What if the boss acts unethically?

You discover that your boss is doing something wrong, although not illegal. What should you do? That’s what one reader asked recently on the Admin Pro Forum:

“Recently I found out that my boss is clearly engaged in some things at work that aren’t illegal but are unethical. I’m not supposed to know about them; I came across the information completely by accident. I’m not sure what to do. I think he’s a decent person who’s just gotten desperate about keeping his job, but I don’t know him very well. Any advice?” —Shaina, Executive Assistant

Experts offered their take on the issue.

Talk to your boss. If your relationship with your boss is open enough, find out why they made the decisions they did, says Leah Weiss, a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “Attempt to see things from that other person’s point of view,” she says. “Did they have a choice? Were they pressured by someone else? Did they assume there was no other option?” If your boss is receptive to the conversation, you might be able to come up with ways to solve the problem.

Talk to a trusted contact. If you’re not comfortable talking to someone in the company, ask a friend or former colleague in the industry for advice, says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, business etiquette expert and author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom: Handling Uncommonly Common Workplace Dilemmas.”

Go to HR. If you’re not comfortable “telling on” your boss yet, ask HR for hypothetical advice without divulging your boss’ name, Oropeza Randall says. “They might have insight that can help you make a decision,” she says.

If you fear reprisal, you may want to keep quiet. “If the company culture lacks follow-through or consequences, if management works off a different set of rules, if employees come and go as they please, if clients receive preference or are somewhat shady, forget it,” Oropeza Randall says.

Decide what your conscience can handle. If you decide to keep quiet, will you still be able to perform your best and do a good job? While there might be a risk of backlash if you act on the information you have, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing you did the right thing, Weiss says.