vote for the worst boss of 2020

It’s time to vote on the worst boss of the year — and we have so many terrible nominees that this year we’re voting in brackets. Today we’ll for the worst in each of four match-ups … tomorrow the winners from today will go head-to-head … on Wednesday we’ll vote on the final two … and we’ll crown the winner on Thursday.

Voting is now closed. The results in this round were:

1. A Terrible Trio
the boss who photographed an employee’s accidentally exposed body 47.07% (3,411 votes)
the boss who mooches off someone living paycheck to paycheck 33.56% (2,432 votes)
the boss who has violent tantrums and punches holes in walls 19.37% (1,404 votes)
Total Votes: 7,247

2. The Treacherous Triplets
the company that planned to absorb any government stimulus checks that employees receive for themselves 46.05% (3,121 votes)
the boss who let his team taunt a new hire because of her nut allergy 35.82% (2,428 votes)
the managers who created a fake workload to test how much pressure an employee could take 18.13% (1,229 votes)
Total Votes: 6,778

3. A Threatening Threesome
the boss who tapes people’s mouths shut during meetings 65.81% (4,306 votes)
the company that makes you forfeit all your vacation days if you’ve worked from home 24.55% (1,606 votes)
the abusive former boss still berating someone months after they left 9.64% (631 votes)
Total Votes: 6,543

4. A Tawdry Triad
the boss who made someone do a video call — with eye contact — while she was driving 54.58% (3,641 votes)
the company that won’t pay if you don’t install spy software on your personal computer
23.28% (1,553 votes)
the boss who tells weird lies about everybody 22.14% (1,477 votes)
Total Votes: 6,671

{ 246 comments… read them below }

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I tried it on both Firefox and Chrome (but at work) and cannot see the brackets.
        I got out my phone and, voila!, I can see them.

    1. Artemesia*

      Brackets are a great idea and what a lot of ‘great’ nominees. I tend to go for the bosses who misuse their power financially e.g. force forfeit of vacation days, steal government stimulus, mooch off low paid employees rather than the horrific personal stuff like the body parts photo — but they are quite horrible across the board. Will be interesting to see the results.

      1. Artemesia*

        having now read so many responses, I am struck by the difference in focus. I think that structural problems of late capitalism are the thing most damaging to us in the workplace. i.e. systemic theft of work and others focus on personal awfulness like the lying boss or the tape on the mouth etc. Just interesting to see how different people’s take is on this.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I tend to go with who a cross between who does the greatest damage (which tends to prioritize systemic capitalism abuses because they are usually broader in their impact) and who is most egregiously outside the range of normal workplace — or just plain human — behavior. So for example, the guy a few years ago who made his staff get tested as potential kidney donors for his relative couldn’t have done much more damage than stressing people out because the doctors wouldn’t accept a reluctant donor in the first place no matter what the boss wanted. But it was just so atrociously outside the range of acceptable behavior that it got points with me just for that, even though its most harmful potential effects were blocked by other people.

          In this round, that led to me voting for the boss who tapes people’s mouths shut on sheer egregiousness, but in all the other brackets I went with more systemic girls of misbehavior.

          Interestingly, the one I would’ve heavily voted for wasn’t on the list at all: the boss who laid everyone off and forced them to work anyway for no pay, threatening to tell unemployment they quit if they did not. I’m curious why that one didn’t make it; forcing people to work without compensation seems to me to be the ultimate case of an abominable boss.

          1. Flora*

            I once upon a time had a school teacher who did things like the taping mouths shut in the classroom. I never told my parents because I was a tween who wanted to be independent and manage herself (and I guess other kids either also didn’t, or didn’t have parents who would have seen this as the emotional abuse that adult-me knows it definitely was), and all in all, I am okay, but when I read that letter the first time my visceral response says I would respond EXTREMELY badly to that tactic and that I know exactly why. So I chose that one. Probably no one was actually physically damaged, as they were not by my teacher, but it turns out this nonsense can linger. Ugh.

      2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

        I’ve always been about safety (overtrained I guess), so while all the entries were truly outrageous, I went for the ones who are a bona fide threat to other people’s physical wellbeing.

  1. 3DogNight*

    I love the bracket idea! There were so many contenders this year, that it was really hard to choose. I wish I could have voted more than once!

    1. Ally McBeal*

      I’m VERY much a fan of brackets!! (Most of this is the result of going to a school that wins a lot of March Madness tournaments.) Plus we get SO many contenders for Worst Boss every year… I’m always excited for the year-end ranking, but this is a nice little bonus to that process.

    2. Pied Piper*

      Right? The brackets are now visible since my earlier message, and now I can’t decide. Who knew horrible bosses and companies come in so many different flavors?!

    3. designbot*

      Every time I was really torn on it, when I clicked ‘vote’ I found the other one I was strongly considering was the winner. These bosses are ALL bananas.

    1. KHB*

      Yeah, I had to resort to an approach Alison used a few years ago, to pick the ones that are specifically the worst at managing (as opposed to the worst at being human beings, which would’ve been like a twelve-way tie).

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I went with “THAT’S ONLY JUST NOT ILLEGAL YOU WRETCH” as being a good indicator of truly egregious behaviour, and even that didn’t narrow it down far enough.

        1. Lilli*

          I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to tell someone to make eye contact during a zoom meeting while driving in pretty much any jurisdiction. If that’s not illegal, I’m seriously shocked.

          1. Quill*

            Not specifically illegal, I don’t think, because the illegality would be more along the lines of actually being in the zoom meeting while driving.

          2. Radical candor*

            That particular letter did not remotely belong on a list of Worst Bosses (on the contrary). It is reasonable for a boss to ask that an employee be able to engage during a scheduled conference call, and it is common sense that the employee pull over while driving to take calls. This is not a conundrum and should not require a letter to AAM to resolve. All it takes is a lick of ability to think on your own.

