7 Ways To Protect Yourself If Your Boss Is a Bully

Steps you can take to stop being a victim of workplace bullying

Businesswoman shouting with megaphone into co-worker's ear
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Last week, I answered a question from a "used and abused" reader who was facing a workplace bully. I talked about five ways that your workplace bully might be breaking the law. Today, I'll tell you some things you can do, starting today, to protect yourself if your boss is a bully.

Here are seven things you can do, starting today, to protect yourself if your boss is a bully:
  1. CYA: If your boss tells you to do things, then denies it later, document everything. If she tells you, for instance, to do something you know violates company policy, send her an email along these lines: "This will confirm your instruction that you want me to do XYZ even though this would normally be contrary to Policy No. 123. Unless you advise me that this is incorrect by (insert a time), I will follow your instruction forthwith."
  2. Don't be insubordinate: If the bully tries to bait you, don't react. Be calm. He's trying to get you to do something stupid so he can say you were insubordinate. As much as you want to grab him by the collar, don't do it. If he orders you to do something, even if it's demeaning, do it (unless it's unsafe or illegal). Then document it. Use it as evidence if you figure out that he's engaging in discrimination or something else illegal.
  3. Keep track of the bullying targets: While bullying at work isn't illegal in any state, workplace bullies are just like the old playground bullies. Who do bullies target? The weak and the different. If your coworkers and you (or just you) are being targeted because of race, age, sex, religion, national origin, pregnancy, disability, taking Family and Medical Leave, making a worker's compensation claim or some other protected category, then the bully is breaking the law.
  4. Safety in numbers: Let's say the bully isn't doing anything illegal, like discrimination. If he's picking on coworkers too (and you aren't a supervisor yourself) then you are allowed to discuss working conditions with coworkers. The National Labor Relations Act protects most non-government employees against retaliation for these discussions with coworkers. You're also protected against retaliation if a group of coworkers gets together to complain about working conditions. If you complain on your own behalf as well as at least one other coworker, you are probably protected against retaliation even if you aren't protected when you complain for yourself alone. So get together and write a complaint to HR signed by the bully's targets. It will possibly go in his personnel file and might even get the company to take some action.
  5. Complain so you're protected: If you're alone, and you still want to complain, make sure you complain about something the bully is doing that's illegal. For example, if you've figured out that she's targeting older employees, then call it a "Formal Complaint of Age Discrimination." Put it in writing and lay out all the evidence you have of ways younger employees are favored over older employees, ways older employees are targeted for discipline that younger employees don't get, age-related comments, promotions going to younger employees, anything you have that makes your point. Don't focus on "unfair treatment" or bullying. Focus on what's illegal. That way you'll be legally protected against retaliation.
  6. Don't quit without having a job: If the bully is intolerable, then leave, but do it when you have something lined up. Don't let a bully force you out of a job you need to support your family and you. Because discrimination against the unemployed is still legal in most states, it's easier to get a job if you have a job.
  7. Start looking: It may seem obvious, but I can't tell you how many people come to me after they were fired, and they'd been tortured for years. I ask why they didn't get the heck out of there and they look at me funny. Sometimes, if a boss is abusive, the bully can convince you nobody would hire you, and that you're worthless. They're wrong. Don't wait until you're fired. Leave on your own terms, not the bully's.
With a little preparation, you can survive a bully and even come out on top of a workplace bullying situation.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs. While I can't answer every question here, your question might be featured in one of my columns, or in our upcoming live video chat.

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This is terrible advice, bullying i.e. creating a hostile work environment is illegal naming it "bullying" is semantics. I recommend documenting the behavior and submitting that document to HR to protect yourself. A person has right to earn a living without being maltreated.

December 16 2015 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not so easy to find a job right now and when your boss finds out you are looking for another job, the bullying and abuse gets worse...so this article is a little outdated.

October 17 2014 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

hi I am a employee for a hospital in I have recently went out on medical leave for depression in while gone a couple my co workers have told me that my boss have mention why I went out on leave in since she told them about my leave other coworkers have started bad mouthing my situation on why I have went out. What should I do? I have emailed her in told her I would like to sit down in talk about situations that were brought to my attention when I came back from my leave. I went from coming back excited to work back to being depressed in saddened because the things that were being said about me in my leave

September 27 2014 at 3:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was recently terminated from my [JOB] of 41 months.
It all started over me goin’ over my boss’s head because the lazy bastard wouldn’t do what was needed for his staff. And almost immediately the intimidations & retaliations began. It got sooo bad that I had to be hospitalized for [STRESS]!!! So I kept a journal about how things were for me on a daily basis in that environment. I also recorded my boss statin’ to another member of staff that he was tryin’ to get me [FIRED]!!! (I know that you’re not supposed to record someone w/out their permission), but the way this ******* spoke to me (Like I was some [*****] that he just met that was tryin’ to steal his money & his dope) I felt compelled to.
I have a “FAMILY HISTROY” of Breast Cancer and it returned around the time of my birthday. So when I informed my boss about it the day after I was admitted. This “Moron” deleted my texted message (’cause that’s the way he prefers to communicate w/his staff). Then told another member of staff & his superiors that he didn’t receive anything/message from me in his phone. Well I documented that in my journal as well plus I still have the texted message in my phone. My co-worker had informed me about what the boss had done by( texted message) on the day of my release from the hospital. I was so stressed-out that I’d returned to work against my doctors orders to rest for two weeks after [CHEMO]. I know my former co-worker won’t speak up on my behalf for fear of losing his [JOB]. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to give the “VP” a copy of my journal & my documents until I was terminated.
Will this affect my claim for unemployment benefits, or should I be consulting w/an attorney now?!
My name is Marilyn, but I prefer to be called [KNUCKLES].

June 04 2014 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nora Adelman

i work with a bully who is considered head dental assistant. She constantly picks on me shuts me out and has destroyed my personal property ie.. sun glasses that i use to protect my patients eyes from harm and light. She removed them from my operatory and smashed them . She has admitted to this action to several others. I am 53 yrs old and she is 32 yrs. old, this has been reported to HR per our office manager to no avail, she also gave zanex to an 19 yr, old employee.No retribution has taken place. I don't understand this. please give me some advice.

November 06 2013 at 5:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Someone needs to enlighten Tyco Electronics Management, but as usual they would deny it.

October 31 2013 at 2:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My boss was always writing us up on anything. And one day he wrote a co-worker up who sought vengeance. She did a background check on the boss and found out he had a pending charge for possession of cocaine. In three days of suspension the company investigated the information she submitted on him and well, you know how the rest goes. I would not report him. I believe in "Innocent unless PROVEN guilty" companies don't believe in that law.

October 31 2013 at 11:16 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Discrimination based on education also cannot be ignored in the workplace. Qualified workers are often exposed to resentment of coworkers and/or bosses. Jealousy comes into play and the qualified worker often deals with subtle or not so subtle putdowns on the job, one-upmanship , or is simply dismissed as an outcast. Look for a company that respects and appreciates your talents. Many companies have toxic work environments.

October 31 2013 at 9:06 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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