Can you Sue your Boss for Being a Jerk?

Can you Sue your Boss for Being a Jerk?

by Susan Funaro, December 2009

A staggering 42% of U.S. workers report being victims of workplace verbal abuse. This means many of us face a workday spent scrambling to please and prevent outbursts from the big boss. The question is: what can you do about it?

This list of tips can help you regain some control on the job:

Document everything:"Little" things often grow into patterns of abuse. It would be ideal to keep a record of incidents from the first hint of trouble. But it's never too late to start documenting incidents, meetings, e-mails and status reports. Be sure to record any illnesses, doctor visits or treatments required due to your hostile work environment. If you do end up consulting an attorney, such a list will be valuable. At the least, this list may be just the motivation you need to start job hunting.

Is it harassment?: Because of "at will" laws, bullying bosses can get away with being nasty. Abusive bosses may single out a particular personal feature. For example, they might repeatedly comment on an employee's weight. Actual harassment depends on the details and frequency of conduct. That's why documentation is so helpful.

Crossing into personal injury:Some abusive bosses may poke at employees, hover over them or jokingly block exits. Don't just chalk this up as annoying. Such behavior may cross over into personal injury.

Familiarize yourself with labor laws: Learn some labor law basics, which is easy to do thanks to the net. These sites detail federal and state employment laws:

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) -

U.S. Department of Labor -

Labor laws by state -

Researching these laws can help you be prepared if you do consult a lawyer. Legal counsel can also offer valuable advice on protecting yourself at an abusive workplace.

Consider your options: You always have the option to quit, unless you signed a contract for a specified time. We all know job hunting isn't an instant process. But exit with as much dignity, sanity and speed as possible.

Once you're a bull's-eye on the bully's target, you probably won't be moving out of range. In fact, you have a 37% chance of being fired. Most targeted employees last less than two years on the job. You'll be doing yourself a favor by getting out as soon as possible.

If you can't leave quickly, protect yourself. Keep your performance and conduct professional. Your boss may be trying to bait an inappropriate response. That would justify firing you and save the company on unemployment benefits.

Human resources is a potential place for support. Speaking with H.R. may or may not be helpful because H.R. does represent the company's interests. Only 4% of bullies stop after sanctions. Unfortunately, less than 10% of bullies are transferred or terminated. In other words, chances are your abusive boss won't be fired.

The good news? You got this job. So use the skills you have to find a new work environment that rewards your dedication. And say good-bye and good riddance to a toxic workplace.