I work at a startup and up until now I had a good relationship with my manager. He’s 15 years younger than me and he owns the company. He sees himself as a very ruthless manager and he prides himself in being harsh and quite tough and fear inducing when working with the different teams.

I’m currently pregnant and he hates that but until today he’s ignored my condition (apart from removing me from my managerial position). Lately (the last week) I’ve been having lots of medical appointments as I have a risk pregnancy and have been taking some time off during the day. I never leave anything undone. I’m a super fast worker and always complete my tasks on time and execute them well. Since joining the company a year ago, I haven’t taken a single day off or sick day and, before the pregnancy, I would often work extra hours and on weekends (I still do it, if necessary, but not so often).

Today I was stressed about a recent health diagnosis and ended up taking a longer lunch break with my husband. When I went back to the computer I had a message from my boss asking to justify my absence and to explain why I’ve taken so many hours off this week. I was also locked out of my email. He does this often to his workers. What should I do? I can’t really work without an email.

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    Are you actually going through the correct procedures for taking time off or are you just walking out. Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 2:57
  • 78
    Does your boss think taking away an employee's email is going to make them more productive so they can make up the lost time? Why do you continue to work for such a toxic person?
    – Seth R
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 3:00
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    @Randomator where in Europe exactly. Depending on the jurisdiction, what your boss is doing might well be illegal. You're often protected by the law if you're pregnant (even demoting you because of that seems shady at best). But since Europe consists of many different countries with different laws, knowing the jurisdiction could be helpful.
    – Dnomyar96
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:16
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    @Randomator Then have your court system take a reasonable chunk of the money he's earned to teach him how to treat people like people. Some people just can't learn any other way (and some people still don't learn under this approach either).
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:44
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    "He sees himself as a very ruthless manager" he is not, he is an idiot and a bully. If he were ruthless, you would get letters from lawyers that would be mean but legal. As it is, he just blindly stumbles from one labor law violation into the next, not knowing what he's doing, just succeeding because nobody stood up to him yet.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 10:56

8 Answers 8


Under European law he has to let you attend your pregnancy related medical appointments, without loss of pay. See here. While you should be offered a less dangerous job (for example if you were doing manual labour), removing you from being a manager probably doesn't count. So that is illegal too.

You should not have to work in the waiting room, be available at night or in the evening. This is just not normal. Your company sounds like it has a very unhealthy environment, and I do recommend you start looking for another job, though I know its tough while you're pregnant, exhausted and stressed

As for the matter in hand, do you have HR? or a union? If so, involve them as soon as possible. I'd imagine the company is too small to have either, so you may have to do things alone. Check the EU and Spanish law, write a formal letter, seeing as he's locked you out of your email. And, get out of this job as soon as possible.

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    Don't involve HR. If OPs boss is the owner, it is HRs job to work for the boss and against OP. Lawyer up
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 11:19
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    @Hobbamok: I don't disagree about the lawyering up, but when the company violates legislature (which it does here), HR needs to be notified regardless of who committed the violation. Not doing so is exactly what enables this boss' behavior. While HR may not come to your immediate rescue, they will still be alerted to the illegality of actions taken and the consequences that this person's behavior can have on the company.
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 11:54
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    @Hobbamok. I agree with Flater. HR might not be your saviour, but informing them of all these concerns is an important part of the process. You need to make these complaints "official" so they can't be easily wiped away with "that never happened".
    – musefan
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 11:58
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    In a small startup going to hr probably isn't a good idea. In a medium or big sized corporation it usually is.
    – eps
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 13:34
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    @Basya The issue is that the boss is having an issue with reasonable medical appointments and the OP is working in the waiting room to try and appease the boss. If you want to work in the waiting room because you and your boss both agree that it's a good plan, then no problems. But it shouldn't be mandatory--you should be able to say "I need to leave at x for my appointment and I will be back at y." and it doesn't matter what part of that is travel, waiting room, or actually with your dr--you are GONE during that time and not available for work. Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 13:52

Speak to an employment attorney.