            1. Lilli*

              That letter read to me as if the boss knew that their employee was driving while engaging in a zoom conference and thus not focussing on the road. If you see something like that as a boss you need to tell your subordinate to either stop driving or stop making eye contact. Instead, the boss encouraged the employee to keep up the dangerous behaviour. Regardless of that, the letter writer should have behaved differently too, but that doesn’t excuse the boss’s behaviour.

              1. Radical candor*

                See, the way I view it is that pulling over is common-sense act by the employee and should not require the employee to act like a sheep waiting to be told what to do. Does you boss need to tell you how to use a knife and fork, too?

                1. Lilli*

                  No, but if the boss notices that their employee does something that is dangerous to other people while working they need to tell them to stop. You can’t just watch your subordinate doing dangerous things without reacting.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I went with actual harm to employees. Because otherwise its just too tough to sort out how each was bad in their very special way. No way to compare them.

      3. Dave*

        I went with how many people where harmed (or at risk of serious harm) by bad decisions in some cases or the cost of the harm as a narrow down technique. I had kind of forgotten that at the beginning of the year meeting in person was a thing.

      4. Cat Tree*

        Yes, this is why the nut allergy didn’t get my vote in that bracket. It’s terrible, but a lot of the terribleness came from the coworkers, not just the manager. It was a tough choice though.

      5. Cats on a Bench*

        So many hard choices! For me, putting someone’s life in danger pretty much tops the list as the most egregious.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      And how. Normally I go with the “how much long-term harm was/is being done” as my main criteria, but I’m stumped on the second one. On the one hand, stealing stimulus money from your employees is extremely harmful, but OTOH so is sabotaging a long-time employee with their new team by nonsensically banning nuts and making it the new team member’s fault.

      1. desdemona*

        I went with the nuts one in that case, because they were letting team members get away with leaving nut-candybars on LW’s desk, which could result in death. So the metric was “which one of these could kill somebody outright?”.

        1. EPLawyer*

          On that one I went with the fake workload because I believe the guy actually had a physical reaction whereas nut llergy lady I didn’t even remember and had to go check. She hadn’t got sick — yet.

          1. Teyra*

            Ooh interesting! I went with the stimulus check one because I can sort off understand the other two as potentially being due to sheer incompetence instead of maliciousness (managers anyway – staff in the nut allergy one are awful). Stimulus one, not so much.

      2. Jam Today*

        Same here, with a couple of the brackets it came down to “will this result in death?” and went with that one.

        1. Artemesia*

          A reasonable criterion; I go with misuse of financial power — but yeah good case can be made for death by nuts or in a flaming auto wreck as well.

      3. chi type*

        I had to go for pure wtf-ness on some of them, like the mooching boss isn’t that harmful but just the sheer cajones it takes to do something like that.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The concept of ‘federal offense’ made my decision there. (Should be even if it isn’t…I am not a lawyer.)

    3. lemon*

      this was like, the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.

      how can there be so many truly terrible people in the (work) world?

    4. LizzE*

      In previous years, I was pretty decisive about who would my vote. But this year? It feels like no matter the offense, all these bosses were equally offensive in my eyes. I realize some of these submissions were before the pandemic, but in a time when human decency and kindness is needed more than ever, all these bosses/organizations deserve this distinction.

    5. My Dear Wormwood*

      I can’t believe how hard it was to decide even with brackets…time to go tell my bosses how much I appreciate them.

  2. Week old sourdough*

    It worked on my phone but not my PC.
    Group four was the toughest category! Can’t wait for this year to be over.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      For me it had to be the video call with eye contact boss because that was a risk to life – that driver could so easily have ended up in an accident through being forced to make eye contact with this idiot boss on video call.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          The employee’s life and the lives of everyone else on the road! I still can’t believe that’s normal practice at the OP’s company – the liability is insane.

          1. Artemesia*

            I can believe that people would meekly surrender their lunch or not rock the boat when the boss stole their PTO BUT I have a lot of trouble imagining anyone agreeing to eye contact with zoom while driving — ‘Oh I can’t do that, I am driving and that’s not safe’ —

            1. OhNo*

              For me, that is exactly what makes it such a good example of how much a toxic work environment can mess with someone. From the outside, it’s easy to say we’d never do that, but if someone’s been working in that environment for years and slowly had their boundaries overrun until they don’t feel like they can say no… that’s when we get bonkers situations like this!

          2. Radical candor*

            God forbid the employee pull off the road to take a scheduled call.

            It’s the employee’s questionable judgment threatening the lives of everyone on the road, not the boss’.

            1. Jackalope*

              It’s also the boss putting the employee in the position of believing that they will be in serious trouble if they don’t comply (telling her that not making eye contact and showing her face while driving was “completely unacceptable”). The dynamics of power in a boss-employee relationship are such that this is going to make a lot of people do something they otherwise wouldn’t do.

              1. Radical candor*

                The boss didn’t say that failure to show her face while driving was “completely unacceptable.” She *said* that failure to make eye contact *during the conference call* was “completely unacceptable.”

                Being able to exercise a lick of independent judgment without being spoon-fed directions is the mark of a responsible employee, if not an adult. Pull over to the damn side of the road and participate actively in the call. It’s not rocket science.

                (To be fair, I think the boss’ insistence on video was an overreaction, and that you can have a perfectly productive audio-only conference call — indeed usually a more productive one. That said, video is ultimately the boss’ call to make. Even if you disagree, that call is light-years from “worst boss of the year” fodder.)

