my boss is making threats about the Mafia to me

A reader writes:

I have an unusual situation with my manager. My manager has on several occasions issued indirect threats, for lack of better wording. There have been several times over the last two years, but this past year has been awful and to the point that I’m having difficulty trying to do my work.

In January I did mess up badly and tried to fix it. I should have brought it up but didn’t feel comfortable because of the “shoot the messenger” culture here, unless you are a select few who can get away with anything. My manager told me a story about a former business partner who sued for monetary compensation and later approached the manager and his spouse while they were out shopping and confronted them about the lawsuit and there were accusations of lying. After telling me this story, his next words were, “I told him to never approach us again. You don’t mess with the mob.”

The most recent event was after we disagreed on something that would have resulted in heavy fines for the business if discovered. We were at a stalemate, so I asked another manager for an opinion. My supervisor was livid and told me to never go to another manager again over our issues. A few weeks later, we were headed to a conference, alone in the same vehicle, and this time I was told, “You shouldn’t piss off people with connections.” It was the manner of speech, body language, and the tone with which the words were spoken that sent chills through me. This individual isn’t known for being highly ethical, but I never thought staff would have intimidating comments directed at them.

I’m job searching and am fairly certain my manager is going to push to have me let go. We don’t have an HR department and I don’t think going to another manager will help. Our company is less than 30 people with three owners. Any advice until I find another job/they fire me?

Your boss is an incredible ass. But unless you have real reason to fear that he’d sic the mob on you — which seems fairly unlikely, unless you’ve seen evidence to the contrary — I’d internally roll your eyes and ignore them. The type of person who makes this type of remark is usually someone who wants to appear more intimidating than they actually are. And dropping comments like “you shouldn’t piss off people with connections” into work-related conversations is so far beyond the line of reasonable behavior that I’d just write this guy off as a complete buffoon. (I’d also be tempted to respond to any future threats by playing dumb and asking, “What do you mean?” and seeing how far he’s willing to go with this discussion.)

Alternately, you could just say directly, “Bob, it’s hard to have a work conversation with you when you threaten me with mob connections. Do you really mean that you’d like to have someone break my kneecaps over a work issue?” I tend to think that directly calling out ridiculousness will often put an end to it.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    Oh, wow, OP, this is incredible. Please do keep yourself safe. I hate to sound alarmist, but if you are truly concerned about this, then I would look at leaving asap if you possibly can and if he says anything else which makes you feel intimidated then consider contacting the police. Your safety is the most important thing here, so please make sure that you are ok.

    (The 99% likelihood is that Alison is correct and this is nothing – but still, please be safe.)

      1. WorkingMom*

        Exactly. If this guy were truly “connected” he wouldn’t take about it. What’s the first rule of Fight Club? ;)

        I agree with AAM that he probably has a distant cousin with a friend, who knows a guy who is rumored to be involved, or something like that.

            1. Koko*

              A vegan, an atheist, and a Crossfit member walked into the bar I was at last night…I know because they told everyone within 2 minutes.

              1. DCalc*

                That’s friggin’ HILARIOUS! You may also want to add someone who participates in an Ironman. :D

            2. Newbie*

              OMG – now I almost spit out my coffee…what IS it with these Cross Fit folks – they are CRAZY!! I don’t mean to offend anyone in here that may be into that sort of torture, but my kiddo’s soccer coach – also a police officer in our city – is into it, and he is trying to pull everyone around him into the program. I have actuallly watched them with a little competion they set up at a local city fun run we were in and just happened to run into him and his posse there. It is completely lost on me. Sorry for the very off subject comment – but wowwy o-wow!!!

      2. A Cita*

        I’m not sure that’s 100% true. I have lived in a heavily mafia run area and individuals’ connections were an open secret, I guess you could say. For example, many landlords were clearly mafia in the area because everything that might be handled by the city, would be handled by their “guy” (think garbage removal), lots of illegal units not to code but threats made to tenants if they attempted to make formal complaints, mafia run businesses in the neighborhood, etc. I think if you’re in a mafia heavy area (and remember, it’s not just Italian mafias–there are also Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc), people talk about connections pretty openly. However, don’t know that they would make weird threats in a work place like this, especially if the company isn’t owned by mafia members. Guy probably is connected, but I doubt at the level where he’d have the leverage to get someone hurt (even if he paid for it).

        1. fposte*

          Similar in old-school Chicago, but there you didn’t have “connections,” you had clout. Or a guy clouting for you. Or a clout in the relevant city office.

          1. A Cita*

            Funnily enough, I’m sitting in a coffee shop and the dude next to me is talking about his time with the Yakuza (spelling?) when we was younger in Japan. !!

  2. SerfinUSA*

    Just turn to him with your steeliest game face and say “You took the words right out of my mouth”.

    1. Malissa*

      I had a neighbor (retired Sheriff) show up on my porch once basically accusing my husband of casing his property. He actually said, “I’ve got connections in the Sheriff’s Office.”
      Which was met with me saying, “Is it Frank or John?” Two of the highest ranking officials in the office. Dude had no idea I worked with the Sheriff’s Office on a daily basis.

    2. Cruciatus*

      I feel I would say something like, “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” This person is utterly ridiculous. Call them out on the behavior and see if they’re still Mr. Big Stuff (but yes, please do be safe).

      1. Kristen*

        Yessss!! All the points. Just shriek at the boss, “HA you fell victim to one of the classic blunders!”

        1. Cruciatus*

          Or perhaps, “Connections? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Really, that movie is very helpful for retorts.

  3. Ann*

    I could definitely be wrong, but I was under the impression that people with actual organized-crime connections don’t go around and publically threaten people with them, willy-nilly. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of having a scary, shadowy organization at your back?

    1. Val*

      Well it’s not really threats willy-nilly — it’s very specifically at a former business partner at at the OP. And the way the business is set up — it’s a small operation (notably also without any sort of HR department). The manager is privately pushing for the business to run in ways that would result in heavy business fines were the behavior discovered. I’m not exactly sure why so many people are immediately assuming there’s no connection to organized crime, but in any case, the threats alone on their face are disturbing.

