My Job is at Risk from an Alcoholic Boss

Question: 

I fear that I’ll be fired tomorrow.

I work for a small company owned by a man and wife, both of whom are semi-retired. The husband returns from lunch smelling of alcohol. He enjoys “checking” on the work my co-worker and I have accomplished. As he’s drunk, I find this annoying. I admit I have an attitude about this. If I snap at him, I later apologize.

The husband also represents our company at trade shows where he turns into a surly, mean drunk and makes inappropriate comments to customers. I haven’t quit because I like my job, co-worker and the wife, am well-compensated and have almost no commute time.

Yesterday afternoon, the husband was visibly drunk. He asked me a series of questions about a project and I answered each time, “I’ve handled it.” He then called my co-worker upstairs and said he had “just about had it” with my attitude problem and asked my co-worker to tell me so. He also told my co-worker, a man, that I apparently had a problem with all men. All I had said was, “I’ve handled it.”

An hour later the husband emailed me saying, “If you’re unhappy, you need to find another job.” Thirty minutes after that, he emailed me I “had overnight to decide if I wanted to stay here.”

The husband had a similar blowout with my predecessor and then fired her, which is how I ended up with my job. He’s also the type that gets angrier over time, and I’m thinking he’ll stew overnight and there won’t be anything I can say in the morning.

If I’m fired for a “bad attitude,” how do I address this in a job interview? I don’t want to give prospective employers a rundown on my boss’s alcoholism. How do others handle alcoholic bosses?

Answer: 

If you’re fired tomorrow, ask your co-worker and the wife for positive letters of reference. These letters, along with how you interview, will vouch for your work ethic, professionalism, and attitude.

When a prospective employer asks you who supervised you, give the wife’s name and suggest that the best time for a call is during the lunch hour or at another time when you expect the husband to be out of the office or unlikely to answer the phone. If you have a performance review, include it with your resume. Employers trust performance reviews more than reference letters.

Don’t discuss the husband’s alcoholism with a prospective employer. If you do, you show your willingness to divulge personal information about a former employer which reflects poorly on you. If the worst happens, and a prospective employer hears negative statements from the husband and picks up on the drunkenness, the employer will balance that with your references and the fact that you didn’t badmouth the husband.

If you’re not fired tomorrow, consider finding a new job. Although the husband appears to be 90 percent of the problem, you own 10 percent. While you maintain all you said was, “I’ve handled it,” that fact that you gave that same response to each question could tick off sober employers. Also, while you apologize whenever you snap, you still snap. You also probably show your attitude toward the husband in your voice tone and demeanor. While it’s understandable that you don’t want to interact with a drunk boss, you and he don’t have a respectful foundation for an effective employer/employee relationship.

If you stay, realize you can’t control your boss by how you respond to him, as alcohol abuse feeds on denial. Alcoholics rarely see the degree to which their drinking impacts their behavior, and your boss projects blame onto you for your reaction, while ignoring how he triggers you.

Alcoholics generally have times during the day when it’s best not to engage with them. This doesn’t mean shoo them away, it means realize they’ve given up behavior control to a liquid drug. For the husband, this appears to be the early afternoon and that’s when you need to be on your best behavior — if you stay.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.  www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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2 thoughts on “My Job is at Risk from an Alcoholic Boss

  1. Lynne–what helpful comments and insights here. Asking the wife and the coworker for positive letters of reference sounds truly helpful. And I understand why the employee shouldn’t talk about the alcoholism at the former workplace. It is hard to work with an alcoholic, and it is hard to work with a “dry drunk,” as I have done.

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