Dear Rabbi,

If a worker makes a mistake can his boss call him a fool?


If the boss wants to ensure less productivity all around, find himself with one less worker and be seen as a jerk, then yes, he can call him a fool.

Otherwise, speaking negatively about another person violates Jewish law which directs us to speak in a healthy and positive manner. As the verse states, “A person should not abuse his colleague, and you shall fear your G‑d. I am the L‑rd.”1

In fact, it is better for the boss-employee relationship to cultivate an appreciation for each other and to communicate in ways that build people up – even when giving necessary criticism.

In the meantime, while you're dealing with the boss, it might be helpful to consider the following dynamics. For the worker, it is important to understand that unfortunately, most bosses do not know exactly what they expect from each employee. Alternatively, the boss may know what he wants from each worker but be unable to communicate that effectively. Thus it's almost inevitable that the worker will make mistakes and the boss will be angered.

We read in Ethics of Our Fathers, "Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood."2 In truth, the boss’s anger is actually frustration at being a bad boss.

If you can rise above the insult by understanding that this is a weakness on the boss’s part, you will show your boss that immature insults don't faze you. You'll grow and succeed in your position, and in most cases even earn his respect.

You may also want to read Intimidating Boss and How Can I Be a Good Boss?.

Best of luck.

Rabbi Zalman Nelson, LMSW,
for The Judaism