No one wants to be a tattletale, but sometimes speaking up is necessary. Here’s when you should talk to your boss.

Since grade school, authority figures have embedded in our minds the key differences between tattling on someone and telling someone information they need to know. Little did we know these definitions would be essential terms that would carry over into the workplace.

What’s the difference?

  • Tattling: ratting out a coworker so you look better; always mentioning every single time they slack off or make a personal call at work.
  • Telling: expressing your discomfort or concern about when you witness something that could hurt the company’s reputation.

Many employees believe telling makes others see you as having loose lips and being untrustworthy. But the truth is, with enough cause, people will support you and intervene to help you resolve the situation in order to protect the company.

Below are five ways to know when it’s clear you should tell your boss:

1. When you’re following professional standards

Most situations that involve unprofessional behavior in the workplace are cause for report. Your company spends time and money creating handbooks and professional policies to follow. Companies don’t take these violations lightly.

If your coworker spends a few minutes talking about last night’s football game instead of working at their desk, chances are it’s not worth bringing up to the boss. But if a serious policy has been broken, take action. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) When you report sexual harassment, for example, you’re protecting yourself, others and your company’s reputation.

Put a stop to blatantly inappropriate behavior and know your boss will appreciate that you embraced their standards.

2. When you know the facts

When you’re considering reporting a coworker, make sure all of your allegations are valid and documented. Keep track of misbehaviors by writing down dates and details of the events. This way, you have an arsenal of evidence to support your claim. Don’t run screaming to your boss because you heard negative gossip about a coworker. Make sure you’ve witnessed the behavior firsthand.

Also be sure to ask yourself why you’re telling the boss. If it’s to teach someone a lesson for annoying you, it’s time to reconsider. Put aside your personal opinions and things that don’t pertain to the workplace. Remember, it’s not the coworker’s personality that’s brought to attention; it’s their actions.

3. When you’re protecting the integrity of the company

If a coworker is doing something detrimental, it’s your job to protect the company and consider your responsibility to your clients. It’s one thing if a coworker is slacking off on their own time, but another if they’re having a negative impact on customers.

Let’s say you work at a commercial real estate business where you deal with customers and clients every day. You repeatedly hear a coworker being rude to clients over the phone, causing a loss in customers and sales. It doesn’t take much for someone to go online and start bashing the company. By not taking action to stop your coworker, you miss a chance to prevent your company’s reputation from taking a nosedive.

4. When you’re keeping your work climate in control

Sometimes a coworker can have such a toxic relationship with other employees that the entire office gets drained of energy. By not reporting it, you’re enabling the person to continue their pattern of behavior, which can slow the work progress of the whole team.

Putting a stop to their unsavory behavior can alleviate tension and stress between coworkers. Perhaps you can encourage your boss to produce a survey on the climate of your workplace. They’ll be thankful for feedback, too.

5. When you’re saving yourself and others

A lot of people think reporting will come back to cause them extra stress. Though it can be tempting to push the situation aside to avoid conflict, confront the issue.

Patience and tolerance can only go so far when it comes to letting things go. If you keep your feelings pent up, the situation can get ugly fast. You don’t want to look like the unprofessional one who’s lost their temper.

Other advice

Coworkers who slack off or don’t pull their weight aren’t always reason to tattle. You could always confront them calmly and give them constructive criticism.

Always seek clarification, and don’t play the blame game. Don’t approach your boss and dump a bunch of accusations. Instead, share your concerns and ask for advice on how to handle the situation. Chances are, your boss will take matters into their own hands.

Remain professional and listen well. Your boss will be grateful for a hint at what’s going on outside of their door. Showing you trust them will also help you build a mutual respect between you and your boss.

At the end of the day, know why you’re reporting. You should feel guilt-free if you’ve focused on facts, not your personal opinion. After all, you’re protecting the company, your fellow coworkers and yourself from a potentially hostile work environment.

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter and entrepreneur. He covers a variety of topics in his blog, Blogspike. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and son. You can follow Scott at @SMHuntington.



    It happened with one of my friend who works in a software company but the person who was doing inappropriate behaviour with her was her own boss. So for few times she managed but later she had to give up her job. So how to face such situations when your boss himself is culprit.

    • Scottmhuntington

      Thanks for the comment. That’s a tough situation. When it’s your boss being inappropriate and there’s no one else above him and you’ve tried talking to them about it with no success, I’d say it’s time to find a new job.


        Yeah right, This is what she did. It is much better to leave it then becoming victim.

      • kenid

        Those on the outside see this as a clearly black and white issue, but for those on the inside, it might not be that easy. I was stuck in such a dilemma before. The client wanted me to fasify data on a project to effect the opposite outcome. I refused but my superior did. I stayed on with the company primarily for the expected length of time on this industry–doing it so I could put this on my resume. Paradoxically, those people don’t want to hear of internal issues like this; they just seem to want to see candidates sticking to previous employers for a substantial period of time. So whose of us who knowingly do this are indirectly pressured into tolerating this by recruiting officers’ expectation.

        • Non-traditional student

          It is hard to stand alone or be right. It takes a strong person to do that.

          I was on the inside, and yesterday a foreman told me I could go home 2 hours early, the boss was gone, and I could get my pay. It would be just between you and me he said.

          My situation: leave early, bill for hours I was not there, allow my boss to think I was still on the job when I was not, make up an excuse for why I was not on the job if it came to that, and more.

          Now, I felt as uncomfortable as a 3-legged donkey in a hop scotch competition.

          I did not go, I worked until the end of the day.

          How I am going to handle this:
          I documented it. If it happens again, I will tell him that I will come to him and ask for the early dismissal and I will put down the actual hours I worked.

          I cannot go to the boss, as I do not have hard proof such as a taped conversation, so it is my word against his, and the foreman has worked for him before, and I have never worked for this boss.

          The other reason I did not do this was because the foreman, I hope, was being truly kind, where I have a 1 1/2 hour drive each way, each day, and there was not much going on for me to do which related to my field. I feel he was truly looking out for a fellow brother of the crew!!! The worst part is, if something did happen and I was not there, he could get in some trouble, if not lose his job, and I do not want that to happen to anyone! He is too nice of a guy.

          I do not look to the wrong or horrible first, only last!

  2. Barbara Mckinney

    The best thing to do is to confront them calmly. Let them know the bad actions the’re doing inside the office so that they will be aware it.

  3. AxelDC

    If it is something illegal, make sure you not only report it to your boss, but make sure he/she follows up. If appropriate action is not taken, such as calling the police, then you are culpable in a cover up.

    • Scottmhuntington

      Good advice. I agree, if it’s something illegal, that’s completely different than someone just not getting their work done or breaking company guidelines.

  4. Non-traditional student

    I feel it is a 2-part solution:

    1) talk to the person and inform them of the problem, if it is a small issue. Now this can only be if it is not going to put you in any danger, or anyone else.

    2) Take this article to heart, remember each step, and follow it. These are good, non-confrontational thoughts or tactics.

    If it is an immanent (serious, could cause death or major harm) danger, then go directly to the boss immediately, and no holes barred, and tell everything!!!

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  6. DPLUS4

    No tsure if this thread is still active, but i had a question. What if you are the boss in a small office with 6 employees. 4 employees tell you a good deal of first-hand information about 2 other employees. 2 of the 4 employees feel unsafe at work and will find another job if there is no resolution. If something is mentioned, the 2 bad staff will know exactly who said something and I am trying to avoid further conflict. I know tactful language is needed here…i just don know where to start.

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