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THE QUESTION

I am part of a sales team. My new boss seems to use scare tactics, and threatens to fire us all if the sales numbers aren't great. My boss also screams and yells at the team during monthly meetings, leaving all of us feeling scared and discouraged. Is there anything I can do to help change the negative culture of the team?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Kyle Couch

President, Spectrum Organizational Development, Toronto

The sad part of your situation is that it is all too common. While most other departments have moved on to more progressive performance management approaches, many sales departments still rely on this archaic management style to "encourage" sales people to meet their targets. If the team does not meet those targets, your boss's reputation is on the line.

None of this excuses your boss's behaviour, however, which must be addressed.

Your manager was likely brought in to fix a problem and may feel the need to establish his or her place in the hierarchy quickly. It may turn out that your boss has limited leadership skills, only knows the "old school" methods and is under the impression that such behaviour is helping to motivate you.

He or she likely does not have a comprehensive long-term strategy and therefore has to rely on monthly panic and bullying tactics. My advice is to work together to develop a sales strategy. This will potentially allay some of your boss's fears and put him or her in a position to monitor and help improve the monthly numbers.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Daniel Lublin

Partner at Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

This conduct can be viewed as workplace bullying or harassment, even if it is not focused solely on you. In Shaw v. Xerox, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a judgment finding that a manager's unjustified and unsubstantiated performance criticisms of an employee rendered his continued employment intolerable. In that case, the employee resigned and successfully sued for damages because his manager badly mistreated him.

The court stated that "an employer is entitled to be critical of unsatisfactory work and to take such disciplinary or other measures as it believes appropriate to remedy the situation. There is, however, a limit. If the employer's conduct passes so far beyond the bounds of reasonableness that the employee reasonably finds continued employment to be intolerable, there will be a constructive dismissal."

Therefore, in situations when a manager's conduct is such that a reasonable person should not be expected to persevere, an employee can leave and sue for damages.

Stopping short of threatening or even bringing a lawsuit, you should also consider filing a formal workplace bullying or harassment complaint with the company. If a complaint is filed, the company has a legal onus to fairly investigate whether the conduct complained of is offside with any of its workplace policies or employment laws, and to protect you from further mistreatment, if it has occurred. The law protects you from retaliation, including discipline or termination, from raising a legitimate bullying or harassment complaint.

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