my boss’s husband is a jerk who yells at me when he calls our office

A reader writes:

My boss is married to a pretty unpleasant fellow (actually, he’s a raging jerk). When I started as her assistant nearly three years ago, other assistants in our group warned me about him and told me to be careful around him. I quickly discovered what they meant: he calls all the time and is always irritated to learn that his wife is unavailable to speak with him. Because my boss has many meetings throughout the day, I generally have to speak to him on at least a daily basis. His general unpleasantness I can handle, but there have been several times he’s been more severe.

For example, when I answered a call early on with her professional name (e.g., “Jane Smith’s office…”) he demanded that I explain why I did not answer her line with her married name. Obviously that’s not a question I can answer (she chooses to use her maiden name professionally–that’s an issue between the two of them), so in order to avoid a repeat, I took to answering him directly with a generic, warm, pleasant greeting (“Hello John; Jane’s in a meeting…”). This angered him even more, and a few months later he yelled at me for repeatedly answering the phone in “such an unprofessional manner” by speaking directly to him without first inquiring who was calling (despite the existence of caller ID). He told me he would have fired his assistant for speaking to a caller that way. Thus began a pattern of angry, shouty lectures concerning how he operates his office and his express statements of confusion at how his wife can tolerate me. Like I said, the guy’s a jerk.

My boss has apologized for his behavior in the past, (and he’s mumbled a few apologies, too) but I have never said anything to her because it’s so uncomfortable, and I was a temp for the first year and felt I had zero job security. By the time I became a full employee, his calls had simply become a routine part of the job.

Recently my company went through major layoffs, and I found myself sincerely wanting to be laid off. That realization caused me to seek out other jobs, and ultimately I’ve decided to move across the country.

I guess I’m asking: what can I do? Can I go to HR about an issue with a non-employee? Frankly, I don’t even know who my HR rep is now (it’s a giant company, and there’s been so much restructuring lately), and I’m afraid of retaliation from my boss. She’s being groomed for a major promotion, and I expect I would be fired immediately. They don’t seem to tolerate dissent here, and because my boss has never completed an evaluation of me in 3 years, I feel I have no record to stand on.

In a perfect world, I would have gotten laid off and could have used my one- to three-months’ severance to move closer to home.

Any thoughts?

Wow, a jerk indeed.

If you’re moving across the country, it sounds like this is about to stop being an issue for you. But if you were sticking around, or if you want to say something before you go, it’s absolutely a reasonable thing to bring up, either with your boss or with HR.

Ideally you’d talk to your boss about it, since the only reason it should have to become an HR issue if if your boss refused to do anything about it. If you had a reasonable boss where you didn’t need to fear retaliation for raising a perfectly reasonable issue, you’d say something like this: “Jane, I’m having trouble with calls from Cecil. He frequently yells at me and demands that I answer the phone differently than you’ve instructed me to. He’s gotten upset with me for using your maiden name, and he regularly shouts at me. I’m not sure what to do, and I’m really uncomfortable with the way he talks to me.”

Alternately, since you mentioned that she has apologized for his behavior in the past, you could have used that as an opening to say, “I appreciate the apology, but how do you want me to handle it when he starts yelling at me or demanding that I handle the phone differently than you’ve instructed me to? … and/or “I appreciate the apology, but I’m also really uncomfortable with him yelling at me. Is there some way to get that to stop?”

But since you’re confident that your boss won’t handle this well, then HR is a reasonable next stop. You asked whether you can go to HR about an issue with a non-employee, but this is really about an issue with your boss: You’re taking these calls because of a personal relationship she has, and you’re uncomfortable raising it directly with her presumably because of how you’ve seen her handle things in the past.

The message to HR is: “I’m being regularly yelled at and verbally abused by my boss’s husband, on a daily basis, and while she’s apologized to me for it multiple times, it continues to happen. I’m concerned that if tell her that I don’t want to be berated daily by her spouse, it will impact our relationship, and I’m actually concerned about retaliation. What are the options for getting this handled without jeopardizing my standing with her?”

That said, given your description of your company culture and the fact that you’re leaving, you may end up deciding that it serves your interests better to let him be a jerk for a few weeks longer and make a clean getaway.

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. Bertie*

    OP – why not tell the husband directly in the moment that he needs to stop the verbal abuse while on the phone with you?

      1. UKAnon*

        I was just thinking how convenient it would be to have ‘popped to the loo’ whenever caller ID shows up…

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m with you here. You work at a large company, not some small family-owned joint. You don’t have to put up with this verbal abuse.

      “I’m going to have to ask you to stop yelling, calm down and treat me with respect or I will hang up the phone.” Then when he continues yelling hang up on him. Be consistent. When he finally calms down, take the call as if nothing happened.

      Look, my wife used to do call center work, and even she was allowed to end calls when the person on the other end was being abusive. If those folks can hang up, so can you.

      1. MegEB*

        I used to work in an oncology clinic, and even we were allowed to hang up the phone if a patient or family member became too abusive over the phone. We explained as gently as possible that we were sorry, but need to hang up the phone until they were able to calm down. The OP’s boss’ husband may bluster, but he knows perfectly well he’s out of line. I suspect the boss sympathizes with more than the OP realizes.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Years ago, I was a 911 operator for 6 months. Even we were allowed to hang up if someone swore at us twice. (Basically, warn them once, hang up after the second). If we could hang up, so can you.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Super late to the party but oh my god I can’t even imagine if we had that policy at my center. I’d be able to hang up on probably 75% of my callers. Maybe lower it to 70% if we change that to abusive swearing (versus people who just kind of punctuate their normal language with swearing, which I am prone to doing myself and do not take offense to).

          That’s a pretty dangerous policy imo, but I’m sure it was discretionary, not just you hang up the second they get abusive just because you can. I *have* hung up on people, but very, VERY rarely and probably 10 warnings were involved and it was only after I had super determined there was no life threatening emergency and/or I’d already entered/dispatched their call.

      3. Oryx*

        Yup, when I worked in a call center it was very much customer oriented — but there was still a protocol for being allowed to hang up when verbal abuse happened.

        1. Saturn9*

          I’m jealous. Seriously. At the call center where I work, our abusive caller procedure includes “not asking the caller to calm down because that will just upset them further,” “not asking the caller to remain professional because that will just upset them further,” and “not threatening to disconnect the call because if the call is disconnected, someone else will have to talk to the abusive caller–and with no context as to why they’re upset.”

          It’s.. terrible.

          1. Helka*

            That was my experience, too, when I had my call-center job. The very most we were supposed to do with an abusive caller was warm-transfer them to a manager, with the exception of one particular guy who’d gotten his very own policy due to his bizarre harassment calls.

          2. ITPuffNStuff*

            i’ve worked in a customer-facing IT sys admin role with the same company for the last 6 years, and yes, this is pretty much our company’s stance as well. they are so terrified of losing revenue (even unprofitable revenue) they will never set boundaries with any customer, ever, regardless of circumstances. if i try to set boundaries, even in a professional and courteous manner, my customer will escalate to my boss, who will apologize for *my* misbehavior, in effect rewarding the abuse and encouraging it to continue. fortunately, the overwhelming majority of our customers are nice, pleasant people, but for those rare few abusers, we are just expected to put up with it. my boss once left a customer muted on speaker for a good 20 minutes and just quietly went through his email while the customer screamed obscenities over the phone.

            the weird part is, to avoid losing revenue, the company won’t even enforce boundaries like “pay your bills before they are 2 years overdue”. i would think once it becomes clear the customer lacks either the will or the ability to pay, the company would realize there is no revenue to protect, and cut them off. sigh.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Ugh. I’ve worked for a couple of companies which didn’t “fire” customers who didn’t pay.

              One kept doing huge complicated projects for a client company that had breached our contract by using our consulting work for their own projects without paying us all the money they owed; the owners of the firm were quite sweet, but lacked backbone.

              The other was run by a sleazeball who was always talking about what a “nice guy” and an “ethical” business owner he was because he never pursued customers who didn’t pay. Unfortunately, this meant he didn’t have the money to pay the people who worked for him and would often go weeks without paying them or not pay them at all for certain projects, and several were paid less than minimum wage. (We were all classified as “independent contractors.”) Then, when we demanded paychecks or quit, he would guilt us about how he was sooo wonderful and ethical and we didn’t want to sell out and go work for the big evil corporations instead, did we? He’d also do the abusive spouse “no one else would ever love you” routine – he’d tell people quitting that they weren’t smart enough/hardworking enough/whatever enough to get a job anywhere else, so he was doing them a favor by employing them.

      4. Ella*

        My only addition is that in trainings I’ve taken on how to deal with angry customers, saying “Calm down” is almost always counterproductive and/or doesn’t work. It makes people more angry, not less. You need to give him concrete, specific things that he needs to stop doing in order to be allowed to talk to you:

        (First, go back to answering the phone how your boss wants you to answer it, even when he’s calling.) “I’m answering the phone in the manner in which Jane has told me she prefers; what can I do for you right now?”
        “I am not going to discuss any manner of my job performance with you; would you like Jane’s voicemail or should I just tell her you called?”
        “I’m finding your tone very belligerant. I need you to speak to me respectfully or I will hang up. Would you like me to transfer you to Jane’s voicemail?”

        Really, you don’t even need the first half of the dialogue above. You’re directing Jane’s calls, right? Any time he deviates from anything remotely related to “I would like to talk to my wife,” you bring it back around to directing his call or taking a message.

        And report it to HR. And/or ask Jane about having her husband call her cell and leave a message (assuming she has a cell phone) or text her so that it doesn’t have to go through you at all.

          1. Ella*

            Why are you recommending the OP say the one thing that you know will make the husband more angry?

            1. Saturn9*

              I’m guessing it’s so the husband will become so angry he hangs up the phone, which means the OP will have to spend less time talking to him while appearing to be professional and “not doing anything wrong.” It’s a powerplay.

              Although getting Boss’s permission to transfer her husband to voicemail without having to talk to him first would be more ideal.

              1. neverjaunty*

                And then Boss fires her. There’s no point in power plays when you have no actual power.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Did you miss the whole bit about going to HR?

                  And since when is a request to be treated like a normal human being a “power play”?

            2. Mike C.*

              1. The OP is entitled to be respected as a human being, as we all are. Asking someone who is acting belligerent is a perfectly reasonable request.
              2. The OP is not responsible for the fact that such a request will anger the husband.
              3. The call is either ended quickly or the husband shapes up. Either way, the OP is not subjected to having to deal with an abusive asshole.

              By the way, demanding that someone treat you as a human being isn’t a “power play”. It isn’t political. It’s about being treated as a human being, and sometimes one has to remind others that yes, there is a human being at the other end of the line who doesn’t deserve to be treated like garbage.

