4 Times When You Should Complain About Your Boss

I usually recommend against complaining about your boss. It can be satisfying to complain, but complaining can get you fired. There's no First Amendment in the private workplace, and even government employees' free speech rights are limited. If you say your boss is incompetent or unprofessional, you aren't protected from retaliation.

Still, sometimes you really do have to report your boss to Human Resources or someone in management. Here are four times where you're legally protected from retaliation if you complain (no, I can't guarantee they won't retaliate anyhow, but you have some legal remedies if they do).

1. Discrimination/discriminatory harassment
If you've been discriminated against due to your race, age, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, color, disability, genetic information, or another category that's protected in your state/county/city (e.g., marital status or sexual orientation that aren't protected by federal law), then you are legally required to follow your employer's published discrimination/harassment policy and report it. If you don't, then you may be giving up your right to sue for discrimination.
2. Wage/overtime violations
If you object to the company's failure to pay wages owed or failure to pay overtime, you may be protected from retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act or your state's wage/hour laws.

3. Illegal activity of the company
If the company is violating the law -- Medicare fraud, ripping off the government, failing to pay taxes, failing to pay wages, discriminating, polluting, etc., there are a host of whistle-blower laws that may protect you. You need to find out which law protects you and make sure that you complain in a way that's protected. Some laws require you to complain in writing to a supervisor. Some say that you have to report the company to a government agency. Some only require that you object to or refuse to participate in the illegal activity. If you get it wrong, you aren't protected from retaliation.

4. Collective action to improve working conditions
The National Labor Relations Act protects employees from being retaliated against if they get together to try to improve the terms and conditions of their employment. So those letters that employees sometimes write to complain against unfair treatment or bullying are supposed to be protected. Your remedies under this law aren't the easiest to get or the best, but it's something to hang your hat on and wave in front of the boss if they start threatening retaliation.

If you're going to complain, I suggest putting it in writing even if the policy says to have a meeting. You can present the written document at the meeting. That way you have proof that you complained about something that's protected. Otherwise, HR will likely say you complained about general harassment or unfair treatment, which isn't protected. If you do decide to complain, keep it professional and to the point. Avoid complaining about personality conflicts or incompetence. Stick to the facts that prove that what's happening is illegal.

HR is entitled to investigate your complaint. That means that even if they have a policy of keeping your complaint confidential, your boss, the person you're complaining about, and your witnesses and other coworkers will probably find out about it. Be prepared for that to happen, and be ready to report retaliation.

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I am now of retirement age, a college grad, 6'5" and USMC. All during my careers in the seventies and eighties we had no employee rights and no Human Resources department. You kissed your Boss' backside - no matter how much of a moron he or she was. Virtually all of my bosses except one - since 1970 were only interested in themselves - period. Two tried to hustle my wife. One was terminated and the other one was too - later for embezzelment. His wife ultimately committed suicide. He and a few others tried in vane to get me to quit my job as they knew I was 110% honest. Ultimately, all were found out and were offered two choices: embarassing lawsuit or quiet job termination. On the other side of the coin, I was a six-fgure boss for many years and had to put up with employee laziness, back-stabbing, lieing, cheating on expense accounts and more. To a person, all were ultimately either terminated or asked to leave - after being given continual warnings and write-ups. After a corporate buyout in the mid-'90s, I have been self-employed and have somehow remained sollvent with no debts. The NYC buyout whiz kids had to sellout after only 11 years to pay their debts. They ruined the careers of many many great people - and for what? I rest my case. I am a senior member of the media.

July 25 2011 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I support numbers 1and 2, because they directly affect an employee's work environment. As for whistle-blowing? Do so if you feel it's the right thing to do, but I don't support whistle-blower protection laws. It is unreasonable to report your boss and the company for illegal activities and still expect to be treated with the same respect and trust you've always enjoyed, even down to the trust of other employees who no longer want to work with you. It's crazy to think you can report your boss to the police and have nothing in the office change. Finally, number 3 is BS. If you want to join a Union, but your company doesn't want Union labor, it should be the company's prerogative. Joining a Union brings in a third party to control the company's policies. Why the heck is this legal?

July 25 2011 at 7:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What do you do when the boss is also the owner?

