What Are Your Rights as an Employee if Your Boss Is Being Difficult?

There's only one place that playing a difficult boss gets you an award.
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Imagine working for Miranda Priestly, Anne Hathaway's boss played by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada." She was modeled after a real-life "Vogue" editor notorious for her difficulty. In the course of your career, you'll more than likely come across a boss just like Priestly or one who might be micromanager, a newbie – also known as the idiot – a dictator, a procrastinator or an abuser, each with her own peculiarities and difficulties. Knowing when your boss crosses the line into harassment or discrimination can help you define your rights under the law.

Hostile-Free Workplace

Under the law, you are entitled to a hostility-free workplace. Laws protect you against discrimination, hostility and harassment at work. After reporting abusive behavior by a supervisor to the human resources department, if your employer or boss punishes you by giving you a demotion, withholds a warranted raise, shifts your job or assignment, you have legal rights against this type of retaliation, as well. Harassment under the law includes unwanted sexual advances or offensive comments, discrimination based on age, sexual preference, culture, race, religion, or disability.

Difficult Bosses

A boss can be difficult for a number of reasons. She may be under stress to complete a project timely, cut costs or be under the thumb of upper management. She might be experiencing difficulties at home. Everyone gets testy occasionally, and unless your boss is habitually abusive, apply a dose of humor and take her testiness in stride, because her negative behavior can help you become stronger. When she's habitually difficult, it's important for you to be proactive by completing work projects on time, staying professional in your responses to her and by being prepared to deal with her bad habits and patterns. Stay persistent in your efforts to do a good job and stand up to a habitually difficult boss.


You always have the right to communicate with your boss about her behavior. When someone is offensive or rude, you have the right in the work environment to speak up. This type of conversation is best conducted behind closed doors with just you and your boss. Don't call her out in front of everyone else, as that could lead to a worse situation. Be polite, but firm, when you share with her the behavior that you find inappropriate. Avoid emotion and stick to the facts.

Rights and Recourses

Behavior that violates the law must be reported to the human resources department. You must do this before you go outside the company and report to your state's labor department. Give the company you work for a chance to deal with your boss's bad and illegal behavior. If your company does not act, then you must contact the labor department in the state in which you live. You can also seek legal remedy against a boss who exhibits illegal behavior through litigation if you don’t achieve success through other measures or lose your job because of reporting her abusiveness. Check with an employment lawyer in your state to understand the legal remedies available to you in severe cases.

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