              1. Ella*

                I agree that nobody deserves to be treated like garbage; but I also think that diffusing situations is generally preferable to deliberately aggravating them by using a tactic that you know will backfire and then throwing up your hands and saying “well, aijt my fault.”

                It’s moot because OP is leaving, but if she was stuck in this situation long term, I don’t see how being deliberately adversarial gets her anywhere. There’s a huge difference between debasing yourself in the hopes of respect and using easy little tricks that make getting treated with respect by the other person more likely. Deliberately antagonizing people loses you the moral high ground. “I’m going to employ a strategy that I know doesn’t work and then blame the other person when it doesn’t work” is kind of dickish behavior.

                1. Mike C.*

                  If demanding to be treated with respect and kindness is taken to be adversarial, then so be it. It’s not actually adversarial, but somehow it’s been decided that if you don’t bend to the whim of even the most abusive behavior, you’re part of the problem.

                  I’m so sick and tired of this insane internet standard for holding “the higher ground” in all cases and at all expenses, including one’s own dignity. Telling someone directly to calm down, while not the most focused-grouped/optimized/incredibly passive response, it is the correct response. The OP has the right to be treated with dignity and respect at her place of work, and that right take precedence over the whims of an raging, controlling, abusive jerk of a husband. Telling him in no uncertain terms to calm down is in no way “debasing oneself” and your easy tricks are nothing more than milquetoast acceptance that this abuse should simply continue without comment.

                2. Ella*

                  If the outcome that you want is a caller that is actually *behaving more calmly*, then demanding that they calm down and treat you with respect is not the correct response at all. If the outcome that you want is just being able to hang up and bail on the caller, then sure, your strategy works fine. Your strategy does not actually do anything to ensure that the OP gets treated with respect at work, because it deliberately antagonizes the person disrespecting her. (Though I guess you could argue she wouldn’t be deliberately antagonizing, since you decided that the whole part about “calm down” being poor verbiage was apparently not important.)

                  I’m pretty sure that I explicitly said several times that accepting abuse is not anything that anyone should have to do. You gave a suggestion that basically ensures that the abuse continues, without telling her that that was the likely result of your suggestion.

      5. themmases*

        This can be so liberating to do. I was just talking today with someone about a time I did this in my last two weeks of a job. There’s definitely an argument, when you are almost out of there, that two more weeks of what you’ve been putting up with all along won’t kill you and the unblemished record is worth it. On the other hand, those things can somehow become the hardest to put up with when you see the light at the end of the tunnel and an ever-shrinking range of potential consequences.

        This won’t be an earth-shattering recommendation to anyone here, but I would keep my eye on the reference. The person I finally pushed back with was a jerk, but I didn’t *have* to help them and I never wanted a reference from them. If OP thinks their boss will be upset but not upset enough to give them a bad reference (the letter makes it sound like the boss is normal but just might take this personally), I would tell the husband he can’t speak to me that way and consider not answering his calls anymore if it continues. If the boss is as bad as her husband, I’d keep my mouth shut a few more weeks and leave letting this loon think the good feelings are mutual.

        1. Mike C.*

          There are times when people need to stand up for themselves. I used to be that doormat, and it sucked. It’s never the victim’s fault for being stepped on yet there are plenty of times where people can and should stand up for themselves rather than taking it. People respect that, sometimes even the folks who are treating you like garbage.

          And frankly, if you’re being treated like crap, I can’t imagine that the reference will be worth all that much anyway.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. If I were subjected to this, I would say “I’m sorry but I will have to get off the phone if you are going to continue this abuse.” and then do it.

      Or tell the boss, “Cecil has called again twice today with abusive lectures about how I answer the phone which I do as you have instructed. I am simply not willing to be yelled at by anyone and so in the future, I will indicate that to him and if he doesn’t stop will end the call.” And then do it.

    3. Althea*

      I would be so, so tempted to say, “Shut your piehole,” and other rude things right back to a bully him… I don’t like bullies and so far have found they only understand aggression (not necessarily physical) as a sign that he can’t carry on that way with you.

      You way is probably better.

    4. trilby*

      This baffles me. I can’t imagine ever getting to a point where something like this was driving me out of my job. I would tell my boss to rein him in, or I would educate him myself on the phone. Probably within about 2 weeks of this being a daily occurrence. This would be item #1 on the agenda for, like, my second or third routine meeting with my boss. Does being a temp really give people such a sense of powerlessness? I just don’t understand. There are SO many ways to handle this that don’t lead to resigning after years of misery.

      1. Mike C.*

        I think there are situations where people are shocked that this is happening and don’t know what to do, or if you’re in a situation where everyone else just accepts it that you begin to second guess whether or not this is really that big of a deal.

      2. Panda Bandit*

        I can see where the LW is coming from. If you don’t have much experience in the workforce or you don’t feel like you have options that adds to the feeling of powerlessness.

    5. MonQee*

      OMG, my boss’ husband is a complete prick…. I so feel for you. I even went so far as to ask my boss’ bf why in the world he married this asswipe in the first place (my boss is bisexual).


  2. Malissa*

    OP, Is there an option where when you see him on caller ID that you can forward the call straight to her or her voicemail and not have to talk to him at all? Because that’s what I would do. If she questions this, say you feel uncomfortable talking to him since he has a tendency to yell and you don’t (shouldn’t) want to deal with that.

    1. Lucky*

      I would suggest she do this or just give him boss’s direct dial number, but I imagine he’s going to want to talk directly with OP to find out if she’s in a meeting, when she’ll be back, what she had for lunch, etc.

      1. Cari*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if he already has direct means of contacting OP’s boss, but boss doesn’t let him do that (for obvious reasons).

    2. Jim*

      Right, but then you’re likely out of a job since the job of an assistant is to make the boss’s life easier and if you can’t take it they’ll likely find someone who can. It’s not fair or right but that’s how the world works. In a perfect world you talk to the boss and lay out how you feel and hope she takes your side and speaks to the husband but even that is playing with fire.

      1. Malissa*

        So an admin has to be a verbal punching bag for a person that isn’t a business contact? That world sucks.

        1. INTP*

          I’d bet the wife is this guy’s verbal punching bag too and might not be so sympathetic to someone who can’t deal with it for just a few times a day. In my experience these people are verbally abusive with everyone including (or especially) loved ones and the loved ones wind up getting so desensitized or so exhausted from trying to run interference that they don’t see it as a big deal or give up and let everyone else fend for themselves. So while it’s totally unfair I would not be surprised if, yes, this boss would prefer to replace an assistant than try to control her husband. Unfortunately the assistant-boss relationship is just more intimate by nature than most employee-boss relationships so assistants are less shielded from their boss’ personality issues or personal baggage.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I was thinking this too. I’m no expert, but it sounds like the boss might have more than enough problems at home with this guy. Maybe HR could point her (the boss) towards the company EAP if they have one, if they knew what was going on?

          2. ITPuffNStuff*


            more than likely, if he’s willing to abuse total strangers in public, the level of abuse he’s willing to go to in the relative privacy of home is probably much more severe.

          3. Jennifer*

            Seconded. Also, I highly doubt the wife can control an abusive man to get him to stop screaming at her employee.

          4. Cari*


            Was totally thinking the same.

            If this is the case, it in on way excuses the boss for inflicting her husband on her employees and assistants, but at least may give an idea of how the boss may deal (or not deal) with the insufferable arsehole and his treatment of her employees…

        2. Kaz*

          Absolutely, also, admins are easily replaced if they refuse to be “verbal punching bags”. You’re supposed to be calm and pleasant while dealing with frustrating people and frustrating situations even if they are not business related but they happen while you are working.

          1. Malissa*

            So most admins are woefully underpaid? because I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in that environment.

              1. Malissa*

                I am. The two admins I worked with wouldn’t put up with that kind of behavior from anyone. In fact I often dealt with the abusive people if the complaint fell into my area. But I usually had the power to shut them out of what ever area they were complaining about.
                And cranky pants relatives were told to shape up or not call back.
                I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around a world where this behavior goes unchecked and someone has to deal with it everyday.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            Really, Kaz? Have you ever worked in a job like that, with someone verbally abusing you multiple times a day?

            NO ONE should take abuse at work. The suggestions above on ending the calls when the husband starts up with his rage-infused rants are good ones.

            That’s what this multi-decade career admin recommends.

          3. aebhel*

            Pardon my French, but that’s bullshit.

            I work in a customer-facing role, and sometimes that means I’m dealing with obnoxious or frustrating people. That doesn’t obligate me to put up with constant verbal abuse for doing my job.

            If you’re a boss and you expect your assistant to swallow an endless amount of shit relating to your personal life with a smile, (a) you’re a terrible boss and (b) you’re going to have trouble holding onto a decent assistant for any amount of time.

          4. Observer*

            I’ve been thinking about this comment. I finally realized something –

            This kind of thinking is both bad management and non-ethical management. And it’s the non-ethical component that directly leads to the bad management issue. I know that in real life, people are expected to take this kind of garbage, but it really, really should not happen. It generally happens because bosses take that attitude that admins etc. are not PEOPLE who should be treated with basic respect but cogs to be used, and discarded when they won’t take the extra “stress” or abuse. Once you forget about the humanity of your staff, you also forget that they are NOT actually easily interchangeable.

            In fact, admins are NOT “easily replaceable”. At least not GOOD ones. And, even when you manage to quickly replace them, if you are cycling through admins over this kind of thing, you are most definitely going to be paying a significant price, even though it will probably never show up on the balance sheet.

            Yes, it’s the job of a good admin to deal with difficult people and situations. Being a verbal punching bag is NOT part of the job description. That’s just abuse, no matter how you try to pretty it up.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Thank you. That’s perfect. Bad bosses are ones who forget the humanity of their staff.

              Expecting someone else to take abuse without complaint or pushback is essentially abuse itself, or at least abuse by proxy.

        3. Jennifer*

          Being an admin usually means you have to be a verbal punching bag, one way or another. So yes, that world sucks.

          Also, I’m reasonably assuming that the wife is being abused at home, so I don’t think she’s probably up for defending the OP from her husband either.

          1. Observer*

            Being an admin usually means you have to be a verbal punching bag, one way or another.

            No, it doesn’t. Sure, it happens. But most sane bosses understand that it’s a really bad idea to expect your AA and other support staff to take that kind of abuse. Many large companies with large support organizations use systems that are supposed to figure out when someone is likely to fly off the handle and appease them. These companies are not doing this because they are suddenly becoming gracious. They are doing it because it’s good for business.

            Also, I’m reasonably assuming that the wife is being abused at home, so I don’t think she’s probably up for defending the OP from her husband either.

