Pay and Promotion

How to Confront Your Boss About Unfairness at Work

Unfairness at work is frustrating. Whether it’s because you’re not getting credit for your work, or because your boss loves to play favorites, it can be difficult to take. At the same time, it’s hard to confront your boss about the issue. After all, whatever your boss says, goes, right?

That’s the way it usually is, but it’s not the way it has to be. In cases of genuine unfairness, you should confront your boss about any problems. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but by being forthright, you can get what you want.

This guide addresses what exactly counts as unfairness at work? When you’re inside the situation, it can be difficult to tell. Your colleagues might not class your boss’ behavior as unfairness, and maybe you don’t either. But check the ‘unfairness at work’ section below, because you might be surprised at what a real workplace should be like.

Afterward, we take a look at how to report an unfair boss. That could be through confronting them directly and asking them to explain something you see as unfair. Or, it could be the ultimate step and reporting your boss to their boss (or to HR).

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What is Unfairness at Work?

So, what exactly is unfairness at work? There are more than a dozen varieties. If you grew up with a brother or a sister, you might recognize one or two of them from your time living at home. Curiously, unfairness in the workplace is quite similar to family life.

Let’s take a look at some examples of unfairness in the workplace to show you what we mean.

1) My Boss is Friends with a Coworker

One of the clearest examples of injustice at work is favoritism. This is where the boss likes one person far more than anyone else. This can lead to all sorts of unfair behavior, which we’ll go into in more detail below. But on a basic level, it means that the boss treats other people much nicer than you.

2) Unfair Criticism

Favoritism leads to unfair criticism. When you hand in a project that you’ve worked exceptionally hard on, the boss looks for faults. Never mind how hard you worked, or that you did a good job. All they can think to do is pick holes in your project, which is utterly demoralizing. On the other hand, shoddy work from the boss’ favorites gets nothing but plaudits.

3) Scapegoating

According to Psychology Today, scapegoating is a key part of narcissism. When something goes wrong, it’s your fault. When something isn’t on time, it’s your fault. In fact, anything at all that’s anything but perfect–it’s your fault. Being the one to shoulder the blame after every slip-up is often unfair because other people played their part in the failure too. But it always seems to be you that gets the blame.

4) Discrimination

Discrimination is unfairness but taken up a notch. It could be based on anything from your gender, physical size, beliefs or religion to the color of your skin. But whatever it’s for, the boss took a dislike to you for something you can’t help.

workplace unfairness and inequality

Discrimination isn’t just unfair, it’s actually illegal in many ways. According to Pew Research Center, gender and racial discrimination are both still alive and well in U.S. workplaces.

5) Taking Credit Unfairly

Another problem is when either your boss or another employee takes credit unfairly. You worked hard on a project for your boss, and when they told their boss about it, they took the credit. In the worst case scenario, they don’t even mention that you had a hand in it at all. This isn’t just unfair. It can mean that you miss out on a promotion, bonus or pay rise because they lied.

6) Breaking Promises (Bonuses and Promotions)

On the subject of pay rises and promotions, sometimes your boss might promise you one but eventually break that promise. They pay you lip service and tell you that if you work hard, you’ll earn one. They know exactly the spot that’ll open up early next year. And they’ll put your name in the running. But despite making you promises, they never keep them, and only string you along. By contrast, others move up the ladder quickly. That’s unfair.

7) Unfair Pay Structure

It might be taboo, but you may find out what somebody else is earning for doing the same job as you. The surprise is if they are being paid much more for the same work.

This is especially egregious if they’ve only just been hired, or if it seems like it’s being done because of discrimination. This is the case with the gender pay gap. According to Statista, women still only earn 80.5% of what men earn in the U.S. each year.

8) Only Getting Bad Shifts

If you do shift work, you’ll know how it feels to get the bad shifts. That could mean that you’re always the one to work the late shift. Depending on the job, it could also mean that you’re the one to switch your shift from early to late constantly. That can take a real toll on your health and mental well-being. If your boss constantly assigns you ‘bad shifts,’ that’s most definitely an example of unfairness.

how to complain about your boss to his boss

9) Refusing Holidays

Have you found that your boss is unreasonable when it comes to holidays? Do they always seem to say no whenever you ask, because of some unforeseen problem? Everyone has. But if their favorites can have holiday time whenever they want, that’s unfair.

10) Excessive Punishment

If you infringe a rule, it’s only right that you’re punished. But if that punishment goes above and beyond what’s specified by company guidelines, that’s unfair, especially if others aren’t subject to the same punishment. The same applies if you’re punished for something that wasn’t your fault (like scapegoating). Not to mention, if you’re punished for something that doesn’t require punishment.

11) Unrealistic Workload

Unfair bosses love to pile an unrealistic workload on their scapegoats. By setting their scapegoat up for failure, it gives them an excellent reason to take their anger out on them. And depending on the work culture at your business, it’s unacceptable to complain that you’re working too much. Compare what you have to do with what other people have to do. Do you have to work far harder than anybody else? That’s unfair by anybody’s standards.

12) Unfair Dismissal

Last but not least, you have an unfair dismissal. Like discrimination, you may be able to take legal action if you’re unfairly dismissed. It depends on your state. It’s a big step to go down the legal route, so before you do, take a step back. The first step you take should be to talk to your boss. Let’s take a look at how.

How To Confront Your Boss About Unfairness at Work

So, now the all-important question: how do you confront your boss about something that’s unfair? It’s not as simple as walking up to them and asking them why you’re being treated a certain way. What happens if they don’t believe you? Where’s your evidence? Well, to get around that problem, all you have to do is follow this simple guide.

unfairly blamed at work

1) Contact HR to Ask for Guidance

It would be best to be able to sort it out between the two of you. But, ultimately, it doesn’t work like that. At some point, it’s highly likely that you’ll need HR on your side. Now, most businesses have different guidelines when it comes to HR: what you need to prove an accusation, internal methods of dispute resolution and so on. Contact HR to ask them what the procedure is to bring a complaint, and start there.

2) Make a Record of What’s Unfair

The first step that HR will probably advise you to take is to make a record of what you perceive to be unfair. Any time your boss unfairly criticizes your work. Any time they shout at you over something trivial. Whatever the problem, make a note of what happens and when. This will help you build up a clear picture of a pattern of unfair behavior. Ultimately, that’s what will prove your side of the story.

3) Have an Informal Chat with Your Boss

Before you go the whole hog, have a chat with your boss. If you’re lucky, you can resolve a problem there and then. It might be the case that they don’t even realize they’re unfair. If you bring it to their attention in a genuine and non-confrontational way, they might see sense. So, give them a chance to explain why they’ve broken a promise or why they’ve behaved a certain way.

4) Make an Official Complaint

So, it’s time to learn how to complain about your boss to his boss!

If the worst comes to the worst, you can make an official complaint with their boss, or with HR. There should be an internal disciplinary process that occurs when a complaint is made. This is where your record comes in handy. With HR’s guidance on what you should do, you should be able to prove your point. What happens at that point depends on your company’s disciplinary guidelines.

5) Further Steps

In some cases, it may be possible or necessary to take a case further. In the event of genuine legally defined discrimination, you may be able to take the matter to court. This is a lengthy and expensive process that not many people like to take. Alternatively, you could seek employment elsewhere. These final steps aren’t usually necessary, however.

How to Report Unfair Treatment at Work

Our guide makes it sound quite simple, but in reality, it’s anything but. There are many things you should remember when it comes to reporting unfair treatment at work. Let’s take a look at some hints and tips on doing just that.

1) Give Your Boss a Chance

The first thing you should remember is to give your boss a chance. It’s like the old saying: before you judge somebody, you should walk a mile in their shoes. There might be a perfectly good explanation for your boss’ behavior that you haven’t thought of. So, give them a chance, and try to see things from their perspective. Even better is if you can have a frank and forthright discussion with them about it.

2) Approach them in Private

If you do decide to talk to your boss, you should do it in private. Don’t talk with them when there’s anybody else around, especially any co-workers or management. If you do confront them in front of other people, your boss thinks about two things. First: deny what happened to save face. Nobody wants to look bad, especially somebody who treats others unfairly.

how to talk to my boss effectively

Second: they will see it as somebody challenging their authority. If that’s the case, things can get ugly, and fast. Unfair bosses hate having their authority undermined, so they won’t just deny what you say. They’ll go further. If you’re unlucky, they might go on the attack. This could take the form of serious accusations, which is a real risk for you. Have a private meeting instead, and you can both be truthful with one another.

3) Don’t Let Emotion Cloud Your Judgment

If you’re treated unfairly at work, it feels like a personal slight. That’s exactly what it is: you’ve worked hard, so why don’t you deserve a promotion or a raise? Like all things that are unfair, it feels awful when you’re subject to bad treatment at work. But don’t let that cloud your judgment.

