How to Protect Yourself From an Abusive Boss

Written by cindy hill
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Many people are stuck in unpleasant work environments, but some bosses go beyond mere unpleasantness and engage in abusive behaviour. Working for an abusive boss creates untold anxiety and depression, and can ruin your career opportunities. When the abuse takes the form of discrimination or sexual harassment, the abuser may be violating federal and state civil and even criminal laws. Carefully document your boss's abusive patterns; respond professionally at all times; attempt to avoid meeting with your boss alone whenever possible; and report illegal discrimination and harassment to the proper authorities.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Notebook and pen
  • Internet access

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  1. 1

    Identify the type of abuse your boss engages in. Contact your state labour board or the police immediately if the abuse becomes potentially dangerous, especially if the boss physically or sexually assaults you, issues threats, or orders you to engage in unsafe and unhealthy work practices that are not a necessary part of the job.

  2. 2

    Record all incidents of abuse by your boss in a notebook set aside for that purpose. CNN Money advises documenting each incident both to help you realistically recognise the extent of the problem and to support any legal action you might undertake in the future.

  3. 3

    Respond to all verbal abuse or undermining behaviour in a professional manner. Choose a time when you are calm and your thoughts are collected, and approach your boss with an effort to resolve whatever triggered the abusive behaviour. Bring a colleague with you to participate in your discussion whenever possible. Maintain the moral high ground by speaking with your boss in a calm, factual manner.

  4. 4

    Read the information for employees and job applicants at the website of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, paying particular attention to the sections regarding discrimination and harassment. Also read your state's labour laws, which may have more extensive protections for forms of discrimination not recognised at the federal level. For example, some states protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is not protected by federal law.

  5. 5

    Speak with your boss's supervisor about the abuse, if your relationship with that supervisor and your company's structure make that a reasonable option. Report the documented abuse to your union representative if you are in a labour or public employees union. File appropriate discrimination claims with your state labour board if you have determined that the abuse is related to characteristics protected under your state law, such as race, religion, gender or age.

  6. 6

    Consult with an attorney versed in labour law regarding whether you may have a claim of "effective firing" if you were forced out of your job due to your boss's abusive behaviour, or if you have a claim for "retaliatory firing" if your efforts to resolve the situation with your boss led to your termination.

Tips and warnings

  • Take a course in public speaking or business or interpersonal communications at your local community college to bolster your skills at responding to a verbally abusive boss.

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