Procedure Bullied Employees Can Take to Stop Harassment
by Latricia Wilson (printed with permission to play it forward)
Often times employees that experience bullying at work feel powerless to stop the abuse.
They feel powerless because they do not know what to do to stop such unwanted harassment. Many employees that experience workplace bullying run away from the problem instead of confronting and dealing with their bully due to the environment the harassment is taking place in. Bullied employees often find themselves stressed out and they suffer in silence until they explode.
This explosion can come in the form of a nervous break down or a physical assault. In the end the workplace bully just seeks out a new victim, while the old one is sitting in an unemployment line somewhere thinking about all the shoulda coulda wouldas. All of the shoulda coulda wouldas mean nothing when an individual has been bullied out of their job. Workplace bullies are control freaks, manipulative and are more damaging to an individual’s well being than school yard bullies.
Some bullies in the workplace have more power than their victim due to their position held within the company therefore these bullies can harass another colleague without facing any consequences at all.
With bullying at work bullies typically have more power than they would have in another setting; employees also have the power to stop workplace bullying. Some tactics bullied employees can use to stop this abuse is to:
a.) Inform the Coworker or Manager that is being abusive that their comments or actions are offensive. By directly confronting the bully the victim will automatically show the bully strength instead of the perception of weakness, which may have caused the victim to become a target in the first place.
b.) Confronting a bully at work tactfully may not always help to resolve the problem. Depending upon the personality trait of the bully, bullies may become even more aggressive after the victim has asked the bully directly to stop. If a workplace bully continues to harass an individual after the employee has asked the colleague/manager to stop then the bullied worker should seek help in resolving such unwanted conflict with their human resources department. It is always best to try to simply pull a colleague or manager aside and tell them that their actions or comments are offensive before reporting them to human resources.
Sometimes individuals who engage in bullying at work may have an obnoxious personality and may not realize their actions are offensive in nature. By telling someone that you feel uncomfortable by their comments or actions you will be giving them an opportunity to correct their behavior.
Extreme Measures Legal Action Media Attention
Bullying at Work: Legal Remedies
Another difference between generic bullying and hostility directed at a protected class is the availability of legal remedies. There are laws set in place to deal with discrimination and bullying of a protected class of individuals but there are almost no laws that cover bullying at work.
If the behavior of a bully does not have a sexual, racial or physical component, neither US, Canadian or UK laws are set up to deal with incompetent or a cruel supervisor bullying a subordinate. Even though there are no laws to protect victims from bullying, bullies cannot completely escape the long arm of the law.
In the United States there has been a growing number of stress related workmen’s compensation claims and intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuits filed because of workplace bullying.
Workmen’s compensation claims and emotional distress lawsuits can be effective in bringing about some justice for victims of workplace bully abuse. Such claims can also be very detrimental to an individual’s employment stability within a company and be a barrier for victims when seeking employment.
Victims should keep in mind that taking action can produce unpredictable or undesired consequences. Workmen’s compensation claims and emotional distress lawsuits are typically difficult cases to win when filed based upon general bullying harassment due to lack of legislation to cover bullying at work.
Victims should also keep in mind that when taking legal action it is important that the plaintiff have evidence to substantiate their claims or witnesses that can support alleged incidents. Without witnesses or solid evidence bullied victims may have difficulty proving their cases in court.
Workplace bullies can be difficult people to legally reprimand due to the fact that federal law does not prohibit teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious (when considered individually rather than as a larger pattern of abusive behavior.)
Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the individual’s employment. Employment conditions are altered only if harassment culminates in tangible employment action or is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.
Although workplace bullying is inappropriate behavior and causes severe and even debilitating stress to victims of such abuse, it is not considered illegal by United States legislation. Neither is bullying at work easily recognized by the criminal or civil court judicial systems as being a valid claim that identifies clear legal and factual basis in which a legal or equitable remedy can be ordered to the plaintiff.
Bullying at work has no serious legal or equitable remedies typically because it is not recognized as life threatening, or as a form of discrimination which is harassment that can be sexual, racial or religiously offensive in its nature. Workplace bullying is not considered to be illegal unless the form of harassment is acted out against legally protected classes of people that directly violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal authority.
Bullying at Work: Media Attention
Therefore, bullied employees may need to consider taking extreme measures to expose workplace bullies and the companies that protect them if they are victims of outrageous harassment such as physical attacks, threats and public humiliation tactics such as screaming and cursing.
Other outrageous behaviors that are grounds for seeking media attention are damaging and ruining personal property. Media attention can be very helpful in forcing a workplace bully’s company to stop the harassment.
Contacting local news stations should be the last an final step taken after the victim has tried to resolve the problem by seeking help from supervisors and human resource departments. Many times companies are neglectful and downright insensitive to dealing with complaints about managers in their company.