By screaming or shouting, acting in a passive-aggressive manner, or by doing something to get back at your boss you aren’t helping your chances of a positive resolution. Remember, it might go to HR. If you do something negative, your boss might use it as an excuse. HR might not see your side of the story because the focus is on your negative behavior. So don’t let emotion cloud your judgment.

4) Keep It in Perspective

If you think of the problem as something monumental, then that’s what it’ll be. Always remember that there’s a solution to every problem. It might be that you can talk your boss around easily. If not, you might be able to go through HR. If not, there are always other jobs–maybe even better-paying jobs– elsewhere. So remember that every cloud has a silver lining. After all, there’s no point filing a successful complaint if you’re miserable from start to finish.

Plus, don’t exaggerate what happened. Be truthful and be reasonable. If you have a genuine case to put forward, it will speak for itself. There’s no need to embellish your story or make it worse than it was. Worst case scenario, you’ll be found out, and your whole story will be thrown out lies and all. Your boss would be pleased, but you definitely wouldn’t be.

5) Don’t Talk About it to Others

There’s nothing to be gained from gossip. If you talk to your co-workers about your complaint, they’ll tell everyone they know, and soon your boss will know. If you thought that your unfair treatment was bad up to this point, you should wait. An unreasonable, vindictive boss can make your life a misery if you aren’t careful. So, before you’ve had a chance to resolve the problem, you should keep it to yourself.

6) Define Your Aims

Before you make a complaint, figure out what your aims are. Do you genuinely still want to seek that promotion or wage rise at your current employer? Or are you just trying to get one over on your boss? If it’s the former, make a complaint. If it’s the latter, there’s no point in taking the complaint any further. Why? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. You’ll waste weeks, months or maybe even years of your life in a pointless battle to ‘get one over’ on somebody. It’s not worth your time, so take the high road instead.

7) Be Time Sensitive

If you are going to confront your boss, you should be time sensitive. What does that mean? It’s simple: pick a good time to talk to them. Don’t grab them when they’re rushing off somewhere, because they won’t give you the time you need. Don’t bring it up when the two of you are angry with one another. The best thing to do is to bring it up at a scheduled time, so tell your boss you’d like to chat with them as soon as possible. Talking either formally or informally could work.

8) Don’t Downplay Your Experience

Not everybody likes to complain. Some people could make a living from it, but the vast majority of us don’t like to make a fuss. So even when you do make a complaint, it might be tempting to add “…But it wasn’t as bad as it sounds!” That’s a fatal error. Your boss, their boss, and HR all want the problem to go away. Not only that, but they want it to go away by any means necessary. If you make it clear that the problem isn’t much of a problem at all, they’ll take that as their jumping off point to dismiss everything you say. Be your own best friend and back yourself up.

9) Don’t Involve Others

You also have to be very careful not to involve other people in your accusations. Let’s say that you’re complaining about something that happened at the office Christmas party. Now, there almost certainly would have been witnesses to your boss’ bad behavior.

But it’s not always a good idea to involve other people in your story as there are no few real friends in the workplace. If you tell HR “Oh, and ABC and XYZ were there, and they saw everything!” then you’re setting yourself up for a fall. What if they don’t want to get involved? Suddenly your story isn’t so convincing. Rely on your own account instead, especially the records you kept.

So, it’s crunch time: time to confront your boss. Where do you start? The first thing you should do, no matter what your situation is, is to start making a record of your boss’ unfair actions. There’s no point going in all-guns-blazing. If you start proceedings now, all you have is your word against theirs. You have to start with a record.

Once you have your record, the choice is yours. If your boss’ behavior improved, you could choose to keep your record and leave off. If not, you now have the option to press forward. You can either move forward internally or externally. But the question is whether or not you believe it’s worth it to you.

Consider the following points:

  • Do you have the time to pursue the case, either internally or externally?
  • If the case isn’t successful, do you have a Plan B? Are you happy to keep working where you are?
  • If you couldn’t stand staying, do you have other options elsewhere?
  • Do you think that the unfair behavior is worth disciplinary proceeding, or is the problem minor?
  • Do you think there’s a good chance of success if you take proceedings forward?

If you can tick each of these boxes, then go for it. If not, it might be best to consider other options like working elsewhere. Either way, there’s nothing to be gained by resting on your laurels. Taking action is your only option, but what that action is, is up to you.