We all want our workplaces to be safe places, where we are free to be productive and do what it takes to provide for our families. But the mean fact is there may be co-workers, supervisors and others who make the workplace unsafe. When you're experiencing forms of workplace abuse, be it verbal abuse, bullying or even physical violence, your first priority is keeping yourself safe from harm. If you need the help of a supervisor to sort out the issues, one option is to write the boss a formal letter that tells her about the problem.
Read through your employee handbook and look for any information about workplace abuse or harassment. Some workplaces have a specific set of steps to follow when you experience abuse or see it happening. If your workplace has a policy, be sure to follow its steps. Your workplace policy may also specify a person to contact when these issues arise, which could be your boss or someone else. But if a person is specified, go to that person first.
Document all instances of abuse that you witness. Write down the date, time and nature of the abuse, including any specific details you have. If there is any evidence such as emails, photos or text messages showing the abuse, save them and have them available should your boss or Human Resources officers want to see it. Before you send a letter to your boss, type up a copy of this documentation and save it as an electronic document or print it. Do not give the originals to your boss, as you want to hold onto the original for your own records. In the event the problem escalates to the point of needing a lawyer to help you file a harassment lawsuit -- which may be appropriate in cases of abuse against protected classes -- you'll need the evidence on hand.
Create the foundation of your letter with the appropriate formalities. Include the date at the top, address it to your boss using the boss' first and last name, any titles the boss holds, and the company name and address. In the event you need to prove you approached the boss, these formalities provide proof of your effort to communicate effectively with the boss.
Inform the addressee in the first paragraph that you are writing to inform her of a problem involving a specific person or people. Say something like, "I am deeply concerned about this issue and its effect on the productivity and safety of our workplace." Tying the abuse to productivity and safety may get the boss' attention, letting her know you're not writing to complain about a personal issue.
Include information about the abuse in the second paragraph, detailing a few of the most egregious acts you witnessed. Attach your documentation about the abuses to the letter and tell the boss to refer to the document to see details about each incident. Try to maintain a neutral tone; don't place blame or attach labels such as "she's a jerk" to the person you're accusing.
Ask the boss for some kind of follow-up in the third paragraph. Request a one-on-one meeting to discuss actions she can take to stop the abuse, or whatever other actions you feel are necessary. Cordially sign off the letter with your full name. If you're concerned about retaliation from your boss, you could opt to send the letter anonymously. Services such as MySafeWorkplace.com allow you to alert employers about unsafe or potentially abusive behaviors in a confidential manner.
- Once you've written the letter and delivered it to your boss, it's up to her to decide what to do about the problem. If you're the victim of the abuse and you don't see anything change, it may be time to look for another job. If you're in a protected class and feel you've been harassed for your gender, sexual orientation, marital status or some other protected status, it may be time to talk to a lawyer about filing a harassment claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- If you're being physically abused in your workplace, don't wait to hear back from your boss. Get out of the situation immediately. Call in sick, quit the job or do whatever it takes to make sure you stay free from harm.
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.