      1. fposte*

        Sure, but his dread mob revenge against the partner who was suing him was to tell the guy not to talk to him any more. (Which was actually a reasonable request, absent the threat part.) And that’s in the guy’s own story about it, so the menacing aspect was likely amped up as far as he could take it, but he still couldn’t even intimidate the guy out of suing. His connections care about random conversations but not about lawsuits? This must be the mob-lite.

        If you don’t find it abhorrent, I might take Alison’s “play dumb and ask him” advice and go even farther; encourage him to regale you with tales while you listen wide-eyed. “Wow, so how does that even happen? Is it like in the movies?” There’s a reasonable chance he’ll like that immensely, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re stuck with him for a while.

        1. Val*

          Whatever. Weirdly enough, I worked for a while in a small family-owned business that did wind up with organized crime connections (with one owner winding up dead when he and another wound up in federal court). And there wasn’t much subtly about it — rings on every finger, slicked back hair, snakeskin boots, nicknames not unlike what Quentin Tarantino gave the crowd in Reservoir Dogs. I really don’t know what people expect or think sometimes.

          1. JB*

            “Whatever.” ?? I’m not sure if you were intending to be dismissive or rude about fposte’s comments? I’m sure it’s just how it seems thanks to the inability to show tone in blog comments. But on the small chance that you meant it in the dismissive way, I’m not sure where that’s coming from, but I don’t see how it was called for.

            1. Adonday Veeah*

              I hate to say it, but I had the same reaction to the “Whatever.” comment. I’m hoping it wasn’t meant the way it landed with me.

            2. Whippers*

              Ok, I’m sorry but I think you’re trying to dictate the tone of comments a little too much here. I don’t think there’s much point on picking up a very trivial thing like that on an internet forum.

            1. Val*

              As far as I could tell, they did everything possible to keep everything about the business itself above board and in compliance. There were things they were doing outside of the business that attracted the feds and that just didn’t seem possible (we’re talking white collar high finance crimes) until I read about it in the papers.

              1. Creag an Tuire*

                Doesn’t that just underline the point everyone else is making, though? -Actual- Mafia Goons tend not to advertize the fact.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  And there wasn’t much subtly about it — rings on every finger, slicked back hair, snakeskin boots, nicknames not unlike what Quentin Tarantino gave the crowd in Reservoir Dogs.

                  Isn’t looking and acting like a stereotype a type of advertising?

                2. Valar M.*

                  Maybe. To be fair though, I’ve seen people dressed like that, that aren’t moving anything but cheetos and mountain dew to their midsection.

        2. Creag an Tuire*

          “His connections care about random conversations but not about lawsuits? This must be the mob-lite.”

          I think we have, at long last, found evidence of the Canadian Mafia.

          “Now go away before my associates have to ask you politely a second time, eh!”

        3. Lils*

          I love the this technique. It works so well. I can’t even tell you how many family dinners I’ve saved by playing the gullible niece instead of arguing. Applying reason assumes that your conversation partner is a reasonable adult. Play dumb while you’re stuck with a braggart, then (obviously) run for the hills as soon as possible.

            1. Lils*

              If you get really good at it, you can get the person to embellish more and more till they’re edging into science-fiction territory. It’s fun to watch them sweat when they realize they’re claiming magical powers or something.

        4. A Cita*

          It’s really not that uncommon to be connected and to talk about it as use it as a threat. You have to understand, for many in these organizations, it’s pretty in the open if you work or live in mafia controlled areas. I’m not going to say much more on this, but just that I would not recommend being flip and joking back and just work on getting out of there. Probably nothing would come out of it, because it’s not a simple thing to get someone to hurt a random unconnected person for petty revenge, but I think a lot of comments here are based on zero real world knowledge on the topic.

          1. fposte*

            I think that’s fair to say about the real-world knowledge–and people have raised a question about the relevance to the company’s questionable procedures. And I would say in general it’s not a wise plan to taunt somebody who’s trying to make himself look important through intimations of threat; I agree with those downthread who note that this is troubling behavior on his part, period.

            But I’m still thinking that whether he’s connected or not there’s not much indication of substance behind his words. So I wouldn’t poke at him, but I wouldn’t shiver in my bed about this, either.

            1. SerfinUSA*

              There used to be a lot more Italian-style business doings back in the day. Seattle had a lot of 1st gen immigrants, one of whom was a relative of my ex, involved in protection rackets. The relative owned a grocery store and was taken out due to some ‘disagreement’ about payments.
              My old ‘hood (South Park) also had a lot of multi-generation Italian families, some of which had the occasional ‘shady’ member.

              1. HR New Year*

                I live in White Center and cross South Park, (and regularly visit Loretta’s for reasonably priced drinks and bar food) to my office in Georgetown. Seattle has its history, but it’s simply just that. Sure we have organized crime but it’s more insurance fraud and strip club owners bribing city council for more parking space.

            2. No user name for this post*

              Around my area there was once a heavy Mafia presence that ran mostly illegal gambling operations. One of the most well-known was known to have a state cop go along on “collections”. It’s not just in the movies where there were cops receiving funds to assist in illegal dealings. There were very underpaid city police officers who were paid to look the other way when complaints rolled in about illegal gambling, etc.

              This was before I was born but they still live in the area but are in their 60s and 70s now. They have grown kids with kids of their own but you don’t hear much about them anymore.

    2. HR Manager*

      I can’t say for sure, since I don’t know any one who does this (or is stupid enough to make these threats), but it certainly makes sense that if you really do have connections, you don’t go blabbing this around.

      Maybe he’s not connected to the mafia, so much as he happens to know a bunch of really stupid, hooligan friends who don’t shy away from breaking a law or two. Not trying to the OP; but the mafia references are downright weird.

      I’d challenge him – “when you say ‘connections’ what exactly do you mean by that?” Or “are you actually threatening me with physical violence?” I’d raise this to the owners right away; if they don’t respond to a manager threatening an employee than you at least know to get the heck out of that company as soon as possible.

      1. SerfinUSA*

        Now I have the eyeworm stuck in my head of Cornholio asking the White House portrait of Nixon “are you threatening me?”
        I will have to exorcise it by tracking down the appropriate Beavis & Butthead episode forthwith.

