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Can You Get Fired for Complaining about Your Boss?

Founding Member of Moshes Law, P.C.
During his years of practice, Yuriy has concentrated in litigation and real estate transactions as his areas of expertise.

can you get fired for complaining

We all deserve to work in a healthy, safe environment and to have coworkers and bosses who treat us respectfully. Sadly, not everyone has this experience in their workplace. Some managers and employers treat their employees very poorly or allow their employees to work in situations that place the employees’ health or safety at risk. At some point, almost everyone will face a moment in dealing with their employer in which we feel at odds with our boss. That sensation is fairly normal. What is not normal or okay is for an employer to bully, harass, or discriminate against employees, or for an employer to ask employees to do things that are illegal or unsafe.

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If you live in New York and you have found yourself in a situation where you feel that your employer is mistreating you, or your employer is acting in a way that places you or other employees at risk of being harmed, our experienced labor and employment lawyers want to help you. The Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes are here to help you find solutions to your employment problems. Continue reading to learn more about how to file complaints against your boss and how we may be able to help you in filing a complaint that does not work. 

5 Reasons For Filing A Complaint With HR About Your Boss

There are many reasons you may want to file a complaint with the human resources department about your boss. When your boss is misbehaving, it can feel scary to complain to higher authorities in your workplace for fear of your boss retaliating against you. Know that certain behaviors should almost always be reported to HR, though. By filing a complaint, you help to document your boss’s bad behavior and to begin the process of rectifying the bad situation in your office or workplace. Five very important times to file a complaint with human resources include: 

1. Bullying you or someone else and creating a hostile work environment

The term “hostile work environment” refers to when a boss, or even a coworker, makes offensive or discriminatory comments and harasses employees to the point that a reasonable person would feel the workplace is intimidating or hostile. For the behavior to be worthy of complaining about, the behavior should involve more than just your boss acting in a way that frustrates you. And, typically, the boss’s behavior would need to happen more than once, unless the boss’s behavior is particularly egregious. Examples of bullying and behavior that creates a hostile work environment include: 

  • offensive, racist, or sexist jokes, slurs, or epithets
  • physical assaults or threats of physical force
  • mockery or ridicule
  • insults and put-downs
  • offensive pictures or objects
  • interference with work performance

If you have experienced any of the behaviors listed above, you should strongly consider filing a complaint with HR about your boss and discuss how the behavior is affecting you and your fellow employees. To look for guidance on how to file a formal complainant, a great place to start is your workplace’s employee handbook. 

2. Discrimination by race, color, religion, etc.

Discrimination of any kind in the workplace is unacceptable. Workplace discrimination can come in many forms, including discrimination based on a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy status, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. Broadly, employment discrimination refers to someone treating you differently than your colleagues because of one of the categories listed above. Sometimes workplace discrimination is very clear. For example, an employer may only hire people of a certain race to work in a specific position or the employer may verbally harass members of a certain class of individuals.

Other times, the discrimination can be more subtle, such as when the employer allows for inappropriate jokes or stereotypes to continue being spread around the workplace without the employer taking action to stop such discriminatory remarks. Discrimination in the workplace is illegal under federal laws and New York State laws. If you are a New Yorker and you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, contact our experienced labor and employment lawyers today to determine whether your rights have been violated. 

3. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace, just like other forms of discrimination, is illegal. Sexual harassment can be as simple as derogatory remarks about a person’s sex, or as terrible as an employer holding a promotion over a person’s head in exchange for sex. Sexual harassment does not only affect women either. Sexual harassment victims can be men, too. Any type of unwanted sexual comments or advances should be reported to your supervisor or the human resources department. At the point sexual harassment becomes frequent or severe that it makes the workplace feel hostile, the harassment is illegal and you should likely contact an experienced attorney to help you determine the best path forward. Being sexually harassed is no joke. You should seek legal advice from an experienced attorney to help you consider your options if you feel that you were sexually harassed at work.

4. Criminal Behavior

Any illegal behavior in the workplace should be reported immediately. If your boss is acting illegally (even like discriminating against your fellow employees) or your boss is asking you or your fellow employees to act illegally, you should talk to your HR department immediately and probably contact an attorney, too. If you know your boss is doing something illegal and you do not say anything, you may find yourself in trouble, too. Criminal behavior can include discriminatory actions in the workplace, but it can be serious criminal behavior (like illegally selling stolen goods) as well. If your employer asks you to do something illegal, do not comply. Participating in the illegal action can make you guilty of aiding your employer and you may suffer consequences for the bad decision. Instead, explain to your employer that you cannot participate in the activity. If your employer tries to force you to comply, you will likely have a right to take legal action against your employer, especially if your employer fires you for not complying. If your boss has asked you to do something you know is wrong, contact the Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes today to see how we can help. 

5. Violating Company Policy

If your boss’s behavior violates company policy or is otherwise inappropriate, you should raise the issue with your boss. Sometimes your boss may be unaware that they are acting against company policy. If the boss is aware he or she is violating policy or is acting poorly and knows it, then you should contact your HR department and raise the issue there. If HR and your boss do not make changes, you may have a legal right to take action. 

What if You Want to Complain But Are Worried about Being Fired?

Employers cannot fire or retaliate against employees for validly complaining about workplace conduct that is unsafe, illegal, or discriminatory, or that creates a hostile work environment. New York is an at-will employment state, which generally means an employer can fire an employee for no reason at all under NY employment laws. However, employers may not fire employees for discriminatory reasons, or for complaining about when an employer has violated labor laws like safety requirements or anti-harassment laws. An experienced employment attorney can help you determine your rights if you think you were fired for complaining about your employer’s illegal or unfair workplace practices. 

