I have been working for this couple of investors for around 18 months. The set up is, these two people will buy small online businesses and I will run these businesses from a single office. Currently I have 5 businesses to manage on my own.

Around a year ago, my boss decided to come up with a forfeit scheme, every time I made a mistake he wanted me to do a forfeit. These were small mistakes, such as sending somebody the wrong invoice, or missing an item off of an order. These have only happened once.

Initially the forfeits were along the line of doing some press-ups or sit-ups, etc, I wasn't bothered about this. However, my boss has been pressuring me to do worse forfeits, it gets to the point he just sits there and waits for me to agree, if I say I don't want to do a forfeit he'll say "you don't have to" so I say ok, then he says "but how are you going to make up for making a mistake", and eventually gets round to me doing a forfeit. More recently he has started to say he wants me to feel humiliated for making mistakes, and tries to get me to do humiliating forfeits.

When he first started I felt ok with it, almost as if it was a good idea. The mistakes were/are not big enough for any serious action, but they are still mistakes so a small forfeit as punishment was incentive for me to double check and take more consideration with the work.

But now, its got to the point where I feel uncomfortable, pressured into situations I really don't want to be in and its almost like my boss is making me do forfeits for his personal interest rather than to help the business.

It's distracting when I am at work, it deters my concentration, I almost feel like I'm being bullied.

Is it OK what my boss is doing?

The following has been added since posting this question

To clarify I live in the UK.

I'm the only permanent employee here, I work here alone for about 2-3 days a week the other days one of the investors may come in for a few hours. There have been 2 or 3 temporary employees and a few contractors who I would only speak to via email/telephone calls.

It is only 1 of the 2 investors who is putting me in this situation. At one point the investor said just remember what happens at work stays at work, almost as if he didn't want me to tell the other investor or my friends.

For those of you who say the examples aren't small mistakes, I work as a sole employee for 5 businesses - I do almost everything to manage these businesses including processing sales/orders which is in the 1000s some months, dealing with all customers/clients briefing contractors/meeting up with suppliers, producing website content and promotional material, reporting on sales/marketing, purchasing, forecasting, etc, the only areas I do not really have an input in is the legal and corporate finance.

So in over 18 months, if the most serious error I made was amended by me apologizing to a customer and saying there will be a 1 day delay with half of their order, costing the company less than £7 in extra shipping fees, I do not think I have done anything majorly wrong.

The investor has also made me do forfeits when I didn't respond to emails with in a set time frame, when stock levels had been in accurate, and on one occasion the company who installed our e-commerce site had to add an update - after, one link was broken which I didn't notice so I was made to do a forfeit for each day the link was broken on the site which my boss decided was 7 days.

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    What country do you live in? – enderland Aug 7 '13 at 19:44
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    First of all, the title reads like a porn flick. There I said it. Sorry. Moving on, since you keep making mistakes, the method is clearly not working Even if we assume for a minute the punishment is just, it's stupid, therefore you may be right when you say he's doing it for personal interest. At this point it might be interesting to know if you're male or female. Thirdly I believe that would be illegal in most European countries (with good reason!) (I'm not a lawyer by the way, research the laws applicable to your country) and even if it's not, it's morally wrong and GET OUT OF THERE. – rath Aug 7 '13 at 19:54
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    I weep for your boss's children. Legal or not, this kind of behavior is immature, unprofessional and abusive - far beyond "inappropriate". No adult should be subjected to such treatment. Document what's happening (handwritten journal with dates & times, what you're being asked to do and the reason why - so that you have records if ever needed), and stand up for yourself - refuse any more of his punishments, and when he asks "how are we going to make up for your mistake", leave it to him. If he fires you, he's doing you a favor. As @rath points out, you have to get out. Fast. – alroc Aug 7 '13 at 20:06
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    @squeemish - Is it possible that a hostile work environment might make it hard to focus on doing a good job? – jmort253 Aug 8 '13 at 5:12
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    Perhaps you are right. It's just that I don't get the concept of 'punishment' in order to improve work quality. That's why we have strongly worded warnings and bad evaluations. Bottom line I don't think punishment makes WQ better, sitting with them and showing the ropes (yes, again and again) makes them better. If an employee is still hopeless, fire him/her and hire someone who does a better job. I've never been bullied in my life (I was a relatively tall boy) and I'm not about to start getting bullied in the workplace. @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen – rath Aug 8 '13 at 10:10

Is it OK what my boss is doing?

It's not appropriate for a boss to humiliate a worker - in private or in public.

And if it's at the point where you feel concerned about being at work, then it's clearly NOT OK.

Tell your boss "No" next time, and mean it. Don't let your boss guilt you into doing something that clearly bothers you.

If it continues, quit.

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    +1 this is correct. In addition to saying "No" you should work with your boss to create a business process to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen again. The current punishment is unethical and unprofessional, especially if you are not willing, feel free to tell your boss if he persists. – Quinma Aug 8 '13 at 0:05
  • I'm not sure if you spotted it but the OP has tried not doing it and the boss ends up guilting him into doing it, have you thought about addressing that part of the issue? When No doesnt work? – Rhys Aug 8 '13 at 8:26
  • I probably would have up voted had you stopped before quit... – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 8 '13 at 17:08
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    @Chad And if it still continues? At some point a new employee must decide that the company is not going to change and they'd be happier elsewhere. – Andy Jan 24 '14 at 23:38
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    The OP does not have to quit. He can take this boss to a tribunal if he doesn't stop. In the UK the law is very clear. If it is the boss' fault the employee should not lose out. – user Aug 20 '14 at 16:05

Ask your boss to show you where in your agreement, you must be perfect? Are you being paid a perfect salary? Does your employment agreement perfectly fit with local labor laws?

When he asks how you are going to pay him back for mistakes, tell him you're not. Now, what does he plan on doing about it? Continuing to bother you with these repayments is a waste of time and by taking even more of your time to do stupid things only increases the amount of your debt. He can replace you which would be doing you a favor.

He can have a pound of flesh, but not one drop of blood.

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    I'm not sure about the way you have worded your first paragraph, it comes across a little hostile, – Rhys Aug 7 '13 at 20:30
  • @RhysW the whole situation is hostile. But aren't you late for tea with Atlee? – bharal Aug 8 '13 at 9:24
  • @bharal that doesnt justify being hostile in return, if anything that will cause more problems than the OP already has, there are ways to solve situations without having to yell the loudest or be the most hostile – Rhys Aug 8 '13 at 9:38

It seems to be a very toxic situation and i think there are concerns on your well-being here.

There are some key questions that you need to think about -

  1. Firstly you should but a stop to complying with his humiliating requests and make him aware of the toll it is taking on your ability to work there and your morale.

  2. Does your boss have a boss or do you have a HR department ? You need to lodge a complaint there, so that this person could be held accountable

  3. Having said that, reading “Around a year ago, after I had made a few mistakes, my boss decided to come up with a forfeit scheme” and “Initially the forfeits were along the line of doing some press-ups or sit-ups, etc, I wasn't bothered about this. However, my boss has been pressuring me to do worse forfeits, it gets to the point he just sits there and waits for me to agree” it seems like there is a cultural issue at your work where

    a. this type of "scheme" has acceptance,

    b. employees are forced to comply.

    Please think hard on whether you want to continue here and whether it is a problem only with that person or a general dysfunction of your workplace.

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    As written, it appears that the boss is the co-owner of a very small company (sounds a bit like a holding company or shell corporation), top of the food chain. – alroc Aug 7 '13 at 21:02

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