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John P. Johnson/Warner Brothers via Bloomberg Awful supervisors, such as the one played by Kevin Spacey, right, in "Horrible Bosses," don't just appear in movies. They are in many workplaces, and their antics share common threads.
Lines your employer or ex-boss should not cross

From bawdy and rude talk to unwelcome actions, here is a list of no-no’s

First Published Jul 06 2012 11:42 am • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 11:31 pm

Jeff Shane, executive vice president of Michigan-based Allison Taylor Inc., a reference and background checking firm, says that while no work situation is perfect, yours should never be a place where you frequently feel distressed or ill at ease.

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Describe bosses behaving badly.

They make references to your salary in front of other staff. Whether the boss is saying, "I don’t pay you enough," or "I pay you too much," will lead to resentment among staff members. Broadcasting your earnings undermines your position with others; they’ll either think you’re willing to work for peanuts, ruining their chances of earning more, or that you’re overpaid. These type of bosses also reprimand you in front of other employees. This is a form of bullying, and it’s never acceptable. They share too many personal details. If you find the conversation often veers in this direction, lead the way by being very brief in your responses and then change the subject back to business. In addition, they make inappropriate references. Any comment that makes you squirm is one that shouldn’t have been made in the office. This includes water cooler jokes, emails, or comments about your physical appearance.

What about sexual references?

Workplace romances are never a good idea, and it’s beyond unprofessional for a boss even to make the suggestion. All of these things are a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. Bosses should never imply that sex, race, age or religion is a factor in work performance. None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do the job for which you were hired. The suggestion that they are is not only unfair, it’s discriminatory. Address any such implication immediately.

Where do impossible tasks come into play?

Managers need to communicate their expectations for work performance clearly, assist employees when needed and set reasonable deadlines for projects. This one can be tricky. At times every employee has probably felt that they’ve been dealt an impossible task. But if you’re consistently receiving unreasonable demands, you need to speak up. It could be a communication issue; perhaps something as simple as unclear directions are bogging you down. Or it could be a case of micromanagement (in which case, you were hired because the boss felt you were qualified to do your job, and it’s fine to remind the boss to let you do it). Just be sure you address it with management in a courteous and nonconfrontational manner.

What about references from former employers?

They may not make a reference to legal action, such as, "Hold on a moment, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say." There should be no reference whatsoever that the former employee may have sued. In addition, they must return a reference call. After all, what does it say when a former company, boss or the human resources department does not return a reference call? It’s a very strong hint to a potential employer that there were issues or problems with the employee. They also must not have a bad attitude, offer opinions or offer any type of personal conversations within the industry. "Off-the-record" conversations that malign a former employee must be taboo as they can be considered "blackballing." In many instances, it’s best for a human resources executive without emotional ties to a former employee to provide the reference. If there’s a problem, consider having a reference check conducted on those business associates from your past by using a reputable third party to do reference interviews on your behalf. This will ensure that if any negative input is obtained, your report can be used to legally address and neutralize your negative reference situation."

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