What is Workplace Bullying?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
- Work interference - sabotage - which prevents work from getting done.
One isolated incident does not constitute workplace bullying. Bullying behavior is generally:
- persistent and prolonged in nature;
- carried out by one or more persons against one or more targets;
- conscious behavior with the intention to harm the target;
- has a devastating influence on the emotional well-being of the victim or target.
Workplace bullying is on the rise. While statistics vary, some studies reveal that nearly half of all American workers have been affected by workplace bullying, either as a target or as a witness to abusive behavior against a co-worker. Law firms and the legal workplace are, unfortunately, a breeding ground for bullies. The fast-paced, adversarial nature of litigation and other legal work attracts bullying personalities. Bullying personalities are typically over-ambitious, opportunistic, combative, powerful and competitive.
Bullying can take many forms. It encompasses personal attacks, such as yelling, threats and rumors, as well as manipulation tactics, such as isolation, sabotage, micromanagement and unrealistic deadlines. This list of various types of bullying outlines the various manifestations of workplace harassment.
These firsthand accounts of bullying and harassment in the workplace detail the stress, strife and devastation that workplace harassment can cause. Bullying takes a toll on the bully target in the form of stress-related health complications ranging from hypertension and auto-immune disorders to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. A bullying environment stresses all employees, not just the target, and increases the rate of physical and emotional illnesses. Employers also pay a price for bullying in the form of lost productivity, increased absenteeism, rising health insurance costs and higher employee turnover.
Combating Bullying and Harassment
If you are a victim of workplace bullying or harassment or work in an abusive work environment, you should take action to combat bullying behavior. Most importantly, "Don't let the bully affect your self esteem. Figure out if there is anything useful in the information the bully is providing. Even mean people might have a good idea now and then," states Dr. Robyn Odegaard, owner of a speaking/consulting company and the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign. Dr. Odegaard also recommends seeking assistance from human resources or your co-workers and remembering that you always have the option to leave. For additional strategies on how to deal with workplace bullying, review this advice from workplace experts and employment attorneys from around the globe.
Currently several states have reviewed and considered healthy workplace or anti-bullying legislation but no formal bill has been passed as of yet at the state or federal level, according to Angela J. Reddock, Esq., workplace expert and managing partner of the Reddock Law Group in Los Angeles, California. "Many employers have started to more seriously address the issue by placing strong anti-bullying policies in place," she says. For a detailed status of anti-bullying legislation in the United States and an analysis of relevant case law, see this overview of bullying legislation.
Since workplace bullying is not addressed by existing law, many groups advocate the need for additional laws regarding workplace harassment and abusive conduct. Various models for remedying workplace bullying have been proposed such as:
- Creating a private right of action that would include the recovery of damages.
- Creating a mechanism for injunctive relief similar to those relating to stalking, hate crimes or relief-from-abuse orders.
- State enforcement similar to employment discrimination laws.