Working Wounded Blog: Bad Boss? Sue 'Em

Question: How many states are currently considering bills to allow you to sue your boss?

Answer: Four -- New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington.

It's early, but Healthy Workplace Acts are gaining momentum across the United States. These bills talk about the need to put an end to unhealthy workplaces and often contain a clause that allows a $25,000 lawsuit if the boss is a jerk to you or your co-workers.

It should be a surprise to no one that these bills are gaining momentum. CEO perp walks, ballooning executive salaries and increasing feelings that business leaders are beyond reproach have reached an epidemic stage, if my mail is any barometer of public opinion.

But don't take my word for it. Think about the last movie you've seen. Remember the days when Russians or organized crime were the bad guys? Those days are gone. Today, when Hollywood needs a nemesis, they usually put him in a suit and a corner office.

As much as the sorry state of bossing in the U.S. today concerns me, I'm not sure more lawsuits will suddenly bring sweetness and light into the workplace. But to quote a former president, I certainly feel the pain of anyone suffering under a bad boss.

For years I ran a worst boss contest at my presentations. One of the scariest responses was the boss who was so telephone phobic that he had a phone installed in the women's rest room, so his assistant could answer the phone even when nature called.

But the wildest story came from a guy who said that his worst boss actually asked his assistant to type her own termination letter.

Disclaimer: This is not to say that all bosses are bad. In fact, many studies show that increasing numbers of people think their bosses are doing a good job. And I think it's much tougher to be a boss today than at any time in the past. The workplace is more turbulent, the work force more diverse and challenging, and bosses have more on their plates than ever before.

Before I offer a solution, let me share a quick story to illustrate how far the reputation of bosses has sunk. My most successful book is entitled, "The Boss's Survival Guide." It was a two-time Wall Street Journal best seller and hit No. 4 in total sales at Amazon when it was released. However, I had to fight with my publisher to just use "boss" in the title. They said that it was unduly negative and that no one would relate to being a boss.

"Boss" has truly become a four letter word in today's workplace. Think I'm overstating my case? Then think of what comes to mind when I say boss. Mr. Burns from the Simpsons? Darth Vader?

I do believe that we can create better workplaces, better bosses and better employees. But I think the secret lies in something that lawsuits seldom do a good job of increasing: communication.

Quote of the Week

"It is a luxury to be understood." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Book Excerpt of the Week

From "Set Up To Fail Syndrome" by Mazoni and Barsoux (Harvard, 2007)

"Bosses -- albeit accidentally and with the best intentions -- are often complicit in an employee's lack of success. How? By creating and reinforcing a dynamic that essentially sets up perceived weaker performers to fail. We call this the Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome. It describes a dynamic in which capable employees who are mistaken for mediocre or weak performers live down to low expectations, and often end up out of the organization -- of their own volition or not."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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