            I don’t think that this is a reasonable assumption. Yes, it could very well be the case, given what we are hearing, but there is really too little information to draw that conclusion.

            More importantly, even if she can’t protect the OP, she should be able to empower the OP to protect herself. The OP should not have to worry about retaliation from her boss for tking basic steps to avoid this kind of thing, nor should she be put into a position where protecting herself will be framed as “not doing her job” or “not knowing what she is doing.”

      2. Anna*

        This is the exact kind of attitude that makes people stay in shitty situations longer than they should.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s what I was going to suggest and in this day and age and a big corp why can’t he dial her directly? Or her cell phone?! Also suggest boss lady share her calendar with jerk face?


    OP – why not ask him to call his wife’s cell instead of her office phone? That would remove you from the interaction and she can deal with his abuse when she chooses not to take his call.

    1. HB*

      I was curious about this, too. Why is he calling her work number rather than her cell phone?

      1. Meg Murry*

        I’m willing to bet he’s mad about the fact that she isn’t answering her cell phone (or didn’t in the past) so now he’s calling the OP to yell at her since he’s so mad about not being able to get ahold of his wife.

      2. Cari*

        Boss is probably fed-up of his intrusions into her working day. My abuser used to call me on my mobile (when I was at home or in work), and when in work also my work phone, then he would get irate if I had to go to deal with a call on one of the other phones, or help someone in person. To make it worse, we worked in the same place and lived together. There was no peace from him.

  4. Mike C.*

    This being a huge company means that HR should generally be interested in doing the right thing about this sort of situation.

    You may also wish to inquire about company harassment policies. This sort of behavior would certainly violate the policy at my company, and when you add the fact that it’s a bunch of private life stuff flooding into the workplace, HR is really the right place to go.

    1. Juli G.*

      I don’t often agree with you Mike but we’re totally aligned here.

      Also, in my experience (which isn’t very diverse), a lack of performance reviews would make an HR department more reluctant to fire you since there’s no evidence you were coached. Obviously, with at will, they could do it but they would have to be pretty irresponsible.

      1. Juli G.*

        I also think that if you tell HR you fear retaliation, they will take you pretty seriously.

        1. Jeanne*

          It varies. Mine did not care about retaliation. Hopefully, OP has a more professional department.

        2. AMG*

          You never know. But using the words ‘abuse’ ‘harass’ and ‘retaliation’ would be agood start.

        3. INTP*

          I agree and also wonder if it would be appropriate to imply a fear for safety? It would depend on just how intense the tirades are and the OPs gut feeling about it all. I certainly wouldn’t suggest making up a fear that he might come into the office but this does seem like abusive spouse behavior to me, in which case it would be a reasonable fear.

  5. Boo*

    I think perhaps this is something for the exit interview, if you’re sure of never going back and are worried about retaliation/being fired now.

    1. AW*

      This was my first thought as well. Let them know that the reason you’re leaving is because of the abuse you’re getting from the boss’ husband.

      I can see not doing this if you need the good reference (and it better be a good one, considering) but if you think you can do this you might help the next person.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      That was my thought as well. If the OP is leaving, it’s about to be a non-issue for her anyway. Though I’d definitely want to let HR know on my last day that it might be a problem for the next employee. I doubt he’ll stop yelling just because the OP isn’t the one answering the phone anymore.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Because then OP will be long gone by the time the boss finds anything out about it.

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    If he’s her husband, how come the boss hasn’t explained to him that she does a job where she often needs to be in meetings and therefore unavailable?

    From a practical point of view, I would probably be counting the days until I moved.

    1. Future Analyst*

      In all likelihood, she has. In my (limited) experience, people who don’t adhere to standard social boundaries (someone yelling at their wife’s assistant on the phone, for example) USUALLY don’t do so out of lack of understanding– they just don’t care. So he might know she’s not available, but throws a tantrum to the person closest in vicinity.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I’d bet he’s deliberately doing it just so he has an excuse to throw a fit at someone. Especially if he’s complaining about the OP’s perfectly reasonable behavior.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Oh, I’m sure she has, and that he’s just as unreasonable to her (not that this is OP’s problem to solve).

    3. INTP*

      My guess – she has and he just goes off on her like he does everyone else. Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if she experiences much worse at home than her assistants, based on similar people I know. They’re even worse with their spouses, children, and others they think can’t or won’t hang up or leave them.

  7. Carrie in Scotland*

    Even if you are leaving shortly, what about the new “you”? The person that takes over your job might have exactly the same situation – and the fact that other assistants knew about his behaviour and warned you means it was a problem before.
    I think it’s still worth bringing up and giving HR a heads up. The next person in your position might thank you for it. (after all, you could maybe put it in your handover notes?)

    1. Nina*

      My thoughts exactly. HR needs to be made aware of this problem now, before they go through the process of hiring a new assistant. I wouldn’t want someone else to deal with this mess, either.

  8. JMW*

    This is really a horrible situation. Since it is time-limited, is there anyway (given caller-ID) to let his calls go to voice message? It will probably make him angrier, but his anger is not your job. He’s not your customer.

    Alternately, can you treat it like a game? Try a different approach each call, or perhaps use an identical approach each time. You could use her title or department title to answer the phone (Director’s Office, Finance Department). Or try agreeing with everything he says – just say, “Of course!” no matter how ridiculous it is. You could keep a running log of ridiculous things Mr. Not-Smith has said.

    Hopefully you only have a few months of trying to make an intolerable situation bearable. Good luck!

    1. mdv*

      I like the idea of turning it into a game (in my head), but I’d be reporting it to HR, too.

      After giving notice, I would also be very tempted to tell off the husband when he calls, since your job would no longer be in jeopardy. Except for the part where that would almost certainly impact later references from that boss.

  9. Sarah Nicole*

    If I were only going to be there for a few more weeks or a couple of months, I’d go ahead and let it go as best I could simply to preserve a reference in case anyone calls her. OP, I know it’s probably very hard for you because no one deserves to be treated the way you are now. BUT, you’ve been handling it for quite a while already. Since you’ve decided to leave, I’d focus on finding it amusing (if at all possible) and being happy that you’ll soon be out of there. I was in a situation with a boss where she was pretty awful, and I gave them 3 weeks of notice. I just sucked it up and let her be her butthead self – I was gone soon enough.

    1. Anna*

      References aren’t the end-all and be-all. Too many times we permit horrible behavior because “What about the reference?!” I don’t think it’s wise to tell anyone who is actually being abused, verbally or otherwise, to suck it up because they’ll be out of there soon enough.

      1. Sarah Nicole*

        I didn’t tell the OP to “suck it up.” I said I did that at an old job. Yes it sucks, but OP is leaving very soon and it has been going on for almost 3 years. I think that given those specific circumstances, my personal plan of action would be to get through the few weeks I had left there and have the benefit of a good reference from a boss. It would be a whole different ballgame if the OP wasn’t leaving yet, the abuse was of a greater magnitude, or it had only just begun. And anyway, it’s just my opinion. I don’t think it’s wise or unwise for me to say what I would do – this is a discussion. If the OP is feeling threatened or it has become just too much to handle, I would say get out now or go to someone who can help handle the situation. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case and I offered my opinion based on the info we have.

  10. Ad Astra*

    Why is he even calling his wife’s office on a regular basis when he could just call her cellphone?

    1. Future Analyst*

      I suspect it’s less about reaching his wife in particular, and more looking for someone to bully and berate on the phone. It’s not satisfying to rant to yourself on a voicemail.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        You are probably right and this is why I think OP’s boss sucks. OP’s boss has boundary issues if she knows her husband calls her work line and is nasty with her assistant. How many times are either one of them going to apologize for the husband before they realize “hey, let’s keep this out of work, if you need me, text/call my cell”??

        1. KathyGeiss*

          I agree somewhat that the OP’s boss sucks but the other thing that popped into my mind was domestic violence. If this man is capable of being so terrible to an assistant, what’s the likelihood he is that terrible to his wife. It’s crazy hard to escape domestic violence so I’d err on the side of feeling badly for the boss in case that is her experience.

          Bottom line: no one deserves to be spoken to that way.

          1. Zillah*

            This was what popped into my mind immediately as well. Someone with those kinds of anger issues seems likely to take it out on their wife, too. :(

          2. INTP*

            Same, this was in my head before I even finished reading the question. Either violence or a controlling and verbally/emotionally abusive partner. At the very least I think we can bet that this guy is also difficult and hot tempered with his wife which must be exhausting for her. When I worked with a recruiting agency we would often

            I do sympathize with the wife here but at the same time I think a company has a duty to protect all of its employees, including the ones that are being verbally abused (and would be in the front lines if he ever came into the office). Horrible situation if that’s what’s going on.

            1. INTP*

              *First paragraph should finish:
              get calls from people demanding to know where their spouses were working. We never told them because a) confidentiality and b) if someone hasn’t told their spouse where they are working, and the spouse can’t figure that out with a simple phone call, there is probably a reason for that.

            2. ITPuffNStuff*

              i’m not attorney, but i speculate that being verbally/emotionally abusive still fits the legal definition of domestic violence.

          3. Cath in Canada*

            I immediately thought the same. He might be trying to check up on his wife, for example if he thinks she’s lying when she says she’s not available, in a meeting, etc.

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              I was in an abusive relationship when I was in my mid-twenties. My boyfriend at the time would call my office and try to make trouble for me. I also did some consulting/freelancing on the side, and when a client called me at home once, my boyfriend told him I “moved back to Pennsylvania to be a wh**e” (I had not moved back to Pennsylvania), so I ended up losing out on the project. If this guy treats her assistant like this, I bet he’s 10 times worse at home.

    2. louise*

      Because the boss lets that go to voicemail and he doesn’t have a live person to berate.

      I mean, it’s not a *good* reason, but I’m pretty sure that’s the reason.

    3. fposte*

      I’m wondering if there isn’t a little backstory about why he’s calling his wife all the time, period. Does he have a job, or did he retire or get fired?

        1. fposte*

          But if he’s calling a ton during the day, there’s either a workplace that’s not noticing or there’s no workplace to notice. (Admittedly what feels like “all the time” to the receptionist may be only once a day, which would fly under the radar at most workplaces.)

        2. Reg Reader, Anon for This*

          This is exactly what I came here to write. This makes my heart race just hearing about this. Abusers do engage in this behavior…. he’s constantly calling her job multiple times a day to verify that she’s there, confirming when she’s in meetings (thus not able to answer his calls on her cell), demeaning, controlling, verbally abusive, aggressive, and very inappropriate. As a former victim of domestic abuse, this is very famikiar to me. It happens to people at all levels (I am a lawyer and my abuser was a lawyer.) These are the kinds of things other people notice, but don’t recognize.
          I imagine the reason this has not stopped is because she cannot stand up to him or fears the consequences. My approach would be different with my boss, if you feel comfortable. I would tell her what’s going on, and because it hasn’t stopped, I wonder how he treats her. I’d actually share my own experience in this area, and that my own abuser did the same thing (at least checking up on my workplace schedule.) But, you don’t feel comfortable with that (and nearly no one would), so I recommend saying something when you leave to HR perhaps suggesting referrals to local EAP counseling.

