Sales manager tired of abusive language


by Rozanne "Roze" Worrell

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 2 at 3:49 PM

Dear Roze:

I’m a sales manager for a small restaurant/catering company.  When the chef, sous chef, and I arrived at a function, the chef got out of the truck, pointed his finger at me, and yelled loud enough for my staff and client to hear him say: "The next time you give me the wrong F!@#ing address for a F!@#ing delivery is the last time I make a F!@#ing delivery for you." 

You can only imagine how I felt.  I told him not to speak to me that way.  This kind of thing happens often enough that I have had it, but the owner doesn’t do anything about it and I can’t seem to find any kind of law that will protect me and my staff from this type of verbal abuse.  Do you know of any legal recourse?

-Fed up in Virginia Beach

Dear Fed up in Virginia Beach:  

I contacted attorney Gregory A. Giordano who specializes in employment law with the Virginia Beach, VA law office of Troutman Sanders, LLP. He provided the following response:

"The mere fact that a co-employee or a supervisor uses foul language is not, in itself, illegal and is not grounds for a lawsuit against the employer or the individual. An exception to this, of course, is when the language denigrates a particular gender, race or religious belief. For instance, if the foul language consisted of derogatory comments towards women, and they were made by a male employee or superior, this could be considered discriminatory.

With respect to the profane employee or supervisor, Virginia does have an insulting words statute (Section 18.2-416) which makes it a misdemeanor if a person curses or abuses another under circumstances reasonably calculated "to provoke a breach of the peace." The plaintiff can also bring a civil action under the statute. In the factual scenario given, the foul language was more in the nature of profane adjectives than insulting words directed towards the employee. If the chef would have directed the comments to the employee and said something like, "you f…ing b…h," that may well give rise to a claim under the statute."

Although it appears that you do not have any legal recourse and the owner chooses to ignore this inappropriate behavior, you can seek other employment. No one should be treated this way.

Dear Readers:

Some of the comments I received about the bakery owner's customer service in my January 19 column concerned me. One in particular stated: "The cake question wasn't really a work situation problem."

This column addresses numerous workplace issues, including customer service, often considered the lifeblood of any business. Whether you are an attorney representing a client or a server serving a diner, customer service is paramount to the success of that relationship.

Dear Roze: 

Do I have to include my MBA on my resume and on an employer's application? I think because of my MBA, I may be considered "overqualified." Is this omission grounds for termination?

-Overqualified in Hampton Roads

Dear Overqualified in Hampton Roads:

I sympathize with you but I would include all of your education in your resume and on an employer’s application. Omitting any of it is not being truthful, and if an employer has a problem with that, you could be terminated. Remember the old adage, "Honesty is the best policy." 

Virginia is an at-will state. At-will employees may be terminated at any time for no reason or any reason but not for an illegal reason (i.e., any protected class). Be sure that your cover letter(s) and interview(s) convey your strong work ethic, regardless of the level of the position for which you are applying. And if appropriate, allay an employer’s concerns of you jumping ship if a better offer comes your way.

© 2010 Rozanne R. Worrell