Bad Bosses in Classic Novels

February 13th is National Employee Legal Awareness Day which encourages all employees to become knowledgeable of their employment rights and their company policies covered employment handbooks.  Employee rights have come a long way since the previous centuries, but some problems for employees continue. 

Horrible Bosses, The Prequel

Employment handbooks did not likely exist in the days of our classic novels, and some bosses in these novels definitely did not consider the rights and dignity of their employees.  These unfortunate employees had to deal with physical assault, unfair accusations, and an upbraiding for requesting a day off. Some employers in these novels may not necessarily have been cruel, but their behavior was ill-mannered and unreasonable.  These bosses criticized their employees for things that were not in their job description or assigned ridiculous tasks. 

Test Your Knowledge

What kind of employment situations did the classical novel characters have to endure? I will describe five work situations from 5 classic novels. Enjoy these timeless stories of literacy characters who encountered different and similar work situations to what we face in this century. Take this quiz and match the employment situation with the title of the classic novel and author. I will list the answers at the end of this article.

1. Employees in the 21st century definitely have a legal case that would be heard if their boss physically assaulted them.  This employer’s younger sister pinched and slapped the employee for not leaving her unchaperoned with her suitor. This employee was instructed by the employer not to leave his sister unchaperoned.  In which novel did this incident occur?

2. Problems with employers who refuse to investigate your case and do not appreciate your honesty presently exist and existed in past centuries.  This employer did not appreciate his employee’s loyalty and his concern for his fellow workers. This employee refused to join a labor union, and respectfully told his employer that the labor conditions of the factory were too harsh. This employee’s co-workers turned against him for not joining the labor union, and the employer fired this employee for his honestly.  This employee who was abused by both his co-workers and employer was a character in what classic novel?

3. Employees in the 21st century can sometimes anticipate paid federal holidays.  They sometimes receive higher pay for working on a holiday and have the option of taking off an alternate day.  This employer upbraided his employee because this employee wanted to spend Christmas Day with his family. This employer told him in a threatening tone that he will have to arrive at work earlier on December 26th.  These two characters are part of which classic novel?

4. Employees in the 21st century usually can at least expect a written job description of their duties.  They still sometimes have to receive unfair criticism from their employers for the performance of these duties.  This employer criticized his employee for a skill that was even not in her job description.  He told her in blunt words that she was a subpar piano player.  This incident occurred in which classic novel?

5. Employees in the 21st century sometimes face the frustration of their employer’s assigning them an unreasonable task.  This employer not only assigned her employee an unreasonable task, but this task was ridiculously impossible.  This employer expected her employee who caretook her fowls to whistle and teach her finches refinement by whistling to them. The finches seem to eventually enjoy this employee’s whistling, but the finches were unlikely any more refined than they ever were.  This situation took place in which classic novel?

A. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

B. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

C. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

D. Hard Times by Charles Dickens

E.  Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Jane Eyre

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Wuthering Heights

Hard Times

A Christmas Carol

  1. C
  2. D
  3. E
  4. A
  5. B