          1. Coach Devie*

            Yes, my cousin was in a longterm abusive relationship and any time I tried to do anything with her, if we were away, he was calling her phone every 15 minutes, demanding all details, taking her away from any activities by forcing her to have conversations with him, and explain things to him, and give a play by play and prove she was where she said she was and with whom she said she was with. It was terrifying and exhausting and abnormal. We always had to cut things short because she had to go home, which always scared me because I didn’t know how bad the bruises and lumps were going to be next time I saw her.

            1. Reg Reader, Anon for This*

              Thank goodness, Coach Devie, she had you by her side. That’s no easy task for you, I imagine, given how emotionally draining it is to stand by an abused person while s/he goes back. Continued love and support from those closest to you helps you become free, and recognize what a healthy relationship looks like.

          2. Cari*

            My abuser was like this too.
            Calling me all the time, annoyed when I had to focus my attention on work, hated the idea I wanted to keep my own surname (professionally) if we ever got married, was abusive to my colleagues/boss…

      1. Allison*

        It’s not super uncommon for people to call their spouses during the day, to either coordinate dinner plans (someone who’s making a grocery run might ask what kind of fish to buy), or find out when they’re getting home, talking about carpool details, or because there’s an issue at home. And if they can’t get ahold of said spouse the first time, yeah, they might call a couple hours later if they don’t hear back.

        I’d say they should text, but for some reason, some people don’t like texting. I don’t know how old OP’s boss is.

        1. fposte*

          Some of this is generational, I think; I can’t imagine calling somebody at work for that. This goes back to the kids calling work a lot–that’s something else that used to be Not Done and is pretty common now.

          1. Allison*

            Possibly. It was pretty normal when I as growing up in the 2000’s though, my parents would often chat on the phone in the afternoon to touch base on dinner and who needs to be driven where, when necessary. But I guess in years where marriage had clearly defined roles it wasn’t necessary unless the man knew he was going to be late for dinner.

            1. Aisling*

              I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and it was Not Done then. I could only call my parents at work if someone was dead or dying, or the house was on fire. Generational thing, I guess.

              1. Zillah*

                I think it’s probably as much about the specific workplace as a generational thing, though; I grew up in the 90s and the 2000s, and I definitely called my mother at work. In fact, I was supposed to – I walked home from the bus stop in late elementary school and was there alone for a couple hours, and she wanted to make sure I’d gotten home okay.

                1. De (Gernany)*

                  Yeah, I realize I am also in another country, but I also called my mother at work in the 90s…

                2. Melissa*

                  I was about to say this. It’s more about the office than the generation. In academia, for example, most professors operate pretty autonomously and have private offices so I can imagine that even in previous generations they probably could receive personal work calls fairly often if they wanted to. Some offices/industries care and others don’t.

            2. Observer*

              No, it had nothing to do with gender roles, and everything to do with phone usage and general expectations around work (and child care.)

            3. Anna*

              The only time I ever called my dad at work for a non-emergency type thing was to let him know our dog had got in to a fight with another porcupine and had quills all in his face. Just last year I couldn’t reach my dad on his cell and had to relay something important to him and I felt so weird dialing his desk number. SO WEIRD!

          2. themmases*

            I think it is generational. I’m 28, and I know that most of my friends work very hard, but most of us are still on gchat together during the day at least some of the time. I have some friends for whom this is clearly their favorite way to keep in touch with people, so I make a point to be on too– although I’ve cut back a lot now that I’m hourly. My partner and I definitely touch base throughout the day, usually about dinner and errands. If one of us is taking a break we’ll share recipes or something more time consuming to send/receive.

            However, we all know everyone is working and there is no pressure to respond to a chat in a certain amount of time. I would never dream of calling someone at work about this stuff, and I actually had to enforce really clear boundaries with my parents and aunt that they couldn’t call me at work unless it was an emergency and they couldn’t send personal stuff to my work email. While I’m more comfortable taking a personal call on my cell phone during work hours, I still avoid it and most of my similar-age friends do too.

            1. Melissa*

              My mom used to call me from work just to chat if it got boring on the floor. It’s not necessarily a generational thing.

              I do think it’s easier nowadays to stay in touch during the day because we have smartphones and texting and IM to do that, but that’s not generational, that’s technological advance. The older folks can do it just as easily as the younger folks do, and often do. My research mentor (an older man in his 50s or 60s) texts his teenage daughter pretty much every day from work.

        2. NJ Anon*

          My husband doesn’t like to text but if he needs to call me it is ALWAYS on my cell phone. This guy definitely sounds like an abuser. I feel for OP’s boss but OP should not have to put up with this jerk. I would go to HR for sure. And not wait for an exit interview.

        3. Coach Devie*

          Calling a spouse at work is normal.
          Demanding things of their admin, and being abusive and controlling, is not.

        4. Artemesia*

          I have always found this odd. It seems pretty unprofessional to me to be doing that a lot. Of course from time to time, there will be a double check on something or a need to do a last minute day care coordination but frequent calls seem inappropriate to me. I probably averaged a call to my husband at work maybe once a month during the 35 years we worked in the same city and we were raising two kids and having to do the usual juggling of schedules. I think he probably called me at work even less than that.

          A husband calling many times a day is either mentally ill or abusive and checking up or both. This case sounds like domestic abuse; it is also possible dementia is involved. One of the early signs of dementia is confusion and irritability. In any case, no office assistant should have to put up with it and it should have been shut down the first time he berated the OP. As others have noted even horrible jobs like call centers don’t require their employees to subject themselves to this.

        5. Observer*

          I’m not going to conclude the husband is abusive, but certainly, there is something very wrong here.

          It’s normal to try to reach your spouse more than once a day. What is NOT normal is giving the assistant flack for the way she answers the phone, not calling the spouse’s cell phone, and shouting at the assistant on a regular basis. It’s also not “normal” for a spouse to not put a stop to it.

        6. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, that’s stuff that should be figured out at home prior to work (or by having a shared calendar). Unless plans have changed (someone is stuck at work late when they didn’t expect to be).

      2. Blurgle*

        I think it’s more likely that he’s trying to get his wife fired, so she doesn’t have any independent income.

    4. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Maybe boss’s husband is a jealous jerk and wants to know if his wife is actually at work and not doing something else.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. The need to contact his wife regularly at work, plus the temper gives me a bad feeling about it.

    5. AMG*

      It’s about control. Speaking of which, if mhsband did this to my direct reports, livid would not begin to describe how I felt. I would divorce this fool for behaving this way long-term.

    6. INTP*

      Because calling his wife’s cellphone wouldn’t allow him to track her whereabouts. He needs an assistant to tell him whether she’s really in a meeting or in a hotel having an affair, ignoring his calls to focus on work, out to lunch with people other than him, or engaging in some sort of other egregious behavior (sarcasm intended in case that wasn’t apparent). And then he needs to yell at that assistant because he’s an ass.

      Calling her cell phone would also fail to remind her that he can track her down and he can get her fired with his outrageous behavior if she crosses him.

      Maybe I’m reaching based on other responses but that’s the sense I’m getting here.

      1. Ad Astra*

        The more I read these responses, the more likely it seems (to me, anyway) that he’s abusing his wife in addition to her employees. Because I’m fortunate enough not to have people like this in my life, I had assumed he was just a rude person who didn’t understand the best way to reach his wife. What a horrible situation for everyone.

      2. Allison*

        Like an assistant would divulge details like that. Even for spouses, I think the protocol is either “she’s in a meeting” or “she’s unavailable,” rather than giving out specific whereabouts.

        1. Cari*

          Abusers aren’t always the sharpest tools in the shed mind. Their arrogant belief that their manipulative behaviour and aggression can get people to do anything for them, means the possibility (for example) they’re getting a stock answer from assistants, doesn’t even enter their mind.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      Hmm now I’m thinking it’s bec he knows she won’t pick up but assistant has to…wow this guy needs to get a life and therapy

    8. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      If I was married to someone like this, my personal phone would be off during the workday. He probably calls her office because he knows her assistant can’t just ignore his calls.

  11. YandO*

    The two owners and my bosses are married to each other. Well, bosses is not the right word. She let’s him think he is the boss, while she undermines him every step of the way and he just keeps repeating “I am the boss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” as many times as he can fit into the day.

    She regularly tries to put me in the middle of their arguments and disagreements. She tries to get me to make him do things that she knows would get him to yell at her, but he won’t at me. (yes, I am actively job searching. yes this job is a nightmare).

    Anyways, I have learned to say “This is between you and him”, “You should talk to wife/husband about this”, “I am not sure/I don’t know, but that’s what he/she said he/she wanted” and then I walk away. In your case, I would say “I am going to let you go now and will tell boss you called. Bye”.

    It is not your job to be in the middle of their marriage. So don’t be. Remove yourself.

    1. Mimmy*

      Yikes! My very first job was at a company owned and run by a husband and wife pair. Both of them had tempers, especially the husband. Luckily I was never put in the middle, but I’m sure I heard them arguing (in Hebrew!) on more than one occasion. They definitely were not pleasant to work with :(

  12. Panda Mom*

    It’s also possible that the boss has tried to get her husband to simmer down with no luck. My first job was reception at a mid-size firm and we had an employee whose wife was bonkers. She would call non-stop throughout the day, questioning his whereabouts if he did not pick up his direct line. Once she even had me page him over the building intercom when he was “taking too long in the bathroom”. If she was not satisfied with my responses she would drive to the facility and drive circles around the building or send their small children in to inquire where their dad was. It was mortifying for all us. I left shortly after but later found out he ended up divorcing her because she was bat-snot crazy. He was a good employee, kind and hard-working, but this was sullying his reputation because he couldn’t reign her in.

    1. ITPuffNStuff*

      sad, and more than slightly unfair, that his reputation or career would be impacted by this. i mean, what action specifically did you think he should take to ‘reign her in’? bodily drag her kicking and screaming to the car, tie her to the seat, drive her home, drag her clawing and thrashing into the house, then tie her to a chair? barring some kind of (illegal) physical coercion, the wife you described clearly demonstrated she does precisely what she wants and doesn’t care what anyone (her husband or anyone else) thinks about it. so yeah … not sure it was actually possible to expect him to fix her. she’s a thinking creature with the power to make her own choices, and the culpability to be the sole bearer of responsibility for those choices.

      even if he went to the extreme of divorce (which he likely didn’t because of the extreme consequences that would carry for him — both years of being financially crippled and the emotional devastation of losing his kids), that would likely just enrage her further, and exacerbate her behavior until a restraining order (and subsequent arrest when she inevitably violates it) became necessary.

