Bad Boss – How can I deal with an insensitive boss?

Q. My boss’s aggressiveness and insensitivity result in many insults and hurt feelings. Please tell me what Jewish law says about the employee’s obligation to workers, so that I can publicize how improper his behavior is. PM

A. I’m sorry to hear about your nightmarish work environment. I hope the situation improves soon! But I’m not sure I would favor the strategy you mention.

The great Jerusalem Rabbi, Rav Arieh Levine, once presented a profound insight. The Torah has many laws that require the lender to be humane to the borrower: not to belittle the borrower if he is unable to pay, not to enter his premises to lien assets, and so on. At the same time, there are other laws that require the borrower to act responsibly towards the lender: for instance, he should use the money in a prudent way and pay on time.

If the lender is familiar with the laws of the lender, and the borrower knows the laws of the borrower, then all will be well. However, if the borrower is intimately familiar with all of the lender’s obligations as mentioned in the Torah, and the lender is versed in all of the borrower’s obligations, then their knowledge will lead to strife rather than harmony.

Likewise, the Torah gives laws to the employer and laws to the employee. It is best if each side concentrates on fulfilling its own obligations. (Of course the same applies to a husband and a wife.)

It is indeed true that employers are required to treat their employees in a respectful way. Listen to the Rambam’s description of how a master should treat his slave: “The pious and wise way is for a person to be merciful and righteous, and not make his yoke too heavy nor oppress him … And one shouldn’t act with shouting and anger, rather one should speak to him gently and listen to his complaints.” Certainly no less should be expected of an employer.

Employees also have their own obligations. The Rambam writes: “Just as the employer is warned not to steal nor delay the wages of the poor worker, so the poor worker is cautioned not to steal from the work time of the employer by idling a little here and a little there, and so passing the whole day in deceit. Rather, he is required to be strict with his time… Likewise, he is required to work with all his strength. As the righteous Yaakov said, “For with all my strength I served your father.”

This does not mean that you should abstain from bringing your boss’s attention to the damage his attitude causes. It is proper to inform him, and it is a fulfillment of the Torah commandment to give gentle reproof. However in my opinion you should focus on the personal aspect – your hurt feelings, the deterioration of morale, etc. When it comes to the legal aspect, it is best if the worker concentrates on learning and publicizing the obligations of the worker, not those of the employer.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES: A Tzaddik in Our Time by Simcha Raz, page 413; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Avadim 9:8 and Sechirut 13:7.