just this.

    3. I don’t think the LW specifies they are a lawyer, just that they work at a law firm, and other people besides lawyers work in law firms. I did for several years, as a translator for example.
      Also, victim blaming and disbelief is such an anti-thesis of this site’s ethos that you might want to do an archive binge before you comment any further.

  33. Holy bleeding hades. Captain is right, this really does read like a movie plot. I just… Normal humans don’t do that.

    Even if the boss does let you be in charge of your part of things, HE THINKS IT IS FINE TO THREATEN PEOPLE WITH A MACHETE. He isn’t a reasonable person when he doesn’t want to be. I wouldn’t assume that he’ll leave you to do your own thing entirely. He’ll leave you alone until he wants to fuck someone else or someone bruises his ego or something stupid and then MACHETE or something equally terrifying. Or worse.

    You want a stable job and income so you can adopt. That’s awesome. But your job is not stable while this guy is around. No matter what it looks like–as long as he is there and has power over you, your income is basically there at the whim of a machete-wielding maniac. What if he mistakenly starts to think you’re having a fling with S? Or his own wife? “Oh but he wouldn’t have reason to think that” nope MACHETE. He isn’t a reasonable person 24/7. Your job isn’t stable with this guy. I would start looking for another job immediately. Don’t quit if you don’t want to (unless things get worse), but mentally shift from “this is a long-term job I will stay in” to “this is a temporary job that gives me an income while I look for something that isn’t dependent on the moods of a volatile live wire.”

    If possible, talk to S–make it clear that you think she isn’t safe around the boss, that she should document everything, and look for another workplace immediately (offer to be a reference, etc. if you want). If I was S, I’d quit rather than hang around while looking for something else, because A MANIAC THREATENED HER WITH A MACHETE BECAUSE HE WAS JEALOUS THAT SHE WASN’T FUCKING HIM and she frankly isn’t safe. At all.

  34. Hey LW – this post really resonated with me. I used to work for a man who was also the sole owner of his own small company who had a rage problem. He also had a crush on a couple of the employees. This guy would start out doing things like tearing his CD player out of the wall when it skipped, and throwing it off the third-story balcony into the parking lot. He was an aggressive driver, and we used to joke about how terrifying it was when he passed cars on the shoulder of the freeway on his way to a client meeting while we were in the car – and he always insisted on driving.

    Business got slow, and his temper got a lot worse. He started stalking the employees he was crushing on, calling them at home at all hours of the day and night, telling them inappropriate things about his marriage at work. I knew it was time to leave when I heard him phone in a bomb threat to the accounting department of a Fortune 500 company in the month after 9/11. He left the bomb threat as a voice mail and included his name and his company. After the FBI showed up later that day to question him, he came into my office, locked the door, and collapsed into sobs.


    Your boss is under stress. He’s making terrible decisions. His marriage is maybe collapsing. If and when that happens, he’s probably going to start going through divorce proceedings. If he’s showing signs of volatility now, it’s only going to get worse. The fact that nobody walked out or called the cops when he pulled the machete has just shown him that his staff will tolerate this behavior, and try to pretend that everything is OK.


    I wish I had left my job immediately after the bomb threat, because I might have been able to collect unemployment, had I been able to prove that I was being physically threatened at work. Call the unemployment office in your state and see what they say. You have witnesses.

    It took me about six months to get my resume in order and get out. Things got a lot worse for the other employees who stayed. Within a year his marriage was over and his company was out of business. It’s not safe there for you, and if he’s the owner and he’s acting like this, your prospects for job stability at that company look bleak. Leave now, while the company’s reputation is still good in your industry, and take your friend S. with you.

    1. Hey there – just wanted to add that I am in no way blaming the LW for not walking out on the spot. I didn’t either. It’s scary to contemplate finding a new job, and very natural to want to try to normalize this behavior.

  35. Oh, LW, this is so hard, because the legal field is small and not anywhere near as progressive as it would like to think it is and some state bars seem more concerned with people paying their dues on time than anything else.

    It’s good that the situation sounds like it’s more under control today than it was when you wrote, though I echo lasers’ comments above about being wary of illusory authority that may disappear the next time your boss decides to abuse his power. It sounds like employment law isn’t your practice area. Given that, I’d advise you quietly make an appointment with an someone who specializes in it and discuss ways that you can protect yourself if your boss decides to turn against you at some point. Once you’ve secured your own oxygen mask, I think you can then turn your attention to your responsibilities as a manager and a coworker, but I think it’s important you know where you stand before you make your decisions.

    1. Thanks. And the area of the country where I practice law is…hm. Uber-conservative and very old boys’ clubby. There might be a way to file a grievance with the state bar, but I would likely never work in this state again (…not an exaggeration, sadly). But I’m documenting everything that I can, and am taking steps to protect the people who work under/with me.

      1. LW, there actually is no part of the country where threatening employees with a machete is considered just a part of doing business. There really is not. I’m not saying that all kinds of structural violence and oppression don’t flourish where you live — I believe you that they do — but when you hiiii-ya a machete at the workplace you’ve gone all gauche and obvious in a way that the conservative old boys’ club doesn’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole. Getting away from this guy is going to be a *good* career move, I gare-on-tee.

        1. LW, I second this. I know people who practice in states where it’s accepted practice for male lawyer to comment on how cute they think a female opposing counsel is, and in NONE of these states is it remotely ever considered OK to threaten people at one’s law firm with a machete.

          Have you actually talked to someone who specializes in employment law? Because LW, I really have to wonder to what degree you are talking yourself out of dealing with the scary boss and rationalizing it by convincing yourself that you have no choice but to stick around and maybe tell S. to keep her head down.

          Here’s one thing that is really going to kill your career prospects: having your name splashed all over a public lawsuit against your boss, where S. or the other lawyer sues because of harassment. (Or worse, if Boss decides the machete is a fine management tool again.) Do you really want to be sitting in a deposition, or a witness box, or in front of a bar tribunal, explaining that sure, you know Boss was super inappropriate and that he threatened everybody with a machete, but all you did was scold Boss and tell S. to avoid him because, well, you didn’t want to take a pay cut going somewhere else or risk your career prospects and you wanted to adopt a baby and needed the money, so, y’know…..

          If you have NOT sought legal advice from someone not at your firm, you need to do so Right. Freaking. Now.

      2. I don’t know about your state, but my state bar has an anonymous tip line where you can call to report suspicions of unfitness to practice – as I understand it, it’s mostly used to report suspected substance abuse issues, but I think this would qualify for anonymous reporting. (Yes, to some extent, he’ll still know it was one of the people in that room, so it’s not like he might not figure out that you made the call, but you would at least be able to avoid attaching your name to a formal grievance.)

        Main thing, though, is start working on an exit plan. No matter how much you like the work, it cannot be worth working two doors down from a guy who wields a machete. (Also, let me note that even without the machete this is NOT a guy you want to work for – his behavior is totally inappropriate even apart from the machete, and while you may be on his “good side” right now, in the long run, I would bet money he will turn on you and possibly jeopardize your career – and I make that bet from personal experience.)

      3. I hate to be cynical, but yeah, I’d hesitate to recommend you involve the state bar. People may or may not come out of the woodwork to defend your boss and may or may not retaliate against you, but I have very little confidence that he’d face disciplinary action beyond a reprimand. When I think of the stories I’ve heard about people who still have their licenses…

        In any case, it sounds like you’re doing the right things to document what’s happening in your workplace. I can respect the conflict between wanting justice and not being in a position to be a martyr. Jedi hugs, and I hope all of you can find safer positions as soon as possible.

        1. Yeah, I have to say that the LW should trust her instincts and knowledge about whether involving the state bar is a productive thing to do. Most state bars just don’t discipline unless a lawyer is screwing up their books or has already been convicted of a crime.

      4. LW, the Department of Labor is also a potential resource for you, as it seems that your boss is not providing you or anyone else with a safe work environment.

  36. LW, you’ve said that this person respects you, and has allegedly put you in a position of authority. So here are a few tactics and talking points to consider.

    Tactic #1: Allow face-saving. Have the conversation about his behavior in private. If he follows up on your talking points, let him do so in a “this-is-completely-unrelated-to-anything” sort of way. Document the meeting, record it or take minutes, but keep those private unless needed down the line.

    Tactic #2: Remember the conversation you want to have is the “what they did” conversation, not the “what they are” conversation. What they did is easy. What they are is vague, unknowable, and a complete quagmire.

    Talking point #1: Professionals compartmentalize. Everyone is free, on their own time and away from work, to express themselves however they feel. But while on the job, there is a professional standard of behavior. If boss wants to hack at office furniture, he is welcome to do so in his own backyard/garage/alley away from work. There is a world full of attractive women who do not work at this office. Only talk about work when at work.

    Talking point #2: The behavior in question is not helping. It does not help the firm’s reputation. It does not help his personal / professional reputation. It does not help you do your job of managing staff. It does not help staff feel safe & comfortable, it does not help retain good staff, and it will not help recruiting new staff. There is no positive effect for the employees or the firm from this behavior.

    Talking point #3: The boss sets the tone at the top. If employees are engaging in un-professional ‘drama’, the least-effective message to send is a big dramatic response. The best possible follow-up to this series of events would be to issue a series of policies (which you LW could either draft or edit) covering professional decorum in the office, workplace safety and violence (!), and sexual harassment. (!!)

    The bad news is that even with all that, your boss might still be an abusive, sexist jerk, who runs the firm the way he wants to because he can. In which case, all you can do is look for another job, build up your savings in the meantime, and look into what can be done with the Bar or other legal remedies.

    1. “Tactic #1: Allow face-saving. Have the conversation about his behavior in private. If he follows up on your talking points, let him do so in a “this-is-completely-unrelated-to-anything” sort of way. Document the meeting, record it or take minutes, but keep those private unless needed down the line.”

      I can understand the rational behind a private conversation, but once weapons or physically threatening behaviour has been involved, I would not be comfortable advising anyone to ever be alone with this person, particularly while having this conversation.

      1. I think it depends on the guy and the situation. There are some people I know who I could imagine doing something this dumb, not realizing how incredibly scary and inappropriate it is, and being entirely safe for me to talk to privately afterwards. (“Privately” meaning in an office with the door closed and other people nearby, not truly isolated.) There are also some people who would be entirely the opposite! I think the LW needs to listen to her gut, listen to any other hints that she might have been hoping to ignore (perhaps because they were too weird to take seriously?), and do what she judges best.

      2. This is a potentially dangerous situation, and there are a lot of factors we don’t know. Here’s what we do know:

        If nothing is said about this behavior, the boss will repeat it and/or escalate it. So someone needs to say “that behavior crossed a boundary and is not OK.”