      1. ToxicNudibranch*

        I don’t know that it’s so much about expecting him to “fix her” or “reign her in” in a literal sense, but when it comes down to deciding whether I wish to keep employing someone great, knowing that I will then have to deal with an irrational, disruptive spouse (or whatever), I’m going to protect my business, my other employees, my clients, and my own emotional well being.

        1. ITPuffNStuff*

          totally understood.

          my comments above were in response to panda mom’s that “this was sullying his reputation because he couldn’t reign her in”.

          while the business has to do what it has to do, including let him go if there’s not a more humane way out of this drama, there’s no reason that should impact *his* reputation. her reputation, certainly, and his job perhaps, but not his reputation (unless you just mean the reputation of someone who made a bad decision about who to marry).

          1. Melissa*

            I think it’s probably his reputation in the sense ToxicNudibranch was saying. “We’d love to hire Bob, he’s great, but rumor has it that his wife is bonkers and frequently harasses him on-site at his current job. I’d rather not take that risk.”

  13. anon for this*

    Ooof. I commend (don’t know if that’s the right word) you for being so even-keeled about it for so long. I have PTSD from an abusive relationship, and just reading your letter made me very, very anxious and angry for you. No one should be subjected to this on a daily basis.

    I agree with the suggestion of telling him directly that you will not talk to him if he is anything other than polite and respectful…and then make good on that by hanging up the moment he starts up; repeat as necessary. Every time, all the time. (As I was taught in martial arts: the best way to avoid a punch is to not be there). This, while also reporting this to HR. The other commenters were dead on in saying that this will continue with your replacement, who may not tolerate as long as you did. They could potentially have trouble filling this position. What a horrible person he is.

    1. Reg Reader, Anon for This*

      I was anon for this as well because of my DV, PTSD, and other issues related to physical and emotional abuse. It made my heart race just reading it. I am so sorry you had to go through this.

      1. Cari*

        *hugs for you both*
        Same as you, this post sent us a load of see flags and reminders of my abusive ex.

  14. OriginalYup*

    Absolutely you can go to HR with this. You’re not asking them to discipline a non-employee; you’re asking for backup on enforcing a company standard on appropriate workplace behavior, aka our employees do not have to be yelled at by customers/contractors/family members of other employees/etc.

    Do you feel like you could deal with the husband directly? I get that he’s a jerk, but I’m wondering if he’d back down if you firmly pushed back.

    “Steve, please don’t raise your voice. If you persist in shouting, I’m going to have to disconnect the call. Now, what can I help you with?”

    “I’m afraid you’ll have to ask Susan that question directly (re the nonsense about her maiden name). I’m happy to give her the message that you called. Is there anything else you’d like me to note in the message?”

    “I’m sorry to hear that (re him saying he’d fire you at his office). As I said, Susan will be in meetings til 3pm today and I can give her your message then. Would you like me to also send her an email in the interim, in case she’s online?”

    You know best on what’s possible, but I’m wondering if this would at least make your day-to-day experience more bearable.

    1. Erin*

      ^Literally was about to suggest this with the first phrase here. “If you continue to speak to me in this manner I’m going to have to disconnect the call.”

    2. Erin*

      “As I said” is also a great phrase. Don’t engage in conversation with this person. Say what you need to say, and when they keep going, repeat. “As I said, she is in a meeting right now. I understand, but she’s unavailable. As I said, she’ll be done at 3.”

      1. Mints*

        +1 on “As I said”
        being repetitive can be really helpful. Your goal isn’t really to get him to understand anything, it’s just to end it.

        “As I said, I’ll give her the message when she gets back.”
        “Okay. (pause) So as I said, I’ll give her the message when she gets back.”
        *double rage*
        “Right. (pause) As I said, I’ll give her the message when she gets back.”

        He’ll probably hang up, which is fine. The real goal is just to minimize how long you’re on the phone with crazypants (and how much you’re stressed about it).

        And ending on a question can sometimes work: “What would you like me to do about this?” I’m not sure if the conversations here lend themselves to this. (This works really well when a customer is raging about something, because sometimes they’ll ask for something reasonable, but sometimes it’s like “nothing” or “let me go back in time and not buy your product.”)

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      My evil twin (in my head) just suggested spoofing my cell and calling him multiple times per day and hanging up

  15. Turanga Leela*

    Alison, I love that you’ve changed the husband’s name from John to Cecil! Your default names are one of the reasons I love this blog.

  16. E*

    Could you answer the phone “Chocolate Teapots, OP speaking, how may I help you today?”. This would be a simple polite greeting not requiring a reference to the touchy subjects mentioned above. All you do is take a message or let him know that she isn’t available. Short and to the point, since he isn’t work-related.

    Best of luck dealing with this, I doubt it will improve but know that the problem is not you.

    1. LizNYC*

      It sounds like this guy isn’t happy no matter what the OP does. When he goes on one of his tirades, I’d probably interrupt/talk over him and say, “Thank you, Cecil. Since Valerie isn’t available, I’ll let her know you called.” Then click.

    2. Artemesia*

      I on the other hand would have continued to ALWAYS answer the phone the way the boss instructed me to do. Letting him bully her into changing her professional behavior was his first toehold on abusing her.

  17. Brett*

    I wonder if the company was already aware of this problem when the OP was hired. Seems interesting that the assistant to a manager being groomed for a major promotion was hired as a 12-month temp in the first place….

  18. The Other Dawn*

    I’ll never understand why employees’ family members (or the boss’s buddies) think it’s OK to treat the employees this way.

    At OldJob a woman would call for the CEO almost every day. We would always have to ask who it is before sending the call to the CEO (typical of any office, I’d assume). 99.999% of people gave their name, no problem. This woman would get all offended and haughtily say that she doesn’t need to give her name, we shouldn’t be asking her such a stupid questions, and that it’s “none of our business.” We would reply that we are required to ask who’s calling before passing the call on to the CEO. Most of the time she wouldn’t give her name so we would pass on the call to the CEO and make no bones about it that “she refused to give her name.” Eventually we knew her voice and would ask who’s calling on purpose, just to f*** with her; we loved it. Several times we mentioned to the CEO that she was regularly rude to us and treated us like we’re stupid. I don’t think he ever said anything to her, but eventually she stopped calling since he no longer had any business dealings with her.

  19. R10Tact*

    Actually, you should go to HR with this. I get that you’re moving on but the next person who comes in after you won’t have the background that you do in dealing with him and really shouldn’t have to deal with him.
    I know the next person is not your responsibility – but this should have been dealt with long before. And more than your boss’ husband – I think your boss is a jerk. How is it possible that she hasn’t figured out that she needs to deal with her husband?!?

  20. M*

    Please stand up for yourself today! Start keeping a log of his behavior. When he calls, if he is rude hang up or put him straight to voice mail. You are under NO obligation to continue being harassed by this man. Your bosses refusal to deal with her husband would make me question if she is suitable for any promotion. Do not stay quiet worrying over her when she is clearly not worrying about you. Her losing an opportunity from not addressing something so easily fixable is NOT your problem.

    Its long past time to go to HR. They can’t fix what everyone knows about but won’t go on record to fix. Ask others to document their knowledge of his behavior or just provide HR with names. Other assistants have already left over him. In this case I see no need to say something to her again. He’s her spouse not the organization’s top client or benefactor.

    If you’re ready to leave that’s ok but do so on your timetable. If they do the unthinkable and threaten to let you go over this then negotiate 3 months severance for the harassment you’ve been dealing with. If there’s some bigger reason this nonsense has been allowed to go unchecked they will pay you off rather than deal with a public fight. They don’t need to know you were planning to leave anyway.

    Doing nothing ensures things stay the same. Say something.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I read your first line as “start keeping a blog of this behavior” and thought, I’d read that blog.

    2. KimmieSue*

      I agree with M!
      Get HR involved for the sake/sanity of whomever replaces you. AND this company has some big exposure to hostile working environment. AND the manager needs to be coached and possibly replaced. AND while she make accept the behavior of the spouse, her co-workers and direct reports should not. M is right – good chance that HR will negotiate a severance for you to leave quietly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not hostile workplace in the legal sense though (that requires the behavior to relate to sex, race, religion, disability, or other protected characteristic). Basic hostility not linked to those things isn’t illegal in the U.S.

        1. sam*

          Definitely not illegal, but it may be a violation of the company’s internal policies, which is worth looking into at a minimum.

        2. Purple Jello*

          Our company policy states “X company is committed to maintaining a work environment free from all forms of harassment, where the individual dignity of each employee is respected. ” While it lists the legally protected categories, it also states “for any reason” and includes the prohibition of harassment by individuals from outside the company.

  21. Bruce*

    Not to internet analyze, but the way that the boss has to keep apologizing for his behavior, the constant checking up, the rage at her using her maiden name is all ringing some bells for me–aka the relationship between the boss and her husband being Not Okay. Does this feel abusive to anyone else? And is there anyway for the OP to help her boss and OP’s self?

    1. fposte*

      I was actually wondering if he might have some early dementia going on, but that’s a possibility worth considering too.

    2. Zillah*

      Yes, it definitely seems that way to me, too. Unfortunately, though, I’m not sure whether there’s much that the OP can reasonably do, particularly with the power differential.

      1. LBK*

        I don’t know if it means she has to do anything per se, but maybe just something to have in the back of her mind if she decides to have a conversation with her boss. I suspect someone being abused would have a reaction to being probed about their relationship that would be really hard to understand without context.

    3. LBK*

      Yeah, I might be able to write this off as him being an overall jerk except for the maiden name part – that in particular makes me uneasy. It feels like a really specific form of control and possessiveness.

    4. Rebecca*

      Yes, and I popped in to say just this. The boss’s husband sounds nasty and controlling, and as sorry as I feel for the OP, I feel just as bad for the boss. She has to be miserable. I can’t imagine what he’s like to deal with in person when he berates people on the phone like this. He probably interrogates her when she gets home, along the lines of “I called at 9:45, and you were in a meeting. Who did you meet with, why didn’t you call me back right away, etc”.

      1. Artemesia*

        But this is her business to fix. She has chosen this guy and chooses to continue to be with him. It is her responsibility to not let this be inflicted on her employee.

        I can’t imagine a firm promoting someone like this. If I were her boss and aware of this situation I’d be more likely to terminate her for not taking care of this as it affects the job. At the very least, she should have instructed her assistant to not pick up his calls or to hang up at the hint of abusiveness. This is not leadership material.

