What to Do if Your Boss Is Mentally Abusive on the Job

by Lainie Petersen, Demand Media
    Take action against mentally abusive bosses.

    Take action against mentally abusive bosses.

    The stress of workplace abuse and bullying can cause both physical and psychological damage, so if you are an abuse victim, take action. Options include directly confronting your abuser, asking human resources to intervene and getting advice from an employee assistance program specialist or an attorney.

    Document the Abuse

    Keep a record of all incidences of bullying or abusive behavior. Your records should include the date and time of the incident, as well as details about what your boss said and did. If there were witnesses to the incident, record their names as well. You can use these records to back up your story if you file a complaint with human resources or a government agency.

    Confront Your Boss

    While confronting your boss about her behavior can be uncomfortable, not addressing the abuse can actually exacerbate your stress and feelings of helplessness, according to a study published in the International Journal of Stress Management. Telling your boss to stop treating you badly may not stop the abuse, but it can do less damage to your psyche than simply trying to hide from him. By protecting your mental health, you'll be in a better position to make good choices about how you handle your situation.

    Talk to Human Resources

    If confronting your boss doesn't stop the abuse, or you fear that confrontation will only make matters worse, talk to your company's human resources department. Bring your documentation with you and explain the situation. HR may have to let your boss know that you've filed a complaint, but since abusers and bullies thrive on secrecy, bringing the problem into the open may have a positive effect on your boss's behavior. By making a formal report, you'll be starting a paper trail that documents your situation, which can be useful if you continue to have difficulties with your boss.

    Employee Assistance Programs

    If your employer has a contract with an employee assistance program (EAP), get contact information from HR and call the program for help. EAP professionals can provide counseling and supportive strategies for dealing with your situation. EAP services are usually free to employees.

    Get Legal Help

    If your boss's abuse involves sexual harassment or comments about your race, religion or another characteristic that is protected by federal, state or local anti-discrimination laws, and neither human resources or upper management puts a stop to it, you can file a legal complaint against your employer. Violations of federal anti-discrimination laws should be reported to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Report violations of state or local ordinances to the agencies that have oversight over employment discrimination cases in your area.

    Leave Your Job

    Quitting is a drastic step, but it may be your healthiest option, particularly if neither confrontation nor an intervention from HR stops the abuse. Ideally, you should find a new job before quitting. However, some states allow workers to claim unemployment benefits if they can show that they were working in an abusive environment. Talk to a lawyer if you are concerned about getting approved for unemployment benefits.

    About the Author

    Lainie Petersen lives in Chicago and began writing professionally in 1989. She covers careers, consumer issues and business for several online publications. Petersen holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Illinois State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Dominican University.

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