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Is it a threat when my boss tells me he would fire me if something he didn't like happened again?

Burbank, CA |

I'm 56 years old (female) and have held an executive position at my job for over 20 years - same position. Hard working - almost 24/7 now with new boss. I am late in sending out info to board members, boss calls me in, tells me how he values me but that he would fire people for such mistakes if they happened again. I am afraid to make a mistake; go to work with much stress, which has been there for a long time; my health is at risk, people are worried about me due to the hours I put in, and now this. My HR director did not believe it when they heard what boss told me. Even the boss's boss asked me if I'm okay because they feel I'm stressed, but my loyalty goes to the boss, so I don't want to say anything. I feel 'threatened'. I feel it's hostile? am I right? what do I do?

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Attorney answers 6


I am sorry to hear that your work situation is so stressful. A "hostile work environment" is unlawful only if it relates to a protected characteristic (e.g., race). For example, a black employee could be in a hostile work environment if he was the target of repeated racial epithets. A work environment that is very stressful because of a demanding and unreasonable boss is not a "hostile work environment" as that term is used legally. If your boss is consistently treating you worse that your male coworkers, or your younger coworkers, then you might have a discrimination claim. However, if your boss demanding and unreasonable with everyone, then his behavior would not be unlawful. I wish that I had better news for you. Good luck.

My answers to questions posted on AVVO are intended to provide general information only, and are not intended to be legal advice. Employment law issues typically require a careful case-by-case analysis. Consequently, if you feel that you need legal advice, I would encourage you to consult in person with an employment attorney in your area.


Yes, it is a threat. Is it unlawful? No. Your supervisor has every right to threaten your position if you are not performing up to his expectations, even if his expectations are unreasonable.


The facts that you have summarized here do not raise issues of unlawful employer conduct. If possible, it may be wise for you to explore opportunities within your company for transfer or reassignment.

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You describe a toxic -- but not unlawful -- work situation. I recommend you consult an attorney re:
1) Should you go on temporary disability for rest and personal counseling for stress, before your health takes a toll?
2) Are you truly and "executive" exempt from overtime, or have you been misclassified?

This answer is not a substitute for legal advice and it does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action that may affect your rights


You may have a workers' compensation claim. Work stress often causes physical and mental disabilities - and you may be entitled to benefits. Discuss your case with a workers' compensation attorney asap as stress cases are difficult to prove and there are steps that you can take to strengthen your case.


All of the prior answers are "spot on" and provide you solid input. My only take is to make sure you are being held to the same standard as everyone else. If you are inclined to say no, then ask yourself why is that so and what is the motivating reason for being treated differently. If it's just a personality clash, or your boss behaves the same way towards everyone, then there's no legal claim. But if your gender, age or some other protected category (disability, mental health, sexual orientation, race, national origin, etc.) are coming into play, then make a point of consulting with an employment attorney. Consider immediately consulting with a workmans' compensation attorney (this is in addition to consulting with an employment attorney). I'm sorry you are experiencing these conditions at work regardless of the legal merits.