        1. anon for this*

          Wow, that’s harsh. She’s probably coping the best she knows how right now.

          “Chooses to continue to be with him”–you’d do well to read up on why women stay in abusive relationships for too long.

          Yes, her employee should absolutely and without exception NOT be inflicted with her husband’s behavior. But termination?? Not leadership material? This has nothing to do with leadership, good lord.
          She needs help, not termination.

          1. Observer*

            You are right that she may be a victim here, and she’s not really acting out of choice. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that she is not, at this point, leadership material. The simple fact is that her staff is enduring abuse that is directly tied to her, and she has done nothing effective or apparent to rein it in. Cycling through admin assistants, becoming the subject of gossip and diminishing the effectiveness of existing staff are all results of the situation.

            She knows what is happening to her AA. Why hasn’t she told her “I know that my husband is difficult. If you’re not up to dealing with him, just let his call go to voice mail.” And why does the OP have to feel that she’s liable to lose her job if she pushes back on this?

            The boss may truly be unable to do anything about her awful husband. But, if bad stuff happens and you are either unable or unwilling to respond helpfully or appropriately, that generally your problem. When the bad stuff is directly tied to you, it’s reasonable for the company to look at this a part of a package.

            1. anon for this*

              Yes, fully agreed that the boss needs to do what she must to ensure that her husband’s abuse doesn’t leak into her place of business. That may or may not fly with the husband, but she needs to act.

              As a backup, I so wish she had the fortitude at this point to sit the OP down, and tell her unequivocally that she is not to engage when she sees that it’s her husband calling. All the guy needs is an audience, and she should tell the OP that her job doesn’t include providing him one.

              As for why the OP feels her job would be in jeopardy for bringing this up is up to the OP to disclose.

              There are steps that need to be taken before anyone starts a dialogue about termination.

    5. anon for this*

      I think it’s pretty much a given that he’s abusive to her at home too. Having been in that situation myself, I didn’t realize how numb I became to the level of verbal abuse; what other people would find appalling became ‘unpleasant, but the norm’ to me. Crossing a line is hard to do when the line becomes more lax due to the numbness. I don’t recognize myself as I was back then.

      I’m betting that while the OP’s boss offers some sort of apology to the OP, the boss doesn’t see it as the huuuuuge issue that it really is for the OP. She probably already HAS told her husband, a long time ago, to not call her office phone, just use the cell, and he blew up at her and refused–so she doesn’t pursue that as an option anymore. It’s a horrifying place to be. The boss is in a living hell at home, I have little doubt. I may be projecting, but this sounds so familiar.

      1. KimmieSue*

        anon for this – I’m very glad that your personal experience was in the past. Good for you for growing and maturing. Congratulations. A lot of folks never do.

      2. Bruce*

        No, it sound really familiar to my sister’s former situation as well.

        Can I ask? If someone had tried to bring this up with you, how would have you reacted? I know in my sister’s case she had no idea the extent of what happened to her until she got out, but I wish there would have been someone like OP who was aware of the signs and could have pointed them out to her. But I don’t know if it would get a positive response.

        1. anon for this*

          Thank you both. I’m doing really well now.

          Bruce – If someone had brought it up to me, they wouldn’t have been telling me anything I didn’t already know, and I think I would have had a very blunted reaction to it (eg, “I know, and I’m working on leaving”). I “worked on” leaving for several years–I always had hope that the last blowup would be the last one; that he’d realize he was going to lose his family and change for good; that if only he’d go to therapy he’d change. Or, I also sometimes thought that leaving would be worse – that breaking up the family would somehow be worse on my kids than staying. That what he was doing wasn’t THAT bad. That I wasn’t up to dealing how my life would change–and the effort it would take to do so. Someone once told me that it’s better to come from a broken home than to live in one…that gave me a great perspective.

          When I finally kicked him out, I was doing it for my kids; but I ultimately realized that I was doing it for all of us–for me as much as them. There was a ‘last straw’, when somehow I put my foot down and meant it. I didn’t realize how scared and jittery and hypervigilant we all were until he was out. Life is so different now for us.

          So as far as the OP, as I said, if she were to point it out to her boss, I don’t think she’d be saying anything novel or that would spur action. She lives it, so she knows.

          1. Bruce*

            Thank you for your response. I’m so glad you got out and are in a better place now with your family!

    6. INTP*

      I got the same sense. I can’t think of anything the OP could do unilaterally to help both her boss and herself, though. OP can help herself by standing up for herself or going to HR (maybe HR could change the phone number to the office so he can’t call anymore?). But the boss will only be helped if she’s willing and able to cooperate with any attempts to help her and help her assistants, which isn’t always how it works out, unfortunately.

    7. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      Same. At first I just got a “he’s a blustery jerk looking for excuses to bluster” vibe but thinking about it more, this really does feel like it might be the tip of a great big abusive iceberg.

      I hope OP’s boss is OK. Maybe HR can reach out to her with EAP resources like some others suggested. :/

    8. phillist*

      The nature of my work brings me into contact with a lot of controlling partners, and my gut reaction to this letter is that his house is full of evil bees.

      I feel very sorry for the OP, but possibly even worse for the boss.

  22. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Ugh. This is awful. I had a boss (who was a very nice person overall, just…sheltered?, VERY conservative, and not that smart) who wanted to surreptitiously force out a colleague who was gay and worked with an AIDS prevention organization because she thought the clients would avoid him out of fear of catching AIDS (he was visible in the community in his AIDS prevention role, so this was something that most everyone knew). In reality, he was a client favorite and I seriously doubt this ever crossed anyone’s mind. I mean, that type of discrimination is never appropriate, but in this case, he was in a role where there was no reason for him to ever touch a client beyond shaking hands or maybe a friendly hug. I managed to convince her that the highly educated professionals he was working knew full well that AIDS was not passed via handshakes much less standing in the same room (I’m pretty sure most middle schoolers know that too, but I was trying to strengthen my argument). I realized later that SHE didn’t know that you can’t get AIDS from sneezes, handshakes, etc.

    I wish I had said something to HR at the time, but I was very young, in my first professional job and really didn’t know what to do. The HR rep and I were friendly, so I did speak to her on my way out the door on my last day and suggested that my boss needed some training in (a) the ADA (b) how AIDS works and (c) termination policies. This was a state government job – I should have spoken up sooner to protect my awesome employer from the massive mess that could have resulted.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Was this coworker even HIV+, or did she assume that everyone involved in AIDS advocacy has HIV?

      1. Coach Devie*

        This was my question! Just because he was gay and worked in AIDS prevention activism, doesn’t automatically mean he was HIV+ or had AIDS.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I have absolutely no idea if he is/was HIV positive. All I know is that he was (and still is, many many years later) a huge and visible advocate for well-being and health in the gay community, which could have been because of his own experience, the experience of loved ones, or just generally wanting to make the world a better place. I thought about pointing out that he might not even be HIV+, but decided that sounded like, “well, it’s not okay to discriminate because he’s not HIV+” vs. “It’s not okay to discriminate because you perceive that he might have HIV”, which is what I intended. Really, I think the root of this for my boss was more homophobia that fear of HIV/AIDS.

    2. Althea*

      Actually, your method was probably highly effective in educating her without embarrassing her. You managed to convey “Highly educated people know that he can’t give anyone AIDS,” implying that if she thought he could, she is stupid. Then she had time to change her mind without letting on that she was so dumb on that topic.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        That was my intention – but that didn’t stop her from bringing up the topic, unfortunately. She just changed over to “not everyone knows that and we can’t lose clients over this”. She also forced out a gay woman (for “scheduling reasons”) a year or so before that – nobody but me knew why she did it, and I have always felt bad about not speaking up, especially because I was pretty friendly with that woman. That was not about HIV/AIDS, and I don’t think that it violated any laws at the time, but I also don’t think that her boss would have approved at all. This was part-time semester-by-semester work for for my co-workers (I was full time permanent) and it was pretty easy to just stop using someone without actually ever terminating them or even needing much of a reason. Such a crappy system.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    Wow, OP is being way too nice about this. After the second rude phone call, I probably would have mouthed off back and then gotten fired. However, I think a simple solution would be to wait for one of the boss’ half-hearted apologies and then suggest that the husband call her cell phone instead of her work phone going forward. But I guess it’s a moot point if OP is moving. I’d be wary of mentioning it an exit interview if you will be using the boss as a reference.

  24. FD*

    I worry about the wife in this. This behavior speaks of really unhealthy, controlling situation at home. Her attempt to apologize for him says that too, to me–She may be afraid of escalating the situation if she tries to stop it.

    Speaking to HR is a good idea–hopefully, they might also be able to offer the boss some resources if this situation is unhealthy as it seems from the outside.

    1. Jo*

      Agreed, and I’m shaking my head at comments along the lines of “the boss needs to deal with her husband.” This situation does not sound like a garden variety marital spat that the boss can sort out on her own. I mean, yes, it is her responsibility and not the OP’s, and she should be the one to do something about it, but not without support and a plan for her safety. And HR should be the ones to point her toward those resources.

      If the OP had to stay in the job, I would suggest seeking advice from professionals who work with domestic abuse situations and/or verbal abusers in general. There may be guidance out there for how bystanders can best conduct themselves.

      1. Observer*

        If the OP had to stay in the job, I would suggest seeking advice from professionals who work with domestic abuse situations and/or verbal abusers in general. There may be guidance out there for how bystanders can best conduct themselves.

        I disagree. this is NOT the OP’s job nor it her place to deal with the issue. Nor would it be the job or place of whoever replaces her. The only advice I would suggest she get is about the most effective way to protect herself.

        1. aebhel*

          Same. I have a lot of sympathy for the boss, having been in that position myself, but what she’s doing is essentially using the OP as a riot shield to get out of dealing with her husband directly. That’s not okay. If he kept calling but she told the OP to route his calls to voicemail/hang up on him, that would be doing her due diligence as boss. Instead, she’s allowing verbal abuse of her employee.

  25. mel*

    I am impressed that Boss has managed to elevate herself into leader position and now, another promotion, all while this has been going on. If this is how the guy acts toward strangers, I can’t imagine the crap she has to live with at home.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      My mom was married to a horribly abusive man for the first eight years of my life. During that time she went from being a real estate appraiser in a small appraisal company to a Sr. VP of Commercial Lending at a major national bank. She told me that because her home life was so out of control, she poured her energy into the one area of her life that made sense and followed a consistent set of rules: work. It also helped counter the abuse to her self-esteem that she suffered in the relationship. So it makes complete sense to me that the OP’s boss would want to focus on succeeding at work.