How to Effectively Complain about Your Boss

Deciding to complain about your boss’s unfair, illegal, or unethical actions can be very difficult. When you have decided to complain about your boss to HR or another higher authority, it is important to follow the appropriate steps to ensure that you are protected from further unfair or mean treatment. The steps below can help you ensure that you complain in the right manner. 

Document the Problem Every Time it Rears

When employers are acting poorly, carefully documenting the bad behavior is an important way to show HR and potentially a court what exactly the boss is doing wrong. Be sure to check your employment policies and/or employee handbook for the appropriate documentation procedures at your job. Follow those procedures carefully, if any exist. If no workplace problem documentation procedure exists, then you should be sure to carefully create your documentation system that demonstrates what your boss has done and why it is wrong. Keep track of how often the bad behavior occurs. Write every occurrence down carefully and store your documents somewhere safe where they will not be destroyed or damaged.   

Talk to Your Boss if it Is Safe

Sometimes, your boss may not understand that they are doing something wrong. If you feel safe talking to your boss about a problem, you should talk to your boss directly. Bringing the documentation you have of the bad behavior will help you show your boss exactly what he or she is doing that is problematic. By talking with your boss directly, you may be able to help them stop the problematic behavior and build a stronger sense of trust between yourself and your boss. 

Follow your company’s complaint procedure

If your company has a procedure for complaining about workplace problems, you should always follow the procedure. The following procedure will show that you did the right thing and that you made a good faith effort to address the problem the right way. Also, following procedure will protect you from the company saying they were unaware of any problems that were happening. 

how to effectively complain about your boss

Always put every occurrence of an issue in writing. Similarly, put every conversation you have about the issue in writing. Whether the conversation is with HR or your boss, you should write down what you discuss and what the proposed solutions were to the problem. Writing things down will help you remember what was said and how things changed, if they changed at all after you addressed an issue with your employer. Likewise, writing your recollection of what happened down will help you and your attorneys show what you did to solve the problem, in the event that you need to go to court against your employer. 

HR Won’t Help You, Look into Legal Options

If you went to the human resources department and they were unwilling to help you, you should absolutely consult with an experienced employment lawyer to help you determine what you can do moving forward. An experienced attorney can help you consider all the possible options you may have and help you collect the information you need to make a case against your employer if your employer has treated you wrongly. If you live in New York and you feel your HR department let you down, know that the attorneys at the Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes are here to help you. We want to work with you to find solutions to the problems you have faced in your workplace. Contact us today for a free consultation about your employment law issues. 

Can You Be Fired for Complaining?

Sometimes employers will fire or retaliate against an employee who complains about workplace problems. When an employer fires an employee who validly complains about discrimination, safety, or other legal problems that arise in a workplace, the employee typically has a right to take legal action, even in an at-will employment state like NY. Anyone who is fired for complaining about discriminatory, illegal, or unethical behavior in the workplace should contact an experienced employment law attorney to determine whether their rights were violated. 


Is talking to HR confidential?

Your discussions and HR complaints with the human resources department or a human resources officer are not necessarily confidential. Do not assume that the person you talk to in HR will keep what you discuss confidentially. Instead, you should carefully decide what you share with HR and ensure that you have the documentation to back up anything you say.

How do you know if your boss is trying to get rid of you?

There are many signs that an employer may be trying to make you leave or trying to get rid of you. When a company starts documenting nearly every action you take, stops offering you new assignments or places you in a dead-end position, stops communicating with you effectively or begins taking work away from you, you may be in a situation where your employer is considering letting you go. If the employer is doing this for the wrong reasons, you may have a case against your employer for wrongful termination.

What are the signs of a toxic workplace?

Many things can make a workplace “toxic,” including if the workplace simply is not the right fit for a particular employee. Some classic examples of a toxic workplace include: poor communication; employees who seem depressed, tired, or anxious all the time; high turnover rates; an environment in which a particular person is allowed to make harsh comments about others without repercussions; and any workplace in which employees are forced to produce work-product that is unreasonably

What are the 3 types of harassment?

Three broad categories of workplace harassment include

1. Verbal/written harassment: This includes offensive emails or pictures; unwanted sexual advances, or even repeated requests for a date; derogatory comments about disabilities, mental illnesses, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or other protected classes or people; disrespectful comments about a person’s family history or national origins. 
2. Physical harassment: this involves anything from lewd or offensive gestures to unwanted touching. The physical aspect does not necessarily have to be directed at a specific person, rather it can be as simple as seeing another coworker making rude, explicit gestures and feeling uncomfortable. 
3. Visual harassment: this can include offensive, the vulgar language displayed around the office or on a coworker’s clothing, or something more serious such as unsolicited sharing of sexually suggestive or explicit content.

Can you get fired for reporting harassment?

If an employer terminates a person for reporting sexual or other types of harassment, the employee has a right to sue the employer for wrongful termination. Employers should know better than to fire a person for reporting that he or she was harassed unless the employer wants to face legal consequences for their actions.

Have questions? Get a Free Consultation With An Employment Lawyer. 

At the Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes, we know how to fight for your rights when an employer has treated you unfairly. Our experienced labor and employment attorneys have handled workplace discrimination cases, workplace safety cases, hostile work environment cases, and a variety of other cases that arise when employers are acting wrongfully. Whether your case involves going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or filling a claim in New York State court, we know the procedures and paths that will help you fight for your rights.

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When employers act wrongfully, we know how scary it can be for an employee to stand up to their boss. Know that we will stand behind you and help you fight for your right to have a safe, healthy, non-hostile, and discrimination-free workplace. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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