        Because this person is the boss, and the behavior was intended to show dominance, the behavior needs to be addressed in a way that is not interpreted as a challenge to authority, or as a power-play. The response needs to involve a de-escalation, a lowering of the perceived stakes. Having a private conversation that’s recorded, or a semi-private conversation with a neutral witness, is part of that de-escalation tactic. Calling him out during a business meeting, or even within earshot of other staff will put him on the defensive, which is not where you want him to be.

        Ditto for focusing on the behavior (“what you did”) versus the person, and using inclusive language. (“this behavior does not help your reputation, or the reputation of your firm”) The strategy is to avoid the boss perceiving this as a conflict between him and the LW, or him and S. or him and ‘everyone in the office’.

        Actions like calling the police, evacuating the office, and threatening lawsuits, while righteous and satisfying, all escalate the situation. If this behavior really was an attempt to establish dominance and test boundaries, the reaction will be double-down and increase hostilities. Even if it was a tone-deaf attempt at something silly like you might see on “The Office”, (and I don’t think it was that innocent) framing this as a power-struggle only accelerates the timeline for increased hostilities, and the LW needs to make it through the short-term to find a new job.

  37. …I suddenly feel lucky that my worst experiences as legal support staff were *only* an attorney screaming insults in my face, disability discrimination (same attorney — and same problem of him being a firm owner), and sexual harassment (support staff member, different firm — *I* got in trouble for screaming “What the fuck do you think you’re doing??!?” when he had *come up behind me while I was working on equipment and put his hand on the back of my neck*, after repeated requests that he not use harassing nicknames, etc. But, you know — a woman *swearing* is worse than a man frightening her and touching her without permission.)

    LW, the best possible thing you can do is to document, document, document. E-mail it to yourself (from your work address to your personal address, so that you have timestamped copies that can’t be deleted.)

    If you can, advise S to do the same. Your employment is at risk, so I would understand if you need to back the heck off — but if you can do so confidentially, I’d suggest pointing her in the direction of sexual harassment statutes, in particular.

    I don’t suggest that she file a suit (it’s a lose/lose for her, because it could get her blacklisted.) The documentation is for *if* she gets fired, or *if* she can’t get a good recommendation from your boss. Specifically, it could help her prove retaliatory unlawful termination.

    I hope that all of you can GTFO safely. This is an awful situation, and I worry for everyone who answers to this guy.

    Best of luck, and Jedi Hugs all around, if welcome. ❤

  38. I think you might be that metaphorical frog in the heating water, about to be taken by surprise when it starts boiling around you. Your boss owns a tool that is used to either hack through jungle or the enemy’s limbs (does he grow his own sugar cane?) He brought it to work (is there a snake infested part of town that he walks through?) He macheted a desk during a bonkers disciplinary meeting. You can now use macheted as a verb during story time. And you’re trying to make it right.

    You mention your former boss did a number on you, so could you maybe have some work-trauma. Maybe it feels like all workplaces are crazy, or like you can never do any better than this. This just reminds me so much of people who leave one abuser for another, different kind of abuser. I don’t know exactly how one gets over this kind of double-whammy experience with terrible bosses, but I know it can be done. You deserve to work someplace better and healthier, and you can get there.

    1. I was thinking about your mention of the traumatic earlier work situation, too, LW. I was also thinking about what kind of trauma this current situation is meaning for you, and for S. too. I understand if you feel you can’t report it to the state bar association. But I do think you and especially S. need to get out as soon as possible. S. needs to be out for obvious reasons, but you need to be out as well because you don’t need further work trauma. And I think you need to be out of there because as things are now, you’re in an awkward position with S., who needs protection, and, as another poster mentioned above, has now seen her colleagues not respond to the big boss *hacking up a desk with a machete* at least in part because she wouldn’t sleep with him. It’s like a terrible movie for all of you involved.

      S. needs to be out and safe, but you need and deserve safety too.

      And of course you were stunned — I imagine myself for days afterwards collaring random friends and shrieking “A MACHETE!!” just needing for people to validate the utter craziness of what I’d seen.

  39. LW, that is workplace violence. There’s no getting around that. You work in an office setting. Machetes are not tools required for office work. There is no reason for ANYONE to have ANY kind of weapon in an office setting, unless they work building security and that’s explicitly part of their job description.

    If your firm has an employee handbook, HR or safety policy, please review it to see if there are any guidelines that refer to bringing weapons into the workplace. Save a copy of it. Document the fact that your boss violated company policy. See if the co-workers who were present are comfortable with officially confirming what happened.

    From what your letter describes, your boss threatened his employees’ jobs directly and their safety obliquely with a machete. I can’t think of any way of “managing up” that is going to make this a safe and healthy work environment for you, S. or any of the other employees.

    A “sort of apology” and assurance that you’re in charge of all disciplinary action going forward is not going to fix this, either, because your boss can change that just as easily and arbitrarily as he used a machete to chop up office furniture.

    I know you said that he’s the top guy in the firm, but if there is anyone who can remove him (fellow partners, a board of directors, the board association, etc.) please get in touch with them. It is 100% not your responsibility to manage the behavior of your boss, but if there are any steps you can take to put his behavior ON THE RECORD without endangering yourself, please consider it.

    1. This is the definition of workplace violence taken from OSHA’s website:

      “Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”

  40. Bat signal received! (Also known as people emailing me with a link to this letter.)

    Here’s what I think, in no particular order:

    1. He’s not actually threatening you with the machete. It’s outrageous and wildly inappropriate, don’t get me wrong, but he almost certainly thinks that it’s a fun, ironic thing that you’re all on the same page as him about. It’s still not okay — it’s FAR from okay — but maybe it’s helpful to keep that in mind, just so you’re not in a panic. (Obviously if he’s given you any indications that he’s unstable or dangerous, then ignore this.)

    2. In a vacuum, it’s reasonable to address the fact that S. is spending too much of her time socializing. I don’t think that’s just coming from the boss dude; it sounds like people have been complaining about it, which means that it may be a legitimate issue. However, the letter-writer — who is S.’s boss — should be the one to address it. It’s not a group meeting. It’s a one-on-one between the OP and S.

    3. In addition to the above, it sounds highly likely that the reason the company owner started to care about how S. is spending her time is because of his thing for S., which makes it wildly inappropriate for him to be in any way involved in addressing it. And that complication means that the OP needs to think about whether other people are allowed to engage in the same behavior as S.; if they are, she shouldn’t be singling out S. at her boss’s behest.

    4. OP, you should go talk to your boss and say this: “I know you were joking around with the machete, but I need to tell you that it wasn’t taken the way I think you intended it. It rattled people to have their boss waving a machete around. Please don’t do that again, or we’ll have real issues with the staff on our hands. Also, maybe it’s better to take it home than to have a machete in the office.”

    5. If you have any degree of rapport with your boss, also say this: “It’s getting perceived on the staff that you have an inappropriate interest in S., and it’s making many people extremely uncomfortable. It also has the potential to cause legal problems if it continues, because we’re creating the appearance that she was disciplined because she’s hanging out with a different man.”

    6. But you’re not responsible for warning him about the consequences of his actions or protecting him from those consequences. (You’re not even obligated to do #4 or #5 above if you don’t want to; those are just things that could potentially produce useful info for you about how this is likely to play out over time, and which could possibly get things toned down a bit, which would be good for your qualify of life while you figure out what to do from here.) Assuming that you’re not in a deputy director or chief operating officer type role — some sort of number two role, basically — this isn’t your problem to solve. You can try if you’re inclined, but you get to make decisions based on what you want to do, not on what would be best for him or your office overall.

    1. Gotta disagree on (1), because the LW was disturbed enough by it to send a letter seeking advice to an internet advice forum. I’m going to assume that many, many people here have professional and social lives that involve some inappropriate sex, death, and violence jokes — I can instantly call to mind friends, colleagues, and loved ones who could make machete jokes in my presence that would give me the straight-up giggles. I wouldn’t write Captain Awkward about those jokes. “hey my friend and colleague made an awesome joke about endless meetings it involved machetes and it was funny please to comment” — that never happens.

      This boss HAS given indications that he’s “unstable or dangerous”; among them are that his machete wielding “joke” did not give her or anybody else the giggles. That’s why the LW is writing in. That part is established already.

    2. 1.) Wait, what? How on earth did you conclude that his brandishing a machete while screaming at an employee isn’t threatening, but just a “fun, ironic” thing?! There’s nothing in the letter to support that, and everything to support that he’s violent and abusive. I agree 100% with Lenonine’s comment below–this is incredibly irresponsible advice.

      1. I responded further down, but I wanted to respond to this specifically — I definitely don’t think it’s a fun, ironic thing! If that didn’t come across, that’s a fault in my response.

        I think the boss likely thinks that, however.

        1. I agree. But to me, the fact that he thinks it’s fun and probably cinematic doesn’t make it not a red flag for future violence– Impulsive guy who gets fixated on employees and thinks violence is fun/makes him look cool = SCARY.

          1. Oh definitely. In some ways it’s scarier than someone who makes non-showy, 100% direct threats. At least that one isn’t kidding themself about what they’re doing.

        2. Thanks for clarifying that that’s what **the boss** probably thinks – not what you think. (Whew!)

    3. “1. He’s not actually threatening you with the machete. It’s outrageous and wildly inappropriate, don’t get me wrong, but he almost certainly thinks that it’s a fun, ironic thing that you’re all on the same page as him about. It’s still not okay — it’s FAR from okay — but maybe it’s helpful to keep that in mind, just so you’re not in a panic. (Obviously if he’s given you any indications that he’s unstable or dangerous, then ignore this.)”

      No, just NO. When a man whips out a machete in an office, that IS the indication that he’s unstable or dangerous. This wasn’t an impulse — why does he own a machete in the first place? Why did he bring it to his office at all?

    4. I think this is good practical advice for the most part, but do you really think it was a joke? Or is it something he knows he can pass off as a joke, while reaping the benefits of intimidating people?

      1. I think that if the effect is intimidation, then it doesn’t matter if the machete brandishing and destruction of property was a “joke.” He perpetrated workplace violence.

        I can see framing it as a “joke” IF the LW wants to stay at the firm and make the best out of a Terrible Bees situation. But in reality, in Earth Logic world, this was never a “joke.”

        1. To me the test of whether something like this was truly a joke is how the person reacts when they realize someone genuinely felt threatened or hurt. If it’s really a joke, they will be absolutely horrified if they find someone took them seriously, and will take immediate steps to make it clear it won’t happen again.

      2. A joke that involves a lethal weapon is so far out of the bounds of safe and acceptable behaviour that it pretty much ceases to be one…

      3. Oh, it could certainly be the latter. My point is just that I don’t think he’s actually threatening people with slicing them with the machete. But I’d bet he’d be genuinely shocked to hear that anyone felt unsafe.

        That’s ridiculous, of course, and it’s totally unacceptable. But based on dealing with a high number of asshole managers in my professional past, I don’t think he’s truly threatening them. (Which is different from the question of whether they felt threatened, which they’re totally justified in feeling.)

