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Should I Be Worried That My Boss Called Me an Asshole?

And other questions you didn’t want to ask your own HR department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I hate this time of year because all of my coworkers with kids steal everything in the supply closet for back-to-school needs. Since we’re always hearing about “tight budgets,” am I supposed to say something to stop it or just let it go?
By some counts, especially if you include “stolen time” through personal internet and cell phone activity at work, 95 percent of employees steal from their employers. The swiping of school supplies, however, is probably more noticeable because the supply room seems emptier over a shorter period of time, and more pencils, pens, notepads, staplers and scissors are gone. According to OfficeMax, those are the items that most often go missing, along with binder clips and printer ink. Employees justify these thefts by rationalizing “I often work at home,” “They’re not paying me enough” or “Nobody is going to miss such small items.” Workplace anti-theft policies provide rationale for disciplining employees, but usually aren’t deterrents since they’re mainly used as the heavy hammer for much larger crimes such as fraud.

While you can talk to your boss, HR or purchasing about this problem, you’re going to come across as Scrooge. Instead, try a creative approach that best fits your organization. For instance, announce that you’ve put a donation box in the supply room where contributions by employees who grab an extra pen or ream of paper will go to a local after-school or Boys & Girls Club. Or have the company be transparent about the cost of office supplies to see if peer pressure can reduce the costs. Either of these solutions better addresses the recurring issue of missing office supplies than confronting your colleague about their ethics as both employees and parents.

My boss and I got into an argument over some stupid shit. He ended up calling me “a fucking asshole,” and I told him to “fuck off.” The next day at work, everything was cool, like it never happened. Are we good?No, you’re not. Whatever event precipitated this exchange hasn’t been resolved because ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away. Did you violate policy? What’s your manager’s reputation — volatile, erratic, inexperienced or levelheaded? How about yours?

It was probably smart to walk away after the exchange, but you shouldn’t let this unfinished business linger. So here’s what to do next:

  • Ask him for 1:1 time to discuss the incident. Warning sign: If he’s reluctant or unwilling to meet, it probably means he knows he crossed the line and doesn’t want to revisit or be reminded of his behavior. Don’t accept this stall tactic as an answer and let him know that you’re setting up such a meeting to prevent a blowup from happening again.
  • When you do meet, get him to be specific and make sure you understand what triggered the argument. You need to figure out if it’s preventable in the future. If it is, agree on how — whether it’s training, improved communications or a policy review. If it’s not, figure out why. Is it your attitude, respect or commitment? Or is it his attitude, lack of leadership or blatant favoritism?
  • Be honest about how you contributed to the argument. Unless your boss was having a horrible day, you either did something super wrong or it was a culmination of numerous little problems you’ve been causing that made him explode. Take responsibility by acknowledging and promising to change your behaviors.
  • He’s in more trouble than you are, even in a workplace where trash-talking and swearing are part of the culture. He crossed the line from “cool shit-talking” to unprofessional. Managers are trained to know better so he has an incentive to resolve this.

That said, if your boss has a reputation as an abusive asshole, go straight to his boss or HR. They may have been waiting for a detailed complaint about his activities, and you now have the ammo they’ve been looking for.

I just spent four months in a “trial” for a possible promotion. I’ve been working my ass off to get this new job. My boss told me I would get the position’s commissions during the trial run. But they just hired someone else from the outside, and when I asked my boss if I was going to get the commissions I earned, he said I must have misunderstood and that I’m not owed anything. Help!
Please tell me you have an email or text from your boss. Otherwise, you’re relying on a verbal promise to pay, which is enforceable, but challenging to prove. So you’ll need to show corroborating evidence that you told your colleagues and friends about the deal at the time you took on the new role. You also can argue that your activities and performance results (i.e., you handled 800 calls a week or saw five clients a day) were driven by an assumption of the commission payout.

Having further discussions with your boss won’t be productive since he’s already lied to your face. You should check your employee handbook to see if interim, temporary or acting assignments are covered; they usually are given the frequency of these assignments in business today. Typically, the handbook will discuss base pay, bonus and performance reviews. If so, this should provide an opening dialogue with HR on your unpaid commissions. Perhaps you’re also entitled to other payments based on the length of your interim assignment. When you speak with HR, I would urge you to ask what else you should have done to be selected for the job. It’s not just the pay that you may be entitled to that’s in question; it’s also whether the company will be able to provide the opportunities you’re looking for.

If you still consider the issue unresolved after speaking with HR, there are alternative paths to resolution outside of your company — including small claims court or filing a claim for back pay under your local state wage and hour laws. It might make things ugly at work, but it might also be the only way to the money that’s rightfully yours.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.

Terry Petracca has been doing HR for more than 30 years, for numerous Fortune 500 companies and startups and on every continent but Antarctica.

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