Bullying may occur at any level in society, even at work. A survey conducted by corporate consultants VitalSmart in 2014 reveals some surprising statistics regarding workplace bullying. As many as 96 percent of the 2,283 respondents said they experienced workplace bullying, and 89 percent of bullies admitted to engaging in that behavior for more than one year. American law does not have many protections for people bullied at the office, but there are steps workers can take to protect themselves.
What the Law Says
Federal law only protects certain classes of people from a "hostile work environment." A hostile work environment occurs when a person's conduct causes negative effects to a co-worker's health and well-being. An employee may feel threatened, intimidated or humiliated in the work place. A hostile work environment makes it impossible for someone to work there. Even if an employee proves and documents the behavior that leads to a hostile environment, federal laws only go so far.
For a workplace bullying claim to occur at the federal level, the hostile work environment must occur only to a protected class of workers. If a supervisor, manager, co-worker or executive bullies everyone, then a lawsuit cannot go forward under current federal law. Protected classes include race, religion, national origin and gender. If a workplace bully creates a hostile work environment for people only in a protected class, then federal and state laws come into play.
In terms of state laws, very few states offer protections for workplace bullies. As many as 25 states have introduced legislation to protect employees from bullying, but most of those bills failed to become actual laws. Part of the reason is that legislators fear workers could sue employers for simply being mean, and state lawmakers may want to avoid legislating civil behavior. However, there are some guidelines that can help employees recognize bullying at the workplace.
Defining Workplace Bullying
The Workplace Bullying Institute uses several behaviors that define workplace bullying. This type of abuse occurs repeatedly, and it may come from one or more different people at work. A bully in this situation conducts himself in a manner that is intimidating, threatening or humiliating toward someone else, and this may include verbal abuse. Bullying also entails sabotage or interference that prevents work from being done.
Workplace bullying involves several types of behaviors, none of which are initiated by the victims. A perpetrator may feel the need to control another person, and this behavior may involve others who side with the bully or the victim. The bully generally chooses his own timing, methods, location and targets. The perpetrator either does things to others or withholds resources from another person.
There is a wide range of tactics bullies use to try to get their way. A co-worker may falsely accuse a colleague of mistakes that the person did not actually make. A manager could make up rules for specific people that do not exist for anyone else. A supervisor might single out one person socially or physically. A workplace bully may throw a tantrum to humiliate someone in front of others.
In general, this type of workplace abuser is on the payroll of the company. This person's behavior undermines the purpose of the business because the bully's concerns come before the day-to-day operations of the company. Bullies can cause real revenue and profit loss if their behavior causes discord that leads to a hostile work environment. Victims in these situations can take steps even if there are limited legal options.
People subjected to bullying can take several steps to try to solve the problem. A victim should examine what is going on without putting any personal feelings into the situation. Does this person pick on everyone or just one person? Does the bully engage in this behavior all of the time?
A victim needs to remain professional while standing up for himself. An employee can set limits with the bully. Instead of someone stooping to the bully's level, a victim stays calm and strong in the face of adverse behavior. If the perpetrator gets the message, he changes his demeanor and does not bully again.
Unfortunately, not all bullies get the message. Anyone who feels abused at work should try to document the behavior by taking notes as to when the person acts up and how the person behaves. This gives the individual a case when he seeks assistance.
A victim can talk to a trusted supervisor or the head of human resources to ask for help. Talking to the bully's immediate supervisor may not be the right choice since that person could represent part of the problem instead of the solution.
Sometimes, the situation does not resolve itself properly. If this is the case, it could be best for the victim to move on to another position. There are always job openings for someone with the right skills, talents, experiences and accomplishments.
Workplace bullying is a very real problem in America, whether laws support this assertion or not. Other countries, especially in Europe, have laws that specifically address this issue for workers. The United States lags behind in laws that support victims of workplace bullying. Even without laws, employees can still take action after recognizing this type of detrimental behavior.
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