        1. I’m now worried about how many asshole managers you’ve encountered who you feel really did threaten people!

          I agree that there’s a difference between this guy and a guy who says “I’m going to use this on the next person who annoys me”, but I think it’s a difference of type, not of degree. This guy’s apparently convinced himself that violent threat displays are okay for the leader of a group, and that no-one else should be particularly disturbed by it. He thinks this is normal and okay. The guy who directly threatens people at least knows that he’s making a threat. One’s dangerous because he’s made it clear he’s willing to use violence, the other is dangerous because he thinks he’s not being violent or threatening, and will probably continue to think that as he escalates.

        2. I actually agree here that it is possible for the boss to have not intended violence. I can see a certain kind of person thinking, “Hey, back in high school we had that teacher who joked about filling the classroom with weasels if we were late. What if I made a joke about machete-ing people for not focussing on work? Ooo, even better – I could bring in an actual machete! And hit the desk with it. That’d get their attention.”
          Even if that’s the case, however, it still shows a mind-wrenching lack of judgement, not to mention empathy, and they are still guilty of creating a hostile work environment.

        3. That may be, but that degree of assholeness and that degree of obliviousness to social rules and that degree of lack of empathy and general cluelessness all can be seriously dangerous.

          E.g., if someone was waving a loaded gun around and shooting at the walls, I wouldn’t be much comforted to know that they were ‘just’ an emotionally volatile moron with poor judgement… A machete is a step down from a gun but it’s still very lethal. Someone who doesn’t know enough not to do that is at best someone whose judgement is so poor that it makes them a danger to others.

      4. A joke was the plastic hammer that made a fake breaking glass sound that the deli owner used to tap regular customers with while cracking up hysterically every time.

        A functional machete hacked into a desk by a raging boss is not a joke.

    5. Alison, I agree with you. Sometimes people are seriously violent and their violent tendencies need to be taken seriously. And sometimes people are just stupid in ways that unintentionally imply that they are violent. I know that often on this blot we tend to assume option A, for safety’s sake, but the LW seems to be pretty sure it is option B.

      I can think of several tone deaf moron guys who would think that this was a good idea. Especially if they don’t respect their wives and have many female subordinates who they objectify, they are even more likely to think that something DEEPLY FUCKING STUPID is hilarious. And they certainly aren’t going to run it by anyone who might tell them how dumb it is. Because obviously they don’t take anyone else seriously. (My father used to use the laser pointer on his gun to play with the cat and thought it was hilarious no matter what we said. It’s a thing, some people are fucking stupid.)

      Honestly I would still RUN RUN RUNNNNNNN. Because better safe than sorry.

      1. What, the only people who kill and maim and abuse others do it because they’re intentionally evil people? Stupidity, ignorance and entitlement is responsible for as much pain as actual evil, only way more people are willing to make excuses for it.

        1. I’m not arguing about whether or not this guy is evil. That is an entirely different conversation wherein we actually have to have a clear shared definition of evil.

          I’m arguing about whether or not this guy is actually likely to become physically violent to an employee. Striking someone with a weapon is not something someone does unintentionally. It’s never an accident.

          IMPLYING that that is something the might do, IS a thing that sometimes happens by accident, especially in a culture that glorifies and normalizes violent imagery like ours.

    6. For me, the thing that kicks this over into dangerous-scary territory (instead of “whoa, there, colleague – do you understand that someone who didn’t know you well might find that dangerous and scary?” territory) is the fact that the guy was seriously yelling at people and pulled the machete – and the fact that this was all triggered by his inappropriate obsession with a young staffer. I’ve worked with a couple of people who might have thought “oh, ha ha, I’m not actually angry at people but they need to knock this problem behavior off, guess I’ll make a joke about cutting down dead wood and wave the machete” and it would have been…inappropriate but clearly not a sign that they were going to be violent to anyone. The multiple factors here are really scary. It may not be that this guy is actually going to go off the deep end and start machete-ing people, but this does definitelyread like a signal that he could do other scary and inappropriate things like cornering S and yelling at her or grabbing her.

      This is a boss who asked his junior employee whether she was having sex with another staffer and then got incredibly angry and hurt about it. That is already signaling that he is well over into scary inappropriate territory. Secret unsuitable crush? Lots of people get those! Disappointment when the unsuitable object may be seeing someone else? Sure! But I’ve had bosses all over this great big world and none of them have asked about anyone’s sex life.

    7. Thanks for this. He changed his tune a few days later (this incident happened about two weeks ago) when he said he wanted me to be happy at work, and I told him that I’d be happy with 100% less machetes in the workplace. At that point, he hung his head and shuffled his feet like a little boy who’d just gotten caught doing something dumb.

      The main problem is that I started at this job less than a year ago, and while he has every intention of putting this side of the practice firmly in my hands, there are some real disciplinary issues. S and the other attorney had apparently exchanged over 10,000 text messages in the last month, mostly during working hours, so it’s not all temper tantrum. It’s compounded, of course, by the reality that he let bad behavior slide when it benefited him, but not the other attorney. But he’s already started turning discipline over to me, and my second (who will soon be an attorney) has a specialty in HR, so I believe the situation can be turned around. If I didn’t, I’d be running for the hills.

      If S felt threatened, I might feel a lot differently, but she’s called him on it several times, and she feels secure enough not to leave, even though I’ve told her that I will help her bolt if that’s what she wants. And, the fact that the boss let me handle the thing with the huge number of texts during working hours, without getting involved, does give me hope.

      I don’t want to defend him. What he did was wildly inappropriate, and it really pissed me off and shook me up, for sure. But I do feel reassured by the small (baby) steps in the right direction.

      1. 1. “he hung his head and shuffled his feet like a little boy who’d just gotten caught doing something dumb”: OK, but do you know for a fact that he got the damn machete OUT OF THE OFFICE?

        2. “he’s already started turning discipline over to me, and my second (who will soon be an attorney) has a specialty in HR, so I believe the situation can be turned around” He is deliberately setting you up as the fall guy. When the shit inevitably hits the fan, either by escalation of violence or mass resignations or embarrassing publicity or police/bar reports, you will be perfectly positioned as the person supposedly in charge of discipline who let this slide and therefore is responsible for making clear to the employees that violence and sexual harassment are standard and accepted practices. He’s setting you up.

        3. “I’ve told my people to keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain.” That makes you complicit in his threat of machete violence.

        4. S “feels secure enough not to leave”: That’s what she’s telling you but you’re part of the management team in a grossly mismanaged company so what are the chances that she’s sincere?

        Watch out, Stunned. It’s going to go downhill from here.

      2. I wouldn’t blame you if your brain was still working its way through processing all of this. When I read your letter yesterday I honestly had no useful response I could think of. Having read all the comments today, I think there might be a few more things worth saying.

        You liked your job. You successfully got out of a bad working situation, things were settled down and you were feeling safe enough to start planning for your future. And then this happens. I cant blame you for not wanting to (or maybe feeling like you dont have the energy to) deal with Crap Workplace Drama yet again.

        It would not be unreasonale of you to feel like everything would have been just fine if your boss hadnt got an idiotic idea about bringing a machete into the office into his head. I can see why you want to get back to a world which felt more readonable and in which there is zero expectation of this sort of thing happening.

        And as numerous people have pointed out, there are no scripts that will guarantee you being able to get back to that world.

        Two weeks ago you had no expectation of behaiviour this treatening abd unprofessional from your boss. And now, sadly, you do. His terrible behaiviour and life choices. Your problem. Which sucks and I hate that this is happening to you.

        I accept that it is perfectly possible for a person to have reasons not to leave a job that is toxic, where they feel unsafe and where there is always a nagging feeling in the back of their heads that things are terribly wrong. These reasons may change or crystallise for you over time, but fundamentally, no amount of ‘just leave now’ is going to help you if you have decided that for reasons of your own, that is something you simply cannot do.

        So ok what *can* you work with here?

        Firstly please find a way to accept that the world you thought you were living in is gone and there is no getting it back. You are currently in a reality where your boss is at best an idiot and at worst a threat.

        Youre documenting everything. Great. Keep doing that. Take a photo of the desk. If the machete is still there, take a photo of that as well. If he’s at the stage of having sheepish conversations with you about the whole thing then you might be in a position to say ‘Boss, you really need to take that thing home and I need to be able to tell staff that it will never be returning. It paints the firm in an incredibly bad light.’ Document the conversation. If you dont feel safe saying this then obviously dont. Document that you didnt have the conversation because you felt unsafe. It goes without saying that you will not be able to police the presence of a machete on the premesis. The fact that I just had to type that sentence is an indicator that things are really not ok here.

        It sounds like you have taken some sensible practical next steps with S. I would add that just because she doesnt feel threatened, it doesnt mean she *wasnt* threatened. You’re above her in the chain of command. This makes her safety your problem. Can you ensure that she is never alone with boss? Can you provide her with a “direct manager needs me urgently” excuse if she is ever *likely* to be alone with boss? From what you have said, S does need to up her professional game, and you are addressing this. Please make sure to continue addressing it *separately* to the machete issue. It’s tempting to say “spending all your time texting Other Attorney gives Boss a thin veneer of an excuse to yell at you for, dont leave yourself open to it”.* Dont say that. His unreasonable behaviour needs to be separated from her unreasonable behaviour lest you come across as implicitely siding with him. Its enough to say “spending all your time texting Other Attorney reflects badly on you. Keep that sort of thing out of the workplace”.

        *Actually I absolutely would say this sentence to a friend. But not a subordinate I was responsible for, different level of professionalism needed and all that.

        Ok so if you can address immediate machete presence and do right by S, then you still need to do right by you. Other people with more experience than me have addressed possible legal options that may or may not be open to you. Investigate those. There are also some steps you can take in private to improve things for yourself.

        Ask yourself this: Can you have a reasonable expectation that this job you considered a haven will actually return to being that way?

        Whether the answer is yes or no, polish up your resume, increase your own levels of professionalism in everything, find and talk to a confidential professional helpline for your industry if such a thing exists and start actively looking for alternative options for your life in this field/state or any other. Do you have professional contacts who are willing to have a converstion with you about career options? Maybe you dont think there are any options, maybe youre certain that you cant leave. But give yourself permission to do the research and then do it. If this job didnt exist, what would you do instead? You may soon find yourself in a situation where things have escalated to the point where you simply *must* get out. (For most commenters, that point has already been reached, ymmv) and if you find yourself at that point, you will thank yourself for having gotten your professional house in order and having done your research now.

        If this proves to be a fleeting blip in a sea if otherwise professional calm for your firm then I will be happy for you. But certainly make sure that you consider any further unreasonble acts on the part of your boss (including innappropriate comments to female employees, actually, ANY employees) as part of a trend rather than a new isolated incident.

