Can you openly criticize your boss without fear of immediate dismissal? Here are the tales of three employees who did just that and paid for it with their jobs.
Upset following an angry confrontation with her boss, Maria Van Der Meij wasn’t about to go quietly. Believing that her boss had acted improperly during a meeting, Van Der Meij left the office and wrote to the company’s board of directors, angrily criticizing her boss by accusing him of being a coward and lacking ethical standards. The letter cost Van Der Meij both her job and her case, as a court later found that by spitefully criticizing her boss, her immediate dismissal was justified.
Similarly, following a number of poor performance reviews, Yingyi Chen had finally had enough of management’s disdain. Knowing that the company was in a precarious financial position, Chen penned a letter to its shareholders widely expressing his dissatisfaction with management and how he felt the company was being run. In siding with the employer, a court found that Chen had attempted to embarrass both his managers and the board of directors in the eyes of the company’s shareholders, and that by doing so without a good reason, his termination was upheld.
Conversely, when Dawn Marie Bennett became concerned with the way her boss ran the small office where she worked, she complained. However, it was to no avail. When the issues mounted, Bennett delivered a letter to her boss accusing her of being dishonest and negligent and suggesting that she was disorganized and incompetent. Bennett was fired almost immediately.
Unlike the other two cases, here the court sided with the employee. Why? Because Bennett’s letter, while harshly worded, was intended to be kept private and not to embarrass her boss or the company.
In all three cases, the courts accepted that employees are generally entitled to criticize superiors without fear of immediate dismissal. However, sometimes silence can be golden. While employees will often have complaints that are reasonable or justified, the manner and tone in which they express them must always remain professional. When such criticism goes over the edge, an employer is not required to tolerate it.
Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.