How to Report Inappropriate Behavior at Work From a Boss

When your boss' behavior makes you uncomfortable, take action right away.

When your boss' behavior makes you uncomfortable, take action right away.

Your boss is above you on the food chain, so she should know how to behave, right? Not always. No matter what your boss' social or economic status, some people are just not going to realize when they're violating social customs -- or worse -- breaking laws regarding discrimination or harassment. If you have a boss who's continually acting badly, don't wait to deal with the problem.

Read your employee handbook or employment contract to find out whether there is a process in place to file grievances or make complaints. If so, follow the steps outlined by your employer.

Ask the boss for a private meeting and let her know that her inappropriate behavior is unwelcome. In legal cases of discrimination or harassment, this typically has to be the first step. If the person is not aware that she's doing wrong, it's hard to hold her accountable. In a respectful, calm, professional manner, let the boss know clearly that you don't want her to repeat the behavior. Following the talk, document what was said and keep it among your personal files on your home computer.

Document all instances of inappropriate behavior, both before and after the talk. If your boss is the highest-up on the ladder at your workplace, you may not have anyone else to whom you can report the problem -- thus the only recourse may be to file a harassment or discrimination claim. Start planning for the worst now by writing down the date, time and details of each incident. Also, keep any e-mails or other written correspondence from the boss that documents her bad behavior. Then, keep those in that same personal file on your home computer.

Go to the highest authority you can in the workplace if the behavior continues following your talk. If the boss has a boss in the company, great -- talk to her about the problem. Another option is talking with a human resources officer, as they're often trained to deal with these issues. Be professional, don't get emotional, and state the facts of the problem. Bring along a copy of the documentation you have been keeping about the boss' behavior. If your boss is the highest-up in the company, talk to a lawyer about the problem. She may advise getting further documentation or gathering witnesses to support you as you file a harassment or discrimination claim.


  • You may really love your job, but in some cases, the boss' boss or the human resources department may side with the boss, or the worst scenario, you'll be fired for speaking out. When that's the case, there's nothing much you can do besides looking for a new job and talking with a lawyer about filing a lawsuit. Federal "whistleblower" laws protect you from being fired, moved, having your hours changed or other retaliatory acts when you report employers' unsafe, illegal or unfair practices -- though you may not be able to draw upon these laws until after action is taken against you.

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About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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