        This is a crap thing to happen to anyone and its completely unfair that you have to deal with this. Ask yourself what advice you would give to your partner or your child if they found themselves in a situation that threatened their mental health, feelings of safety and possibly their physical wellbeing in the same way your current work situation does.

        And be no less kind to yourself.

        Good luck.

    8. I agree with this take on it. He was wildly out of bounds and super fucking stupid and I really would like to have been a fly on the wall of his brain when he made the decision to bring a machete to work with him that morning.

    9. Uhm. Totally disagree on 1. He decided to bring a potentially lethal weapon into the workplace. He started yelling and waving it around. He used it to cut into a desk to show its ability to chop things up. He’s feeling freaking spawned by a subordinate and thinks that wielding a machete is a response. If it was a gun, I don’t think you would be saying it wasn’t a threat. “Oh yeah, he brought a gun into work and waved it around and shot out a filing cabinet but it was only filled with blanks! No threat here.”

      I think not only was it a threat, but it was intended as such. “Don’t step out of line. I’m willing to enforce my hurt feelings and anger with a lethal weapon.”

      1. Dingdingding! He bought a weapon to work & waved it around & said if this happens again NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LEAVE!!! If it was a gun, would folx be trying to rationalize that he thought it was a joke? It could still have been a joke to him BUT IT WOULDN’T MATTER cuz he bought a gun to work, waved it around & shot the filing cabinet with it.

      2. I…know a story where someone DID try to say it wasn’t threatening. My mom used to work for the Department of Labor, and there was a hearing involving a guy who got fired because he left the workplace and came back with a firearm. Guy thought he shouldn’t have been fired because he didn’t point the gun at anyone, just waved it around, and besides it’s not like the gun was loaded! The law judge in this case was very clear that whether he “pointed” or “waved” it was IRRELEVANT – it’s still misconduct to leave a workplace and return with a GUN, whether it is loaded or not.

        She was also involved in a case where an employer kept objecting to paying unemployment benefits because his (usually female) employees were “voluntarily” quitting – because their employer was “becoming environmentally ill” supposedly due to paint fumes and then verbally abusing his wife in front of them. Repeatedly. And the law judge in that series of cases was overruling the employer’s objections, again and again and again.

    10. I think #1, that machete-wielding boss was just joking around in the most tone-deaf way imaginable, is a possibility. But not a certainty. He hacked into his desk. How many people are willing to destroy their own property — expensive property — just to make a funny?

      You know more case studies than all or most of us here. Is the machete story not the worst story you’ve heard aside from situations where actually battery occurs?

  41. I think someone should also tell the boss’s wife that her husband is exhibiting bizarre and threatening behavior at work. Her life might well be in danger, too. As a previous commenter noted, LW needs to secure her own oxygen mask, and so does S. But then please spare a thought for his wife. For one thing, she might be able to get him to a doctor to see what exactly is causing this change (if it is a change).

    1. Unfortunately, bad behavior of many types often start in private and then escalate outwards later. I saw this a lot as a teacher, where kids who would generally behave well in my classroom would act up and misbehave on the day their parent was volunteering in the classroom.

      By which I mean, I have a terrible feeling that his wife might already know about his violent tendencies, all too well.

      1. My guess is, she probably knows. But she doesn’t necessarily know that others agree it’s a problem or that it’s behavior a person shouldn’t have. Given the way abusers get victims so used to it, and how one’s world view can get so warped, even if she is mostly starting to see through it (I think there was something about a potential divorce), I think confirmation that it’s not just her seeing a problem might be good for her. However, I think logistically this could be very difficult and even dangerous to do. The only connection the letter writer likely has to the wife is through the boss. And there’s also a chance the wife would tell the boss, which could result in retaliation. If the letter writer were a friend of the wife’s, it’d be different. In an ideal world, there’d be a way to tell the wife. In reality, the letter writer needs to focus on self-protection and protection of employees that might be somewhat protectable. You do what you can. And this situation is already disturbingly overwhelming. But yeah, I’d be really surprised if he hasn’t been abusing his wife for quite a while now. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised.

  42. OH JEEZ

    LW, I hate to say this, but you might want to start earnestly looking for a new job. Your work sounds great! Your job does not. How long can you work with this man? How long until his machete turns towards you? How long until it’s no longer- “Oh, I forgot the briefs-Fuck, Bill, put the machete away! I’ll have them by tomorrow! Please, Bill, no! (muffled thud, dripping).”

    I’m joking, but you need to document/research options for yourself as well, in case he wants to slip this unsavory incident under the rug. Secondly, it sounds like your workplace is very close to being the place of something violent, as the Captain says.

    On this blog, danger signs are constantly being highlighted. Possessive or odd behavior, strange suggestions, etc. This is, to be honest, not one of those scenarios. This isn’t a danger sign. This is a terrifying, terrifying and frighteningly out of touch threat. Think to yourself- what if it were a gun?

    And lastly, as a young woman who has been stalked, it is damn terrifying. The lack of support and gaslighting by friends, acquaintances, trusted mentors, and even family can be unbelievable. The best thing you can do is try to provide whatever support that you can without trying to escalate things with your boss. I was stalked at my home, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be stalked at work, where your livelihood is a stake.

  43. flashback to 2 yrs ago: I was working in a research lab at a Veiled Confederate University when the PI (head of the lab) had to fire his lab manager for Bad Things (like falsifying data. In cancer research. And oh yeah stealing) and the meeting was between boss, lab manager, and office manager (who was also the HR representative for the lab). After large yelling match fired manager goes away, and boss pulls out a kitchen knife from somewhere and threatens HR rep with it. Then he breaks down long enough for her to get the knife awya from him and call for help, which arrives in the form of Very Big Surgeon and several otehr people who manage to keep him from hurting anyone till the ambulance arrives along with campus police. Campus police are given knife and statements. Boss then demands that HR rep ACCOMPANY HIM TO ER TILL HIS WIFE GETS THERE and the police tell HR rep they think this is a spiffy idea so, bewildered, she does…

    upshot is, he spends 3 weeks “resting” and then claims he had pulled the knife on himself, in order to preempt any attempt to fire him (this is the latest of his shenanigans btw) because he would then sue the school for discrimination against his mental disorder (which unfortunately he also legitimately has, but it doesn’t stop him from using it at will to get what he wants– he is one of those who makes others with mental health issues look bad by association). HR rep decides to sue him and school, goes to police for report to start legal stuff, and what do you know: campus police NEVER filed a report. Knife has gone missing, as in “you never gave us anything”. And then they say “if you were so threatened why did you accompany him to the ER?” (RAAAAGE) So, HR rep left in the wind. Oh, and so was I, because of this fallout the entire lab was moved under a different department’s purview and my job didn’t exist in the new structure, so, sucks to be me.

    The takeaway about the meeting that culminated all this, it was in the HR person’s office. Which means Boss had to have brought it in with him to meeting. Which was to fire his lab manager. He brought a weapon into what was clearly going to be a bad situation. And he’s still there at Very Crusty University pulling down $200k a year and leaving ruin in his wake. Not to mention blowing tons of $$$ grant money earmarked for CANCER RESEARCH on, I kid you not, comic book artwork for the walls of his office.

    tl;dr Letter Writer, run don’t walk. No wait, don’t run, TELEPORT the hell out of there and take as many other people out with you while you can. There is no possible excuse for bringing a weapon to a disciplinary meeting. Period, end of statement.

  44. I’ve got nothing except:

    No, really, this isn’t salvageable. Your boss needs help, your workplace will get worse, you don’t want to be stuck with a dangerous machete wielding work superior. S and others already think there will be no safety – because the guy with the machete hasn’t been wheeled out and taken to a hospital to observation.

    I know you think this is a great job, and I know it is hard to get a new job, but this one? This is your literal machete wielding boss coming at people because they don’t sleep with him.

    This is not a good job.

    Please stay safe

  45. O_O



    I don’t…I can’t even….I just….WHAT?!

    Okay, so aside from the obvious horror at the MACHETE-WIELDING, I am horrified by how *normalized* your boss’s outlandish and dangerous behavior has become in your office.

    For example, in your letter, you write: “The problem is that my boss…has a Thing for S, and when S started hanging out with one of the other attorneys, he took it badly. I know this because he confronted S about it, asked if she was fucking the other attorney, and asked if she preferred him.”

    I’m not calling you out or trying to make you feel bad here, but the fact that you related that COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE situation — and that’s not even the worst of it! — with a glaring lack of condemnatory adjectives causes me to think that your boss’s erratic, inappropriate behavior is so normal in your office that “simply” asking a subordinate if she’s fucking another employee seems, if not *great*, at least “not that bad compared to his other behavior”.

    And that? That is horrifying. My shoulders were already up around my ears when I read *that* portion of the letter, so by the time I got to the machete-wielding, I was already operating at maximum Nopetopus! frequency.

    LW, *nothing* that is happening in your office is normal or okay. Frankly, I’d be advising you to look for another job if the only (“only”) thing you were dealing with was a boss who openly and aggressively sexually harasses his employees. The fact that we’re at “My boss threatened a group of employees with a machete” is mind-boggling. There is no fixing this issue if you stay at this job, because the issue is that your boss is an entitled, disrespectful, scary person. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

      1. *lolSOB* at the fact that we are actually using the phrase “…long before the machete” in the context of a disciplinary meeting in a law firm.

  46. Hi, Stunned. Reading your letter and your followups, I feel very empathetic toward you and your situation. I have felt these feels, and I know it can be hard to know exactly how to respond. In broad terms, it seems that on one hand, you have something that you value (your position with the firm), and on the other hand, you have an unacceptable situation (your boss brandishing a freaking machete). You recognize the unacceptability of the unacceptable situation, but because you value your position so highly, you are looking for a way to manage or mitigate that unacceptable situation. I so get this. I have been in situations like this before, on scales large and small. In my experience, it helps to zoom out and put the issue in context. The way you’re looking at it now, zoomed in, you want to find a path to keeping your job. But if we zoom out, we see that your boss just threatened S’s life, right in front of you.

    Let me say that again: he just threatened to kill her. He did it in front of you.

    You’re in a hard position. For me, outcomes in these situations have ranged from me doing nothing and keeping my stuff to my quitting friendships and even jobs. I gotta tell you: when I think back, it’s not the lost jobs and friendships I regret. If you do leave the firm over this, it will be your bosses fault. You had a good thing going on, and he destroyed it. That sucks. It really does. But what’s done is done. Now you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it.