                1. Birch*

                  Maybe this is the case and the employee wasn’t taking responsibility. Or maybe the employee was terrified of losing their job and had been psychologically abused and manipulated by the boss that they lost track of perspective. Psychological abuse and stress do intense, scary things to the parts of your brain that control judgement and decision making. Yes, the employee should know better. No, your boss should not have that kind of power over you. But we don’t have enough info to know if the employee was able to take more responsibility in this case.

        1. Someone*

          I went for weird lies too. I did this because people who make up lies about other people can really destroy their credibility and ruin their careers. These people who were told lies may never find out the boss was just bananas and will go on to have a bad feeling towards the person who was targeted.

          But it was tough with the driver one too. That was so bananas and awful too.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I went for the weird lies because that was such mental gaslighting which seems like would cause emotional impact. The video call was terrible, but the employee/driver should have refused and then it might have been a different letter about a terrible boss possibly retaliating against the employee for doing something safe.

        1. Nameless Copywriter*

          I had a boss like that. He caused a lot of emotional damage by lying about the sex lives of women on staff. His own boss was caught in a sting operation in which a female police officer posed as a prostitute. Those were ugly times, the 1970s.

          1. Someone*

            Hey! Most of my jobs have been in places that work like its still the 70s!

            It is horrible where I live.

        2. Carlie*

          I went for the lies as well, for the same kind of reason. The zoom driving is so obviously illegal that the employee could file a claim/grievance about it, but the lying – where do you even start? How do you even explain it to anyone without them thinking you’re the odd paranoid one? How do you fight back on that??

      2. Someone Else*

        the boss never told the writer to drive during the meeting – only that the meeting was mandatory. writer *chose* to drive during the mandatory meeting.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          Yeah, I didn’t choose that one cause while it was not a great request on the employers part, the employee could have pulled over.

      3. A Poster Has No Name*

        Yes, this. The risk to the employee’s life, and the lives of other drivers, made that one kind of a no-brainer, for me. Though the others were also so, so bad.

      4. ...*

        The LW could have not driven while on a call- the boss may have been a jerk but I’m actually surprised this one was even in the running. The LW chose to continue a call and make eye contact while driving!

      5. Tau*

        Same, but I super wanted to give the boss who tells lies an honourary mention because the whole “destroying your subordinates’ reputation for shits and giggles” aspect had me gaping at the screen when that one was first posted.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I almost think some of these bosses felt the need to sink to the occasion that 2020 presented.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Once had to repair an old 486sx with a Windows 3.1 install on it that ran a critical application that couldn’t be upgraded or replaced, the manufacturer had gone bust decades ago, the rig had been in an outdoors maintenance hanger and required a new parallel port. In 2010.

      This year, the entirety of it, has felt like that. Helplessness against a situation you’re told you HAVE to fix but have no idea where to even start.

      1. Quill*


        That goes so far beyond anything I ever find in the field of “every analytical chemistry device was manufactured and bought between 1983 and 1992.”

    3. another librarian*

      literally had to double check the date on the first one because i couldn’t believe “punches holes in the walls” was THIS YEAR

  3. I edit everything*

    I could see four polls, with three choices each. I don’t think it’s set up as a *bracket* bracket.

    Man, some of these choices were so hard! And now my desire for updates is raging.

  4. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Are these randomized brackets? Because every single one in my first trio is APPALLING! I really am struggling with the idea of saying one of them is “worse.”

    Man, some employees out there really need a free hug and a million dollars. :(

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I was wondering that too! Are these brackets grouped in any particular way, thematically or based on awfulness? I went back and forth in group one so many times.

      1. Artemesia*

        There was one misuse of financial power in each set as well as more personal violations so they do seem to be thematically distributed to me.

    2. juliebulie*

      Yeah, I mean I voted, but sometimes I felt like it was apples vs. armadillos and it was hard to compare them.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      I know, right?! That was HARD! Why are people with a little bit of power just the worst?!

    2. Generic Name*

      Right? I found myself thinking, “well, this one is the worst because it endangered someone’s life” more than once!!

  5. Liberryannie*

    After I voted, I looked at the results, and it seemed that the first choice was winning by far in each bracket. I mean, I know it’s possible, but seems unlikely.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When you display the results, I think it displays in the order of which has most votes. It doesn’t display that way when it’s just showing you the voting options (I mean, it might, but that’s because it’s randomized).

  6. Tía Teapot*

    I see it on safari on my ipad with the latest ios, but not in chrome on that same ipad and not on my phone which is a couple updates behind.

  7. Engineer Woman*

    This bracket is a great idea! While always difficult to choose, selecting from a group of 3 is definitely easier than a group of 8-10.

  8. Points for Anonymity*

    The first trio is so inexplicably awful that I felt a little bit ill after reading all three of them. Ew.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, I think it says something about how awful 2020 has been where I kind of forgot just how many really, REALLY bad bosses we’ve had this year.

  9. Wintermute*

    I feel like we need special award categories to capture the full nuance of ways these bosses are awful, because comparing threats not to pay people to physical threats is really hard, it feels obvious that more physically threatening acts are more severe but then you step back and think about long-term effects and a threat to punch you in the nose doesn’t seem as bad as a threat to cut someone’s pay drastically– it’s a relatively severe short-term stress versus a much longer-term and nearly as severe stress.

    So I propose we create the Pullman Award for Excellence in Economic Violence, the Victorian Medal for Employee Ownership and the Gibson Award for outstanding contributions to a cyberpunk dystopia.

    1. Claire*

      The way I figure it, bosses who behave badly but get something tangible out of it, like the company that wanted to absorb the stimulus checks, are less bad than bosses who behave badly and don’t appear to gain anything, like the boss who encourages nut allergy taunting. Obviously, it’s wrong to try to cheat an employee out of their pay, but I understand the motivation there. Nastiness for the sake of nastiness is just incomprehensible to me.