I am not a lawyer, but you have clearly been discriminated against for your pregnancy. If your pay was lowered, you also have demonstrable damages. Based on what you've said in your post, a lawyer can probably point out a whole lot more labor law violations too.

Do not speak to HR unless a lawyer advises it's in your best interest. If you intend to sue your company (you probably should, but again a lawyer can advise you better), their job is to protect the company from you. Even if you don't plan to sue your company, HR will be hesitant to take action against the owner of the company when they know there's a high chance they'll face retaliation, legal or not.

You may be afraid you're burning bridges. You're not; your manager cannot be relied upon to give you a good recomendation anyway (unless a court forces him to), and since you're competent, you can find a job with much better working conditions.

  • This is a perfect answer
    – Strader
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 16:04
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    In a number of EU jurisdictions, not informing HR will actually harm your ability to get recompense from them. It is frequently a requirement to try exhaust all internal channels before pulling the "sue them" trigger. While you may have good advice for somewhere like the states, in general, this would not be good advice in the (multiple) EU countries I have lived and worked in. Additionally, talking to HR sets up a paper trail that you can then rely on later if you do need to go down the legal route (and if they fire you after making the complaint, then you have even more evidence)
    – illustro
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 12:44
  • @illustro I'm sure an employment attorney would be able to inform someone if this were the case in their jurisdiction, so regardless of local law, I believe speaking with an employment attorney first make sense.
    – Vaelus
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 2:54
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    Certainly. But your advice to not talk to HR doesn't generally apply in the EU (and this question is specifically about a country in the EU). It might be good advice elsewhere (eg the US in an at will state), but jurisdiction matters for this type of advice.
    – illustro
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 14:17
  • On this site I'm always the guy advocating trying to work things out, but in this case the law is the right way to go immediately. Your health is in danger, you are being bullied and illegally deprived of pay. Anyone who "prides himself on being harsh" should not be allowed to run a company or manage people. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 20:59

If your company has HR, I'd get them involved as soon as possible.

He sees himself as a very ruthless manager and he prides himself in being harsh and quite tough and fear inducing when working with the different teams.

This is not a reason to be proud and the way he is acting towards you is already crossing the line to harassment. The way this is going, he is a liability for his own company and needs someone to tell him this.

While you are indeed in the wrong for being absent from work without at least giving him a heads-up ("hey boss, I don't feel ok, I'm leaving" should be enough), your boss is actively undermining you and making it impossible for you to do your job.

Removing you from your managerial position, cancelling meetings, not replying to time off requests, locking you out of the system? This looks like constructive dismissal.

He needs to follow the appropriate steps in the disciplinary system - if there is any in your company, it sounds like a small business that hasn't set up some proper procedures yet.

I don't know where in Europe you are, but here in my neck of the woods (NL), it is actually illegal to not provide the employee with the tools they need to perform their job, so there is also this matter.

If your company doesn't have HR, honestly, lawyer up. There are plenty of resources that offer free or low-cost legal consultation.

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    '"hey boss, I don't feel ok, I'm leaving" should be enough' not only that, but depending on the exact country in Europe OP is in, the boss might not even be allowed to ask for more details on the matter.
    – Dnomyar96
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:19
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    @Dnomyar96 Boss needs a crash course in basic labor law YESTERDAY Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:21
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    @JulianaKarasawaSouza He's the owner, so he probably sees the company's resources as his, and with a lot more resources, some people grow to be bigger a**holes. Maybe he'll learn basic labor law on-the-job, the hard way, by paying for it. It's probably the only way a person who's using so many non-functional approaches to productivity will notice (but odds are they'll consider their loss a rigged system and will still be blind to their obvious choices guaranteeing the loss)
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:30
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    @EdwinBuck from OP's last update, looks like he thinks that the law doesn't exist outside of his country (he is German, working in Spain). What he is doing is VERY illegal in his home country Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 6:38
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    @Hobbamok HR's job is to protect the company from liabilities. If they side with the owner in this situation, they wouldn't be doing their job. In this particular case, their job is to smack him across the head. Can the owner bully them into doing his will? Yes, he can. Will it make things any better for the company? No. Should OP lawyer up? Absolutely Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 13:00

I can’t really work without an email.