    Your boss is a violent, abusive criminal. What he did was a violent crime. Your boss is a violent criminal who committed a violent crime in front of you. If he were an employee, he would be fired on the spot and charges would be filed. The only reason this is a conversation is that he’s a boss. As lasers notes above, S might think you’re on the boss’s side. Here’s the thing: if she thinks that, she’s right. He recruited you as an accomplice, and that is what you are now. You did not become an accomplice on purpose. Your boss forced it on you (by implicitly threatening you as well, it bears noting), but now, you’re helping him get away with it. You didn’t create this situation, and you’re in it against your will, but that’s what’s going on. You’re trying so hard to find a good outcome, but this problem is so bad that there are no good outcomes, only bad ones and worse ones. The question you need to ask yourself right now is not how you can manage up and mitigate this problem. The question you need to ask yourself is whether your job is worth continuing to be an accomplice. You need to figure out which is worse: doing something or doing nothing. Good luck and godspeed.

    1. “Let me say that again: he just threatened to kill her. He did it in front of you.” From the wording it sounds like he threatened to fire her (you won’t leave here an employee), and to damage her desk. Though of course any time someone is shouting and waving an edged blade around, there’s a certain implied threat even if it isn’t explicit.

      1. Yeah. I have a friend whose then-fiance told her that if his next wife left him, she’d be leaving in a body bag. Without the machete, “You won’t leave here an employee” means “You will be fired.” With it, it means, “You will leave here a corpse.” What the fuck else could that machete have meant? Machetes are for two things: chopping vegetation and killing people. Unless this law firm is located in a rainforest, that was a threat, and despite your strangely generous reading, it was not a “certain implied threat.” It was an explicit threat of violence. What is so hard about this?

        1. Are you using ‘explicit threat’ to mean ‘very obviously a threat’? Because I agree with you there! I suspect TO_Ont meant ‘implicit’ in the sense of ‘not spelled out verbally’.

          1. Yes, I mean ‘not explicit’ as in not spelled out verbally. Like I said, the presence of a weapon implies a physical threat. However, he will probably argue (and may even believe) that all he said was that he’d fire her.

          2. Yes, I mean ‘not explicit’ in the sense of ‘not spelled out verbally’. Like I said, waving a weapon around clearly implies a physical threat. However, he will probably argue (and may even believe) that all he actually said was that he’d fire her.

        2. I don’t think we actually disagree. ‘Implied’ to me isn’t meant as a brush-off. E.g., a+1=2 implies that a+2=3. Just because something’s not said directly doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  47. All due respect, but you’ve got to me kidding me. Brandishing a weapon is a crime. I don’t know if the LW is in the US, but here’s the federal definition of brandishing:

    Federal law defines brandished as, “with reference to a dangerous weapon (including a firearm) means that all or part of the weapon was displayed, or the presence of the weapon was otherwise made known to another person, in order to intimidate that person, regardless of whether the weapon was directly visible to that person. Accordingly, although the dangerous weapon does not have to be directly visible, the weapon must be present.” (18 USCS Appx § 1B1.1) http://definitions.uslegal.com/b/brandished/

    I don’t see an exception there for jokes. I find this response very troubling. There’s nothing in the original letter to suggest that the LW took it as a joke, so I’m really not sure where you’re getting that. The boss–who had already been incredibly inappropriate–shouted at S, and then he GOUGED HIS DESK WITH A MACHETE. Saying “it was just a joke” is gaslighting in defense of a violent abuser. This advice seems incredibly irresponsible.

    1. Seriously, wtf is “fun” or “ironic” about brandishing a freaking machete during a disciplinary meeting, making threatening comments that “not everybody is going to leave an employee” if the situation happens again, and then bringing the machete down on his desk? After the boss had made multiple extremely inappropriate comments to S, including asking her if she was fucking the other attorney?

      I just…what.

      There is nothing funny about that. There is no possible way. This is textbook abuse. This is a textbook warning sign that the boss is going to do something terrible. This is textbook “man doesn’t get attention from a woman he wants, turns violent.”

      Trying to play that off as a joke is just…I can’t even. I really can’t.

    2. This. Alison, machetes are for chopping things that are of a firmer consistency than human flesh into many tiny pieces. They are weighted and sized in such a way that they can be waved around at the end of a human arm at high speed and with great force. They are not weapons the same way that Viking handaxes were not weapons–until they were used for their other main purpose, which was killing people. Viking handaxes are in museums, but machetes are still used for killing people wherever they are in common use as field tools. Rwanda, for example.

      This man is headed for outright violence and the only niceness and helpfulness required of anybody in his office is the minimum needed to get past him and out the door with documentation intact.

    3. I’m not arguing about whether or not he met the federal legal definition for brandishing a weapon; it certainly sounds like he did.

      I’m arguing that I doubt he actually intended for anyone to feel like he might seriously attack them with the machete. There’s a small chance he did, but a far, far higher chance that he’s a clueless jerk who genuinely doesn’t realize the impact of doing something like that.

      Again, that doesn’t make it okay. Far from it. But as far as practical considerations for the OP, she’s not going to have him arrested. She needs to figure out what to do from here.

      1. I also believe that the machete used as a theatrical flourish meant for shock value. I actually find it more disturbing that a grown person who heads a law firm would be so unhinged as to think this is somehow appropriate.

        For me, the most ominous part of the letter is this:

        “The next day, I expected him to at least acknowledge how nuts/over the top/whatever his behavior was, but instead he said, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” I was speechless.”

        He clearly enjoyed the result and now plans to use the machete to threaten his employees with some sort of regularity. That is fucking horrifying.

        1. That’s what it sounded like to me too. I have a mental picture of a bird puffing out all its feathers before sparring with a rival. Not okay behavior for humans, yo.

          1. Hm, comment threading seems to have broken. This was supposed to be in response to SketchedLilly’s comment that “I also believe that the machete used as a theatrical flourish meant for shock value. […] He clearly enjoyed the result and now plans to use the machete to threaten his employees with some sort of regularity. That is fucking horrifying.”

        2. I can honestly understand why some people are responding with, “The boss just thought it was funny” or “He didn’t really threaten them”. I do know people who think those sorts of things are hilarious and whoever is put off by it just can’t take a joke.
          Thing is, those are also exactly the kind of people who I would not trust around a weapon. It is not a far leap from thinking sticking a machete in a desk is funny, to thinking waving it at someone is funny, to thinking that mildly injuring someone is funny…

          I currently work with someone who (sadly is my boss) has textbook abusive behaviour. LIke I could point to a page in a textbook about abuse and you would read it and it would describe her perfectly.
          The comment, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” is EXACTLY the kind of thing she would say. I can hear her voice saying those words and it fits perfectly.
          It is a way to normalise what just happened, to paint it in a happier, joking, everything is fine here light. It is trying to minimise what happened, to get people to stop trusting their rightfully terrified and confused responses. It is a way to throw people off balance.

          It would be one thing to tear up a bit of paper, or even stab a small knife into the desk – something you’d normally find in the office. The implied threat would still be there, but one could conceivably pass that off as being out of touch, or reactive, or (as we move lower down the threat scale, such as a butter knife into something soft or scissors to cut a bit of paper in half) an off-colour joke for emphasis. Could he not have just slammed his fist on the desk, if he really felt he had to make his employees fearful?! (I might stand a chance against a fist! Good fucking luck fighting off a machete.)

          He had to plan to bring the machete in. This wasn’t a spur of the moment joke – he thought about getting everyone in a room, telling them off, then bringing out a machete and slicing his desk. There was nothing about this that wasn’t premeditated – he planned it, thought about it, decided it was a good decision, packed the machete in his fucking bag and brought it into his office. There was more than enough time to decide it would be a bad idea. There was more than enough time to think, “Shit, maybe bringing a real machete is a bit stupid – a fake plastic sword will have the same emphasis as I bang it on the table but it’s clearly not a deadly weapon”.

          He didn’t do any of that. He deliberately brought a machete to work for the clear purpose of threatening his employees.
          He then deliberately tried to minimise the threat of what happened by emphasising that he thought it was a great idea.
          He explicitly told his employees that he thought it was a great idea and the very act of saying so implies heavily that he will do it again.

          If my boss ever held up so much as a steak knife in my direction, I would flee for the hills. She has never done anything physically violent, but I can hear her saying the exact words that macheteman said. I can hear her justifying the threat. I could hear her making it my fault that she threatened me. I could hear her making it my fault that she attacked me. It’s not hard to imagine her trying to make it my fault she killed me. Macheteman uses the same tactics and language.


          Macheteman brought the machete in as a premeditated plan. It was not a joke, but he will paint it as one because that gets him off the hook and allows him to place blame on his employees – one, that it’s their fault he felt the need to go to extremes, and two, it’s their fault they’re getting so upset because can’t they take a joke?!
          He may not use it. Chances are he won’t. But a machete is a deadly tool and he clearly felt it appropriate to bring it to an office space and brandish it in front of his employees. How much of a chance do you take with someone like that?

          LW, your subordinates need to be protected. No matter what you do about calling this guy out, even if you don’t report him to the police or to anyone, your subordinates need to know you’re on their side, that you have their back. Speak to them, let them know you understand the threat, help them gather their skills, tell them to keep records, and for god sake if they tell you they fear for their lives help them get out of there. And once they’re taken care of, get out of there yourself. Whoever is in imminent danger (like this young worker macheteman has a thing for) is the highest priority, whether it’s someone else or you.

          1. Exactly. It doesn’t change the fact that the boss has extremely poor judgment and tends to fly off the handle — which is the real problem. He wants to brush all of this under the rug and write it off as a joke. But if the guy is under stress – and it sounds like he is – this behavior is going to continue.

          2. Yes, I think we may be putting too much importance into the question of whether it was intended as a joke or not.

            People who use lethal weapons to make jokes are #* \:% dangerous.

          3. “He had to plan to bring the machete in. This wasn’t a spur of the moment joke – he thought about getting everyone in a room, telling them off, then bringing out a machete and slicing his desk. There was nothing about this that wasn’t premeditated – he planned it, thought about it, decided it was a good decision, packed the machete in his fucking bag and brought it into his office.”

            THIS. So much this. I can’t buy the “he thought it was a joke” thing at all, and I think the folks suggesting it are being too generous by half. First of all, the fact of having the machete at work at all means either (a) he premeditatedly brought the machete in with the intention of using it in a disciplinary meeting; or (b) he is the type of person who casually carries a machete and happened to have it in the office that day, both of which are horrifying. Secondly, who ends a disciplinary meeting – in which he’s been yelling at everybody – with a “joke”? No one, that’s who. He wants to pretend it’s a joke now, but there’s no way his thought process was “YELLING, YELLING, YELLING, oh hey, joke time!”

            Stunned, you’re scarred from a prior bad workplace, and this new workplace seemed like it was going to be the antidote to all of that. You’re getting management level authority! In a practice area you actually enjoy! And that’s hard to come by in the legal world, and so the thought that you can’t make this situation work is sad and disappointing and you don’t want to believe that this can’t be fixed. I get it, I promise you, I do. But your boss is not a safe person to be around. And the work experience upside you’re seeing? It’s illusory. It’s only as good as the reference you will get from your boss when you’re ready to move on. And a guy like this? You can never trust for a reference, because he’s going to see leaving as a betrayal (he already sees S’s personal interest in someone other than him as a betrayal, and he’s (a) married and (b) not in any kind of personal relationship with S). Think about where you want this to go professionally, and then honestly assess whether you can actually get there by staying where you are now for any significant length of time. My guess is working for the boundary-challenged machete wielder is not likely to get you where you want to go long-term.