        1. Hlyssande*

          I’m pretty sure that was in the movie, wasn’t it? I remember them in the White House in the movie.

        2. Kat*

          I think the OP should mimic Cornholio, complete with shirt on head, and say “Are you threatening me?!” The next time the manager does it.
          Please record it on video lol.

            1. Heather*

              Yes, and “I need teepee for my bunghole!” could be put to use in some of the bathroom situations…

    1. LizNYC*

      I was just thinking the same thing! WTF Wednesday indeed.

      OP, be safe. I live in an area where a convicted person with connections also lives, so it’s not just in the movies. That said, I can’t imagine this actually happening over a minor work matter.

  4. AMG*

    Oh good grief. We need an update. Please tell the owners about him on your way out of this goat rodeo.

    1. OP*

      He is one of 3 owners/partners. I’m sorry for omitting this from my original letter. I’m not certain if all the partners have equal ownership percentages but he definitely isn’t the majority owner of the company. When I was writing my original letter I was upset after we had another heated discussion over something and when editing my rambling before sending to AAM I hadn’t made that clear.

  5. blu*

    Agreed that the manager is a buffoon, but it sounds like OP is also not handling things well either. “Shoot the messenger” usually implies that you’re conveying bad news about something that is not your fault/not under your control. Fessing up to a mistake you made can (possibly should) result in in consequences or correction for you. Hiding the issue because you’re afraid of the consequences will usually only make the situation worse and frustrate your manager. Additionally, I’m not sure what the issue was that you two were disagreeing over, but I could see myself being very displeased if I told you to drop something and then you decided to consult another manager. Especially sense it sounds like you already have a strained relationship with your manager.

    Again, your manager sounds like he sucks, but it sounds like there are way you can mitigate some of the issue. Your tone came across to me as though you feel like you have no control over the situation and are at his mercy, which could be true to a point, but there are things here that you could try at least influencing.

    1. JB*

      This is good advice. All of my sympathies are with the OP, the manager is terrible, and I think the OP needs to get out as soon as possible. And I’ve worked in places that make you afraid to admit to even small, fixable mistakes. But the situations described could have been handled differently.

      1. so and so*

        I agree that it’s bad practice and absolutely not the way to handle mistakes but there are workplaces that are distressing enough to instill poor survival habits in workers. I have always been the type to immediately own a mistake except for one job where, between the insane workload, backstabbing coworkers, abusive manager, and my total lack of reliable training or even SOP to refer to, I fell into the habit of making stupid mistakes and covering them up. It took a long time to come back from that mind set.

        When you are frightened enough of your unstable manager you don’t always make the best decisions.

      1. illini02*

        I still disagree. I think its ok to go to the manager’s boss, but not to essentially go to their peer

        1. blu*

          +1 I think maybe that was my issue. OP didn’t go up the chain or to the ethics hotline etc, OP went to a peer to get a second opinion. I could see how that would aggravate an already crappy situation.

      2. Anna*

        Exactly. According to the OP it would have led to fines for the company. I know I would have a hard time just letting it go if that were the case. Especially if I could be implicated if and when it came to light.

      3. blu*

        Maybe, maybe not. I think if it was a straight up this breaks the law thing, then you certainly need to report it through the appropriate channels. In other cases it depends. For example, I’ve seen a situation where we became aware the particular documentation we missing that could result in fines. Once my manager knows, it’s really not my place to continue going to other managers about the issue. The wording in the letter makes me suspect that may be more to do with a personality conflict combined with a bad manager as opposed to an out and out rule breaking situation.

        The OP said “The most recent event was after we disagreed on something that would have resulted in heavy fines for the business if discovered.” I don’t know if that means they disagreed on the how to address it or if they disagreed on the consequences of whatever the issue is. It’s also not a given that just because the OP disagrees that the manager is automatically wrong. Again sounds like the manager sucks, but it also sounds like OP really dislikes this person (with good reason) and that is somewhat clouding their judgement.

  6. Ann without an e*

    My friends brother in law, from Colombia, used to go around threatening everyone he crossed paths with that way. Until one day he was in Georgia……not sure what brought him to Georgia. While at some fancy place in Atlanta he decided he wanted to eat at some random table. To get that table he threatened the people sitting there with his “Colombian political connections” and the people at the table pulled actual loaded guns on him. HE ended up getting arrested for making threats….and he also quit saying stupid things.

    You could always try to trick him into going to Georgia…. ;)

    1. Anna*

      This reminds me of the Modern Family episode where Sofia Vegara’s character told her son’s principal about the Colombian necktie and the principal freaked out.

  7. MousyNon*

    “Speaking of which, I’ve been wondering, are vague-threats-about-the-mob a part of our standard benefits package, or is it a perk solely reserved for managerial staff?”

  8. HR Princess*

    Maybe I don’t know the whole story here, but if you are uncovering wrongdoing on the company’s part (re: the part about fines levied against the company), and your manager is intimidating you, that violates the whistleblower statutes and federal law. If I am at all on the mark, and your company falls under the statutes governed by the EEOC, etc (assuming you are in the US) I would at least consult someone at the EEOC. This behavior is NOT okay. I don’t mean to be alarmist either, but its just my HR instincts at play. I also agree with Allison – your boss is an ass – although I doubt I would have put it as kindly.

    1. JB*

      Agreed, but the OP should do some research about who they need to report the violations to in order to be covered by the applicable whistleblower laws.

    2. HR New Year*

      OP needs to “whistleblow”to the relevant outside agency in order for employment protection.

  9. Ann Furthermore*

    I agree with Alison here, and I would be tempted, next time he says, “You shouldn’t piss off people with connections,” to reply with, “You mean like an internet connection?”

    People who actually DO have connections like the ones this idiot is implying aren’t foolish enough to go around telling everyone about them.

    1. WorkingMom*

      I love the internet connection comment. Priceless!

      Also yes, I believe one of the cardinal rules of being in the mafia, is the denial that it exists. (I get all my knowledge from sopranos and godfathers series.) Anyway, I swear there was an episode where Tony makes a friend without connections. And they are good friends until one day something happens, and the new friend says to Tony during an argument of some kind, “Come on Tony, you’re IN THE MOB!” and that’s the end of his friendship. Because you do not ever say it, it doesn’t exist.

