Getting into a fight with your boss

My employer and I got into an argument because he accused me and another employee of being nonproductive. At the end of the day, he called me into the office and asked me why do I follow behind people etc…. He was acting unlike himself. I said if you don’t like the way I work fire me he said OK your fired don’t return tomorrow. I said OK he then followed me calling me back into the office saying I’m a good employee, but he is going to be cracking down on everybody. I walked out he pushed me I screamed and cried. He said I pushed you out of love to make you better. He said I can keep my job or sue if I think I’ll get anything out of it.

I got this email and responded:

I don’t know what you want me to say. Both of you were being stupid. There’s nothing to sue for. If he really pushed you, you could file assault charges, but since no damages occurred, there’s no civil lawsuit.

The author responded:

I was being stupid for working my butt off for a company then being assaulted. Charges were found thanks for your advice you get pushed by a male employer and get called stupid. You’re hilarious. Thanks!!!!!

I replied:

Good for filing assault charges, but yes, you were being stupid. You don’t say, “If you don’t like the way I work fire me.” That’s a really dumb thing to say if you don’t want to be fired.

I absolutely believe in filing assault charges and I’m glad you did.
And the response:
Your evil for sure. Not sure why people seek your advice ….

Well, that requires a response and I thought I’d share here. I admit, my original answer was not warm and fuzzy and was not heavy on details. But, when you have a screaming argument with the boss where you dare him to fire you, and you get shoved, the relationship is finished. It’s not something that’s going to be easily fixed. I’m actually thrilled that the letter writer called the police about the pushing because physical violence doesn’t belong in the office (or anywhere). But, other than the assault charges, it doesn’t appear to me to be any employment related law problem. You said, “if you don’t like the way I work fire me” and the boss did.

I blame television. We see shows where there’s a rogue person (often a cop) who is always causing problems and the boss always gets angry, but in the end, this rogue employee captures the bad guy or lands the client or whatever and everybody is thrilled. It’s like the adult version of Curious George. (Oh, George! You’ve done this horrible thing, but you made little Sally smile! We love you George!) But, real life doesn’t work that way. Once threats are made, the relationship has been damaged, and most likely permanently.

Now, this boss is a world class jerk. Pushing someone to “make them better” is a horrible thing to do. You don’t accuse someone of poor performance in order to increase their performance, when they were doing great to begin with. People don’t respond well to this (see above). You reward and encourage your top performers. You don’t yell and scream.

If you’re in that situation, you need to remain calm and ask what it is that you need to improve on. If it’s the boss’s latest “trick” to push you, it will fall apart at that point. If you actually need to improve, listening will help you. Screaming back will not help you.

Now, some people will say that you should go to HR or to the Boss’s boss when something like this happens rather than call the police. From a business standpoint, that makes sense, because the business would love to protect its reputation. And no matter what type of business you do, having police cars show up to a reported assault is not good for business and might even get picked up by the local paper. So, the big boss and HR would love to deal with office violence internally. I, on the other hand, think that someone who assaults someone else doesn’t deserve any respect or deference to help the business. Call the police immediately.

That said, if it’s a mild shove (which I am guessing this was, since the letter writer didn’t describe anything horrible). it may not rise to the level of assault (remember, I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on the internet), and shouldn’t be brought to the attention of the police. I wasn’t there, so I can’t judge. The letter writer indicates that charges were filed, so it may have been a serious shove.
But, the big takeaway here? When your boss is being stupid, don’t be stupid back. It only  makes things worse. And that bit of advice is why people write me.

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28 thoughts on “Getting into a fight with your boss

  1. When someone seeks you for advice, even if they were in the wrong, it’s not right to write back to them calling them stupid. They are seeking your help and this is not helping, obviously. There is a better way to let the letter writer know that while their boss’s behavior was unacceptable, it is never advisable to reply with a threat. After all no one is invincible. And then of course, let them know what are the next sensible steps they can take in everyone’s better interest.

