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?
- 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.