When You’re asked to Do Something That Doesn’t Sit Right with You

By The Intersect Group

Even great managers – wonderful managers – may sometimes ask you to do something that – while not actually illegal – feels “iffy” or “off” to you.

As in unethical or immoral.

It could be that it’s acceptable throughout the larger culture in which we all live, but it feels unethical in the one in which you grew up.

Or perhaps it’s more than that: it feels a bit shady. For example, your boss instructs you to tell the client the project is delayed by a week due to a critical team member’s serious illness. Yet no one is ill, and the project is delayed because the manager didn’t keep track of deadlines. Which doesn’t change the fact that the project is delayed; it just gives a “more acceptable” reason for the delay.

No one is taking money that’s not theirs. No one is asking you to change an outcome. But it’s still not the truth, and it feels…..wrong.


What do you do?

You could go along with it, but that makes you complicit. You could report it to HR, but that could result in some sort of retaliation from your boss.

We’re not going to lie: this one is a sticky situation.


Here’s how you might want to air your reservations

  • Get clarification.

There’s always a chance you didn’t quite understand what your boss is asking of you.

Speak plainly: “I understand that you’re asking me to do [whatever it is]. I feel uncomfortable doing it because it feels [like lying/a bit untrue/somewhat unethical]. You’re not asking me to do that, right?”

You could then give a specific reason or outlook that makes the request unethical to you.

Spoken truthfully and from your heart, you well could see that your boss truly didn’t see it that way. They might better understand why the request is unreasonable.

Unfortunately, they also could say that, yes, they want you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.

If that’s the case, see if there’s something you could do that ends in the same result (the one your boss wants) without being unethical/immoral, etc.

  • If not, then you have a decision to make

This will be a tough decision, and it may not end as you’d like.

If you feel uncomfortable, you can tell your boss you won’t do it and face the consequences. Your boss could then dismiss you (unlikely), tell you they’re unhappy with your loyalty, or tell you you’re wrong: it’s perfectly normal to do this, or they’re very disappointed with you.


When your boss really is asking you to do something illegal/unethical.

If what your boss is asking you to do is unethical or illegal, and you don’t feel comfortable bringing it up, you may decide to go to the HR department or perhaps a compliance officer.

You also – unfortunately – may want to think hard before doing so, and not just because your boss may retaliate (more on this in a bit).



Not all companies are ethical

It’s unfortunate but true. Depending on the culture at your company, what your boss wants you to do may be something that’s not considered immoral/unethical. It may even be subtly encouraged.

So you’ll need to think a bit before heading to HR or someone in management. Do you think anyone will care? It just might not be worth it to complain.

So then another question arises: do you want to stay at a company that turns a blind eye to unethical, immoral, or illegal activities?

We can’t answer that question for you. But if you truly feel uncomfortable, it may be time to start looking for another position at another company. Seriously.


The risks of speaking up

It’s so easy to say that we’ll always do the right thing, but it’s not always easy to actually do. At all. In fact, it can be complicated.

For example, let’s say your boss does ask you to lie about the sick co-worker to explain the project delay. It’s unethical, but it’s not a big deal in the larger scheme of things.

You will have to decide if you can let it go, either “for now” or forever.

And you probably will decide based on several things:

  • If it’s something you really can ignore.
  • How much you need this job right now.
  • How easy you think it will be to find another job.
  • How great your boss is otherwise.
  • The opportunities the company provides.
  • Whether you can live with your head high if you ignore it.

If you decide to speak up, you could find yourself passed over for promotions, ostracized by your boss, and even by your peers if your whistleblowing gets out.


We’ll say it again: this is up to you

 We’re sorry we can’t give you a definitive answer. This post – part of our series on “What You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Getting Ahead at Work” – is here to let you know situations like this probably will come up sometime in your career and help you work your way through your decision as to whether or not to speak up about it. Every situation like this is different, and it’s impossible to give you a definitive answer.

Unless – of course! – you’re asked to steal or do actual harm to someone. We hope you’d be able to speak up.


The Intersect Group can help you find another position quickly

We constantly receive assignments and direct-hire positions from our clients. If you need to get out of an uncomfortable situation ASAP, we can help!

Take a look at our current opportunities and apply for those that interest you.