July 25 2011 at 5:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to charluvsdisney's comment

you curse him or her out and then quit before you get fired!

July 25 2011 at 7:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Nice article... but in reality, you will not be working for very long after you do. I know this for a fact!

I had health issues (passed out at work three times from elevated BP/Panic attack) and was denied EMT services. I had to drive myself to the hospital ER. After complaining about the actions my supervisor took, I was fired within 2 weeks !!

Face it people... workers are replacable and have NO RIGHTS UNLESS THE COMPNIES LET THEM !!

Did slavery really end in 1865 or did it become diluted in legalnesse?

July 25 2011 at 4:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wlpage42's comment

You might have disability discrimination, Family and Medical Leave or other claims. I would suggest talking to an employment attorney in your state.

July 26 2011 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Say, what is the chance of an article about lazy, stupid, careless employees? The ones who play on the internet when they need to be working. The ones that are on Ebay when they should be running their job. The ones that decide to call in sick 20 minutes after the day begins. The ones that calling for vacation and when they can't get it they call in sick that same day. The ones that take their lunch and breaks and then want to take a smoke break every hour. The ones that fall asleep on the job and then lie and say they were only thinking to solve a problem. That one was a problem that snored. Yea, lets do something that will get the irresponsible out, or in gear, so the good workers don't have to carry them.

July 25 2011 at 4:02 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

One of my supervisors 2 weeks ago wrote me up for leaving my utility cart in the hall way and leaving the closet door that it goes in ,unlocked..I tried expaining the fact that I had to was due to an urgent need to get to the bathroom fast and to try and open the dorr and guide the cart insidde would have been just long enough to have been disastrous to me ..She smiled and said that it did not matter ,,I needed to place cart in the utility closet and locked the closet door..I reminded her that if I done this I would have had a major mess on my hands as well as needed to go home to take care of myself. Again she just firmly recanted with no still does not matter and now it`s in my file. What can I do ? I did talk to Human Rscource and they were appauled and said they would talk to them but at a morning meeting last week It was all about going to the bosses over this one person and that would have not gotten me anywhere as they are all related in one way or another.

July 25 2011 at 3:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What do you do about a principal who blames you for their own failures, plays favorites among the staff, constantly berates you in front of children and parents, threatens to cancel your elective program, accuses you of stealing your own musical instrument, peeks at you from behind closed doors, eavesdrops on personal conversations with parents, slams and breaks the classroom door in a fit of rage in front of others, and just plain won't retire at the age of 72. My union is no help. They call it a gripe not a grievance. I can't transfer and am totally stuck. There needs to be laws against individuals that are so abusive, they cannot treat you with kindness.

July 25 2011 at 3:14 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Yeah--go ahead and complain about your boss. Go over his/her head--and see what REALLY happens.

They might have consequences, but you'll never see them. You will be terminated for being a "troublemaker", but that is not how it will show up in your personnel file.

You will be transferred to a new position in which you will be found to be incompetent. Or you will be let go when the company is "restructured".

Don't kid yourself. No company is going to let you get away with ratting out your boss, and no company is STUPID enough to terminate you in a fashion that allows you to prosecute for it.

A principal I worked for refused to allow a fellow teacher to file a CPS report on a family who was abusing a child. That is a CLEAR violation of the law. The teachers, a retired LAPD officer, filed it anyway. The principal followed him down the walkway to his classroom screaming at him that she would destroy his career, slammed his hand in the door of his room, and broke one finger and chipped the bone of another. He sued.

She was promoted to a position in the administrative offices at an increase in pay. He was transferred to another site while his lawsuit was pending. He had been on a fast-track to moving up to an entry-level administrative postion, but that was halted. Then he was let go after the lawsuit was resolved in a district RIF-ing.

Thirty years ago, I was propositioned by a mid-level manager as a means of keeping my job. I reported him to HR (then called Personnel) and our immediate supervisor. He was promoted (the boss said, "boys will be boys"; I was let go when the company "restructured" and the lawyer I spoke with would not take the case, as he claimed that, since the company was being restructured, I could not prove that my termination was related.

You're better off just transfering out of the department or taking another position with a different firm. In any event, opening your mouth WILL get results, just not the result you intend.

July 25 2011 at 3:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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