It should come as no surprise that harassment and discrimination in the workplace are illegal. But reporting the unwanted treatment, let alone hiring a lawyer to fight back, can be emotionally exhausting and puts your career at risk. In the worst-case scenario, a superior who’s harassing or discriminating has learned how to deliver the abuse without leaving a paper trail or attracting the attention of any witnesses.
The Seattle Times recently explored that scenario, asking two employment lawyers what a worker can do, if anything, in a situation with an abusive boss.
Sara Amies, a partner at Seattle Employment Law Group, told the Seattle Times that proving your experience can be trickier when bad actors don’t leave documentation—“but that doesn’t mean that you can’t write it down,” she said.
Amies recommends describing your concerns in an email to a confidant. “That email, even if you send it from your personal email, is evidence,” she said.
Sending the email directly to the harasser or their boss is preferred. Amies suggested something along the lines of “Hey, it made me feel really uncomfortable when you…”
You should also document the complaint with your company’s human resources department if there is one. “Even if they do nothing, you’ve alerted them to it, which makes it easier to bring a retaliation suit,” Amies said, noting that while people don’t always recognize discrimination, “everyone understands retaliation.”
Bringing a lawyer into the loop as soon as possible can help with things like determining whether you actually have a case against an abusive boss and, if so, how to proceed.
Alex Higgins, another Seattle employment lawyer adds that if you don’t feel comfortable going to your boss or human resources, you can always email yourself.
That’s how former FBI Director James Comey documented workplace concerns about his then-boss, Donald Trump. As long as there’s a time stamp on the communication, it can be used as evidence that you have concerns about what’s going on in the office.
“What Higgins does not recommend is doing nothing and hoping the bad behavior stops,” the Seattle Times writes. Oh yeah, and don’t secretly record conversations to document the issue–it’s against the law. Both parties have to consent to audio recordings in Washington state.