      There are just so many ways for a boss to be horrible!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        See, I almost came down on that side of things, but I still went with the stimulus absorbing company as the worst in that bracket because a lot of people are financially suffering right now and need every single cent they can get. And while allowing people to taunt your employee with a nut allergy is gross as hell, the OP in that letter said herself that she doesn’t actually get physically ill or go into shock from being around nuts – she just can’t ingest them.

        So in the grand scheme of things, no physical harm is being done to that OP (mental is another story) while having your stimulus checks stolen from you by your greedy employer definitely will lead to physical harm.

        1. Wintermute*

          See that’s where I land on it too, economic impact has a lot more long-term damage, tape over your mouth is embarrassing and humiliating but you can rationalize it says more about THEM than you, no one will be worse off in 30 years because of it, but if they mess with your money, that can have long-lasting impacts.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yup. Evictions and foreclosures in the middle of a global pandemic is not anything to play with. That company is disgusting for even suggesting something like that.

      2. Artemesia*

        I made the opposite judgment because US business is so often set up to savage people financially and that is something that ought to be fixed with policy. Personal ugliness is ultimately less important than systematic theft of labor. (but I can sure see the opposite argument — some of these like the lying or the nut taunting are just so awful)

        1. Wintermute*

          See I think that proves the point even more. To stand out as exceptionally evil, as opposed to the petty evil that most companies engage in requires you to be truly beyond the pale of civilized society. When stealing from and cheating employees on a daily basis is considered normal, acceptable behavior (and it really is through misclassification, abuse of exempt status, baseless UI challenges, etc) then rising above that to be considered truly awful takes quite a lot.

      3. pancakes*

        Yes, this is a good distinction, and captures some of what is uniquely infuriating about the nut allergy one.

    2. Three Flowers*

      +1 I want to be able to vote for these trainwrecks by variety of wreckage. Otherwise how do we even choose??

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*


      The full panoply of boss awfulness is too broad this year to reduce to a single “winner.” We need—nay, 2020 requires—a full-on Academy Awards of managerial awfulness.

      1. Threeve*

        I’d like a “clueless bosses” category–the supervisors who, probably meaning well, do something absolutely absurd. Like the recent “great job on your insecurities!” boss.

    4. I edit everything*

      Yeah, I tended to go for ongoing WTF-ness over one-time thing employees could push back on and probably change (like the video call and the software installation).

      1. Wintermute*

        Pullman was a maker of the train cars, notorious for his treatment of employees in his company town in Illinois, a planned which lead to a riot at one point. His town was a planned community that aimed to exert total control over his workforce, where you were paid in scrip, housing was assigned based on performance, he (or your boss) had to approve any marriages or cohabitation, etc. He paid in company scrip, forced you to shop at the company store, and generally abused his workers to the point they rioted in the course of trying to extract every ounce of value from them while paying as little as was possible.

        The Victorian Medal is a pun on the Victoria medal, an award for civil service in the UK, and the Victorian era.

        The Gibson award is named for William Gibson, writer of many notable Cyberpunk works set in a megacorporate dystopian future where such things as employer-required brain implants, megacorporate legal immunity and a complete lack of restrictions on corporate behavior have become commonplace. Fun Fact, my username is taken from his Sprawl Trilogy, the name of the AI that runs Tessier-Ashpol SA’s privately-owned space station.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Third one I’m sure where they got the name: William Gibson, science fiction writer credited with originating cyberpunk.
        First, I suspect references the Pullman company who got the US gov’t to assist breaking a strike in the 1800s.
        Second may reference the general Victorian attitude towards the poor: it’s the individual’s responsibility to keep out of poverty, even if the deck is stacked against them by institutions like company stores.

  10. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Good choices…erm…I mean HOLY CRAP this has been a shit year! I mostly chose the ones where the company/boss did the most damage to the most number of people and they had no power to stop it. Some of these people do have power to fight back, albeit a terrible choice of losing/quitting their job.

  11. Was I ready for a career leap?*

    So far, I’m with the majority on 3 out of 4 votes — but I’m apparently more against employer spyware than most (or less against Zooming while driving?)!

    1. Reality Check*

      I had a hard time with that one too. I finally decided the eye contact thing would be easier to get out of.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Same here. The only reason I didn’t vote for the Zoom while driving boss is that I feel like the OP could have opted to pull over to the side of the road.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Same. A few of these, the OP or other victims had some ability to push back. Tape over the mouth? Um…no you may not.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, the tape crossed the line for me. Any time you have a manager that physically puts their hands on you, it’s a hells no.

          1. GothicBee*

            To be fair the manager doesn’t put their hands on the employees, they just pass the tape over to the employee who is expected to put the tape on themselves per the LW’s letter (I’m surprised everyone goes along with it). I did still vote for that one though.

            1. Fish Microwaver*

              The fact that staff are so demoralised that they apply the tape when the boss passes it to them is a huge red flag that this workplace is awful.

      2. Sylvan*

        Yeah. Actually, if I’m remembering that one correctly (and sorry for not reading it again), the OP was stepping into their car when they received the call. They weren’t already driving. Their boss is a jerk but they made some pretty bad decisions.

      3. The Other Dawn*

        I feel the same way. Yes, the boss is a problem for telling the OP to Zoom and drive, but OP should have spoken up and said they’re driving; pulled over if they couldn’t end the video call; or just not started driving until the call was over. That situation is not 100% on the boss.

      4. Annony*

        That’s what it came down to for me. The driving OP had more ability to push back and minimize the consequences (although I can see why it didn’t feel that way at the time).

