The problem of bullies at work occurs every day in different forms and at different levels. Even managers bully other managers; it’s not just a rank and file issue. The bullying may be the traditional manager berating a subordinate or it could be a peer to peer situation. That said, there are far more tools available to a person today to deal with the situation than being available on the playground as a child. Bullying doesn’t have to be tolerated or confronted with further conflict either.
Technically speaking, bullying in the workplace involves ongoing behavior and treatment that makes another person feels that his or her health is being harmed, mentally or physically. It often involves verbal abuse, offensive behavior, work sabotage, and passive resistance.
While in previous decades bullies at work were accepted as “just the way things are” or how you “earn your stripes” those days are long gone. Labor law and various protections have been put into place to make employers pay attention to the actions of their workers towards each other, particularly when the employer can be held financially responsible for not stopping the problem promptly.
The abuse can be slight and barely noticeable or it can be overt. A common trait of workplace bullying, however, is that it is chronic in nature. And that aspect is what causes the damage to a victim over time.
Where a pattern is evident and can be taken seriously, an employee should immediately report the matter to the human resources office of the employer. While it may seem that the HR office doesn’t seem immediately responsive, under general labor law, it is usually under an obligation to investigate immediately. A failure to take the matter seriously can open the employer up to a serious lawsuit.
Instead, most HR offices trained properly will interview everyone involved as well as witnesses. Then a decision will be made based on the facts. If the HR office feels there is a probability the bullying did in fact occur, the employer then has to deal with the findings and address the perpetrator proactively. The complaining employee also needs to at least be provided a general status of closure. Again, failure to act creates a legal risk.
Where an employer doesn’t respond or does not feel sufficient evidence exists to prove the situation, the employee needs to make a decision when it comes to Bullies at Work. This involves:
It is unlikely that the last option is even viable since once a complaint has been filed, the environment will be toxic and won’t return to how it was prior to the bullying happening. Gossip has a way of making people take sides quickly.
Instead, at a minimum, an affected employee should at least have an initial meeting with a labor attorney just to understand what options exist on how to deal with the bullying if it’s allowed to continue. Often, the information gained can be very valuable, and it provides the insight of someone trained but not involved in the situation yet to assess the facts available.
Ideally, if the complaint was followed up, it should be enough to make the perpetrator very wary to do anything similar again for a while. That at least may stop the bullying. A smart employer may still monitor a perpetrator even if insufficient evidence existed with the first complaint. By filing a complaint, a record is often started, which can help with a later case if a pattern is established and bullying is occurring with multiple employees affected.
Bullies at work have to be tolerated and employees should speak up when it occurs. Often, a simple action or warning is enough to stop it. However, not doing anything and tolerating the behavior only allows it to continue and get worse. Most employers know allowing such behavior is highly risky on their part and will stop it where evident. That said, affected employees need to make their concerns known about bullies at work, or they will continue to hurt others.