Workplace Q & A: Part 3

Q: How does my bullying boss manage to turn his abusive personality on and off?

“My boss at work is a bully. He has poor management skills. He uses his superior position to intimidate his subordinates into doing what he wants. He sets unrealistic goals. He is hostile in his demeanor. Fortunately, I basically work on my own, so he doesn’t have many opportunities to push my hot buttons. Still, there’s one thing that puzzles me. He is a well-respected professional in his field. Others have told me how lucky I am to work for him. How can such a bully turn his abusive personality on and off like that?”

A: Easily.

It is not at all uncommon for someone to treat different people differently. Perhaps your boss is sure of himself when he is interacting with his peers in his area of specialization, but he is insecure when he is acting as a manager. He could derive great satisfaction from pushing around people who are less senior than he is, but be afraid of people in positions of power over him. There is an infinite variety of reasons why he could display this personality dynamic.

So long as he doesn’t bother you and you can get your work done, I would forget about it. Chalk it up to the mysteries of human personality.

 Q: Can my manager make me take on a double workload?

“My co-worker is going on maternity leave for four months. My manager told me today that I would be responsible for picking up her duties. Although our work is similar to mine and I could do her job, I don’t want to work up to 80 hours each week for four months. Can my manager make me do this?”

A: To a degree, yes.

It is common for employers to ask employees to cover for absent workers, but the request must be within reason. For example, requesting a few extra hours a week would be reasonable. Training a temporary replacement would be reasonable. Keeping track of projects that need to be done when your co-worker returns would be reasonable. However, telling an employee he needs to work 80 hours each week would not.

The problem is: What is your remedy? Unless the manager is singling you out because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability, it is hard to see on what basis you could complain. Bad management by itself is not illegal.

The best course of action is to come up with a more equitable, workable plan to cover your absent co-worker and see if you can get your manger to agree to it.


 Q: Can I be denied a job for using medical marijuana?

“I had cancer a couple of years ago and I still use medical marijuana to ease the residual pain and other side effects of my treatment. I was offered a job and I mentioned my use of medical marijuana to the recruiter. I live and work in a state where medical marijuana use is not illegal. The recruiter commented that I could still be denied the job if pre-employment drug testing detected marijuana. When I told the recruiter that I had a doctor’s prescription, she said it didn’t matter. Are the recruiter’s comments correct?”

 A: The short answer is yes.

Although medical use of marijuana is not illegal in some states, employers in those states can still refuse to hire an employee if drug testing detects marijuana. The prospective employer may still have concerns about the effect of marijuana on the employee’s ability to perform certain tasks. This problem could be resolved by federal legislation protecting employees who use marijuana for medical purposes.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.


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