With unemployment decreasing and the challenges finding qualified candidates increasing, it’s sometimes amazing to me that employees have to deal with these manager situations. But they do.
I have a question and am hoping you can provide some advice. I overheard my supervisor speaking ill (very ill) of me and other team members. She also took complete credit of a situation that I handled with letting an employee, where I coached them on ways to improve their work.
This is the second time she’s spoken ill of me. The first time, she vented to our department director that I wasn’t doing a certain assignment. If she had come to me, she would have learned that I was completing my work, just not the way she does it. So, how should I handle this type of situation?
No one wants to find out that their boss is talking trash about them behind their back. I believe employees want to hear directly from their boss when they are not meeting expectations, even if the conversation is uncomfortable. Employees want the chance to fix the situation. Same is true for personality conflicts. If employees are in conflict, then managers should confront the situation and try to come to some resolution.
In this particular situation, we don’t know the specifics of what was said and how it was said. We don’t know the supervisor’s intent. We also don’t know the consequences of the supervisor’s actions. We’ve answered similar situations on HR Bartender before:
The other thing we don’t know about this situation is whether the reader discussed the matter with human resources. We’ve covered a couple of situations here on the blog where HR was brought into the situation, but it didn’t appear to help:
I did ask our friend Mark Neuberger, an employment attorney with the firm of Foley & Lardner, if employees have legal recourse when a manager is trash talking about them. Here’s what he said:
“There is no law that says you have to be nice to employees, at least not yet. However, if the employee were the member of a legally protected group (race/sex/age/etc.) it would be easy for them to make a prima facie claim of discrimination. This would be especially true if they were the only victim of Mr. or Ms. Potty Mouth’s trash talk. Here is the problem – the employer could theoretically defend such a claim by proving the trash talk wasn’t because the employee was a protected group member but rather, for some other reason. But how will they do that? By proving the supervisor talk trash about other employees who are not in a protected category? That there was a business justification for talking about them like that? Those are horrible excuses and as someone who only defends employers in employment litigation, is not something that I would want argue as a defense to a jury.
Also, the victim could file a defamation law suit against Potty Mouth. To succeed in a defamation suit, the employee would have to prove 1) Potty Mouth made a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff, 2) Plaintiff must prove that Potty Mouth communicated the false statement to others, and 3) The employee has been financially damaged.
A separate defamation lawsuit is not really advisable for a lot of reasons not the least of which it would be very hard to prove actual financial damages short of the victim losing their job. However, this would be the type of claim a good plaintiff’s side attorney would strap on to a lawsuit raising the type of discrimination claim discussed above. Plus, in a defamation suit they could sue Potty Mouth individually, which would really get their attention.
The bottom line is a manager shouldn’t be verbally abusive to employees even if it’s behind their back, and companies shouldn’t tolerate trash talking supervisors.” My thanks to Mark for sharing his experience. And, hopefully, we can all agree that his last sentence about “a manager shouldn’t be doing this and companies shouldn’t tolerate it” is the real takeaway.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the Flora Icelandic HR Management Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland