How to Report Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

Witnessing a fellow employee engaging in unethical behavior in your workplace can put you between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it could destroy your relationship with the culprit beyond repair if you choose to report it. Meanwhile, failure to notify your supervisor or boss could put you in a moral dilemma, especially if the actions committed were illegal. You need to be meticulous when reporting unethical behavior to ensure minimal damages result from doing so.

Assess the behavior

The first action is to assess the perceived unethical behavior to see if it meets the threshold of an unbecoming conduct. You could refer to your organization’s handbook, which outlines the actions that meet the definition of unethical workplace conduct. This will inform you whether what you saw warrants notifying the senior management or not. The handbook will also guide you on the formalities of reporting such behavior to the relevant authorities. Keep an open mind before ascertaining your suspicions and use conversational questions when trying to probe for more information.

Report to relevant management

After establishing the authenticity of your suspicions, report the said unethical behavior to senior management. In doing so, avail any piece of evidence ranging from voice mails, testimonials, phone calls or emails to avoid hurting your credibility in a situation where there is no proof. Always remain objective when reporting the incident by focusing on the culprit’s behavior and not your relationship with him. Notifying the ethics department in your organization may also suffice as you can anonymously leave a message reporting the behavior via an email or a hotline address.

Send a written report

You can alternatively submit a written report to the Human Resources or ethics departments. The report should simply outline the factual details of the behavior and should be accompanied by evidence of the same. Do not include any prejudicial statements in the report as well as those bordering defamatory; such words may come back to haunt you by staining your standing as a trustworthy employee. You may also need to fill in certain paperwork indicating that you have filed a report on an unethical behavior in the workplace.

Talk to the culprit

Reporting unethical behavior can become more difficult when there are no company guidelines. Using your judgment would help you circumvent this dilemma. Sometimes, speaking to the culprit about the behavior may be a logical step. It could be that they are unaware their actions constitute unethical behavior, especially in cases where the guilty party is a new employee still trying to adapt to his workplace. However, you have to report them if this behavior does not cease even after a chat with them.


Avoid gossiping about the unethical behavior with others because it will tarnish your reputation and raise questions about your motives. Regardless of the outcome of the report, keep your opinions confined to yourself and avoid discussing the report with anyone who is not directly involved in its deliberations. This avoids the spread of rumor around the workplace, some of which may be untrue and could disorient the people implicated in the incident.

Image Source: SFGate