      Anyone else remember that episode? (I may have some details wrong!)

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Actually, I’ve blocked out almost everything relating to the Sopranos from my memory, because I was so pissed off about how it ended. I still have to change the radio station when that Journey song Don’t Stop Believin’ starts playing.

        Not that I’m bitter or anything…

        1. LawBee*

          I didn’t watch the show after the first season, and I was still pissed about the ending.

          I think that ending and the ending to How I Met Your Mother (which I also didn’t watch) tie for the Pissing Off Your Viewers award

          1. catsAreCool*

            I didn’t like the ending to How I Met Your Mother either. All this time waiting to meet the mother, and then they kill her off!

  10. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

    Coming from New Jersey, I feel this is a weird cultural thing “threaten with the mob” thing common around middle schoolers. And real mafioso do not care about your petty nonsense. Sheesh.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I grew up in Philly in a South Philly type of area and live in Jersey. I can’t say I hang out in those circles, but….I’ve never known anybody who says they are connected. Somebody else tells you the person is connected. The person doesn’t say he’s connected.

      1. Nerd Girl*

        Exactly! My husband has relatives that I’m pretty sure are connected. Stuff always “falls off trucks” and everything you want/need to happen is always handled by the same relatives but nobody ever talks about it. Ever. You got a problem? You talk to Uncle Knuckles but you never discuss why you talk to him. LOL

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, as a going-away gift when my family moved from the Philly area to Texas, our neighbors gave us an oak foot locker. Some nephew of hers said it fell off a truck.

      2. the gold digger*

        My husband’s brother’s ex-wife (the only relative on his side whom I like) is Italian from South Philly. My husband’s parents, who are of some generic ethnicity, have whispered darkly that they think Stephanie is connected and they trash-talked her Italian wedding because there were, you know, decorations and because they did the dollar dance.

  11. LV*

    How can you keep a straight face in this situation? Knowing me I would have burst out laughing at him and got myself fired or literally fired at!

  12. Laurel Gray*

    The last paragraph is actually a great approach.

    OP, by any chance does this business involve the re-selling of cartons of cigarettes that “fell off a truck”??

    1. puddin*

      Meet crazy with crazy, I always say.

      Angrily take off one shoe, hand to him and say, “Fine then, you have it!”

  13. Apollo Warbucks*

    I’m sure that the guy is full of shit, there is no way this guy is “mobbed up” and using those connections to sort out minor work place disagreements.

    I know t feels scary but you’re not in any danger, high tail it out of there and don’t look back, you don’t need this level of crazy or disfunction in your life.

  14. illini02*

    I mean, this is almost comical. I suppose it could be that this guy is for real, but there is 99% chance that he is full of crap. However, it does sound like the OP isn’t exactly a model employee. When I was a manager, I would have been livid if me and my subordinate were having an issue and they went to another manager.

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in his “threats” but it sounds like you are unhappy, so I’d say get out of there.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      It depends on the situation, I used to work for a heavily regulated firm and there was a clear method set out for whistle blowing. Company policy and several laws meant that employees were obligated to speak to other managers to raise concerns or face prison time and massive fines.

    2. Beezus*

      I agree on taking a general issue to another manager, but the OP did mention that it was a legal risk issue for the company. If my boss knowingly told me to do something that involved significant legal risk to the company, I’d probably take that a step up the chain of command, or to our legal department, or to the audit team. In a company as small as the OP’s, taking it to a laterally aligned manager might make sense, especially if the risk was related to that manager’s role – if the OP was told to fire pregnant women reporting to him, just for being pregnant, taking that up with the HR manager might be a good next step.

  15. rPM*

    Sure, the likelihood of this manager having a real mob connection is slim unless OP has other evidence to the contrary, but I don’t agree that this behavior is laughable. The OP said the tone and body language during that conversation alone in the car was chilling and it’s been a recurring pattern of behavior. Whether mob-based or not, the OP seems to be perceiving a potentially real threat of violence and should take it seriously. I hope you’re documenting every conversation like this in a non-work journal or computer and avoiding being alone with this person in situations that make you uncomfortable.

    1. Kathy-office*

      Exactly, these are still threats and should be taken seriously. Just because the person is basically saying “I’ll have the mob commit a violent act against you” rather than “I myself will commit a violent act against you” don’t make it less of a threat or less frightening.

      I get the overall reactions here saying that the dude is 99% likely lying, but I’m surprised to not see more concerned ones. I’d hardly say this guy is harmless, even if he’s lying. At least from what I know, the people that brag about “knowing people” and threaten others are still people that are not safe to be around, even if they’re lying.

    2. Anna*

      Yeah, I was a little surprised that Alison seemed unconcerned that the OP is being threatened and is uncomfortable. Implying that you’ll do violence is still a threat.

    3. Cristina in England*

      Yes, this! I was really surprised by Alison’s take on it, I completely disagree. The OP feels genuinely threatened. I was expecting Alison and all of the commenters to be taking it more seriously. I mean, this is the site where I learned about the Gift of Fear, etc.

      1. fposte*

        We could probably talk more about this, true. I don’t believe that somebody is threatened just because they feel threatened, but I would certainly be careful around somebody who clearly wanted me to feel threatened, and that’s this guy.

        But she’s got no in-office options on this, really. She’s in a small company, the other managers don’t care, and she’s already trying to get out. And a single unwitnessed threat to her (there’s only the one mentioned that’s actually to her) isn’t likely to be police territory, especially if she’s intent on staying until she has better options or gets fired. I don’t think the threat’s a serious one, but I’m not there; if she, being there, genuinely thinks that he’s planning to harm her, then she might want to consider leaving the position sooner rather than later.

      2. Cristina in England*

        Thank you fposte for your phrasing, I couldn’t pinpoint it myself: I think it should be taken seriously because the boss wants OP to feel threatened and OP feels threatened. I understand that any number of alternative possibilities may be underneath the surface here, but for me, this threat/power dynamic is enough on its own.