Then don't. Sit there twiddling your thumbs all day until he asks you why you're not working. And then tell him.

Why do you care?

This isn't a problem for you, it is a problem for him. He wants you to work, and has prevented you from doing so. So the ball is in his court.

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    OP also mentions in comments that the boss sometimes "punishes" employees by canceling meetings when they slip up. I don't think this boss knows how punishment works.
    – Seth R
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 14:05
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    Gotta agree. Boss sounds like a pleb that has scummed through the cracks into the wrong place. Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 21:03
  • "Sit there twiddling your thumbs all day" Sounds like a torture to me.
    – Mandrill
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 10:40
  • I agree. But still, the situation clearly warrants malicious compliance. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 20:00

IANAL, but seems like classic case of abuse of power with vulnerable employee.

Given you are in Spain, there are lots of employee rights laws.

You should speak to the lawyer and sue your employer.

You would need evidence for the claim


Start looking for a new job. This boss isn't going to get better. If anything he'll keep getting worse. I had a boss like you describe - at a startup - and at the end of the day, I had to resign because I wasn't given the resources I needed to meet deadlines. The need for more resources was made known to him (in person, over messaging systems) and other managers by me for several months with them refusing to change anything. Like your boss he would also ignore important communication. When I resigned, he lied about my end date to steal some of my pay. HR went along with his lies even though they knew the truth. Beware.

It's not worth the stress you're going through and will go through with this kind of boss. Plus you can't use them as a reference so the time you're spending at this company is not helping your career.

  • 2
    If anything he'll keep getting worse. Yes, especially since the frequency of her doctor's appointments is going to increase as she gets closer to her due date. Even more so since this is a high risk pregnancy.
    – BSMP
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 18:11
  • 1
    @HenryM: New job, maybe. But quitting, absolutely no. Get an employment lawyer who will only be too happy to cause maximum damage to your boss. Employment lawyers love that kind of thing.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 7:46

Spaniard here.

I don't know how much do you want to keep your job but I'd start looking for a new one just in case.

What you describe looks like workplace harassment and you are pregnant. Your boss is pretty stupid doing this and I think it could be worth it to

  • write / keep all evidence of the harassment
  • consult a labor lawyer to see which are your options

I'd also try to check with your doctor. The stress this is causing may harm the pregnancy, so maybe you can get some kind of medical leave.

The fact that he is German makes it even worse because in Germany worker rights are taken very seriously and doctor appointments / medical leaves are definitely never questioned. It looks like your boss went to Spain looking for slave labor.

Good luck,


If it is true that this is the very first time that you were absent it means that your boss is constantly monitoring you. If then he asked bluntly to explain your absence without before asking if you were all right sounds a quite abusive management style that in Europe is not common. Do you have other colleagues working for him? First of all I would try to talk to them offline in the most discreet manner and ask them whether they had similar experiences. If yes, the next step would be to try and understand if the higher level managers are aware of his behaviour. There could be many possibilities, the manager might be too young for his role and acting in a fanatic manner or the manager might be used by the higher levels as the bad guy who whips the employees and attracts all the hate.

At this point you have many possibilities:

if he is behaving in this way only with you, there is not much you can do for a single episode, but if similar episodes keep repeating your situation might be considered a form of mobbing. So speaking to a lawyer or a representative of a union might be the only thing to do.

if he is behaving in this way also with other colleagues and it seems that this is his personal choice first you should try to talk to him, if he doesn't acknowledge that he is being too harsh you can try to escalate the situation to higher level managers.

In the last case there is not much you can do alone. You should discuss it with your colleagues.

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