What to Do About a Bully Boss and Their Sexual Harassment

Angry manager shouting at his coworkers during a meeting in the office.

When your boss is demanding, demeaning, and abusive, it can make every day a struggle. And when their comments and jokes turn to sex or gender, it can also be illegal. Find out what qualifies for federal and state protections and what you can do about a bully boss and their sexual harassment.

This blog post will look at a recent article about the psychology behind being a bully boss. It will examine when bullying can cross the line into sexual harassment and what you can do if your boss’s behavior makes your office a hostile work environment.

Psychologists Say Bully Bosses Don’t Improve Employee Productivity

Recent reports about Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s aggressive management strategies have reignited public awareness of so-called bully bosses. According to reports by former employees, Sen. Klobuchar was known for berating new employees, throwing objects toward aides, and ordering employees to do degrading tasks, including cleaning personal items. As a result, her Washington staff has one of the highest turnover rates of any congressional office.

Sen. Klobuchar is hardly the only bully boss to make public waves for their behavior. Bully bosses can be men or women, part of large corporations or small businesses. They can target men, women, or everyone under them without respect to gender. Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight made money off his reputation for harsh management through his book “The Power of Negative Thinking.” Head Chef Gordon Ramsay turned his fiery temper into a popular cooking competition television show, Hell’s Kitchen. The late co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was also known for his aggression in the office.

These kinds of bully bosses often claim that they act the way they do because it gets results, improving employee performance and productivity. However, a review of psychology research to date says these claims don’t hold up under scrutiny. Rebecca Greenbaum, a professor at Rutgers University’s school of management and labor relations, told the New York Times:

“We’d love to find out if there are good aspects of abusive leadership. There’s been a lot of research. We just can’t find any upside.”

She has found that short-term productivity may increase, but over time, employees exposed to this kind of abuse increase tardiness, sick days, and eventually leave altogether.

When Your Bully Boss Uses Sexual Harassment

Sometimes, when a manager is trying to assert control in the workplace, he or she may resort to gender stereotypes or sexual slurs to get the job done. This might include calling male employees “ladies” or worse. Sometimes, when an employee objects to a bully boss’s aggressive management style, the boss can respond by yelling for employees to “man up” or “grow some balls”. Sexual harassment by a bully boss could also include repeated sexual jokes, job assignments based on a person’s gender or the supervisor’s assumptions based on sexual stereotypes.

When a bully boss’s behavior takes on sexual overtones, it can sometimes cross the line into illegal gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Federal and New York state laws both protect employees from employment decisions based on their sex or gender. It also requires employers to step in and respond when sexual harassment is so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile work environment.

In those cases, employees can file administrative complaints with the New York Human Rights Commission or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as lawsuits in state or federal court. If an administrative law judge or court decision-maker finds that an employer was involved in gender discrimination or failed to take reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment, the employee can be entitled to:

  • Money damages for lost wages, medical expenses, and other costs connected to the bully boss’s behavior
  • Reinstatement to a lost position or equivalent job
  • Changes in company policy or procedures in responding to sexual harassment complaints
  • Disciplinary actions against the bully boss or those involved in the gender discrimination

Not every bully boss uses sexual harassment as part of their abusive behavior. But when they do, the employment attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, can help. Our experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment attorneys know how to fight back against a bully boss and an unresponsive employer to get change in the workplace. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our office in New York City, or over the phone.

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