      5. Jackalope*

        I totally get that perspective, and obviously there were a lot of differing opinions during the original post as well. The thing that I came back to is that we aren’t voting on the employee’s response, just the boss. (Although I recognize that the two are related, and affect each other.) In the original post, the OP was on her way back to the office (making it back a bit late) and the boss told her to Zoom into the call *while she drove*. So she put it on drive-safe mode so she could hear but that turns off the mike and camera. The boss then said that being in the meeting without faces and eye contact was “completely unacceptable” (quote from the letter), and that she was required to make eye contact during the whole drive, and the boss didn’t care that she spent an hour doing this. So the boss was knowingly asking her to risk her life so she could provide face and eye contact while driving.

        It’s true that she could have chosen to pull over. Employees in the first story could have stopped the boss from taking their keyboards to break them; the employee with the mooching boss could have refused to buy coffee for her boss and purchased a locking lunch box; the employee with the nut allergy could have sent out an email to her co-workers explaining that they could still have nuts in the unit as long as she didn’t have to eat them; employees could have refused to put tape on their mouths, not taken emails from a formerly berating boss, or refused to install the spyware. In almost all of the stories presented, the employees involved had a way to step back and not take the action requested of them. The reason all of those bosses are on the list (including the boss of the video while driving OP) is that due to the boss’s position of authority and power over the OP’s (or family members they were writing in about, etc.) they were putting people in a situation where they had legitimate reason to believe that they were going to have repercussions that could dramatically affect their livelihoods. Yes, the video-while-driving OP had the ability to say no, and I agree that not videoing while driving was a much safer thing to do. That being said, arguing that the boss in that situation should be off the hook because she could have said no…. excuses most of the bosses on this list. (And that could totally be someone’s reason for voting for the others! All 4 brackets have an option where the employees did NOT have a choice, like the woman who had her accidentally exposed body part photographed and the picture shared; I could totally understand if someone decided to make that part of their voting criteria! I just think it’s unfair to blame the OP in this situation and not the OP’s in the other, similar situations, especially since we’re voting on worst boss, not worst OP response. The OP caving in and driving while on video doesn’t make the boss who pressured her any less awful.)

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*

      That bracket is really tough. I despise spyware, too, but is it worse than demanding an employee put themselves in physical danger, or making up lies about employees having PTSD? Maybe? It’s certainly more constant and invasive, IMO. But there’s no easy choice in this bracket.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I chose the lies bc that others had possible solutions, the lies were impossible to combat.

    4. I edit everything*

      I give extra points for bizarre-ness. So the tape on mouths and the boss who invents weird lies moved to the top of my lists. What do you even do about stuff like that?

    5. many bells down*

      I’ve discovered it’s the petty weird things that really get my goat. I went with “weird lie boss” on that one

    6. Lizzy May*

      I went with the spyware even though every boss in that bracket is awful. I just feel like this year especially, work feels more and more comfortable moving into our homes and I wanted to pushback against that idea.

      1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        Yeah, spyware on their PERSONAL computers! That sends screenshots! So screenshots of things you do on your personal time! What the hell!

    7. GothicBee*

      I tend to prioritize voting for bosses who show a pattern of awfulness, which is why I went for the boss who lies over the other two which seemed like they could be more one-off situations. Though I imagine both of those bosses are awful in other ways too.

    8. Square Root of Minus One*

      That bracket was the only one I found easy.
      I mean, this boss is endangering the employee’s life… while as despicable they can be, the other two are not.

    9. Dream Jobbed*

      I voted just like you. I would simply pull the car over for the zoom meeting, and have no hesitation telling my boss not to risk my life expecting it while driving as I have good lawyers in the family, but would probably get fired for refusing to put the software on my computer.

      I do taxes. Currently I have to be extraordinarily careful never to do any work on my personal computer (I do zoom meetings and web e-mail, but nothing worked on or stored) because there is no way strangers are getting in my client’s tax returns (very small business) due to an FOIA request.

    10. Anonymous Elephant*

      That was the one that I didn’t go with the majority, mainly because I feel like the OP could have pulled over to take the call. I remember how controversial that was on the original post.

  12. Doom*

    I have a last minute write-in for worst boss. Spouse is currently recovering from COVID. Boss was going to sweep the positive test under the rug! No use reporting boss because the whole state doesn’t care

    1. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

      A shower and a lie-down! I have a small headache, and I’ve just realised I’ve been grinding my teeth through rereading some of these!

  13. Sylvan*

    Tough choices! For most, I voted for the boss who was most responsible for what was happening – bosses who caused the problems instead of enabling them. But they’re all horrible and I can still think of bad bosses who didn’t make the cut.

  14. Grey*

    I get nothing at all. If I disable adblock, I get a black box with a loading bar, but it never loads anything.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The direct links above should take you straight to the voting. There have been over 1,000 votes since they posted an hour ago so the direct links seem to be working. (That said, I also have a ticket in with the software that does the polls to find out why so many people couldn’t see the embedded versions in the post.)

      1. Grey*

        Right. Just trying to help figure out why it wasn’t working.

        In any case, looks like it’s already fixed.

      2. Phony Genius*

        Trying it on my computer, the newer browsers work fine. The older, outdated browsers don’t show the polls, so it may be a browser-specific issue.

  15. Khatul Madame*

    I prioritized abuse by individuals/at individuals, because when it’s done by a company or a group, it’s harder to pinpoint the instigator. I also prioritized danger to life/health over financial loss or discomfort.
    It was still very difficult to pick the worst.

  16. Oxford Common Sense*

    I’m basically going to have to throw a dart at a dartboard because every single one of these could be the worst boss champion.

  17. Space Camp Counselor*

    I don’t know when this started, but the really loud auto play ads on this page are really startling and frustrating. They don’t even have a mute option.

