Management Articles


What To Do If Your Boss Asks You To Do Something Unethical or Illegal

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

You're the new secretary and your boss asks you to become a Notary Public. He then walks back into his office and you can hear him on the phone talking about a contract he wants out of, and the fact that he's going to falsify a date and signature -- "No problem, my secretary will do it."

It happened to me, has it happened to you? Here are some steps you can take.

  1. Think beforehand about what you would do if this happened so you can think rationally when and if it should occur.

    Emotions will come into play when and if it does that may confuse the issue for you. Intimidation, fear of losing your job, confusion about just what is ethical and what isn't, fear of authority, anger if you refuse to do it, trying to rationalize to justify your boss as a good person, wishing to avoid conflict.

  2. Understand that just following orders won't necessarily protect you from criminal charges.

  3. Don't comply.

    Say "I won't do this."

  4. Make documentation in writing about the chain of events for self-protection.

  5. Consider reporting it to your HR department.

  6. Consider reporting it to your legal department.

  7. Use the ethical hotline.

    Some forward-thinking organizations have an ethical hotline. The person in charge of this department has an old-fashioned telephone with no answering machine or caller ID. Ethical concern phone calls are accepted anonymously and handled in appropriate ways. Employess are encouraged to report unethical incidents.

  8. Use Intentionality.

    Intentionality is one of the highest-level emotional intelligence competencies, because it requires that you accept responsiblity for both your actions and your motives. At this level you aren't allowed to say "I didn't mean to..." It requires that you manage difficult emotions and continue to think clearly. Be clear about your own stand. Do you do unethical or illegal things? This is a "yes" or "no" question.

    By the same token, not knowing the law is not a justifiable defense.

  9. Consider contacting a governmental agency like the Department of Labor or the SEC.

  10. Consider hiring a lawyer.

  11. Talk over what happened with someone knowledgeable - a coach, friend, or spouse. Get some perspective.

  12. Get your resume ready just in case.
It's emotionally intelligent to plan ahead and protect yourself.

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2002

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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