Working for an Alcoholic Boss & Expecting to Be Fired Tomorrow

Question:

I expect to be fired tomorrow.

I work for a small company owned by a man and wife. They’re both semi-retired. The husband returns from lunch smelling of alcohol and enjoys “checking” on my coworker and I. Given he’s drunk, I find this annoying. I admit I have an attitude about this and 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, my coworker and the wife, am well-compensated, have almost no commute time, and am worried about the coming recession.

Yesterday afternoon, the husband was drunk. He asked me questions about a project. I told him, “I’ve handled it.” He then told my coworker he had “just about had it” with my attitude problem. He told asked my coworker to tell me so. He also told my coworker, a man, that I apparently had a problem with men. All I 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 fired her. That’s 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 that in a job interview? I don’t want to give prospective employers a rundown on my boss’ alcoholism. How do others handle alcoholic bosses?

Answer:

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

When a prospective employer asks for the name of your former supervisor, give the wife’s name. Suggest that the best time for a reference call is during the lunch hour or at another time you expect the husband to be out of the office or unable to answer the phone. If you have a performance review, include it with your resume. Employers trust performance reviews more than reference letters. In short, head off the negative reference you fear.

Don’t discuss the husband’s alcoholism. If you do, you show your willingness to trash a former employer, which reflects badly on you. If the prospective employer hears negative comments from the husband, your perspective employer will balance that with your references and the fact that you didn’t seize the opportunity to badmouth the husband.

Next, although the husband appears ninety percent of the problem, you own ten percent. While you maintain all you said was “I’ve handled it” and that you apologize whenever you snap, you likely show attitude in your voice tone and demeanor. If so, it’s understandable, but doesn’t give you or him 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 apparently projects blame onto you for your reaction, while ignoring how he triggers you.

Alcoholics have poor memories. When your boss tells you something, send him a follow-up email saying, “Just want to clarify the assignment you gave me. You’d like me to xxx. Please let me know if I misunderstood.” Alcoholics also 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.

Finally, you might want to leave sooner rather than later. An easily angered alcoholic boss can be dangerous to you, if he drives drunk and you’re a passenger or if he physically assaults you doing a confrontation. Better you find a new job now rather than later, particularly given the potential of a coming recession.

(c) 2022 Lynne Curry

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