Skip to Content

When should you go above your boss?

Going above your boss can be a risky move that requires careful consideration. As an employee, your boss is usually the main point of contact and source of direction in the workplace. However, there are some situations where it may become necessary to go above your direct supervisor to address concerns. Knowing when and how to appropriately escalate issues in the workplace hierarchy can be an important skill.

When is it appropriate to go above your boss?

Here are some of the most common situations when it can become appropriate to go above your direct supervisor:

Illegal or unethical conduct

If your boss is asking you to do something unethical, illegal, or in violation of company policy, you may need to report the behavior or activity to their superior or human resources. For example, if your boss asks you to falsify reports, improperly manipulate financial information, or overlook inappropriate conduct in the workplace, bypassing your boss may be the right thing to do.

Harassment or discrimination

If you are experiencing any form of harassment, discrimination, or hostile behavior from your supervisor, you should feel empowered to report it to a higher level of management or HR. No employee should feel unsafe or mistreated at work.

Violations of company policy

Sometimes supervisors may unintentionally or intentionally disregard company policy. If your boss directs you to do something that violates established rules, procedures, or protocols, it may be appropriate to gently redirect them or elevate the issue if needed.

Dangerous or unethical directives

Very rarely, a supervisor may direct their team to do something dangerous, unethical or illegal. In extreme situations like these, employees have a moral obligation to avoid harming themselves or others by disobeying directives and reporting the issue up the chain of command.

Failure to address concerns

If you have brought reasonable concerns, issues or complaints to your boss on multiple occasions without any resolution, it may be time to carefully escalate the issue to their manager. However, first make sure you have given your boss adequate opportunities and reminders to address the situation.

How to go above your boss appropriately

If you determine it is necessary to bypass your direct supervisor, tread carefully and thoughtfully. Here are some tips on how to appropriately go above your boss:

Know the proper channels

Make sure you know the proper reporting lines and which senior manager or HR representative would be the appropriate contact regarding your specific issue or complaint. This is usually accessible information such as an organizational chart.

Have clear documentation

Document any incidents, concerns, policy violations, or directives from your boss that compel you to go above them. Concrete information will give credibility to your claims and help guide the conversation.

Remain professional

Even if there is hostility or a difficult history with your boss, maintain professionalism as you escalate issues. Stick to the facts, use a constructive tone, and avoid unnecessary personal attacks or venting frustrations. You want the focus to be on resolving the actual problem.

Request confidentiality

If possible, request that senior management or HR keep your report confidential during any investigative process. This can help avoid any initial retaliation against you by your boss.

Communicate your actions

Unless there are special circumstances, let your direct supervisor know that you have decided to elevate certain concerns higher in the organization. In some cases, this may even motivate them to take corrective action before you move forward.

Be prepared for retaliation

Understand that even if you follow appropriate protocols, your boss may not react well if they feel undermined or threatened. Have a plan in place in case retaliation or backlash does occur. Documenting improper retaliation can also help strengthen an HR or upper management intervention.

When to think twice about going over your boss

While there are certainly circumstances that warrant bypassing a supervisor, you may want to think twice in certain situations:

Personality conflicts

Do not escalate normal personality differences or communication style mismatches. Learn to adapt your working relationship and find common ground before considering an end-run around your boss over interpersonal issues.

Isolated or minor issues

Focus on the big picture and do not constantly complain to your boss’s manager over every tiny issue or mistake. Choose your battles wisely and elevate major repeat offenses or patterns.

Lack of evidence

Make sure you have solid, documented cases of policy violations or reasonable evidence of wrongdoing. Do not make accusations without the proof to back them up.

Ulterior motives

Do not bypass your boss solely as a political maneuver, to lobby for a promotion, or to spread office rumors. Make sure your motives align with resolving the substantive issue.

Higher management disinterest

If higher level managers seem reluctant to intervene or even condone your boss’s behavior, continuing to repeat complaints may hurt you more than your boss.

Job security concerns

There can be risks of retaliation or even termination if you circumvent your boss without adequate cause. Going above your supervisor may be your last resort after exhausting other options.