  26. Allison*

    At first I wanted to give the guy the benefit of the doubt; maybe they’re having marital issues, and he’s frustrated that she’s always at work and he has so much trouble getting ahold of her (does she not have a personal cell he can text?), and/or maybe he worries that she’s cheating and OP is covering it up like on Mad Men.

    BUT then I got to the part where he yells at OP for being bad at her job, and that is jerkish regardless of what may be going on (or not going on) at home. OP’s boss should be made very aware of how he’s behaving towards them, and if the boss does nothing, I agree that HR should get involved.

    Honestly, I do worry about OP’s boss. Maybe she does know how badly he’s behaving toward her assistant but she’s too afraid to say anything. But it’s also possible he treats her as an equal, but feels free to yell at the people he feels are beneath the two of them, like OP.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I think you give this jerk way to much of an out for his behaviour it’s unacceptable and can’t be so easily explained away. It’s not the OPs problem if he’s having martial problems and she shouldn’t be made to suffer because of it.

      1. Allison*

        Please re-read my comment. I said that “at first” I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt *but then* realized that his behavior *was not* excusable.

  27. So Many Red Flags*

    1. The company culture apparently is one where the behaviour is tolerated. Perhaps the HR department isn’t effective in managing these kinds of problems. While that *should be* where the OP can go for assistance it is a question mark as to whether that team is up to the task. If she goes ahead and asks for help from HR be prepared just in case they aren’t able to effectively resolve the problem. Since this is a known problem that has persisted for a long time then it is unlikely that someone before her hasn’t talked to HR.
    2. If I were the OP, I would identify as many people in the organization who know her work as she can. Ask them quietly for references and use those as support references for a new job in a better organization. Then, if her boss, who seems unable to stop the abusive calls from her husband gives her a negative reference she has balancing references from people who are more reasonable. Not ideal of course but better than relying only on that one person for a reference from this organization.
    3. No one ever should have to put up with that behaviour. It is possible that the husband has a serious and not well controlled mental health problem. Who knows if that is the case or not, certainly not something that can be discerned in this forum. Everyone has a ‘jerk’ moment or two in life but consistent, long term abusive behaviour may be signalling something else.
    3a.One can have empathy for the boss in having to deal with the fall out -that doesn’t mean that the OP [or anyone else] should have to tolerate blatant abuse though. There has to be a solution to stopping this and it is up to the boss to do so. If not the boss, then the bosses boss.
    4. Sometimes the best choice to is protect oneself and based on the information in the post, that may be all the OP can do in the organization. It is the responsibility of the management to prevent and/or deal with the abusive behaviour, leaving the admin person to deal with this is unacceptable.

  28. OP*

    Hi everyone! Thanks for the advice! –I’ve actually already submitted my notice, and since the last incident (which prompted me to write this question to Alison) my boss has been pretty reliable about quickly fielding his calls whenever she’s in the office. And the other assistants who handle her lines secondarily have kindly offered to handle his calls, too (as sort a parting gift), since they are not her direct reports.

    For those who asked about transferring him directly to voicemail: yes, that’s an option, and I do use it regularly. It’s sort of the nuclear option because I know he will call back immediately and repeatedly even angrier, and I must be prepared to continue transferring him for the remainder of the day (while fearing it will be the one time he calls about a genuine emergency). But still, it’s a tactic I use.

    Regarding her cell: generally, he’s already tried her cell, and when he tries her office it’s to find out her whereabouts from me. I made the mistake once of suggesting he try her cell; that was one of his early outbursts (“Don’t you think I’ve already tried her cell?”).

    Regarding why I don’t call him out on his behavior more directly: I don’t have a particularly warm relationship with my boss, and my worst worry is that, if her husband dislikes me this much, perhaps it’s indicative of her private feelings about me. But because I would still like to receive as positive a recommendation from her as I can get, I really don’t want to rock the boat and risk that recommendation. And it’s an otherwise nice, quiet, open office: engaging in a defensive, confrontational conversation like that and/or hanging up on him would instantly draw attention to my boss’s private situation, and I don’t want to risk whatever potential negative repercussions I might suffer because of that. Anyone who’s been an assistant knows that there’s a degree of discretion involved, and while it’s known among the assistants that my boss has a jerk of a husband, I don’t want his behavior to impact her career (we’re not very close, but I do feel a degree of loyalty toward her). Obviously she’s the one who needs to deal with him (and I can tell she tries); the issue is how to handle him when her efforts aren’t enough without feeling like I’m selling her out. I agree that SHE’S the person with whom I ought to be direct, but it’s a sticky, sticky situation that I don’t know how to broach without looking like I can’t do my job.

    With regard for my replacement: that’s my other top concern, and I certainly don’t want someone else to suffer needlessly. I will provide some detailed notes in my instructions for the temp or new hire who replaces me, but I expect they will have to work their own strategy or decide themselves whether to report this to HR. As commentators have pointed out, part of the duty of being an assistant is exactly this: to deal with problems for your boss, including some personal matters that arise during the work day (though this pattern of behavior crosses the boundary of acceptable personal-life intrusions, I feel). And I have no doubt that someone with a different set of interpersonal skills would know how to handle him or deflect his comments better than I do (I ignore / offer him a call-center, “I’m sorry you feel that way” -type response). I feel someone brazen enough could shut it down with one concise comment, and I really hope they do.

    For those concerned about my boss’s safety: I have worried about this, too, but there has never been any indication of abuse. I’m pretty certain this issue is limited to his general demeanor: he’s a wealthy, powerful individual who is likely not accustomed to anything short of absolute gratification. *It’s a tiny bit like working for Claire Underwood and having to deal with Frank: their’s is a relationship so complex and mysterious to me that I am 100% reluctant to involve myself in any way.

    Final outcome: I’m leaving the company and moving across the country (this is merely one factor out of many that influence my decision to leave). For the next few weeks, I will transfer him to voicemail and offer my sincere appreciation to my co-workers who take his calls. I will likely avoid mentioning this during the exit interview because I don’t want my boss to have any cause to give me a less than favorable review, as I am now job-hunting and will need to use her as a reference. I will, however, suggest to her that she look for a replacement specifically equipped with the right personality and attitude necessary to deal with her husband, since that seems an unwritten job requirement.

    1. Sadsack*

      You seem like a very thoughtful and professional person, best of luck to you in your move!

    2. Been In Your Shoes*

      “part of the duty of being an assistant is exactly this: to deal with problems for your boss, including some personal matters that arise during the work day ”

      I’ve been an assistant on and off for a long time and “dealing with problems” or “personal matters” is emphatically NOT the same as “sucking up repeated personal abuse on a daily basis.”

      Also? Bad reviews can be survived. Especially as you can quite legitimately say in any forthcoming interview, “I do not know what my previous boss will say regarding my performance as I was never given a formal appraisal during my three-year tenure with her.” That points out your steady performance as an employee.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d probably disagree on that last paragraph — plenty of places don’t do formal reviews but you still get feedback along the way. I’d actually be a little alarmed to hear someone say they’d worked in a job for three years and had no idea what their boss thought of their work, regardless of the lack of formal evaluations. (Not saying this is the case with the OP — just talking about the specific language suggested here.)

        1. Been In Your Shoes*

          To be honest, that’s a variation on something I did have to say once. It worked for me.

    3. MsM*

      I wonder if it’s worth asking Jane if you can get coffee or lunch before you go, expressing appreciation for the aspects of working for her you have enjoyed, and asking for a candid assessment of your performance. Best case scenario, she thanks you for putting up with her husband all this time, at which point you can gently broach your concerns about your successor having to deal with the situation. Worst case, she’s cagey in a way that confirms your suspicions she might not like you all that much…in which case, can you really count on a positive reference from her anyway?

      Either way, I do think you should listen to the feedback you’re getting about it being okay to shut this down, along with some of the suggested phrasing. (Personally, I’d go with “Frank, I’m not your employee, and I have another call to take. Would you like Claire’s voice mail? No? Then I suggest you try her again at 3. Have a lovely day.”) Your job is to handle your boss’s *professional* problems (plus maybe the occasional personal emergency, which this is not), and your loyalty to her should not trump your right to be treated with basic respect. And if she can’t handle this particular interpersonal problem without it impacting her work, then maybe she shouldn’t be getting the opportunity to have more responsibility over additional reports.

    4. LizNYC*

      Congrats! So glad you’re getting out of there and embarking on a new (better) adventure!

    5. Mimmy*

      Thank you for the quick update! Really glad you’re getting out of there. Best of luck to you with your move and new endeavors!

    6. Elder Dog*

      Tell your boss to change her office phone number, keep the old one, and tell everybody except her husband to the new number. Then let the old number go directly to voice mail. All calls from his number to any number at the company should be redirected by the company phone system to the old number.

    7. Observer*

      If your boss is a decent person, she won’t give you poor reviews for going to HR and / or shutting her husband down. If she would do that to you, then you owe her absolutely ZERO loyalty. It’s just such an inappropriate reaction for her, if she would do that. I get that you don’t want to harm your chances. On the other hand, you don’t have any real obligation to worry about a hit to her career. If there is something she can do about and doesn’t or if she would retaliate in any way against someone who is trying to protect themselves or others from this, then she is not worthy of any concern. And, it is also likely to come back to haunt her. If she embraces the help that HR could give her, instead, I would bet that it wouldn’t hurt her.

      I understand that you don’t want to look like you can’t do your job, and I do understand dealing with some amount of personal “stuff”. But what you have describe is absolutely NOT in the realm of what could be expected from an AA.

      1. Julia*

        I agree that OP worries too much about her Boss when the Boss clearly does not extend the same courtesy to OP.

    8. Underemployeed Erin*

      I have seen this type of behavior before. Certain wealthy people believe that they can treat “the help” poorly. This does not work well for them when “the help” involves contractors who can fire bad customers.

      I have an acquaintance who was having a difficult time finding a drywall person for a small job during the housing boom. She eventually found someone who would come out to do the work on a date that was several months away. When he arrived at the house, her significant other was so rude to him that he quit.

  29. Another HRPro*

    OP: I am sorry you have been dealing with this. It is not right and you should not have to put up with being treated so disrespectfully.

    I think you should tell you manager. It sounds like she has an idea that he is being rude, but she should know specifically how unprofessional he has been. This will give her a chance to address it. You may think she won’t do that, and that is a strong possibility, but you don’t know that for sure unless you give her a chance. You also mentioned that she is up for a larger job. Having a significant other calling the office and mistreating employees is not going to help her career. In fact, just the gossip of it going on could cause problems.

    To be clear, I’m not saying you have to talk to your boss about this. If it were me, I would. I believe in giving people an opportunity to address issues. If you are not comfortable having the conversation with her, you should go to HR. Someone needs to talk you to your boss about how this can change. Not just for you, but for your replacement.

    Good luck with your move!