Unfortunately, the way many companies deal with workplace bullying is by terminating the victim that complains about bullying at work, so that the companies may not be forced to reprimand or terminate a needed manager or employee that they (falsely) believe are a greater asset to the company. No company wants to have a negative perception of their business by the public. Even if the company has wrongfully terminated a bullied employee that has complained the department heads more than likely will reevaluate their actions, or at least get rid of the workplace bully if the company itself is exposed by the media.
Bullying at Work:
Outside Sources Bullied Victims Can Contact that Have a Direct or Indirect Influence on Companies
Many victims of bullying at work are forced to handle the conflict by getting out of the abusive workplace environment which results in their resigning or moving to another department in the company. Victims of this type of abuse often lack knowledge of sources that they can turn to that can be effective at helping to resolve the conflict or at least investigate claims of workplace bullying. Too often victims are bullied repeatedly until they explode all because they were unaware that there are outside sources that could help these individuals find justice.
Some outside sources that protect employees from this kind of abuse are:
Human Rights Commission
The Human Rights Commission is a body set up to investigate and protect human rights referred to as the “basic rights and freedoms” to which all humans are entitled. Examples of human rights and freedoms commonly thought to be human rights are civil, political rights, rights to life and liberty, freedom of expression and equality before law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to work and the right to education.
Serial workplace bullies often find ways to harass subordinates which violates human rights. These tactics are acted out to drive the employee away or provoke the employee to anger. Human rights laws provide limited protection from bullying at work but only for some people.
Some tactics that are considered as a violation to human rights are:
- Denying breaks such as restroom or meal breaks to workers after 6 to 8 hours of working.
- Forcing employee take on a task that could cause bodily harm to the individual.
- Failing to pay an employee wages for hours or weeks worked.
In the United States each state has an independent agency that is charged with preventing and eradicating discrimination in employment.
Human rights claims must have an alleged basis within a protected class. An employer or bully can be charged with discrimination if they allow some employees within the same rank to be accommodated with certain necessities needed to perform their functions but deny another class of individuals the same necessities within the same rank.
Protected classes of individuals are those of color, sex, creed or disability.
Editor’s Note: However, in addition to the very narrow range of those protected by Human Rights Commissions they are usually toothless, lacking any real ability to enforce anything approaching a fair resolution. Even winning a Human Rights Commission claim will result in a token reprimand that is more of an insult added to injury than compensation or justice for those subjected to bullying at work.
US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates discriminatory practices on basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. The EEOC is set up to deal with claims of harassment, which is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title V11 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Age Discrimination in employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1994(ADA).
Bullying at work is a form of harassment in which is unwelcome conduct that the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates when the inappropriate conduct is based on a particular race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability or age.
According to the EEOC the harassment can be investigated when an employee is experiencing harassment so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating. The offensive conduct may include but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, name-calling, physical assaults, insults, or mockery.
Interference in an individual’s work performance is also considered offensive conduct. Bullying at work can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to the following:
- The harassment can be the victim’s supervisor, a superior in another area, or an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or another non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of the victim.
Employer Liability for Harassment
The employer will be held liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control, if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
Overview of US Policies
Only a handful of US employers have implemented policies that address bullying at work, but the issue remains silent and is kept under most company’s radar screens. Workplace bullying has been an economic devastation to this country and a constant road block to individual’s career goals.
Although thousands of individuals are affected by workplace bullying each day, very few people choose to speak out or fight back when being harassed because doing so can cost them their jobs, careers and financial security.
Because society as a whole remains silent out of fear of economic isolation no federal or state statutes have been set in place to ban workplace bullying. Still efforts to curtail the problem are gaining attention in a growing number of state legislatures.
Even though federal legislation lacks the muscles to deal with bullying at work, employers can protect their employees against such conduct by strengthening their workplace harassment policies and education given to their staff by launching an official meeting with all staff to discuss such policies.
There should be a written check list that should include:
- A strong statement of the organizations attitude to discrimination.
- A clearly worded definition of discrimination and harassment.
- A statement that discrimination and harassment on any of the grounds listed in the legislation is against the law.
- Circumstances where discrimination and harassment can occur.
- A statement that everyone has a responsibility to prevent workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying.
- Outside source contact information on how and where to seek help if discrimination, harassment, or bullying occurs. (Bigger companies can set toll free numbers up in which victims can remain anonymous.) This way the chances of being retaliated against is reduced and the likelihood that the company will deal with such conflict is magnified.
- The likely consequences of unlawful discrimination or harassment.
- Companies can take steps to ensure that managers and colleagues take bullying more seriously by having mandatory training sessions for all new hire managers about workplace bullying/harassment and how this conduct affects the company itself as well as employees.
Employees could have workplace bullying role playing sessions in which colleagues would act out various forms of negative, rude, silent, passive body language to more aggressive behavior. Employees should learn to identify what workplace harassment is, and how silent, verbal or physically offensive actions affect other colleagues whether such actions are intentional or unintentional. Role playing sessions will help employees become more consciously aware of the way they interact with other people.