    4. Dee*

      Exactly what I thought. Ever read The Gift of Fear? If the OP’s intuition is telling her that this guy is a threat, she should take that seriously. Chances are very, very slim that he has mob connections, but he’s still making threats and to me that’s a serious issue.

  16. Pucksmuse*

    People who have actual connections to organized crime, the CIA, the Vatican, Ninjas, Santa Claus, etc., DON’T GO AROUND TALKING ABOUT THOSE CONNECTIONS!

    Why? Because talking about them, either gets you killed or makes those connections go away. I sincerely doubt someone with a legitimate connection to the mob would not waste that clout on a throwaway comment to a coworker. Your manager is a bully and a liar. The best way to handle lying bullies and their vague threats? Ask them to directly, specifically spell out what he means.

    Him: “You don’t want to mess with me (by asking for a second opinion in a perfectly reasonable manner on an office matter). You don’t mess with a man with connections.”

    You: I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?

    Him: You know what I mean. Don’t mess with me, I know people.

    You: I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. What, exactly, are you telling me?


    You: Is it Bob from Accounting? Do you know Bob from Accounting? Everybody knows Bob. Great guy.

    Unless he is willing to specifically say, “I am going to send a mob hit man to your house to kill you,” he will lose steam and give up. Or make a (even more) colossal ass of himself. If he DOES say, “I am going to send a mob hit man to your house to kill you,” well, that’s definitely something to take to the other managers because it’s actionable. Win win for you!

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Don’t mess with Bob from Accounting. I heard he makes people “swim with the fishes”…

        1. Nashira*

          Always a Bob in IT too, which confused me as a kid. My dad is every joke you’ve ever heard about techies who got started in the late 70s. Including being named Bob.

  17. Beezus*

    My aunt’s husband’s brother Gianni used to be a bookie, decades ago, and family rumor has it that he shook people down, and there may have been some assaulting involved if payments and exorbitant interest rates weren’t kept up with. Does that mean I have connections? I know a guy who knows a guy, so I think that’s all that’s technically required, right? Does it matter that he’s out of the business and in his 70’s? ;)

    If these are jokes, he shouldn’t be using them to address real performance concerns. (I can see using a mild joke like that to relieve tension over a minor mistake – Five minutes late on your TPS report? You’ll sleep with the fishes! Never for something that needs serious remediation.) If they’re not jokes, then that’s a whole other level of abnormal office behavior. I like the idea of looking for a job elsewhere, and gently calling out the ridiculous behavior in the meantime.

    1. HR Manager*

      Don’t tell anyone, but a good friend’s uncle was a triad member and completely unashamed of it too. My friend would tell me about being a young boy and going to a group dinner banquet to celebrate its latest inductees (he was too young to know any better then). Seriously bizarro world.

        1. AB*

          A family member accidentally found out that he had business dealings with “the family”. He was a vendor and friendly with the account holder. One day he made a joke about how they were the only business in that particular industry that ever managed to stick around and how they must have connections (some would come, and then would be gone before the end of the year). Apparently the account holder got super serious and said it wasn’t something to joke about and not to mention it again. Later, after relative had changed jobs, the business owners were busted for organized crime activity.

  18. Malissa*

    Is the OP’s supervisor one of the owners? If they are it’s totally reasonable to go to another owner with concerns about practices that can result in fines. I’ve done it. If the supervisor isn’t an owner, the owner’s need to know. It’s their asses and money on the line here.

    1. OP*

      Yes. He’s one of 3 partners unfortunately. I’d told one of the other partners I was uncomfortable working with him and he was livid. He told me to never go to them again and to bring any problems about him directly to him. Sure- after seeing how well that went.

  19. Lily in NYC*

    Next time he does it, just say “Oh, you have connections? You must know my Uncle Mugsy! He’s violent and vindictive and overly protective of me, but I love him anyway!”

  20. Kathy-office*

    I partially agree with Allison’s advice. It’s likely you co worker isn’t actually connected. However, even though most people with actual connections don’t just talk about them, there are enough (really not bet smart) people that do. Could they actually get you kneecaps broken? Possibly, though it’s doubtful. Still not people you want to be around.

    Also, even if there’s no real connections involved, you still have someone that’s threatening you, and that should be taken very seriously. Associate with this person as little as possible, and find a new job or save up enough money to quit. Your safety is important, and if you didn’t have a gut feeling that this person is dangerous (mob connections or no), you probably wouldn’t have written this letter. People who brag about “connections” like to sometimes act like their tough and commit some violence themselves.

    That said, I have known/heard of companies that have these connections, and it’s rarely a secret, even if they don’t brag about it in threats. So if you’ve heard some things on top of these threats, be cautious and just leave ASAP.

    1. Jen*

      Regardless if he’s blowing it out his rear with empty threats, he has no right to be making said threats in the first place.

  21. pony tailed wonder*

    I don’t know if I would leap to connections to the mob per se. Some industries or field are rife with the same people over and over again. I know that if you don’t do well in one library in my town, your name is mud in all the libraries in town and in the area beyond. It might be that he has the industry/same field connections. And I also don’t understand why the letter writer is taken aback when he got upset when an internal problem was taken to a manager outside of the department. Any manger would have been upset with that.

    JMO – both sides could work on their problem management skills, like we all do at times.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I was going to say the same thing – maybe the connections are more in the “cross me and you’ll never work in this industry/town again.” Or sometimes in a small town it means something more like “if we were caught with our sprinkler system out of compliance it would result in a fine, but since I’m drinking buddies/went to high school with the fire chief I know he wouldn’t do a surprise inspection on us or would let us get off with a warning instead of a fine”. I’ve definitely worked places where “don’t worry, I know the people who hand out the fines and they won’t fine us because we’re buddies/they never fine anyone/they are so overworked or understaffed they never inspect anywhere/my lawyer can tie up the process for so long with legal wrangling we’ll never have to actually pay the fee” was the way it worked. Or the powers that be were wiling to gamble they werent going to get caught – sometimes it could cost $200 to fix an issue that had a $100 fine- so they just let it go an hoped they never got caught. Not to say this is right – OP, if you can’t deal with this, you need to look for a way out – but sometimes this is how businesses choose to operate.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Um…unless you’re saying the OP lied, they were pretty unambiguous:

      After telling me this story, his next words were, “I told him to never approach us again. You don’t mess with the mob.”

