By Kizzy M. Dominguez, Ph.D.
Workplace bullies do more than just ruin employees’ day. They cause mental and emotional stress and create a hostile work environment which decreases employee creativity and efficiency. In some cases, the constant pressure and stress can cause physical issues to employees’ health and even cause them or their co-workers to quit their jobs. And while there are no current federal or state workplace bullying laws, there are laws in place human resources representatives need to know to curtail the most severe, and illegal actions, your workplace bully may be inflicting upon others. The aggression and competition common to the American workplace is viewed as an accepted practice, making lawmakers hesitant and management even more so. In fact, the majority of bullies (72 percent actually, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute) are bosses themselves. While many may be mistaking bullying for tough love or a firm hold on the workplace, there is no real excuse for this kind of behavior.
Discrimination in the workplace causes employees to feel helpless. If it appears that the bully is targeting those of a certain gender, age, religion, ethnicity, status, etc. then legal action can be taken against the bully. If a bully exhibits this pattern of aggression, then you have the responsibility to report it.
Bullies like to use harassment to subject employees to their will and as a way to gain pleasure from the suffering of others. Any form of harassment is illegal nationwide and if anyone chooses to harass those in his workplace, HR has the ability to use the law to stop it.
Sexual harassment is the most common form of harassment and can be anything from uncomfortable comments to giving ultimatums involving sexual favors. Unfortunately, many victims in this position won’t report it or they are fearful of losing their job or retaliation. This causes mental and emotional stress, leaving employees scared about what they may be forced to do next to keep their jobs.
Although not thought of as much as other forms of harassment, stalking is another harassment technique bullies use. No employee wants to be in constant fear of being watched, followed or cyberstalked. Fear of being stalked can cause employees to stay at home to avoid their stalker. Several states have laws against stalking, which can be used to help victims, employers and HR reps stop harassment.
If your workplace bully gets physical, it’s time to call the authorities. Bullies who chose to be physically violent should not be tolerated under any circumstances and need to be dealt with swiftly. Employees should not have to deal with physical abuse at all, especially in their workplace. Failure of management to take action against the bully could result in a lawsuit. In these cases, matters need to be handled immediately and not be left to worsen over time. Battery in all its forms is illegal all across the United States, so legal action can be taken against the perpetrator. HR reps have the power to stop these actions because the law is on their side.
What Can You Do?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 40 percent of targets never tell their employers that they are being bullied by a coworker. Often brushed to the side and labeled as minor conflict or a clash of personality types, workplace bullying is more often than not overlooked or mislabeled.
Often times, HR reps and victims of bullies feel they can’t do much to stop a bully’s actions. It is important that everyone, especially HR reps, know where to cross the line and take legal action against a bully. In addition, the Healthy Workplace Bill, which proposes to create legislation to stop bullying in the workplace, is in the works and is garnering support in several states. If this bill were to be passed, it would clearly define what exactly “workplace bullying” is. It will protect employers who want to help victims and gives them the ability to properly punish offenders. For victims, it will help the to be compensated for lost wages, hold the employer accountable (if at fault or for failing to stop the offender), and gives them the ability to sue the bully as an individual. To find out more information about the bill, click here.
Prevention and Education
The best way to stop a bully is to avoid the creation of an environment where bullies can act as they please. Employees and employers must all be educated on the signs of bullying and what they can do personally and legally to solve the issue. In addition, employees must be encouraged to support their peers and report any witnessed bullying.
Ironically, many bullies are supported by management and HR. Management might use bullies in order to manipulate multiple employees or one in particular. HR often inadvertently promotes bullying by perpetuating a clique culture in the obvious, vehemently defending their own even in the face of open complaints.
Do you want to ensure your employees are well-versed on these matters and your workplace is bully-free? Schedule a discovery session with K Parks Consulting to discuss the best solutions for your team to best establish a thriving work climate.