            Also, last piece – I’m getting the impression you feel like you might as well stay where you are because most/all of the people in charge at other firms are going to be just as bad, so what’s the difference. This is false – people like your boss (and probably your former boss, and probably a number of other boss-level people you’ve encountered) want you to believe that everyone else is “just as bad,” so whatever’s happening needs to be okay, because lawyers, amiright? NOT ALL LAWYERS are like this. There ARE decent lawyer bosses out there – you may have to change your practice area or move a few towns over or take a pay cut to find them, but they are out there, and you deserve to work for one of them. Don’t let the machete-wielders convince you otherwise.

      2. Why would his intent matter? I sense a pile-on coming, and I don’t want to part of it, especially to someone Jennifer invited to weigh in. Alison, I really believe your intentions are good, but your take on this is problematic. This information might help put the boss’s behavior in context:


      3. I get where you’re coming from but the Awkward way tends to be that it doesn’t meant what his intentions were, he still threatened them. Ie if you step on my toes I’m gonna ask you to move before wondering if you did it on purpose. It can also be really scary and outright dangerous to be that open with someone violent; going “hey you probably didn’t mean to but you scared some of the people here” could go either way. If he’s a nice guy, which there’s little proof of, he’d apologise, right? But if he’s creepy he just got more ammo.

        1. Normally I’d agree on motivation. But as far as a physical threat? If you step on my toes with a machete in your hand, I’m gonna keep my mouth shut, let you stand there, and not ask you for anything until I can get far away unless I’m incredibly sure you meant nothing by it. The difference in motivation is not whether it’s ok to stand on my toes, it’s to evaluate whether it’s even safe to ask you to get off them. Honestly, I think she’s wrong about the likelihood of stupid joke, given the history with S, this seems very much like an intended threat (though I’m sure he’ll claim it was a joke if confronted), and not something to take any risks with.

        2. Yes, I have this mental image of the LW telling him “You scared the crap out of people” and this jerk saying “Good!” In which case, oh yuck, exit plan NOW.

      4. But this interpretation is not supported by the evidence. The LW describes the boss as having a pattern of inappropriate, boundary-violating behavior and as refusing to take responsibility for his actions. If he had meant it as a joke, the looks on his employees’ faces when he CHOPPED HIS DESK WITH A MACHETE would have snapped him out of it. He would have been shame-faced the next day, and most significantly, the LW would not have written this letter, because it would have been obvious that it was a joke. If it had been a joke, the LW would not have felt the need to tell the other employees to “keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain.” The LW was telling the employees, “This is a dangerous situation; protect yourselves.” The LW is not willing to admit this consciously, but this instinctual response tells us what we need to know. The reason the LW doesn’t know how to handle this is *because* it was not a joke.

        The reason I’m making such a big deal about this is that, as the LW forms a response, it is absolutely vital to know–not just in the back of the mind, where the LW already knows it, but in the front of the mind, where the LW is trying really, really hard not to know it–that IT WAS NOT A JOKE. Every moment that the LW continues to labor under this fantasy is a moment that the boss is a threat. That might sound melodramatic, but only if you don’t know how violent abusers operate. Abusers count on people second-guessing themselves. Characterizing his actions–against all evidence to the contrary–as a joke is encouraging the LW to second-guess these important instincts. I know you didn’t mean it this way, but your response is playing into this guy’s hands.

      5. I agree with you…I also think most rapists consider themselves not guilty of rape because they feel entitled to do what they did. Most physical abusers feel entitled to beat their partners. Criminals don’t consider what they do a crime. Getting inside the minds of men who commit crimes like this is, well, disturbing and enlightening at the same time. But understanding their viewpoint doesn’t really change much. They’re still monsters. There’s still no real way in our society to stop them.

        Someone here suggested hiring an HR person. The first thing an HR rep would recommend is to fire S, to pre-empt a lawsuit and to remove the “source” of the problem. They don’t care about protecting employees, only protecting the company and the higher-ups. If she DOES sue, it is extremely unlikely to be successful. Like in the other example in this thread, somehow all the evidence seems to disappear and it’s all the victim’s fault. And regardless of whether or not the lawsuit is successful she will be blacklisted from working in law again, or for any company aware of the lawsuit.

        I don’t have a good solution. Women are abused and oppressed. Workers are abused and oppressed. Our society is designed to protect the people committing and profiting off of the abuse and oppression.

    4. I really don’t see anyone excusing the behavior in any way. I think the point is that he probably did not realize that anyone was feeling actually threatened, because his intent was not to threaten. It’s a case of Message Sent not equalling Message Received. At all. He probably thought he was being funny or silly, and didn’t realize that it was actually quite scary.

      Not an excuse, and I don’t see anyone saying it’s ok. It’s absolutely not ok and he needs to be called out on it.

        1. Nesting fail. The “he didn’t intend to threaten” interpretation that some commenters are putting forward is such incredibly generous bullshit – generous to the boss, I mean. This is not a “boys will be boys”, “he just didn’t understand”, whatever situation. He brought a weapon to work and used it in anger. The idea that he didn’t intend that to be threatening at some level is completely impossible in my opinion. It’s so generous to him in reading into his intent (silly! meant to be funny! joke! but he failed to read the room! oops!) that it’s apologist.

      1. OK, so here’s the trouble with the ‘he wasn’t trying to threaten anyone’ response. It *is* excusing his behaviour. It’s trying to peer into his intent and see “aha! He wasn’t REALLY trying to be violent. He was just trying to be funny! And he was just silly about it!”

        Giving weight to this interpretation, which ISN’T borne out by his other actions including asking inappropriate sexual questions of a subordinate he is so obviously attracted to that everyone in the office knows about it, IS a way of excusing him. It’s a way of mitigating his behaviour. “Well, it’s bad, but it’s not AS bad as it would be if he’d actually MEANT it as a threat. You know.”

        Seriously, if S was scared, would you be telling her that he didn’t MEAN to threaten her? With a machete? In front of colleagues? Whilst yelling angrily?

        This response is a way of painting the act of yelling angrily, taking out a machete, and using it to cut a desk, as anything other than what it is: a threatening, abusive exercise of power and violence. It IS in itself a way to justify, excuse and normalise abuse. The “his intent wasn’t to threaten” argument is a problem as it is very generous to the boss in supposing ignorance instead of malice. As though bringing a lethal weapon to work and brandishing it is a “silly”, understandable mistake that anyone could make in the circumstances – just one of those things that happens sometimes, yannnow?

      2. There are also people who think that their snapping, snarling dog is just being frisky and that their dog chasing somebody clear onto the hood of a car is just one of those things and everybody should laugh because Fido is just so hilarious. I do not give a flippety dip about the intent of somebody who does something that is right on the edge of injuring somebody else. Especially when they say that they like the effect it had on other people, who were not laughing! Either they’re aggressively dangerous or they’re stupidly dangerous and either way they need to go. Intent schmintent.

  48. Brandishing a machete at employees during a “disciplinary” meeting? This is the kind of behavior that preludes office shootings. Especially prefaced with outraged “Why don’t you understand my FEELINGS?!” public dumps.

    You’ve mentioned you want to adopt, and yes it’ll be hard with one income. But think how much harder it would be for your partner and child if one day you don’t come home because of a machete-wielding horndog boss. Better to leave and be there for anniversaries, school concerts, graduation, grandchildren.

    1. That is a terrifying thought. Think of the number of shootings in the US where after it was all over, it was reported that something like this had happened some time prior. The Isla Vista shooter, who had previously threatened his roommates and had the police called on him because of his violent speech and videos, but was able to talk with them and seem normal, and they left.

      That might be an overreaction. But that’s how abusive behavior gets normalized, isn’t it? “I’m probably just overreacting… I don’t want to be a drama queen… I don’t want to make a fuss…”

      1. Adding my agreement here. My feeling is that everyone in the office is in imminent danger of being maimed or killed by this guy, because who know who’ll he be mad at next time.

      2. To put a different spin on a (kind of ugly) chestnut: Better to be “judged as overreacting” by thousands than carried by six.

    2. I feel like Gavin de Becker would call this machete incident a Pre Incident Indicator. And then some.

      What has this incident taught him?
      – That he can bring a lethal weapon into work and face no real consequences to himself
      – That he can bring a lethal weapon out in front of staff members and face no real consequences to himself
      – That he can air his anger and grievance about S’s relationship with the other attorney with no real consequences to himself
      – That he can yell, threaten jobs and use a machete to cut, with no real consequences to himself

      Guess what? He knows for sure that he can get away with this shit to a large degree, because *he already has*.

      Seriously? The police weren’t even called, let alone any proceeding started against the guy. Let alone any kind of informal measures to keel him away from S.

      Is someone walking S to her car or the train/bus station after work? Or is there an excellent chance that if he wanted to, this guy could come up to her in the car park?

      Possibly with a machete.

      That he could then possibly get out.

      And from there – who knows.

      I’m actually super disgusted at the people, including Alison actually, who think that this can be passed off in any way as a joke or who – even though they say they aren’t excusing it – feel like he didn’t *mean* to be threatening. Like this is some kind of ‘boys will be boys’ shit for grown-ass, middle-class, 60-year-old boss-men.

      I feel like they are some of those voices who would be like “oh my god, this is so shocking, who could have known” when he actually uses that machete to hurt or kill someone. My money’s on S.

  49. Oh Stunned, I hope you get out of there.

    I know you loved the work, but honestly it is a different job now. Everything your boss did was inappropriate. I think it was a great job because you didn’t know about this side of him. Now that he’s revealed it, you can’t unseen it. I highly doubt he will come to see reason and change his ways. This is textbook abuser behavior and I’ll bet my next paycheck it will cycle around again.

  50. Oh my god. I read this with my jaw hanging open.

    There is no good answer here, LW. You have been put in an impossible position. Even if your boss thinks he’s being “colourful”, the reality is that he pulled out a deadly weapon in a workplace environment and joked about people no longer being employees. The implied threat is clear. He no doubt scared S very badly (the implication that her choice is to fuck him or face the chop, metaphorically and literally, was no doubt not lost on her) and I think she certainly needs to get out as quickly as she can. If I did something like that at my place of work, I would be fired on the spot and probably held by security until the police arrived to arrest me. It is deeply, horribly unfair that this man’s actions are putting at risk the job you need and enjoy, but his behaviour is so beyond normal bad management that I don’t think the situation is salvageable.