      1. pony tailed wonder*

        That mob comment was from another incident. Heck, I once told someone in jest that I had just been voted queen of the prom when I get a particularly unpleasant task to do and I wouldn’t expect them to tie it to a later event down the road. I really think the boss made a one off ill advised comment to the wrong person and things have just snow balled from there. The writer and his/her job/boss/office environment just do not mesh and every molehill is becoming a mountain.

  22. LBK*

    So the mob thing is totally nuts and I agree with others that it doesn’t sound legit, if for no other reason than you don’t tell someone ahead of time that the people whacking them are the mob. Kinda makes it hard to pull off quiet, untraceable hits when you go around telling everyone who’s doing them first.

    That aside. let’s look at the scenarios the OP describes:

    1) OP makes a big mistake and tries to sweep it under the rug. You say this is because of the “shoot the messenger” culture, but you aren’t the messenger here, you’re the message. I’m not clear on what the outcome here was, but if I found out you’d tried to CYA instead of coming to me about a big error you made, I wouldn’t be too pleased either.

    2) Company gets sued by a former employee and the former employee harasses their old manager in public (possibly hunting them down by following them/stalking them, too?). Manager says to leave them alone. This sounds totally normal and reasonable to me, I would ask an angry former employee that tried to sue to me to leave me alone too. I also don’t understand why this is linked to item #1 in your letter – this situation isn’t even remotely similar to yours. Is it just intended to show that your manager is scary and makes weird comments about the mob, so that’s why you thought hiding your mistake would be the better move?

    3) Manager and OP disagree about something that may have legal ramifications, OP is told to drop it, so OP goes behind manager’s back to another manager. Now, I agree that on the surface you’re in the right here, but I feel like I’d need more details to be sure. Specifically, what was the issue you disagreed about? Did you disagree about reporting/fixing the violation, or just about whether or not this was a violation? For example, I went to my manager once because I thought something we were doing wasn’t within DOL guidelines and he disagreed and said we were in compliance, so I dropped it.

    Also, was this someone who outranked your manager because you thought the issue needed to be escalated, or just another manager at the same level because you didn’t think your manager understood/was right? If it was someone at the same level, that’s pretty inappropriate. Think about it – how do you feel when someone comes to you for help with something, you give them an answer, and then 5 minutes later you see them at your coworker’s desk asking the same question? It indicates a serious lack of trust. If you truly thought this was something that needed to be addressed for legal reasons, going above your manager or to HR should be the answer, not another manager at the same level.

    Now, all this isn’t to say that making threats is appropriate or acceptable. If you don’t feel safe, then you should get out, for sure. However, horrifying delivery aside, maybe zooming out and considering the big picture of these situations is worthwhile for maintaining some level of sanity during your remaining time there. I’ve found this immensely helpful when dealing with some of my coworkers and occasionally my boss – delivery aside, are the situations really egregious? Admittedly none of them have ever implied they’re involved in the mob, so maybe this isn’t realistic and I’m lacking in empathy here, but I wonder if it would be helpful for you too.

    1. LBK*

      (As a non-serious sidenote, anyone else picture the manager as Ziggy from The Wire, making hilariously empty threats based on his delusions of grandeur?)

    2. OP*

      His former business partner had run into him in public at a random being in the same place at the same time. When he was talking to me I thought it was odd to throw that in there to say to me because it was so out of place. I’m an employee and have never been his partner so it was really odd to throw the comment in there. At the time it felt like he wanted to be very intimidating.

      The issue we disagreed about was a violate of ERISA standards, 401K regulations and IRS standards. I tried to explain and showed rules to him but he wouldn’t budge. Bob told me he’d given me incorrect information at the beginning and when I began working through it things just didn’t look correct. I obtained more information (within the scope of my job) and he hadn’t provided all the information needed.

      So I talked to his business partner to see if I was totally off base and he told me the company would’ve been fined heavily and he’d talk to “Bob”. If it wouldn’t have resulted in heavy penalties for the company I’d have let it go but my gut told me to speak up and ask. My goal was to avoid the violation and fines in the first place and if told I was wrong then so be it. Better to be wrong and apologize than have fines come later and have it surface that I knew about this and never said anything to Percival or Lucinda.

      My mistake was a totally dumb one. I’d completed paperwork for a business license in another county and had neglected to complete an additional form needed. I found this out when I called to check the status of the license (about 3 weeks later because they’re well known for being very fast at processing licenses) and they said an additional form was needed so the completed form was immediately faxed in. I should’ve contacted them from the start to be certain all required paperwork before sending it in.

  23. Karyn*

    Believe it or not, my mom’s ex-boss had some dealings with the mafia and actually had to have an armed private guard sitting in the reception area with my mother just in case they came after him for the money he owed them. She had worked for this guy for over a decade and only at that point did she become aware of just how much trouble he was in… and promptly got the hell out. That said, she’s still in close contact with him… he’s scheduled for release from prison (for unrelated white collar offenses) in just under a year. Needless to say, when we went to visit him, I had SEVERAL questions.

    1. KimmieSue*

      Karyn – I’m sorry and I don’t intend to sound snarky, I just can’t tell if I am reading this correctly. Did you go with your mom to visit her ex-boss in prison?

      1. Karyn*

        You don’t sound snarky at all. :)

        Please understand, this guy was like an uncle to me for most of my life. I actually called him uncle from when I was little. So yes, I did go with her to visit him – but this was just last year and I’m 29 now so it’s not like this was when I was a kid. Also, it was a minimum security white collar prison on a naval base… It felt more like a college dorm than a federal pen!

  24. Lanya*

    I recently watched a documentary that said the Russian mob is the most violent. You could always use your best poker face and share that your “favorite Uncle Vanya” has connections too. That might get him to knock it off.

  25. Tina*

    I’ve had Family who were family, and a good number of customers and clients over the years that were ‘connected’; I don’t think there’s a blanket agreement about whether or not one openly acknowledges their connections. Some do, some don’t, some let word-of-mouth manage their reputation for them, and there are definitely idiots in every organization. I do think that whether a threat at work is valid matters a tiny bit less than the fact that it’s a threat at all. I’d run, personally.