  30. Chameleon*

    Yeah, I’d give it a 90% chance that this guy is an abuser, at least emotionally. It sucks that the boss won’t intervene but I’d bet she simply can’t. Maybe on your last day, leave a copy of “Why Does He Do That” on your boss’s desk?

  31. Merry and Bright*

    Apologies if I have missed a similar point upthread. But what seems crazy to me is that the husband uses this method to call. It is ages since I worked anywhere where coworkers’s partners used an office landline to contact their SOs. They normally call their partners’ mobile phones, especially for senior staff. Even if there is a general no-mobile rule it doesn’t usually apply to bosses. This scenario seems strangely old-fashioned.

    1. Coach Devie*

      OP mentioned that when he calls the office, repeatedly, it’s after he’s already unsuccessfully tried her mobile.

  32. Steve*

    It’s 2015, why can’t he just call his wife on her cell phone and void you entirely?

  33. Anon for this comment*

    OP I was in a somewhat abusive work place for two years and I posted about it in the open thread Friday. PLEASE think about telling someone in HR. I really regret not saying something. I’m not sure how much good it would have done but I think I would have felt more at peace if I would have went to HR and had my experiences at least in writing.

    1. Another HRPro*

      It is not too late. You can still contact HR at your former company (even anonymously). If it is a decent company, they will look into it.

  34. gsa*

    I always hope the OP follows along, even if they have nothing left to add…

    In 20 some odd years, I have only once had to say,”Excuse me, I am hanging up now”, to a customer. I called the Customer Service Manager and explain my side of the story.

    Hopefully, this is good fodder for the OP, particularly the next time someone calls her and acts like a d-head.

    Good luck with move!

  35. Lola*

    If I were running a business and an employee’s personal relationships were negatively impacting employee retention, I’d want to know. That said, there could be other schools of thought.

  36. ITPuffNStuff*

    to be fair, the wife can’t choose for her husband how he will behave; only he can do that. to that end, the company may consider blocking the husband’s phone numbers from calling any of the office lines (this is technically feasible through many office phone systems).

  37. trilby*

    This is baffling. I would have asked my boss to rein him in, or else educated him myself on the phone within 2 weeks of starting this job. Unless my boss was a clueless idiot and I had made a decision to accept that and work for her anyway, I would immediately bring this up to her in the strongest possible terms and make it clear that I expected something to change. Does being a temp really make people that timid and fearful for their jobs? I guess I understand, but the moment you were a full time employee this should have been addressed.

    This situation makes me suspect there are serious problems with your boss that you chose not to go into here.

  38. Kiwi*

    This sounds a lot like a scenario that could end with the husband killing his wife (and possibly those around her e.g. colleagues/friends – particularly those who he associates with “keeping him away from the wife”). A lot of red flags around this story. He is full of rage and cannot control himself. Glad OP is leaving this job and moving far, far away.

  39. diet ginger ale*

    My father is sometimes like this husband in this scenario and he is a normal guy at home. When he has an occasion to feel powerless in some regard, he looks around for someone who is a ‘lesser rank’ than he is and blows up over small change items (in my mind). For instance, something set him off a few years ago and he went around holiday shopping and would report any clerk to their management if they said Happy Holidays instead of his preferred Merry Christmas after giving the clerk a lecture on ‘manners’. He will calm down after these incidents for a few months or so until he gets into a stir again. He has admitted that he has problems with his temper in public but we don’t see it at home. The boss may or may not be dealing with abuse at home but is definitely dealing with someone who clearly needs therapy. My father only picks on people who don’t have the power to tell him off and the bosses husband might have the same m.o. .

    Odds are that the husband is an abuser but there might be other things going on here as well. Diagnosing someone over the internet is always a mine field.

    1. diet ginger ale*

      Also, something to mull over – don’t abusers sometimes do this to their victims hoping that they will be fired from their jobs so the victim is even more at the mercy of the abuser?

      1. nona*

        Yep. They can also demand constant communication, so the victim can’t do anything else or talk to anyone else.

  40. Patty*

    Survival technique #1, if he gets too bad and you’re about to tell him off, hang up in the middle of your own sentence. Nobody hangs up on themselves talking. He’ll call back, but it will buy a few minutes.

    Second technique: Ms Smith is my boss, I’ll share your concerns with her at our next meeting. Then tell her what he said and ask whether you should follow his suggestions. Pretend they’re reasonable suggestions… Then do what she tells you to do. When he bitches at you, tell him you discussed it with your boss and I’m following her instructions. Then ask if you should bring it up with her again.. Then do it… Every time he gets nasty, repeat… She needs to know what he’s doing.

    If that doesn’t end it, when he starts yelling, ask if he would like to leave concerns about your performance on your boss’ voice mail or would he rather speak to your boss’s boss about his concerns.

    The key is to treat him like any other caller.

  41. Minister of Snark*

    You’ve receive excellent advice here. My only additions would be to just say, “OK, then,” and transfer him to your boss’s extension/voicemail. Surely she has voicemail.

    (Calls back)

    Jerk Husband: You’re an incompetent twit! I don’t know how my wife tolerates you!
    You: OK, then. (Transfer)

    (Calls back)

    Jerk Husband: I can’t believe you transferred me before I finished berating you!
    You: OK, then. (Transfer)

    (Calls back)

    Jerk Husband: Let me finish berating you!!
    You: OK, then. (Transfer)

    If he complains to HR or your boss asks why you’re interrupting his rants to transfer him, reply that his behavior was abusive and you were doing your best to handle his call while maintaining your calm.

  42. Kristine*

    Why answer her phone when he calls? He doesn’t want to talk to you. Let him leave a VM. (Yes, I realize that this will make him irate as well. That’s the point. Clueless Boss can come to you about it – how unprofessional of her to allow this!) No way would I put up with abusive language from a boss’s family member.

    Can you imitate a man’s voice? You’d be surprised at the results.

  43. TootsNYC*

    I wonder if there’s any use in saying *to the boss*, “I thought that, since I’m leaving, it’s a good opportunity to exchange feedback. I’d like to find out what I did that was particularly good, or what areas I could improve on. If you were going to describe an event that encapsulated my positive performance in this job, what would it be?”

    And then say, “I thought you might like to know, for the sake of whoever takes my place, that the way your husband speaks to me on the phone was a big part of why I was eager to leave. It’s been very difficult for me, even though I’ve encountered it for many years. It will probably be hard on the next person. If you can find some way to make that stop–or to get all your calls from your husband on your cell phone–that could make a real difference in how long the next person stays, or how eager they are to work well with you. I have to say–it was really unpleasant.”

  44. catsAreCool*

    Until you can leave, how about answering the phone with her married name when you can tell that he’s calling? That way he gets the formal answer and his last name. He may find something else to yell about, but that will at least cut down on a couple of things.

  45. Vicki*

    The sad thing is, if she doesn’t tell anyone, she’s going to leave, they’re going to hire someone new, and this pattern of abuse will happen over and over again.

  46. Lisa Petrenko*

    Your boss doesn’t have a cell phone? Completely unprofessional to be receiving personal calls from her husband on a company line that isn’t even directly answered by her. Thank god you are leaving. I would have cursed him out.

  47. Cari*

    Ugh OP I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this, it is so very wrong. I hope your next place is a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience!

    I have a sneaking suspicion your boss is not doing anything about her abusive husband because you’re acting as a buffer between her and his abuse of her? There are certainly a few “abusive spouse” red flags in what you’ve written…
    If you were feeling especially fed up of this treatment, you could always leave her with a few numbers for domestic abuse helplines and a divorce lawyers. Your boss needs to ditch this abusive arsehole if she wants to keep her own job and/ or keep things running smoothly at the company.

  48. 2horseygirls*

    So many good and thoughtful responses on here.

    Honestly, since OP has caller ID, I would have answered his calls (and ONLY his calls) with her married name. How is he going to know how every other call is answered? I understand the toehold theory, but on the other hand, I firmly believe in removing the wind from his sails, so to speak, on that particular argument which seems to be his favorite.

    In addition to a written log of the abusive calls, I would also start recording them with my iPhone. One person’s abusive could be another person’s “grumpy”, but if you, Boss, and HR are sitting in a conference room and e v e r y o n e is hearing him lose his sh*t in the recording, there’s no room for interpretation or levels of tolerance. I would also make it abundantly clear that you will be playing this for the agency that placed you there as well, so the company is most likely going to have to find a new placement agency to work with. Finally, stating that part of the transition routine for Boss’ admins is a bottle of wine, a giant bottle of Excedrin + warnings about him will confirm that it is not a personality conflict with OP alone.

    Now, because I’m a little twisted, I find it utterly amusing to be as pleasant and cheerful as humanly possible to people who are being rude or abrasive to me. It’s a game for me to see how big of an a**hole they can make themselves look like, and there’s a scale of bonus points involved if it’s in front of other people. :)

    OP, I too am a bit old-school in how I was trained. Loyalty is admirable, discretion a must, but not at the expense of my sanity, safety, or my right to a pleasant work environment. As others stated, being an administrative assistant does not automatically place me on a level unworthy of basic common decency. What you are asking for is not unreasonable in any way, and it’s unfortunate if Boss is in an unhappy (or abusive) situation at home.

    However, if Husband does come to her workplace with violence on his mind (which is not out of the realm of possibility), you should not stand in his way or be anywhere near his radar on that day. There is NO FREAKING WAY that an administrative assistant position is worth risking injury or death for (unless it’s at Stark Industries ;) ). I would point the way to wherever she is, and get the he!! out of the building (dialing 911 on my way out). There is nothing you can say in that moment that will all of a sudden stop him in his tracks. Your sole purpose at that time is not be collateral damage in whatever happens.

    I wish you luck (and a very peaceful setting) in your future endeavors.

  49. Miriam*

    There are two good ways of dealing with a verbally abusive bully in the workplace. Personally i prefer #2.

    1. Cool politeness. “I beg your pardon!” and “surely I must have misunderstood you,” and if all else fails, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we have a bad connection…could you please speak more clearly? … Hello? … Hello?” Then hang up.

    2. Disengagement. As soon as the verbal abuse begins, say, “I don’t allow people to speak to me in that manner. Goodbye.” If he dares go to your boss about your “hangups” (a word applied to anyone these days who expects to be treated with dignity and respect), tell her the same thing: “I don’t allow people to speak to me in that manner.”

    Don’t retaliate with rudeness; this is what he wants, and it would also endanger your job. There are plenty of polite ways to stand up to a bully, and you’ll only need to do it once.

    In the future, push back the *first time* you experience abusive behavior from anyone in your professional world. Life is too short to spend time serving as the punching bag for unhappy people who lack manners and who were never taught to (or worse, don’t want to) act better than they feel.

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