    I recommend reading the chapter on workplace violence in The Gift Of Fear and seeing how many bells it rings. I kept thinking about it as I read your letter. de Becker has several examples of normal, rational people who wrote warning signs off as “jokes” and regretted it. Hopefully you are not at serious risk, but I would certainly be planning my exit strategy in your position, and quietly encouraging S to do so too.

    Is it possible that you and others in the firm could leave and set up on your own, without the machete-wielding maniac? I am sure that this would be very difficult, financially and otherwise (source: S5 of The Good Wife, which is pretty much all I know about practising law in the US), but if you are working in a very specialist area of law, it’s possible that clients might prefer to use a firm without a machete gouge in the table and be quite keen to go with you?

    I know you asked for advice about managing up and we’re all saying “EVIL BEES! RUN!”, which isn’t what you want to hear, but I would find it really hard to think of any advice I could give you about staying in this situation that feels like it wouldn’t be compromising your safety. He brought a weapon to the office and used it to attack the furniture to make a point. That is not the action of someone reasonable.

  51. Apologies if this is a double post – not sure if the comment has gone through or not.


    Oh my god. I read this with my jaw hanging open.

    There is no good answer here, LW. You have been put in an impossible position. Even if your boss thinks he’s being “colourful”, the reality is that he pulled out a deadly weapon in a workplace environment and joked about people no longer being employees. The implied threat is clear. He no doubt scared S very badly (the implication that her choice is to fuck him or face the chop, metaphorically and literally, was no doubt not lost on her) and I think she certainly needs to get out as quickly as she can. If I did something like that at my place of work, I would be fired on the spot and probably held by security until the police arrived to arrest me. It is deeply, horribly unfair that this man’s actions are putting at risk the job you need and enjoy, but his behaviour is so beyond normal bad management that I don’t think the situation is salvageable.

    I recommend reading the chapter on workplace violence in The Gift Of Fear and seeing how many bells it rings. I kept thinking about it as I read your letter. de Becker has several examples of normal, rational people who wrote warning signs off as “jokes” and regretted it. Hopefully you are not at serious risk, but I would certainly be planning my exit strategy in your position, and quietly encouraging S to do so too.

    Is it possible that you and others in the firm could leave and set up on your own, without the machete-wielding maniac? I am sure that this would be very difficult, financially and otherwise (source: S5 of The Good Wife, which is pretty much all I know about practising law in the US), but if you are working in a very specialist area of law, it’s possible that clients might prefer to use a firm without a machete gouge in the table and be quite keen to go with you?

    I know you asked for advice about managing up and we’re all saying “EVIL BEES! RUN!”, which isn’t what you want to hear, but I would find it really hard to think of any advice I could give you about staying in this situation that feels like it wouldn’t be compromising your safety. He brought a weapon to the office and used it to attack the furniture to make a point. That is not the action of someone reasonable.

  52. I’m trying to think what I would do in a similar situation. I think I’d try to get everyone else out of there and tell them to go home, and then go back and stand in the boss’s open office doorway to say that I am leaving until he can guarantee that the machete is out of the office and nothing similar will happen again. And then I would leave, and check in with the boss by phone in the morning to see whether he had come to his senses. If I were fired and had to temp for several months, that would be fine by me.

    But I’ve had the immense good fortune to work my whole career in basically safe, humane and equitable environments – war-torn, poverty-stricken and chaotic places, yes, but nothing like this was ever considered acceptable. Plenty of people within those environments committed abuses, but they were in the minority. They were dealt with, whether through sick leave or being fired. What am I trying to say? Oh yes; if a a work environment would be considered outrageous and unsafe in Nigeria or Afghanistan, it may well be a good idea to leave.

    1. Bah. I should have added in my comment above that if it were me, and I had thought to do this, I would find it easier than many people, because I’ve been trained and had a little bit of experience in handling dodgy and dangerous situations. Nobody in a ‘normal’ US or European business environment would expect to have such training/experience, and most people would probably respond as the LW has.

  53. This man pulled a weapon out in the middle of a meeting to threaten the safety of his employees, especially a woman he feels spurned by.

    LW imagine he had pulled out a gun and shot it into the ceiling. I know guns are considered to be much more dangerous than knives but in a close environment like that? He could have hurt/killed someone, and he flat out told you guys that he’s considering that as an option.

    Maybe I’m overreacting but people going on rampages in their workplaces isn’t unheard of. What he did was so over the line that I’m very concerned about where he’s going to escalate to. How will he react to being told he’s being inappropriate? To S getting a boyfriend? To someone quitting?

    Please be safe LW, talk to the labour board/bar association, consider talking to law enforcement, and team up with S to plan an escape.

  54. LW, one question – is the machete still in the office? I mean, has Boss taken it home and not brought it back, or is it still in his desk drawer? Can you check safely?

    Because if he’s keeping it in your office? Call the police. There is no legitimate reason for a machete in a law firm. Your boss is not a lovably kooky Denny Crane. He is someone with a very loose grip on acceptable behaviour with access to a lethal weapon. The next time he gets it in his head to wave it around, he could kill someone. Even if he doesn’t mean to hurt anybody (just, you know, scare them into doing what he wants) a machete is not an easy thing to weild. They’re heavy, awkwardly balanced, and have a lot of blade. The chance of an accident is very high. Pretty sure that if you knew it was being kept in the office and didn’t inform the police that would see you named in a lawsuit from someone’s next of kin, or even facing criminal charges yourself.

    (Why the fuck does a non-rural lawyer even own a machete? The only non-murdery reason I can think of in my area is a liking for fresh cut taro.)

  55. I agree with Alison on the OP not trying to get boss arrested.

    How is the OP supposed to explain to the police the time gap between the incident and her reporting it? Yes, we think it’s reasonable that Stunned was too, well stunned, to do it right afterwards and wasn’t sure about what to do about it later, but will the police think that? Even if they do, it’s not like he’s going to end up in jail and be denied bail. If he’s arrested, he’ll get out and I don’t think that improves things for anyone else involved.

    I agree with most of the other advice: Help S. as much as possible, find a new job, help each other find new jobs, document everything, point out the legal ramifications of what boss did, tell the wife (about the machete), report it to the bar association if safe/required to, etc. I just don’t see reporting the incident at this point as being helpful to anyone. If I thought they’d put is butt in jail and keep him there, that would be different. If he pulls out a weapon again and the OP wants to report it right then, that’s different. To be clear, I don’t think it’s right or fair that it won’t help the OP to report it now, but I do think that it’s true that it won’t help now.

    1. “Assault: Intent Requirement

      “In order commit an assault an individual need only have “general intent”. What this means is that although someone can’t accidentally assault another person, it is enough to show that an offender intended the actions which make up an assault. So, if an individual acts in a way that’s considered dangerous to other people that can be enough to support assault charges, even if they didn’t intend a particular harm to a particular individual. Moreover, an intent to scare or frighten another person can be enough to establish assault charges, as well.”

      – See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/assault-and-battery-overview.html#sthash.DkKLTCIv.dpuf

  56. OK, now that my shoulders have finally dropped away from my ears:

    Get out of there. Your boss thinks it’s OK to threaten an employee (who he wants to be boffing and who don’t want him) with a lethal weapon. In a closed room. In front of witnesses Provide S with whatever references she needs and get out.

    One, you could end up sued in a hostile workplace lawsuit. This is actually the better scenario than:
    Two, he gets mad at YOU one day and you go home permanantly injured- or you don’t go home at all. Workplace violence happens, and a boss who is threatening his staff with machetes? That is a semaphoring red flag in a sea of red flags.

    There are no magic words here which will make S be safe (and if he attacks her, how are you going to feel knowing what you know?) and you keep your job and have everything be fine. I get you are worried about money, but hospitalization costs a lot more and you won’t get a cute baby at the end here.

    Click to access epbc-3.pdf

    Read where it talks about red flags and warnings, Note how many your boss has (I counted 17 from your short letter.) Think very carefully about what you do next.

  57. LW, you know who uses a MACHETE to “enforce discipline”? Bloodthirsty guerrilla terrorists. You are working for a man who uses the same tactics as a goddamned literal non-cutesy murderous pirate.

    His use of the machete can only be interpreted as a threat of physical harm, even if he denies that was his intention.
    Given that he has shown unhealthy interest in S and repeatedly sexually harassed her in the form of inappropriate questions and disciplinary measures, I don’t doubt that the machete is A) aimed at her to threaten her into compliance, B) to make the rest of you too shit-scared to call him out on his horrendous behaviour.

    You cannot “manage” this situation whilst he is in charge, creating a toxic climate of fear and tyranny. You cannot cordon him off and act as any kind of buffer between him and your team. He has made you complicit in keeping everyone else in line, and afraid of what he might do.

    Your last job was exhausting, but it will be more exhausting for you to try to manage his behaviour and expectations.
    You think he respects you, but he pulled a fucking machete on you!
    You think he has shown contrition, but he has only non-pologised to you, and has not made any attempt to repair the trust that should have been irreparably lost as soon as he PULLED A GODDAMN MACHETE ON YOU.
    You think it’s all fine as long as he doesn’t have access to any machetes, but he has crossed so far over the line for appropriate managerial tactics that there is really no way for this to be fine.
    You think it will be hard to get a new job, but this boss has made it no longer an option to stay as long as he is in charge.

    If you have some kind of equivalent of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the US… I’m not sure they have any go-to advice for something as mind-bogglingly horrendous as this, but they might be able to advise your next steps and advocate for you. Contact the Bar Association, Hire an HR person, Get in contact with a lawyer – Assemble a team of people with legal expertise and any amount of authority over Boss, because you cannot just smooth this over alone.

    With your Team Of Experts’ advice, work out how to leave your job as quickly and safely as possible. Make it clear to S that you will take her side over Boss. Ask your colleagues to provide witness testimonies, Help S in any way you can, whether that involves letting her leave quietly with a glowing reference, or helping to compile evidence for a lawsuit against Boss.
    I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t tell you what the best way of going about this is, but if Boss ever brandishes a weapon at work again, treat him as you would an intruder with a weapon, and summon the cops.

    I don’t know anything about US law, but I would generally imagine that sexual harassment in the workplace and threats of assault with a lethal weapon are extremely illegal in most places.

    Good luck, LW.

  58. My thoughts are scattered, Stunned. While I agree that this boss’s behavior is dangerous and unpredictable, you get to take actions you think will most likely keep yourself and your family safe. I have an acquaintance who quit their job and the result is that their bosses now stalk and harass them at home, so that is a scenario to keep in mind. So I do somewhat understand the motivation to try to stay until you can’t because quitting might mean harassment until you can get a job in a new city.