  26. Anon for this*

    I used to work in a place with a similar environment. No mob threats were made, but definitely threats of a “joking” violent nature. Extremely harsh feedback for even the smallest of mistakes. I understand wanting to be flip about it, but in this workplace, the manager/owner talked openly about their love of guns (not in the “support my rights” sense but in the joy that comes from holding a deadly weapon and being able to use it). If you think of the mob threat as the cherry on top of an increasing escalation of detrimental outcomes, it’s a lot less amusing. It’s basically saying “I will have someone physically harm you, and possibly kill you, if you run afoul of me.” Even if there is absolutely nothing behind it, it’s a form of threat and intimidation. You’re dealing with an unstable monster either way, and you need out.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes. And it totally doesn’t matter if they actually have “connections” – mob or otherwise. If they are willing to go there, I’d seriously start to worry about whether they or a family member (theirs, not Family) might be willing to hurt me.

      The way the OP describes it, if I read it the way the OP does, I would absolutely fear something could and might happen to me. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about whether it was the mob or just an unstable loon with a penchant for violent threats/actions. Not being affiliated with the mob doesn’t stop them from being potentially dangerous.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes, that’s the thing. I think everyone’s getting thrown a bit by the red herring that is the mafia, and not quite seeing that this manager has created an environment of threat and intimidation such that this person does believe there’s some credibility to the threat. If my current manager talked about the mob, I’d absolutely know he was joking, because he is a stable person without a prior history of threatening, intimidating behavior.

        Also, I noted that this person isn’t even actively trying to get out — they’re afraid they’re going to get booted. This is what an environment of intimidation will do to you. You become afraid to leave.

        1. Cristina in England*

          This is the thing for me too, the threat from the boss and the OP’s instincts in feeling genuinely threatened. If it was the other way around, and an employee was threatening the boss so as not to get fired, I might think differently, but threats from the boss will carry extra weight, I imagine.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Totally agree with you, Anon.
      I hope OP is still reading…

      I have had to deal with threats at work twice.

      The first time my immediate supervisor was doing just what OP is describing here. Additionally, she would throw things and yell at the slightest provocation. The owner was a decent man, but he seemed to feel that he could not fire her without someone to replace her. That may have been true. But he allowed her threats to go on and on.
      Like everyone is saying here, I thought that she probably did not have connections. Or if she actually did have connections those people would move away from her when they saw what a loose cannon she was. But the constant screaming, throwing and threats wore on me. One day after a really bad outburst, I walked out. The owner said he did not blame me at all and said he would give me a good reference. He wanted to hire me back after he got her replacement but that never panned out.

      The second time it happened, I informed the person who threatened me that I was sending out twelve letters to friends and family all over the country. I said the letters will say that if anything happens to me, please demand an investigation and please involve the press in the matter.
      Pretty good trump card, eh? One would think so. When you play a card like this you really tick people off, in part because you got them.

      OP, I am going to say this and I hope you read this sentence a few times: YOU DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS. (not yelling, I promise.)
      Even if it is empty threats, it is still a negative, toxic environment. And yes, it will wear you down. The effect is cumulative. It’s the paper cut that you keep ripping open again and again. This is not a sustainable plan to remain employed here.

      Keep your cool, keep your head together, and build a plan to move on. You probably don’t need to be afraid, but you do need to be wise.

      1. OP*

        I’m sorry to read about your past experiences. Those sound awful.

        I think his threats are empty but are intended to be intimidating. He’s succeeded in wearing me down because it almost feels like it’d be easier to comply than keep dealing with him. Thank you for the great pep talk. I did read it several times and will be working on a plan to move on to another position.

        1. V.V.*

          Hey OP I know this is a little off the cuff, but does this character realize that you are “backed” as well?

          You have the entire AAM Justice Posse on your side! Not a crowd I would want to upset…

          Really, for what it is worth, we are all behind you. Good luck to you, I hope this all works out in your favor whatever you decide to do.

        2. hildi*

          Listen to Not So New Reader – she has such life experience in her answers! Tons of wisdom backed by level-headed suggestions!!

  27. Elizabeth West*

    It sounds like this is a horrid place to work. The threats and intimidation would really be the last straw, and I agree that the OP should probably start looking because I wouldn’t want to work for a boss who acted like this guy.

    That said, this whole thread and the jokes just made my day. :)

  28. Stephanie*

    I’m a little suspicious of the connections myself, but this is Crazy Town enough that I’d work on getting the hell out.

    That being said, how powerful is the mob nowadays anyway? I thought the Italian mob had lost a lot of influence due to crackdowns the last couple of decades in addition to overall Italian-American assimilation. Granted, I haven’t lived in any areas with a sizable mob presence* and that this mob might be another ethnicity’s.

    *Although I have heard plenty of jokes about retired/in hiding mobsters living in Arizona.

  29. Dawn88*

    I was hired as EA for the President of Commercial Real Estate for a nationally known company that uses a ROCK for their logo…(hired as a 1099 contractor during the Recession). I was thrilled to get the job, since my new boss was so friendly and charming during the interview process. The Monday I began working, this guy did a complete 180 and became an obnoxious bully. I was stunned. Being well over 6 feet tall, with a hot temper, he was pretty offensive. I was a seasoned EA, used to demanding CEOs. At 56 I didn’t crack easy. He didn’t know computers, so I had to print his email daily, and sort and prioritize it for him. He was a chain smoker and his office and clothes smelled like an ashtray. I held my nose and ramped up my production, only to have the guy regularly lose everything I placed on his desk (complete with Post It info), and loudly shout at me in front of the entire open cube office of real estate agents on a regular basis. It was humiliating, but I needed the money. Several sales agents would have jaws dropped when he started his tirades. I always acted calm and professional, which made him look worse. Coworkers would stop me in the kitchen, asking how could I stand this ass? Or I’d hear why other EAs had never lasted. I’d just shrug and keep my mouth shut. Money is a powerful motivator when you have a mortgage. I stayed as professional as possible and kept to myself, desperately trying various ways to please the jerk. None worked. His VP was even trying to protect me from the tantrums when he could.

