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Workplace Bullying

Cork, Ireland

Bullying is most often associated with the school playground or the internet but has also become a big problem in the workplace. Workplace bullying is an act of verbal abuse, aggression, or intimidation against a coworker, often a subordinate, without regard to the victim's protected class.

Protected characteristics include:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • National origin
  • Gender identity
  • Accessibility needs
  • Mental and physical disabilities
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Veteran status
  • Genetic information
  • Citizenship

Bullying is separate from sexual harassment or discrimination. Members of a protected class may still be victims of bullying.

Bullying that creates a hostile work environment may not be illegal, but it harms your business by causing:

  • Diminished productivity and poor work performance
  • Absenteeism
  • Lowered workplace morale
  • Employee mental and physical health issues
  • A toxic workplace culture

What Is Workplace Bullying?

About one-third of U.S. workers have experienced workplace bullying. This 2021 workplace bullying survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found:

  • 21% of women have experienced same-gender bullying
  • 40% of men have experienced same-gender bullying
  • A total of 30% of workers experience bullying during their employment
  • 40% of those bullied were managers
  • 19% reported witnessing bullying which was not directed at them
  • 4% reported being perpetrators

The survey defined workplace bullying as "repeated mistreatment and abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating." It also found that remote workers were not immune. Forty-three percent of remote workers reported bullying, usually during online meetings or via email.

So, what is workplace bullying? It is different from sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Bullying crosses all classes and races. Some examples of bullying behavior include:

  • Humiliation and belittling. Having someone tear down your performance in front of others destroys your self-esteem. Bullies do this on purpose, usually in front of others.
  • Exclusion and shunning. Snubbing people is a subtle form of bullying. Anyone who recalls cliques from high school remembers how it feels when a group of people turns away from you at a meeting or in the break room.
  • Shouting, screaming, loud noises. Yelling is a way of attracting attention. Yelling at someone else is a way of embarrassing them, especially when they can't yell back.
  • Sabotage. This ranges from damaging office equipment or stealing work projects to withholding key information so someone can't attend a meeting on time.
  • Threats and workplace harassment. Threatening to cut hours, send a report to the HR department, downgrade their job performance, or demote them, are all forms of bullying behavior.

Effects of Workplace Bullying

The hostile work environment created by workplace bullying has a terrible effect on a business. A small business owner cannot afford the lost productivity caused by employee friction. If you have a bully or a cadre of bullies, it hurts your bottom line, if nothing else.

According to Investopedia, some of the costs of unaddressed workplace bullying can include:

  • Higher healthcare costs and workers' compensation costs
  • Higher employee turnover
  • Reputation damage as employees take to social media to describe their woes
  • Legal issues

In the past, company culture tolerated a certain amount of hazing, pranking, and gossip. Those days are gone. Victims may have legal recourse if business owners do not take disciplinary action against bullies.

Bullying and Physical and Mental Health

Severe bullying can cause stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

Bullied employees may leave their jobs to escape abusive behaviors from coworkers or supervisors. This article discusses workplace bullying and how to prevent it in your organization.

Workplace Bullying and the Law

There are no specific state or federal laws prohibiting workplace bullying, but bullying may cross over into other types of harassment. A worker's first step is filing a complaint with their human resources department. If HR does not correct the behavior, the next step is contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC investigates harassment and discrimination claims as civil rights violations.

Most states now require bullying and harassment training as part of employment. Employers should make an anti-harassment policy part of their training manual. If you need clarification about the laws in your state, you can contact an employment attorney or the EEOC agency in your state to learn more about the rules where you live.

Find a Lawyer To Help With Workplace Bullying Issues

Bullying happens in the workplace as well as on the playground. If you believe your business has problems with workplace bullying, harassment, or discrimination, the best solution is to address them immediately. Contact a qualified employment law attorney in your area right away.

See FindLaw's Discrimination and Harassment section in the Small Business Center for more information on workplace issues.

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