      1. Llellayena*

        I know there’s not much control over this, but the video ads in general are considerably more annoying than the banner ads. You can’t just scroll past them, they reappear in the bottom corner and cover content. You have to actively close them to be able to read the site, especially on a small phone screen. I haven’t noticed any auto-play sound, but I usually manage to close the ad completely before it fully loads anyway (Safari or Firefox, if it’s useful).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah! Advertising revenue has been way down this year for most sites, including mine, so I’m experimenting with new ad formats. This one might be a December-only thing, not sure yet.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh — but they are not supposed to cover content. If that ever happens, please send me a screenshot so I can get it fixed! (Need the screenshot to see which ad it is.) Thank you!

            1. On a pale mouse*

              All ads feel like they’re covering content on a phone screen, but it’s tolerable when it’s just the bottom half inch. My experience of the current video ads is that they pop up covering most of the bottom half of the screen, then shrink down to a more reasonable size, then can be dismissed, leaving only the one at the top of the comment page, which still sometimes auto plays sound. I will screenshot next time if I can remember how. :)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh wow, okay, they’re not supposed to do that. It’s supposed to be a video box right above the comment section and then when you scroll past, it moves to small box on the right side, all without covering any text. Thanks for sending screenshots if you see something different!

                1. JustKnope*

                  Thanks for being open to feedback on these, Alison! The video ads have made the site extremely hard for me to navigate on mobile lately. They make the page auto-refresh pretty regularly, which then makes me lose my place where I’m reading in the comments, or it refreshes while I’m typing a comment and I lose all of it :( … it actually happened to me halfway through trying to get this comment written! I’ve started copying my comment halfway through so I don’t need to write it all again if/when the page refreshes lol. I appreciate the tough spot you’re in with advertising, but did want to speak up because it’s been really frustrating to experience.

      2. Space Camp Counselor*

        Thanks! I’ll absolutely do that now. I frantically searched to mute an ad about agriculture jobs in Oklahoma and didnt see a mute button. It was v startling.

  18. A Simple Narwhal*

    I love this! Not that there have been this many awful bosses, but I absolutely love the idea of a bracket! There were sadly so many bad bosses this year, this is the perfect way to revisit them.

  19. Swarkles*

    Has there been an update on the company that planned to absorb the stimulus checks? I remember in the original post Alison said she would name the company?

  20. Bibliovore*

    here’s the thing. The very first time that boss tried that tape thing, I would have walked out of the room. WTF?

    1. Artemesia*

      the first request should have been met with laughter and joking refusal i.e. ‘oh yeah right, we are all going to do THAT’. I have trouble imagining a group of workers going along with that one ever. Some of them like the PTO or the software are harder to combat without losing your job — but the tape? Or being asked to zoom while driving — a quick ‘not safe, not doing that’. or ‘you must be joking’ should have nipped it in the bud.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I wouldn’t be that dramatic the first time…I’d just quietly fold the tape in half and set it on the table or stick it to my notepad if I had one with me. I certainly wouldn’t put it on my face! Quiet but professional resistance makes a statement too.

  21. Random Commenter*

    So hard to pick.
    For #1, I eliminated the moocher, because they’re just annoying and I think could actually be resisted fairly easily.
    For #2, I eliminated the nut allergy one, because it’s the entire company, not just the manager that’s terrible.
    For #4, I decided on the one that could actually result in deaths.

    Still can’t decide on #3

    1. Random Commenter*

      I think I have to give the nod to violating bodily autonomy over being a jerk about vacation days.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is easier to push back on violations of bodily autonomy though without consequences than on vacation days.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      You know, I reread the moocher one and the boss was stealing (by going through her lunch when LW was not around) so I think I voted for that one. But I was considering that if it had just been verbal pressure, I wouldn’t have ruled that manager the worst.

    3. Bostonian*

      I picked the moocher for #1. Violence and sexual harassment (the other 2 options) are arguably more serious offenses, but there’s something about the entitlement and power abuse of the moocher boss that really ticks me off personally.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yeah, same. All three were horrifying. But Anger Boss was smashing keyboards on the wall, not really “at” anyone. (Still, totally traumatizing!) The boob photo was insanely invasive and inappropriate, but a one-time event. The Moocher Boss, though, was demanding, all day every day, going through OP’s lunch and stealing her food—I mean, just. Non. Stop. Boss has all the power in the relationship, and it sounds like being slowly smothered by an octopus, working for her. *shudder*

  22. Jo*

    As well as worst boss of the year it might be interesting to have a worst boss of the decade award, where we vote for the worst boss from previous years winners. I think the boss who was showing up to an employee’s chemotherapy sessions to talk about work would be s strong contender, although I’m sure they’d have competition.

  23. Overeducated*

    Can we have an extra COVID bracket this year? I’d like to nominate a late-breaking contender, a relative’s boss who made her get in line for hours to get a COVID test Thanksgiving week when she was really sick with flu-like symptoms. Granted, testing is important to know how long to stay home from a public-facing job – but the first day she went home after 3 hours before getting anywhere near the front of the line, and the next day when she got in line at 5 AM she was so sick she started throwing up on the sidewalk. She went home and called to say she was too sick to get tested, and her boss said to “Go back and wait, it’s not that bad.”

    Readers, turns out said relative did not have COVID, but there is no way she should have been standing around a bunch of people in public for hours in that condition. I’m so mad on her behalf.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      I got tested in 10 minutes at a major city center. Red vs. blue states, funding maybe.

      Anyway, I recently rewatched “Chernobyl”, and bosses sending people into such risky situations with disease is being like Dyatlov in the reactor control room.

      1. Overeducated*

        She’s in a major city center in a blue state, too! I think Thanksgiving week was just way over capacity. And she was at a public testing site, rather than one specific to a health care provider, maybe that’s part of it – I’ve been able to get appointments through my provider but the public sites where I live have very long lines.

