Q: I work for a manager who yells and swears and is in trouble with human resources because of his language. My wife worked as a contractor...

Share story

Q: I work for a manager who yells and swears and is in trouble with human resources because of his language. My wife worked as a contractor for my boss, and a co-worker told me he used sexual obscenities to describe my wife. I can’t sleep. How do I bring this up without putting my job in jeopardy?

A: Verbal abuse in the workplace is a hotly debated topic. Most human-resource departments are trying to define what qualifies as “inappropriate” language.

The name your wife was called does not fall into a gray area. Your boss is operating as if he’s a verbal cowboy shooting it out in the Old West. People who still use this language believe it falls under freedom of speech and think everyone else is a wimp.

You have another issue in that your co-worker should not have repeated this insult. First, you don’t know what was really said. Second, people never repeat information like this without having an agenda.

Obviously, your co-worker would be glad if you volunteered to fight with the boss. Given that your boss is already fighting H.R., your talking to him directly is probably pointless.

Consider your priorities. Anything you do may put your job at risk. If you do nothing, you risk your peace of mind.

If you take action, approach the most trustworthy person in H.R., ask if what you say is confidential, and request counsel.

Let them know you’ve been told by another party that your wife was called this name. Make it clear that you weren’t there and mention that your co-worker may have misunderstood.

State neutrally and specifically the language you’ve heard your boss use. Then ask what H.R. would advise.

If it’s any consolation, folks such as your boss are dinosaurs, and organizations are slowly dealing with them because they don’t want unnecessary lawsuits. I know it’s tempting to confront your boss, but to protect your job and address the problem, let H.R. help your boss.

The last word(s)

Q: I’ve been taking career risks and feel overwhelmed by all the options I now see. Will I get used to this?

A: Yup. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The mind once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas never returns to its original size.”

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube