I’ve been a supervisor for many years. Last month, the company hired a new director who is now my boss. She has no concept of how we do things here and is trying to change the entire culture. Yesterday, I told an employee that he had made a dumb mistake and needed to stop being so stupid. The new director pulled me aside and said I was never to call employees stupid and threatened to write me up for violating the anti-harassment policy if I ever called the employee stupid again. I’ve always been trained that harassment requires that someone make comments about race, gender or one of the so-called protected categories. Since when is it “harassment” to call someone stupid?
— Doesn’t Mince Words
Go sit in the corner with a pointy hat, you dunce. You may or not be stupid, but your question certainly is. Who cares if what you did is harassment or something else? All you need to know is that your boss said to quit calling employees stupid — so quit it. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even science. It’s a clear order. You don’t need to think at all – just stop being stupid and obey your boss.
— Evil Skippy
ES must be cranky. I don’t think your question is all that stupid. If you’re asking if calling someone “stupid” one or two times would be the basis of a successful harassment lawsuit, the answer is “probably not”. However, before you even think about lawsuits, you need to focus on your company’s policies. Unlike the “law” of harassment (which requires severe or pervasive conduct), most employers’ harassment policies merely require that employees treat each other with professional respect. In other words, an employee will violate the harassment policy long before the same conduct is bad enough to create a legal issue.
Whether or not calling someone stupid counts as harassment, do you really think it is good supervision to call someone names? Did it bother you when ES called you a dunce? I bet it did. Would it have been worse to be called a stupid dunce? I bet it would have, so you can imagine how your employee must feel. Belittling your employees and acting like a jerk is not going to make your department more productive and satisfied. In addition, disobeying your boss’s clear and reasonable directive is not going to advance your career in any way. What you need to do is start acting like a qualified supervisor. Coach employees about how to do their jobs and meet expectations. Use corrective action and progressive discipline if the coaching does not work. Leave the name calling to politicians.