        I need to watch “Chernobyl,” but my capacity for absorbing real life disasters is maxed out….

  24. Tink*

    Really hard to choose. Many of them suck. I wish we could send the winners an actual award of sorts but I suppose they are impervious to shame.

  25. A Poster Has No Name*

    This bracket has made me grateful, as AAM often does, that I work where I do for my awesome boss. It’s not perfect, to be sure, but yeeeeeesh.

    Tea, sympathy, cocktails, etc. to all who have to work for these or other bad bosses.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      I am in the office today (highly unusual at all but esp. since COVID). My boss is here with me because we have a gargantuan project that can only be accomplished by being physically in the office. She has been the greatest help. Because it’s technically my project, she has just submitted herself to my direction. I could not do it without her and after seeing this 2020 list of worst, I am forever grateful for her!

  26. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    For me, the worst bosses in all the brackets were the ones that interfered with employees’ pay and/or stimulus money. I mean, bottom line, everyone works to get money for food and shelter. Don’t mess with the only or main reason why people are there.

    1. Des*

      For me, endangering people’s lives (e.g the one with driving on a video call) and violating personal space (taping mouths shut) stand out above any thievery of monetary compensations.

    2. Anon-mama*

      I voted this way, too. My litmus test was how hard it would be to counteract the bad behavior. Taking pay and vacation on a company wide basis, even if eventually ruled illegal still involves a lengthy process–or worse, if technically legal, no real recourse. A manager asking me to do something ridiculous–I can always try HR or some other more reasonable higher up. Though I did vote for the lying boss. That’s a snake pit that only be resolved by leaving.

  27. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

    sweet goddess of oceans i didn’t realize all these pinnacles of professionalism and maturity were from this same year. 2020 has been quite the decade.

  28. Lady Blerd*

    Somehow I missed a couple of the posts the first time around. I fel my chest tighten while reading the one with the boss still berating the LW after they moved on. That photo taking manager is just horrible.

  29. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “the boss who made someone do a video call — with eye contact — while she was driving”

    Dramatically increasing the risk of deaths should “win” this all.

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      Funny, I eliminated that one right off. I feel the situation was at least as much on that LW than the boss, since they hadn’t even begun driving when the call came. The boss was bad, no question, but LW could have stayed parked until it was done, or pulled over, or something, so bad decisions were made by all there.

    2. Artemesia*

      yeah but no one can make you do this. This is one easy to push back on ‘can’t do that it isn’t legal or safe’ — whereas when they are stealing your paycheck or vacation. days you have no real recourse.

    3. Alianora*

      Nah. Like others are saying, the boss made the employee do the video call with eye contact. It was the employee’s choice to drive while doing that.

  30. TimeTravelR*

    It really says something about the number of horrible managers out there that we can even do a bracket system and that I had SUCH a hard time selecting from each!

  31. Dignity, always dignity*

    And to think that ultimately, one of these people will be crowned the worst of all!

    I hope we can get updates on all of them.

    I think, just for being nominated, the offending bosses should have to read the original post about themselves at a staff meeting (zoom or in-person) and insert their name, or “I” where appropriate. Their employees should be able to respond with tar-and-feathers, rotten tomatoes or “cheap-assed rolls” or “nude, spray-painted Barbies.”

  32. Elenna*

    Yeah, brackets are definitely a good idea. Why were there so many awful bosses this year? 2020 please stop.

  33. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I’m just amazed that all of these are only from 2020. I could’ve sworn the mouth-taping boss was from years ago but the date on the post tells a different story.

    I wonder if we will be getting updates on some of these, because they are so horrific I hope the OPs have moved on from some of them. I’d love to know what’s going on with the nut allergy torment, the mouth-taper, and the keyboard-breaker, for instance.

    1. Bostonian*

      I thought the same thing! Maybe tape boss seems like a year ago because it was from the Before Times.

  34. yala*

    I think nothing’s gonna top the video-call-while-driving thing for me. Like, there are other bosses who are being outright evil, malicious, cruel, etc. But that one was risking so many lives out of pettiness.

    1. Alianora*

      I honestly am more upset that the employee chose to start driving while making the call (and tbh, I feel like the headline and framing of that letter was pretty misleading). The boss wasn’t requiring the driving. That was the employee’s choice to endanger lives.

  35. Not playing your game anymore*

    All so horrible each in their own special way. I tended to pick the bosses where the employee was totally at their mercy… for instance the eye contact while driving one?? OOOPS dead zone, lost my connection.

    But really? So much bad boss energy here.

  36. Urdnot Bakara*

    you think you’ve heard it all. then someone’s boss starts taping their employees’ mouths shut.

  37. Mr. Shark*

    Oh man, this was so difficult! I tried to focus on the ones that were not one-off issues, or that were dangerous. So I went with:
    1. Boss who punches walls. I think that would be stressful for anyone. How could you deal with that? And there’s nothing you can do about it. The moocher you can talk to about it, and the breast picture-taker, while absolutely horrible, was a one-off thing (hopefully), and just a temporary lapse of judgement.
    2. Stimulus check. This is awful and affects people’s livelihood. The peanut allergy was terrible, but I guess more manageable for the one person it affects? Ugh.
    3. It should be the vacation days, but the humiliation of taping your mouth shut? Please, no way. That’s not even close to professional or a mismanagement. That’s pure disrespect and insanity. It’s absolutely unacceptable. The berating e-mail from previous boss should’ve been ignored completely. The boss was horrible, but the person got out of the situation and should’ve never responded.
    4. All three are horrible, and the boss who tells lies is ridiculous, but I think can be managed. The spy software can be managed around or just quit. The eye contact while driving–well, first of all, the boss sucks. Second, just don’t do it and deal with the consequences later. But I picked the eye contact while driving because that could’ve been deadly.