Tips for working with a difficult boss

Where possible, try to resolve issues professionally without immediately escalating over your supervisor’s head. Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult manager:

Communicate openly

Have respectful, bilateral conversations explaining your concerns and perspectives. Look for compromise.

Pick your battles

Tolerate and adapt to reasonable quirks and annoyances. Focus on changing egregious behavior.

Document incidents

Keep records of inappropriate directives, hostile remarks, policy issues, etc. to support your case

Align with company values

Frame your concerns around breaches of company policies, values or standards.

Consider mediation

HR may be able to provide mediation, negotiation training or a neutral third party to facilitate communication between both of you.

Transfer departments

If the situation becomes unworkable, seek a transfer to a new department and boss. A neutral reference from HR can help facilitate this.

When going above your boss backfires

While proper protocols can protect you from retaliation when appropriately escalating issues, bypassing your supervisor can backfire if handled improperly. Here are some potential consequences to consider:

Damaged relationships

Circumventing your direct manager may irreparably strain your professional relationship with your boss and co-workers. This could make your ongoing work situation very difficult or untenable.

Perceived as disloyal

Your peers and higher executives may view you as disloyal, untrustworthy, or having poor judgment for escalating issues outside of normal chains of command.

Reputation harm

Bypassing your supervisor could damage your reputation among current colleagues and managers. Word may spread that you are difficult to work with.

No recourse

If you lack evidence of wrongdoing and proper justification for your actions, you may have no recourse against any retaliation or termination.

Excessive escalation

If you repeatedly exaggerate concerns or escalate insignificant issues, you may be seen as histrionic, overly sensitive, or petty by company leadership.

Wrong channels

Improperly reporting concerns to the incorrect senior manager or unauthorized HR personnel could undermine your credibility and case.

Career setbacks

Strained relationships with your superiors can result in being passed over for promotions, important projects, or developmental opportunities.

When going to HR may be necessary

Human Resources can be an important resource when navigating difficulties with your supervisor. Here are some signs it may be time to involve HR:

Unethical or illegal behavior

Any credible suspicions of unlawful activity or violations of ethics, compliance, or regulatory policies warrant consulting HR.

Safety concerns

If your boss is requiring you to endanger yourself, other employees, or the public, elevate the safety issue to HR immediately.

Harassment & discrimination

HR needs to be made aware of any credible issues of harassment, discrimination, racism, sexism, lack of accommodations, retaliation, or other mistreatments.

Hostile work environment

If tensions with your supervisor are causing significant stress, anxiety, illness, absenteeism or affect your ability to work, HR should be engaged.

Gross misconduct

Any serious or repeated policy breaches, negligence, or unprofessionalism by your supervisor should be reported to HR.

Formal dispute resolution

HR can provide formal mediation, fact-finding, disciplinary processes, transfers, leave, severance agreements, or other means to resolve severe boss-employee conflicts.

Legal counsel

HR can supply guidance on legal concerns, duty to report, whistleblower protections, documentation, retaining counsel, and navigating local employment laws.

Key takeaways on going above your boss

– First seek to resolve issues directly with your supervisor if possible
– Know proper reporting channels and policies before bypassing your boss
– Document evidence to support your claims
– Maintain professionalism even in difficult circumstances
– Understand risks of retaliation and career consequences
– Consider mediation, transfers, or severance before permanent escalation
– Involve HR for guidance on laws, dispute resolution, safety, ethics, andHostile work environment
– Going around your boss should be an absolute last resort after exhausting all options


Bypassing your direct supervisor should be handled delicately and only as a last resort. If you determine it is absolutely necessary, be sure you have your facts straight, follow proper protocols, and frame issues constructively. Document any retaliation or backlash that results from appropriately reporting concerns higher up. Some circumstances absolutely warrant going over your boss to HR or senior management. However, you want to minimize career damage, avoid seeming petty, and maintain professional poise. Handled correctly, you can surface and resolve issues without irreparably burning bridges with colleagues. With the right evidence and care, going above your boss can be empowering and provide recourse when needed most.