Each week, Inc. staff writer Nadine Heintz will help you tackle office etiquette problems both big and small.
I used to work for a manager as an architect in a design firm. When the manager perceived that I (or any other female in the office) had done something he viewed was wrong, he would immediately turn red-faced and start screaming. He also called female employees into a conference to discuss our work and usually berated us for our incompetence. Despite our complaints to the owner, nothing was done to stop the manager's abuse. I was too insecure to threaten a law suit. What do you think I should have done to get the manager to stop abusing the women, besides quit? (Eventually most of the women did quit.)
Unfortunately, being a jerk isn't against the law. (If it was, half the country would be in jail.) Yelling only becomes illegal when it involves slurs against gender, race, relgion, and the like. In other words, you may not have had grounds for a lawsuit even if you had worked up the gumption to threaten one. That said, abusive managers spell trouble for business: yelling often leads to increased turnover and a higher incidence of stress-related illnesses among employees.
Luckily, there are a few things beaten-down staffers can do. The first step would be to confront the boss directly. Don't stoop to his level and get overly emotional. When he yells at you, calmly ask him to stop and speak to you in a more respectable tone. In your case, you were probably too intimidated to approach the bully. I don't blame you, given his short fuse. Going over his head to the company owner was the next logical step. It's a pity he didn't take your complaints to heart. (My guess is that bully boss is a real workhorse, so the owner's willing to overlook his tyrannical management style as long as sales are solid.) Next time, try submitting written complaints to human resources, and encourage other berated co-workers to do the same. After all, a mounting pile of angry letters is harder to ignore than verbal complaints. The higher-ups might eventually get the hint and fire the jerk, or, at least, give him a good talking to.
In the end, you made a good choice. Sometimes quitting is the only way to free yourself from a bad relationship with your boss. Look at it as a learning experience, and take some prophylactic measures to make sure you don't get involved in another abusive situation. The next time you're job hunting, request to have an interview with the manager who you'll be reporting to. That's the upside to having survived one bully boss: now you know to look for.
Have a dilemma for Nadine? Send her an e-mail and check back here Tuesdays for the answer.