How to Protect Yourself From Bullying in the Workplace
Bullying can take many forms. Generally, it's any behavior that is unwelcome, offensive, unsolicited or objectionable. It can be physical, psychological or verbal.
Bullying is commonly associated with the playground and sometimes the Internet among older youths. But it can happen in the workplace as well, typically manifesting in some specific ways.
Threats to Personal Standing
Bullying may take the form of a personal attack that seems to have little to do with the job or the workplace environment.
It can involve spreading rumors, or hurtful gossip or innuendo about a coworker. In face-to-face confrontations, it may include yelling, name-calling, mocking, insulting or ridicule.
Bullying can become physical when it involves unwanted contact or gestures intended to intimidate or threaten an individual. It can involve offensive photos or objects placed on the person's desk, in her locker, or anywhere else she's likely to come across it.
Bullying Vs. a Hostile Work Environment
Many of these behaviors mirror the definition of a hostile work environment or workplace discrimination. If they're directed at you by a superior, this may be considered harassment, and if your superior's actions are based on discriminatory factors, this is against federal law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for an employer, manager or supervisor to take certain actions against employees based on their sex, religion, race, national origin or color.
An employer can be held responsible for the actions of management and supervisory staff.
Harassment becomes illegal when tolerating it becomes a condition of your employment — you either put up with it or you're out of a job. Bullying rises to the level of harassment when any reasonable employee would consider the behavior uncomfortable, offensive or hostile.
A Hostile Work Environment
Some examples of bullying crossing over the threshold of discrimination or a hostile work environment include:
- Denying an employee access to resources, assignments, projects or opportunities
- Little or no feedback on performance
- Withholding information essential to performing one’s job
- Failing to invite someone to an essential meeting
- Threatening job loss
- Excessive monitoring or micro-management
- Assigning tasks that cannot be completed by deadline and setting unrealistic and impossible goals
- Interference or sabotage
- Treating a worker differently than peers and co-workers are treated
- Excessive, impossible, conflicting work expectations or demands
- Inequitable and harsh treatment
- Invalid or baseless criticism, faultfinding, and unwarranted blame
- Accusatory or threatening statements
- Humiliation, public reprimands or obscene language
This type of behavior must be repetitive and pervasive to rise to the level of a hostile work environment, not something that just happens now and again. Something that happens sporadically might just be bullying. But bullying by a co-worker can be considered as creating a hostile work environment if your employer or supervisor is aware of the situation and does nothing to stop it.
There's no specific law against bullying in the workplace, but if it occurs due to discriminatory factors, this is against the law.
How to Deal With Bullying
If you're being tormented by a co-worker, you can take the matter to your supervisor, but this might make the situation worse if your supervisor reprimands or otherwise imposes some type of punishment against the instigator. If your supervisor is the problem, go over his head if possible. You might want to keep notes and documentation of the incidents so you have proof.
If your supervisor is the owner of the company, or if you get no satisfaction when speaking to his supervisor, speak to a lawyer about possibly filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You must do this before you file a lawsuit, and you have only six months to act after notifying your employer of the problem or asking your boss to stop his abusive behavior.