    1. Admittedly, I could have been nicer, but I always tell people when they are being stupid. Often, I’m the only person that will.

    2. Soft peddling advice rarely gets the advice heard. It’s better to just come right out and call a spade a spade, namely that her behavior was stupid and childish, regardless of what the boss did. Clearly the boss screwed up, but responding in kind rarely ever works out well for the employee being wronged.

      1. Agree. The nicest thing you can do is be honest. And yelling at the boss, saying anything that suggests you should be fired, etc are all really stupid.

      2. Soft-peddled advice often goes unheard, I agree. But telling someone they’re being stupid doesn’t tend to get you a lot of traction, either.

  2. This article hit so close to home with the “fire me” comment. I work with a women who is about 20 years older than me and has been with our organization for 10 years (I’m on my 3rd). Our HR department was recently reorg’d such that she is now in a role she is extremely under-qualified for, and I’ve been working closely with her to bring her up to speed, at the request of my boss. She has a reputation for childish outbursts and for drama, but as she typically does a good job, the boss that we now both report to has overlooked these things in the past. The woman takes offense to me “telling her how to do things” as I’m trying to train her on tasks I’ve been doing for 3+ years, and seems to have an issue with me in general. I responded to an email last week in a way she thought was unacceptable (not just playing sides, but it wasn’t, at all, as confirmed by my boss) and proceeded to forward the email to our boss saying that my response was “ludicrous”, she receives no support from our boss, and that she needed to leave the office because she was so upset. She ended the email with “I’m leaving, I don’t care, fire me”.

    I wish someone had responded to her in the way you did – direct, and calling it what it is. It’s unacceptable that this letter writer experienced violence in the workplace, but it is, for lack of a better word, stupid to say things like “fire me” – it’s childish, and unless you are ready to accept the consequence of actually being fired, you shouldn’t say it. This woman I work with has been babied for so long that she knows she can say things like that and get away with it – and this time, as always, she did.

    1. Danielle, it’s only going to escalate. Watch. Anytime this woman “needs a break” she’ll throw a tantrum and storm off. If she needs an excuse to throw a fit, you will be the one she conveniently tosses under her bus. Good luck, you need it.

    2. If I were her boss, I’d fire her. But, I’m not. Temper tantrums are never appropriate for the office, but they often work, as this woman knows.

      Annie is right–this will escalate. I’d have a heart to heart with the boss about this, because you will be blamed.

      1. You’re both 100% right – and this is not even close to the first time she’s done something like this. while I agree that she should have been fired (or at the very least recieved a written warning), it’s not my place to tell my boss to fire her. I’ve got my guard up – and I appreciate the wishes for luck – it’s unfortunate that one person can have such an impact on an otherwise ideal job situation. At least I have this site as a fabulous resource to use for advice on dealing with difficult people!

        1. It is unfortunate that one person can hold an entire department hostage to their temper tantrums!

  3. As with most things, I feel like we’re missing some information. Do I condone physical violence in the workplace? Absolutely not. Was it stupid to reply in the way the OP did? Absolutely. The response and the push seem to have some kind of emotional root. And I wonder if there is more to the story and to their relationship than we’re being told.
    Some thoughts, “He was acting unlike himself,” tells me that something had been said to him about the OP’s behavior. It could be that the boss’ boss had seen something or the boss had been complained to about the OP’s behavior. In any case, the OP should have taken than cue, listened to the boss, remained calm, and then walked out with the understanding that the OP would do better in the future. End of line.
    But I get the feeling that the OP and the boss had a different relationship and that possibly the OP was accustomed to getting his or her way. The response daring the boss to fire him or her doesn’t just come from nowhere. And while I would exercise care in calling this person out, I do wonder how much of the time OP has gotten his or her way and the boss backed down.
    The final sticking point is the shove/push. As I read the post, I kept thinking that it was metaphorical rather than physical but clearly it was physical. People at work do not generally touch each other (especially given our society’s propensity to sue) much less push or shove. Should the OP file assault charges? Yes. Should the OP reflect on the relationship between him or herself and the boss to prevent something similar from happening in the future? Yes. In 25 years of working, the only time I have heard of or witnessed a physical altercation was due to two people who had known each other more than just on a professional basis and something had soured.
    In any case, for future note: if a boss is acting in a manner unlike him or herself, something else is going on, take what he or she has to say with caution, then get back to work or leave the office until things can calm down. Ultimatums never work out for the best.