    One afternoon when the office was empty, my boss (again) lost a contract I had just printed for him and placed on his messy desk 15 minutes earlier. He started yelling from his office, demanding to know where I put it! He was starting another tantrum and I was not in the mood…This time I stayed in my chair and didn’t jump up to run and attend to his bumbling. He stormed out and right up to me, and I froze…and calmly said I just placed the contract on the left side of hie desk, 15 minutes ago, near his phone, so he must have covered it with his briefcase or something? He leaned down INTO MY FACE (I mean just 8 inches away-yuck) and lowered his voice into a DeNiro snarl, “Are you calling me a liar?” I felt like I was in a movie, with DeNiro saying, “Are you talking to me?” It suddenly hit me this guy’s cigarette breath was nauseating, and he had officially lost his marbles. I jerked my head back (to escape the breath) and shoved my chair back, grabbed my purse and stood up (with smoke coming from my ears) and stormed past him to the office exit, without a word. The Front Desk gal (20 feet away) had heard part of the confrontation, but was blocked by a wall. I got into my car, locked my door, and sped away. I called the Front Desk and said I was not coming back, and if I heard a word from the asshole, I’d file a restraining order. I’d rather be poor and suffer, since no money is worth the abuse.

    Your boss is a similar idiot. I wonder how they get their jobs and fat salaries behaving like morons. He could be bluffing, or not. Only you can decide what your personal sh*t threshold is. I know a psycho when I see one. I’ll starve first.

    1. Crystal*

      I had a boss who was one of the 2 owners of a small business who routinely threw tantrums that would put any 2 year old to shame. Once he lost it and threw everything within reach to various points of his office. He then came and got me and told me that now he couldn’t find his keys. I had to crawl around on the floor going through papers and promotional items and various crap until I found them – they were in one of his golf shoes. Ick!

      Being broke sucks. They totally own you when you’re broke in a bad job market.

      1. Crystal*

        Oh, I forgot to mention that on another occasion right before I finally found a new job, he was having one of his screaming temper tantrums and actually picked up his scissors (the big old, heavy silver kind with the black painted finger hole part) and threw them at me. I was 18, so thankfully I had quick reflexes at the time and manage to dodge them. They hit the wall and left a perfect outline of an open pair of scissors on the walls. We had to hang a painting over it.

  30. Anonforthis*

    So I know of a boss who casually said this a few times to an employee. He kept implying he had friends in powerful places, could make people disappear, etc. No one took him seriously, they just added it to the tally of crazy things he did. This was very small-town government (not in Chicago) so it was a joke.

    This past year he had hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to him by a PAC with no real backers but there’s one person in the state who obviously would hand over those kinds of funds and he does indeed have powerful connections. It’s not really a mob/organized crime connection as he implied but let’s just say there’s enough associates who are a bit sketchy.

    Still, the man himself doesn’t appear capable and he’s been sued by enough people who are still alive so I think he just wants to sound more important than he is. Consider that.

  31. OP*

    Thank you Alison for answering my question and I apologize for taking so long to respond to comments. Today I was out with clients all day. My job is at a professional services firm and he is one of 3 owners. It’s more the intimidation factor than his specific threats. To answer a few questions from quickly skimming he is a total ass. It’s not so much the threat of a mafia connection that would worry me but working with a manager who makes such comments when you disagree isn’t great.

    Another staff member brought a matter to one of the other partners regarding one of his client matters and he accused her of trying to make him look bad, etc. This continued for a week. Without being specific the issue would’ve been very unethical for both the company and the client. He holds a professoonal license and has had disciplinary action taken against him multiple times, at least twice for professional ethics violations.

  32. LawBee*

    OP, if you’re still reading, I highly recommend quitting now, if you can. Mob or no mob, this is not a boss you want to work for and it’s not a company you want to be in.

  33. OP*

    I think what bothered me the most was instead of him saying “let’s discuss why it is okay to be done this way” or “yes I’ve reviewed your research and you are correct” it was a “bully you into giving in to my way”.

    I’ve been job searching for a while but jobs are still scarce.

    1. Hermoine Granger*

      Yeah, I know that feeling. I’m sending positive thoughts your way and crossing my fingers that you find something better that allows you to leave this terrible situation.

      I luckily wasn’t threatened with harm but had to deal with similar hostile and bullying behavior. It sucks that the job market is still bad, it makes some jerks even more comfortable with being difficult.

  34. Dmented Kitty*

    This is like Kitchen Nightmares: Amy’s Baking Company all over again.

    “Don’t mess with me, I’m GANGSTA!”

  35. HepHep*

    I’m not sure there’s anything to be inferred here, because I think Alison and the other commenters all have great points. I did just want to add though, that it seems like there are such people who do like to tell others about their connections. I read this NPR article today, and was surprised that this woman basically told people she was an assassin! If anyone is interested, here ya go: link to article

  36. Denise D*

    This sounds awful. Please work on getting out of there ASAP. Please don’t be offended by this but do you have access to a counselor? Being in a job where a boss is making comments like this isn’t healthy and you can carry awful habits learned to another job.

    There are managers who will grab you out from under the bus and there are managers who will kick you back under the bus. From the posts it sounds like the error was attempted to be corrected or corrected. I can understand in some jobs you hesitate to speak up even after correcting something if it’s a toxic environment.

    Many of us have had jobs where Adam and Rose can surf the internet all day and management doesn’t say anything about their work not getting done but instead reassigns it. Whereas others that do assigned work get frustrated and the toxic environment drags them down. Oversimplified here but was trying to say I see how toxic environments can bring people down.

  37. MavisT*

    The first comment, I thought ‘no’…anyone can use that saying. The ‘connections’ reference? Determine if it means ‘investigative connections within the business’; I would know if you took a pencil, if I am the one that counts the pencils, for example. If you missed a call, perhaps I am the one that introduced that client. Eventually, I will find out.
    If that is not the case, then watch your back, install a security system in both your house and your car, and get a cop onside, a good clean cop. Then line up some “just in case” people who’s couches you can sleep on if you feel uncomfortable, and most of all, someone who will agree to notice suspicious movements, and would testify if needed. Good luck.

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