    Other thoughts to keep in mind. You said four (female) employees are about ready to leave. This situation may have appeared to stabilize somewhat, but I still think the environment is fragile and even one employee leaving can set off a chain reaction of other employees (of both genders) leaving. Not everyone there that wants to leave is necessarily being open about it with you. In a tense situation like this one, be ready to deal with the fallout of several players abandoning ship at around the same time in the near future. It’s also possible that people are staying only because you’re there to maintain stability. Leaving at the best possible moment for you and at the worst possible moment for him might be the only “good” ending you can get from this story.

    The boss has shown himself to be a violent control freak. I also see this situation escalating. The harassment you’ve seen happening to S is only the tip of the iceberg. He’s probably even more threatening to her in private. Since he’s shown disregard for the law in front of employees, he may also be breaking other laws. I think the probability is higher at this firm than other firms that your boss may be arrested for stabbing someone or possibly even an unrelated (but not really) crime like embezzlement. Be prepared for the eventuality of your job ending sooner than you want because of this.

    Oh, and you’re probably already doing this, but have escape routes planned when you’re in close proximity to him.

  59. (A quick point of information – we have a machete at my house here in Midwestlandia, because we use it for hacking down weed trees and very occasionally for opening coconuts. It is very sharp and I hate using it. Having a machete is perfectly reasonable; having a machete at work is….very disturbing.)

  60. LW, this is past the point of scripts and managing up. I get why you want to hold everything together, at least for a few more years, but I don’t think any amount of running interference for this guy is going to be effective against the possibilty of him, say, attacking and possibly killing someone. S needs to get out of there, you need to get out of there, everyone else needs to get out of there, and the cops need to be called. This man has shown that he cannot be reasoned with, and staying near him may very well be putting you all, S especially, in serious danger. Run.

  61. Dear LW, I work in landscaping, which means I’ve actually used a machete for its intended purpose, which generally involves thick-growing greenery and not office furniture. And let me tell you, if my boss were ever to brandish one of the bladed tools or even the flat side a spade* at me or any of my coworkers while making some sort of Cloud Cuckooland visual metaphor involving the precariousness of the job market? I would a) run and b) never come back. I need the money, believe me, but I’ve already got yellow jackets and rose thorns and copperheads and all sorts of other workplace hazards to worry about. I don’t need to add human beings to the list.

    *I’ve been hit (not too hard) with the flat side of a spade by accident before. It’s kind of like having another person running full speed clunk heads with you. I’ve also dropped an open pair of parrot-bill loppers (not as sharp as a machete, but sharp enough) and cut right through the top of a good sturdy work shoe. These are tools, not desk toys, and therefore what he did was absolutely a threat, not a joke. Treat it accordingly, and please stay safe.

    1. Hi NAW, I too work in landscaping and my company’s policy is that anyone brandishing tools around as one would a weapon, even as a joke, would be dismissed instantly and would not get a reference. Your comment about these things not being toys is spot on.

      (Slight caveat to mention that I have pretended to be DEATH while holding a scythe – but I was just holding it while wearing a black horse blanket, not waving it around)

  62. I didn’t read the post headline so I was as unprepared as the LW when the boss pulled out the machete. HOLY HELL GET OUT OF THERE.

  63. Stunned, I’m a lawyer and I’m wondering if your state attorneys’ disciplinary authority doesn’t have some kind of complaint submission process that allows the complainant to remain anonymous. Or even if you can’t, isn’t the complaint process confidential in your state? In my state, it’s confidential and the complainant is given immunity from civil suits based on what they communicate to the disciplinary board or what they testify to in a hearing about the lawyer they’re complaining about.

    I 98732% recognize that immunity from suit is cold comfort when you are simply no longer hireable.

    If I were in your place I would call the state disciplinary authority for direction. I’d say something like, “I have a serious problem with my boss and I would like some help from you in how to address it, but I have to stay as anonymous as possible.” I think I really would urge you to contact the authority about what this guy did. Conduct like this is why lawyers can’t have good things and we do (I think) have a duty to the profession to rein it in when we can. Maybe don’t go so far as to file a complaint if it’s going to ruin your career, but I hope you would call and ask them what they think you can do.

  64. Taking a weapon to work = intent

    Not sure how else it could get there. Did he forget to take it out of his gym bag? Was he planning on pruning some trees at the office? Isn’t transporting items like this illegal?

    I think every employee there should GTFO. Every. Single. One. Mass murder is a thing and it’s not a huge leap from machete to gun. Even without a gun, you can do a lot of damage with a sharp blade (there was at least one publicised incident in China last year). Even if he doesn’t go all-out-rampage, who wants to witness the slaying of another person???

    Get. Out. Everybody.

    1. I agree. A machete isn’t something that just appears at an office. He had to have purposely brought it. Some stuff that can be used as a weapon could reasonably exist in an office (scissors, knife in the kitchen area/brought for a lunch, letter opener, etc-some legitimate office supplies are actually sharp), but a machete is not one of those things. There’s no reason why the machete should have just been hanging around the office-the boss had to have some intent to bring it, so the whole cutting into the desk incident isn’t something that “just happened”.

  65. The first thing I thought of when reading your letter, LW, was an assistant manager I used to work with (not for, I managed a different department but we were in close quarters) who had a lovely habit of stuff like throwing bus tubs full of hot pans and sharp knives at people who pissed him off when he was in the weeds. He was a hot head, unapologetically sexist, verbally and emotionally abusive, he created a toxic work environment in which female employees had a very high turnover rate, he was a raging, power tripping asshole, and most people were too scared of his abuse to confront him on his behavior, but he was not kill ’em all levels of dangerous.

    The second thing I thought of was the news story about a boy who stabbed a girl to death in a stairwell at her school after she turned the boy down when he asked her to prom. I thought of this because machete, and because inappropriate fixation on S.

    I don’t know which of these examples fits your boss better. I don’t know because nobody knows what trips the switch in someone’s decision making process where they go from entitled power tripping asshole bully to entitled homicidal asshole. I do believe that him shuffling his feet and hanging his head is an act meant to lull you into thinking the machete incident was a one-off. You know who does that? Abusers do that. If you think of this job as an abusive relationship, you are probably currently in the honeymoon period between his last blowup and his next one, where everything is fine and he is very sorry and you are totally right and he’ll never do that again, promise. Wait a bit and see if he starts turning to conversation toward S and her sex life again. When he does, you will know that another set of abusive dramatics is coming.

  66. OK, so I’m also going to argue that intent — which I think the LW is in a good place to judge, probably — DOES matter in this case.

    NOT because it makes any kind of ok/not okay difference – because once you have made the How Bad Was This Thermometer Go Boom There Are No More Subtle Gradations – but it is relevant to whether or not LW, Suzy, and possibly, though it is impossible to tell from the information available, the boss’s wife, about whom I find myself worrying, should make massive, life-changing decisions right now because their lives are at immediate risk.

    LW, we’re all taught, especially but not only women, to downplay and normalise and lots of commenters have said super smart things about that so I won’t go on about it, but I will say this: because of that, if you want to get at your own real gut reactions it is, sadly, probably easier to ask yourself if you feel like Suzy is safe with him than to ask yourself if you think YOU are.

    If Boss were working late and Suzy were working late, would a) you feel okay about leaving them alone together, or would you b) find some reason to stick around?

    If the answer is a) you have more time to plan a nice easy subtle escape than you do if the answer is b).

  67. A good friend who is a lawyer made the following observation:

    What is going to happen when this letter is forwarded to one of the legal gossip sites, like Rollonfriday.com or any US equivalent? (and it is “when” not “if” – lawyers adore a good “the senior partner at my place is completely unhinged” story, because it makes them feel that theirs is only mildly eccentric by contrast.) Even if LW has changed some key features not only will Machete Man recognise himself, probably about 50 other senior partners in the MidWest will conclude they’re Machete Man and act accordingly.

    (End of their comment, beginning of mine)

    So, in fact, LW may have already committed themselves to G-ing TFO.

    unrelated: for some reason I just wrote a comment in which I called S. “Suzy” several times. I have no idea why and apologise to S, LW, etc.

  68. Clearly for your boss rules about violence are for “other people”. How many other rules are for “other people”? Like financial rules, or other ethical and moral rules that apply especially to lawyers, but maybe not him because he doesn’t need to follow the rules! And we know he doesn’t feel the need to follow the rules because he brought a machete to work and threatened his staff with it.

    So your physical safety is at risk here but so is your moral safety, if you will, where you see and act with integrity. I don’t have any answer for your dilemma, but accepting your boss’s shuffling and wriggling is not a good answer for you. In what way has he accepted the reponsibility for his actions? Has he apologised to anyone, even in a lawerly “no responisbility” way? Can your actions be seen as colluding with his in any way? Has this or something like it happened before? His subsequent actions do not speak of remorse to me.

    And if you ask around the local legal scene discreetly you may get a lot of “Oh him! Yes, he is bad news.” And a retelling of mind boggling stories that you would not believe…..

    Spruce up that resume, I think you’ll need it, if not now then later.

  69. Stunned, I am afraid I don’t have any relevant advice to add, but I do have lots of sympathy and enough similar experiences to believe you 100%. My father was a lawyer, a somewhat theatrical one at that. When he died, lots of his theatrical lawyer buddies came circling down out of the sky like the vultures they were. One sexually harassed my sister at the wake, made a credible death threat against my family, hired someone to follow us, and phone-stalked us for weeks, and when we reported him to the State Bar?

    “Mr Scary Man is a distinguished member of this bar. We have read your complaints but we do not anticipate taking any action against Mr Scary Man at this time.”

    I really hope you get out, and soon.

  70. Sadly, my response was, “Is this not normal?” Because I’ve had similar things happen around me at a lot of jobs.

    If the LW can find a way to create a similar law firm, though, LW is set up to be the only non-crazy (or non-arrested, or non-disbarred) lawyer in that specialty locally. Might be worth striking out for.

  71. I totally agree with Alison/Ask a manager here, and think the boss is “just” a clueless jerk.

    .. and I fail to see how so many can think that LW should let him fuck up her work-life and adoption-plan by quitting.
    She needs a salary to live, and it’s not so easy to just move. To start looking for a new job makes sense,
    but to “run away” with no job-security, when she knows it’s damn hard to get a new one there?

    LW seems to be managing this okay now, by her latest description of what she has done:
    Addressed the boss, and has now the responsibility for staff-handling instead of him. She seems to be safe and handling
    things well, and the boss seems to be embarrassed and probably have understood that he acted like an idiot.

    Yeah, waving a machete was a totally dumb and unsafe thing to do, but still: I fail to see that LWs life was ever in danger here. Even S doesn’t run, and she’s the one the boss was mad at in the first place. (I’d search damn hard for a job if I was S tho. Both since the boss is acting unstable and creepy towards her, and because workplace-romances are horrible to handle.)

    Crazy episode, oh yes. i may be wrong, of course, but I think it just might be overreacting if LW was to basically give up her lifeplan for the next years while looking for a job because of this episode, when she seems to be feeling safe (enough?) to stay after addressing this with the boss..

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