What If the Boss Wants Me to Do Something That's Against My Beliefs?

Life and work would be so much simpler if everything was in black or white. Unfortunately, we deal predominantly in shades of gray. So how do you handle work situations with a boss who tests your limits and breaches your belief system? If only choosing your own boss was an option!

bad boss

(Photo Credit: betsystreeter/Flickr)

If what your boss asks you to do is:

Illegal: Don’t do it. It’s just not worth it. Even if it would mean risking your job, it is just not prudent to get involved in an activity that is sure to have long-lasting negative repercussions.

At IT Business Edge, Don Tennant gets a psychologist's perspective on the issue. Dr. Michael Brodsky, psychologist and medical director at Bridges to Recovery says:

“Some employees will feel a high degree of loyalty because the company has treated them well in the past; other employees will feel they were deceived, or the company is behaving in a way that they don't want to be associated with. Before they think about how to proceed in a situation where there is corporate malfeasance, employees have to decide for themselves, probably in the privacy in their own homes with their own thoughts, where their loyalty lies -- whether they want or need to protect their own interests, or stand with their employer and try to be supportive. Of course, it's a lot trickier when there are questions about illegal activity by the corporation.”

Unethical: This is trickier, because ethics are harder to define than law. What may be blatantly unethical to one person could be the "accepted way of doing business" to another. If you are uncomfortable with what you are being asked to do, then use a sounding board -- a trusted friend or a family member.

If you decide not to go ahead with the task, Dr. Brodsky says, “It's best to decline without offering an explanation.” It doesn’t help to be too pedantic and preachy about it.

If you feel you are being asked to violate company policies or code of conduct, speak to an ombudsperson, if your company has one, or to a neutral party, possibly an HR Business Partner. When in doubt, ask.

Against your Religious Beliefs: Under the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employers cannot discriminate based on religion:

“The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment… and requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business.”  

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, casual comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). Discrimination in any form needs to be reported. The law protects the victim/complainant from any form of retaliation.

Against Your Personal Beliefs: This is your belief system, and you are the only person who has control over it. Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., author of A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-Stabbers, and Other Managers From Hell, says the best way to deal with such bosses is to communicate as much as you can and document everything.

“Often when a boss is... abusive, you'll find a code of silence and submission that helps everyone get along," Scott writes in her book.

If a discussion with your boss does not lead to change, you'll need to decide for yourself if you want to remain silent like your colleagues or escalate your concern to a senior leader or Human Resources.

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