  38. Inconceivable*

    How to choose, how to choose? It’s like picking a favorite child, except not at all like that! Ooh, I really dislike all of these bosses.

  39. Bostonian*

    *reads the first bracket* Wow, that’s a tough choice, maybe the next bracket will be easier.
    *reads the second bracket* OK, looks like I can’t make a choice here, either.
    *reads the third bracket* What the actual F?!

  40. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Alison, your descriptions of the groups are hilarious — The Treacherous Triplets & Threatening Threesome — sounds like something from Lemony Snickett!

    It is shocking — but perhaps not surprising — that we have more Bad Boss nominees this year than ever before. Tough times bring out either the best or worst in all of us.

    I do hope those who shared these stories are in a better situation now, and I wish you, Alison, and all your readers, a peaceful, safe and prosperous 2021.

  41. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

    After we declare a winner, can we get the name and address of the offender so we can all send them a flaming bag of dog crap? Or maybe they all get one but the winner will be declared the Grand Poo-bah and inducted into the Flaming Bag of Dog Crap Hall of Fame?

  42. Secret Identity*

    Wow, so somehow I missed that first one about the photo of an accidentally exposed breast. I would have been furious, if that’d been me!
    It’s so weird, though, really – all of the bosses mentioned above I just read these stories with my mouth hanging open wondering how people act the way they do and somehow believe that it’s okay or normal. Like, yeah, I get so angry sometimes that I snatch random keyboards and beat them on tables till they’re in pieces and also put my fist through drywall on account of my rage, but that’s normal, right? Everyone does it.

  43. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

    In general, I went for options where the harm couldn’t be reasonably pushed back on or waited out while applying for other jobs.

    1. Photography Boss. The moocher could have been pushed back against, potentially. The punching boss was a really close second, especially because he Destroyed! Things!, but he hadn’t attacked anyone. I can’t believe I wrote that, but Photography Boss TOOK A PHOTO OF AN EMPLOYEES EXPOSED BREAST AND SHARED IT WITH OTHER MANAGERS. That’s serious harm already done.
    2. Stimulus Check Company. If the company does that, there’s not much that can be done–legal steps are long and expensive, and the money is already not in your pocket; even if you go to another job, the problem isn’t solved. The other two are really bad, though. Fake Workload had the most personal reprecussions, nut allergy had the worst individual boss.
    3. Vacation Days Company. Again, hard to push back on a company-wide mandate, and just SO DUMB. “working from home in a pandemic is just like a vacation!” And forfeiting all vacation days for the rest of the year from June on–so no days off for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Christmas. Sorry kids, daddy can’t open presents with you, he has to sit at his computer and work! Former boss, you can just send to spam; Tape Boss is really bad and a close second.
    4. Spyware Company. Again hard to push back on, and just IT SENDS YOUR COMPANY SCREENSHOTS OF YOUR PERSONAL COMPUTER! Banking! Social Media! Intimate Photos! Medical Records! Anything you do on that computer is now potentially visible to your boss. Video Call Boss, the employee didn’t seem to even try to push back–she drove for over an hour, there absolutely should have been an exit, a gas station, or a shoulder of the road to pull into. She had control over whether she drove or not, even if she couldn’t push back on her boss. Weird lie boss was a close second, there really is no way to push back, and that can be pretty harmful. But that’s the kind of job where you polish up your resume and keep your head down until you can jump ship.

    1. whistle*

      Heh. I used pretty much the same criteria and made the same votes.

      Tape Mouth Boss makes me see red and I think she might be the most ridiculous of the whole bunch, but it’s also pretty reasonable and easy to not put tape on your own mouth. If I was voting on sheer WTFness (which is a fine way to vote!) that one would win all day for me.

    2. Alianora*

      Well reasoned. I has the same internal debates as you, ended up making opposite calls in 2/4 cases, but I respect your choices, definitely.

      1. Very difficult choice between photography and punching. Went with punching because ultimately I think physical expressions of violence would make me feel more unsafe, but they’re very close.
      2. Also went with stimulus check. The pure greed and lack of concern for employees put it over the top.
      3. Tape won out for me. Again, a difficult debate with vacation days, but the way the tape boss seemed to target young, inexperienced employees is predatory in a way that makes my skin crawl.
      4. I also went with spyware. The weird lies are bad, for sure, but the potential for harm seems lower. Video call’s inclusion on the list felt out of place to me. The boss didn’t ask the employee to start driving in the middle of the call! That’s at least as much on the employee as the boss.

  44. karma police*

    I did the 1st one no problem, thought “this is easy!” and then reached the second one. And I cannot pick between them. They are all HORRIBLE PEOPLE.

    I think I’m going with the fake workload one, but really, they are all winners/losers.

  45. Sarah Layne*

    Such a disgrace that there are so many of these horrible bosses/people in this world! Ugh it’s disgusting and these “bosses” should be ashamed of themselves… oh wait I forgot they don’t think they have any problems! These poor employees that are under them!

  46. Coffee*

    So hard to choose. I was struck once again by how many bosses have used their power to cause real harm, ongoing harm, to the people working for them. It’s horrendous.

  47. Wren*

    I went with 1) Mooching Boss, 2) Government theft, 3) Mouth tape, and 4) Driving video call.

    It was really hard to pick between Mooching Boss and the non-consensual photograph. In the end I chose the moocher because while I would definitely not want the photograph thing happen to me I just can’t get over the sheer audacity that the other boss has for repeatedly doing this behaviour.

  48. Certaintroublemaker*

    I, somehow, managed to pick the option that was in second place at the time I voted in every single bracket. Just naturally gifted, I guess!

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