Abusive Bosses & Employee Rights

Executing your rights while dealing with an abusive boss can be complicated. Your boss's bad behavior may be annoying and uncomfortable for you, but it may not be actionable. For instance, an employee doesn't have grounds for a lawsuit just because his boss often yells at him, even though the incidents are embarrassing.

Abusive Behavior

The behavior of abusive bosses can take several forms, but all are a hindrance to employees who may have to decide between keeping their jobs or looking for another job with the hope of finding a company that has a better workplace environment. A CNN Money report titled "Dealing With an Abusive Boss" says the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute puts abusive bosses' behavior in different categories. Some are in-your-face critics who regularly cast insults at you, while others feign niceness as they sabotage your progress at work behind your back. A third type of abusive boss uses his control to create company targets that employees don't have enough resources to meet. Other bosses regularly lose control and explode in anger for any number of reasons.

Workplace Solutions

You have the right to try to work out your problems with an abusive boss yourself before you take other actions. Try arranging a face-to-face meeting at work with your boss to discuss the problems between you. Choose an area for your discussion where other people can see that a formal meeting is taking place. Plan to discuss your issues calmly and be prepared to name specific incidents that concern you, instead of speaking in generalities. Chances are that an abusive boss will be uncooperative and either refuse to meet with you or not change his behavior after meeting with you. Your next step could be to discuss your boss's behavior with your company's human resources manager. A "Women's Health" magazine article titled "How to Survive an Abusive Boss" recommends employees consider taking their issues to a high-level manager or the company president if the human resources manager proves to be unhelpful.

Legal Action

Consult with an attorney if your boss is defaming you. An attorney will be able to tell you if you have a strong enough case for a defamation lawsuit. To prove a defamation suit, you need to show that your boss intentionally damaged your reputation by making statements about you he knew to be false. Document incidents that demonstrate your boss's abusive behavior if you're considering legal action. For example, gather hostile emails and poor evaluations your boss has given you, and write down descriptions, dates and times that specific abusive actions took place to bolster your case. You also can contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for advice on handling your situation.


You may conclude that the only real right you have to take action against an abusive boss is to find another job. Your boss may be abusive, but he also may be too savvy to do anything that can get him into trouble with his boss or that would provide grounds for a strong lawsuit against the company. Look for another job if your abusive work situation is adversely affecting your health and peace of mind.