How To Deal With A Spiteful Boss

Robin Schwartz

How To Deal With A Spiteful Boss

We have all had that one boss we couldn’t stand to work for. They micromanaged every task you completed or they overworked you. There’s a big difference between a demanding boss and a spiteful or vindictive boss.

A spiteful boss will be more willing to engage in behaviors that are unethical, illegal or at least morally questionable. They might “have it out” for a certain employee and try to make that employee’s work life miserable. They may discriminate against certain genders, ethnicities or religions.

They may even ignore the rules and policies of the company to benefit themselves (think new computers and tablets, paid company cell phone, extra time off, etc.).

If you don’t feel as if you have the power to approach your boss, here’s how you can you deal with this spiteful behavior.

Know The Rules

Don’t rely on the managers or HR practitioners to provide you constant updates on the policies and procedures within your organization. When you’re hired (or at any point during your employment) take the opportunity to read and understand your company’s personnel policy manual. Most companies have very specific policies surrounding discrimination, paid time off, work hours, etc.

Knowing the workplace rules and regulations will go a long way in protecting yourself from someone who appears to be acting in a revengeful way. You’ll know your “rights” as an employee of the organization and what’s not allowed.

If you feel like your boss is acting towards you in a way that is in violation of the written company policy, politely ask them about it.

Example: Let’s assume your boss is denying you leave to take vacation. Confronting your boss in a hostile way won’t benefit you in any way. Try asking a kind question like “from reading the personnel policy manual I was provided upon hire, I was led to believe I would be permitted to take up to 10 vacation days per year. Can you tell me why my vacation is being denied?”

By showing your boss that you are aware of what is and is not allowed, you’re also showing him that you aren’t easily intimated.


There are times when we witness behavior that is so shocking, no polite exchange will be beneficial. For those who are witnessing extreme behavior, documentation is your best defense.

Keep a running log of specific concerns or issues as they happen. Be sure to note the date and the co-workers involved. If there’s ever a future workplace investigation, this information will be invaluable.

Remain tight-lipped about your decision to track and document the inappropriate or illegal activities you’re witnessing. The less people that know, the better. The last thing you want is for your boss to become aware of your activities and somehow undermine your efforts. This could create more problems for you.

Build Other Relationships

Focus on forming other relationships within your office. While your boss might be your direct supervisor, try to take advantage of working with other managers if possible. If your work has you interacting with other managers, ask for feedback from them about your performance when it’s appropriate. This will allow you to start to build relationships outside the supervisor-employee dynamic.

Should you decide to leave the company in the future, having other references to lean on will be helpful. If nothing else, building positive relationships with others within your organization could stand to reinforce your employment there if your boss should ever threaten it.

Stand Up To Intimidation

If your boss says something you find very inappropriate or acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be silent. Be very clear of your feelings when these situations come up. Find a time in a private space to make your feelings known to your supervisor. Or, email them about the matter and let them know you’d like to schedule a time to discuss it further.

There are people out there who keep telling sexist or racist jokes because no one ever tells them to stop. There are bosses in the workplace that will yell at staff, call people names or show favoritism. This is because no one has ever told them it makes them uncomfortable or is inappropriate.

Engage HR

The HR representative or department within an organization should be a neutral party (or parties) where you can go for advice or help. If you having an especially serious issue with a supervisor, HR needs to know. They will have the proper tools and channels to determine if there is inappropriate or illegal behavior occurring without throwing you into the fire right away.

If you’ve been documenting the observed issues as previously recommended, this will help HR determine the severity of the problem. HR then can decide what other employees might need to be brought in during an investigation. Making the decision to engage HR will likely formally start an investigation or complaint. But if you’ve had to go this far, it’s probably warranted.

Walk Away

Sometimes, no amount of documenting, standing up for yourself or reaching out to others can help. If you’re in a situation that seems to have no resolution, consider other employment options.

If you’ve successfully built relationships at your company other than with your supervisor, you shouldn’t have an issue providing references who will be happy to see you move on to bigger and better things.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

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