    1. Absolutely missing something. If the OP wants to throw some more info out there, I’ll be happy to comment on it.

      And good advice from you about proceeding cautiously if the boss isn’t acting normally.

  4. Childish behavior on both the letter writer’s part, and the boss’ part as well. This is one of the things I hate most about working—being called upon to babysit adults who should have learned better and more productive behaviors on the playground, and instead bring their immaturity to the office.
    I seriously doubt a police report was even filed. Most modern police departments don’t have the time to manage civil complaints where no one is injured.
    You called it like it is, EvilHRLady

  5. If that behavior is unlike his usual self, that would alarm me rather than anger me….he might need to see a doctor….

  6. “Your evil” sums it up. The OP shows a pattern. Even with you, she needs to push back and escalate things. If I wrote for advice and got your response, either I would think about it or I would drop you like a hot potato. She had to keep writing to prove she was right and get you to agree. Definitely someone who responds badly to any criticism. The boss should never have hit her but I bet he was waiting for an excuse to fire her.

  7. Hmmm,

    “I’m physically shoving you to make you a better person”.

    Wow, A bit of an ego here. I would have politely asked for an apology. Having not received one, I would have given warning of my intent…then I would follow through.

    Not sure where this boss thinks they can decide I’m not a good enough person…but it would seem they need a mental evaluation and possible treatment…definitely charges.


      1. I love love love how you and Alison Green always quote each other. Warms my heart with my two favorite, straightforward HR ladies reppin’ each other!

  8. I agree, childish behavior on both parts. But I would expect more from the boss, being in a supervisory position. He definitely needs some leadership training. As for the writer, telling your boss if he doesn’t like it, fire you……well then I guess he called your bluff. But at NO time ever should anyone be putting their hands on you.

    1. Absolutely! I think people should call the police when something like that happens instead of handling it internally. This is something I can fully support the OP in.

  9. I agree with Daniel. It seems that there is more to the ’employee-boss’ relationship. Either this is a senior employee who has had behaviour that the boss has become complacent to, or they have a personal relationship of sorts.

    In my experience, when a joe-schmo typical employee is approached by the boss about what he/she is doing wrong, the employee will a: do what the boss asks to keep the job (and maybe mutter under breathe or complain to others after the boss walks away), OR b: be insubordinate and argue back and risk the job.

    It sounds like the OP has more of a relationship with the boss and knows what ‘buttons to press’, hence the screaming match. And the boss willingly participated and went along with the escalation of it! Most bosses I know would haul the employee into the office at the beginning of the insubordination and offer up some discipline – talking to, warning, dismissal… Good luck to both of them – to the OP at finding a new job where she can learn how to behave in the workplace, and to the boss at learning how to be a manager.

  10. I got the sense that “charges were filed” meant that the OP filed a complaint with the police, not that the boss was actually charged with anything.

    I also wonder just how old the OP is, and if this is his first job.

  11. And here is perfect example why employees can’t be put in the position of managing an aggressive boss. If anyone ever physically laid a hand on me in the workplace I honestly don’t know what I would do. Speaking to HR could result in being put on a PIP plan, so as to avoid a lawsuit and defending myself against my manager could result in insubordination. Can anyone answer why all these strange things are happening? Is it the bad economy? Is it because incidents against an employee receive a yawn and eye roll unless it’s illegal (meaning everything else that is immoral and just plain weird is fair game)? Seriously this is just nuts. The only thing I got out of this story is that it’s apparently not that big of a deal to “gently” assault people now. I am really at a loss as to why companies are having so much trouble dealing with their workforces.

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