How to Deal with an Unethical Boss

Being an ethical person means that an individual conforms to the accepted moral standards and then he acts accordingly. Columnist Keith Dooley wrote in a recent column, “Applied to the work environment, it means that an ethical person has a higher standard than just avoiding a certain behaviour or practice because it is illegal.” Generally speaking, most people hope to be involved in a workplace environment where the boss is someone that can be trusted and does not engage in unethical business practices and behaviours. If you find yourself in a situation where your boss is unethical, how should you handle yourself? This article will address the issue and provide some ideas on how to deal with an unethical boss.

Examples of Unethical Behaviour from a Boss

Victoria Duff wrote an article in the Small Business Chronicle detailing the five common unethical behaviors in the workplace. Her list below applies to all individuals. However for the purposes of this article, the focus will remain on unethical behaviour exhibited by a boss.

1. Deliberately Deceiving Someone

This action describes any type of unethical behaviour that is deliberately done with premeditation. For example, a boss may know that a product is unsafe; yet still makes it available in the marketplace regardless of possible harm to others. Sabotaging an employee’s work or ruining someone’s reputation to save one’s own skin is another form of deliberate deception.

2. Violating Integrity

Let’s say for example you work in the marketing department and your boss needs you to prepare informational materials for a potential business networking opportunity. Your boss knows this could be a huge win for the company if the deal goes through. However, he wants you to fudge the figures and represent the company as doing better in sales than it truly is doing.

3. Disregard for Honoring Promises

Another example of unethical behaviour as it pertains to commitments is that your boss made you a promise and failed to keep it. If extenuating circumstances happened, maybe you’d give your boss a pass. However, if unethical behaviour is involved, this most likely is a pattern. Maybe you had asked for and been told you could take time off. Then your boss completely disregarded the promise and refused to let you take that time off. By continually breaking promises, your boss is not fostering trust with you.

4. Illegal Behavior

One example of unlawful behaviour is when a boss may give the authorisation to distribute counterfeit software throughout the company. If the manufacturer discovered these actions, the company could be sued and be fined. Perhaps your boss is one of the managers and is stealing funds from the company or padding an expense account with non-business expenses.

5. Complete Disregard for Company Policy

Every company has its own set of policies regarding employer and employee issues, as well as compliance with government regulations. If your boss knowingly disregards the policies regarding OSHA regulations for workplace safety, that is unethical behaviour. If your boss violates your rights as an employee, that also constitutes unethical behaviour.

How to Deal with an Unethical Boss

You may have encountered a boss who lies, cheats, swindles others and is simply underhanded in his or her behaviour. When you have experienced such behaviour, it breaks the trust that you had been trying to cultivate with your boss. However, the issue then becomes, how do you then handle the situation? Do you confront your boss? Should you quit your job? Should the authorities be contacted? Brandon Smith is a consultant and radio host who helps others overcome the “challenges of workplace health and dysfunction.” On his website,, he shares two vital steps that can be taken to deal with an unethical boss. They are discussed below.  

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Step # 1: Document Every Fact and Behavior

Mr. Smith advises that it is important to remember that an unethical boss doesn’t play by fair rules. So you should be ready for a “potentially sticky situation” which you’ll need to address discreetly. The first step involves documenting everything. Utilise email so that you have a trail of text that can be documented and saved. If your boss is unethical and you cannot trust a word he says, then don’t solely rely on verbal confirmation. Always use email as a second form of communication so that your words and the boss’ response are documented. This also provides a safety net for you in the event that the authorities were called in. You have proof of what you said and did, especially if you were trying to warn the boss against participating in any unethical behavior.

Step # 2: Create a Game Plan

Mr. Smith advises that “you should always have an exit strategy.” If you don’t have one yet, get started on creating it. According to Mr. Smith, the likelihood is nonexistent of you being able to turn your unethical boss away from the dark side. Mr. Smith also warns that your career can be at risk, especially if the degree of unethical behaviour is extremely high. There is no sense staying in a bad work environment which can jeopardise your future if you don’t have to. Of course, if you can’t resign your job immediately, continue to document everything and begin searching for new employment. Your boss may have been unfairly limiting your career opportunities or stealing from you. However, according to Mr. Smith, the worst thing that could happen is that “you are under their reputational umbrella.” If your unethical boss goes down, it is quite possible that your professional reputation could also be tainted—maybe even permanently.

If you are in the middle of a bad workplace situation with an unethical boss, you need to stay focused on the end goal. Document everything that you say and do and work on your exit strategy. Don’t allow yourself to get rattled by this individual. You can recover from this situation and save your own professional reputation.


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