If you’re trapped in a job where your colleagues or supervisor are abusive or discriminatory, your personal life and career will likely suffer. While it’s important to get out as soon as you can, it’s also crucial that you do so in a way that protects your professional reputation. Prepare your exit strategy first, and handle the situation with as much maturity and tact as you can muster.
Find Another Job First
Line up another job before you leave and don’t tell anyone of your plans. You’ll be more sure of your decision and have the confidence to make a clean break if you know you won’t be unemployed. In addition, if your boss contributes to the hostile environment, he might not give you a good reference if you decide to leave. By keeping your job search to yourself, you ensure your supervisor or colleagues can’t sabotage your hunt. If you need references, ask former colleagues or supervisors or people you know elsewhere in the industry.
Interviewing for Other Jobs
Regardless of how unfairly you’re treated at your current job, don’t disparage your employer when interviewing for other positions. This is a red flag for employers, who might wonder if the problem stems from the work environment or from you. They might also worry that you’re exaggerating the nature of the situation or that you’ll publicly criticize them in the future if you’re not happy there. Focus on other reasons for leaving. For example, say that you’re ready to take on more responsibility but that there’s no room for advancement at your current company.
When you leave, be a professional. Colleagues will remember how you handled your departure, and this behavior could affect your professional reputation. Give two weeks’ notice unless you feel threatened or unless the workplace atmosphere prohibits you from fulfilling your job duties. If you decide to explain your reasons for leaving in your resignation letter or exit interview, don’t get emotional or accusatory. Instead, calmly describe the offensive behavior and how it hinders your job performance and career goals.
To pursue legal action, you must prove the severity of the behavior. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only investigates behavior that is pervasive and ongoing, and that interferes with work performance. Before filing a claim, report the behavior to your employer. If the company fails to address the problem, you can file a claim with the commission or file a civil suit. Document every incident of abusive behavior, noting details such as date, time and circumstance. You’ll have a stronger claim if you can find witnesses who will corroborate your claim. If none of your colleagues will back you up, there might be clients or customers who will.