Employees that are exposed to role play bully sessions will more than likely become more self-conscious of their own behavior in the workplace and in their personal life as well. Employees that participate in role play sessions will be less likely to harass another individual in the workplace and more inclined to apologize and take steps to correct their-own-perceived offensive actions.
Bullying at Work:
Overview of Existing Legislation and
Pending Legislation in the US - Since 2003 13 states have introduced bills that address bullying in the workplace. The 13 states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, and New Jersey.
- Massachusetts is the 6th state to introduce anti-bullying legislation in the U.S since 2003.
- In 2009 Senate Bill 699 Sponsored By Senator Joan Menard. This is the third attempt since 2004 in the state to address bullying through legislation. It is called the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill.
- Montana is the 11th State to introduce ant-bullying legislation in the U.S since 2003.
- Illinois is the 15th state to introduce anti-bullying legislation in the U.S since 2003. In 2009 House Bill 374 by Representatives Turner, Lang, Harris and Washington drafted a bill to address bullying in a non-public sector.
- Oklahoma is the 2nd State to introduce ant-bullying legislation in the U.S since 2003.
The Bills introduced in the United States that included general harassment language failed in several legislative state committees. Legislators that sponsor or introduce workplace bullying bills often struggle to get enough committee members to vote in favor of passing bills that address workplace bullying.
Although workplace bullying is hostile in nature it is not perceived as discriminatory because it does not violate a protected class of individuals. Legislators are often reluctant to pass workplace bullying laws because federal legislation has not been introduced and passed outlining what specifically about workplace bullying behavior could be described as illegal.
Bullying at Work: Advocacy
As more policy and law makers consider mandating workplace bullying policies, more advocates will be needed to speak on behalf of bullied employees. Individual advocates for bullied workers can help raise public awareness about the issue by submitting commentaries to their local newspaper editorial boards.
Other ways individual advocates can be effective in getting legislation introduced to tackle workplace bullying is by meeting with their local state representatives and request being allowed to make a presentation to legislative committees outlining reasons why legislation should be introduced that addresses workplace bullying.
Advocates with personal experiences of workplace bully encounters can influence policy makers and legislators greatly. Policy makers will listen and take the issue more seriously when listening to an individual that has personally experienced bullying at work. Furthermore, individual advocates can get numerous people to sign a petition “that request that workplace bullying laws be introduced with serious penalties for workplace bullies.” Petitions with hundreds to thousands of constituent signatures can be effective in influencing lawmakers to take workplace bullying more seriously.
Organizational and Group Advocacy
Individual advocates can help to bring about awareness and change when the right tactics are used. Organizations and groups advocating together for change are often taken more seriously and therefore have the muscle to force policy makers to address workplace bullying issues.
Organizational advocates may have limited sources of local departments in which to contact that have the power to make changes to workplace bullying laws and policies; but there are other national departments that groups can contact that have the power to address bullying at work. Organizations can hold demonstrations outside these departments or send letters to the department officials.
These departments are the:
United States Department of Labor — is a cabinet department of United States government responsible for occupational safety, wage, and hour standards, unemployment insurance benefits, and some economic statistics.
The United States Secretary of Labor — is head of Labor who exercises control over the department and enforces and suggest laws involving unions, the workplace and all other issues involving any form of business controversies.
FCC Federal Communication Commission, Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Workplace Diversity Department — advises the Commission on all issues related to work force diversity, affirmative recruitment and equal employment opportunity. This office processes formal complaints alleging employment discrimination on basis of race, color religion sex, national origin, age, disability and sexual orientation.
US Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor Pensions — The Committee introduces most labor and employment laws, including those that regulate wages and hours of employment, enforce mining, and workplace health and safety, combat employment based discrimination, and laws that regulate union management relations.
Organizations and groups working together to tackle bullying at work can make a difference in this most disturbing social issue. After having held demonstrations, given presentations, or submitting petitions to the local and state legislative committees, workplace bullying law advocates should repeat the same advocacy efforts before the national departments listed above.
Organizations can also lobby or send a lobbyist team to the United States Capitol to lobby for the introduction and passage of workplace bully laws.
Bullying at Work: Viewpoint
Workplace bullying is immature, menacing behavior that has somehow become part of the workplace culture and accepted by many institutions throughout the world.
The more business leaders and corporations begin to recognize just how detrimental this type of behavior can be to their business, the more resistant workplace society will become of such harassment.
Unfortunately as long as humans feel the need to control someone or some situation, bullying and abusive behavior will continue at home, school and in workplace arenas.
When an individual feels that their social status is being threatened they may resort to bullying at work to drive away an individual or group that represents a threat to them.
Just as animals mob a predator by attacking it to protect their offspring; humans may attack others in the workplace by socially and financially excluding them to protect their own job positions or increase their chances of advancing in a company (even though targets of bullying at work are often more competent and deserving).
Although there is no way to completely stop individuals from preying on each other in the workplace, there are ways individuals can collaborate together to prevent bullying at work.