Workplace Bullying Advice from Lawyers: 4 Tips for Dealing With it Now
Lawyers are often the first to sense upcoming shifts in legal trends at the workplace, and are usually the first to sound the alarm when they know you’ll be needing their services.
If lawyers’ comments on the bullying epidemic in workplaces is any clue, then they know that the situation is real, and may require real remedies, including litigation.
This article contains some sage advice from a lawyer that gets the bigger picture of workplace bullying: that even if it isn’t specifically illegal, its side effects are harmful and destructive and could still lead to possible litigation. And if international law is any sign, the United States could soon face a changing legal landscape that would give more remedies to targets of bullying.
#1: Use a Practical Definition
Michael Elkon, the author of this article, points out that the current accepted definition of bullying is “behavior in which an individual or group uses persistent, aggressive, or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate.”
However, as the author indicates, this definition doesn’t always cover behavior that can be more subtle and not immediately obvious as bullying, especially when coming from a supervisor. Elkon suggests an alternative “rule of thumb” in the case of bullying from management at work:
Does the supervisor’s behavior go beyond our company’s norms for providing feedback?
If the answer to the first question is yes, is this a persistent problem or simply one instance of poor judgment on the part of a supervisor?
Though not perfect, this guideline is a good start for companies to examine their own behavior.
#2: Provide a Reporting Procedure That Identifies to Whom Workers May Report Incidents
This is important because it makes managers accountable for the reports, and provides a reporting structure in advance to workers so they know this sort of behavior will be noticed, and also not acceptable. Though it won’t deter some bullies from behavior outright, it will provide a valid way to document behavior and give ammunition to both management and HR to do something about the bullying behavior.
#3. Encourage Reporting and Have a Strict “No Retaliation” Policy
Even if a good reporting structure is in place, many workers won’t use it if they know they will be retaliated against for reporting the bullying behavior. This is a legitimate fear, as sometimes the bullying becomes WORSE after reporting it. If the worker knows the employer will not tolerate retaliation against the target, then they will be much more willing to come forward.
#4: Enact Procedures Now, Because the Potential for Litigation is Still High
Even if bullying is still legal if you are not a protected class (minority, disabled, etc.), the ramifications of bullying can still lead to litigation. Left undealt with, lingering and festering conflict may cause employees to seek out alternative legal courses. As Elkon states:
“For instance, a bullying victim can bring a claim pursuant to Title VII for harassment or discrimination if the individual has a way to tie the activity to a protected characteristic, such as “my female boss degrades the men under her supervision.” A bullying victim can also bring a claim against an employer for negligent hiring and retention on the theory that the employer knew about a supervisor’s bullying tendencies – either during the hiring process or thereafter – and did nothing. There are even implications under OSHA, which requires that employers complete a Workplace Violence Incident Report in any instance in which an employee commits a violent act against another employee.”
Workplace Bullying Prevention: Do it Now
Even outside of litigation, the harm to your bottom line in the form of turnover, loss productivity, health costs, isolation, and harm to your reputation is unacceptably high. The sooner you move now to prevent this destructive behavior from poisoning your workplace, the better off you will be in the short AND long term.
Waiting will only cost you more.
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Also read my upcoming book, Success Strategies for Handling Workplace Bullying, which outlines strategies I have been teaching targets. My strategies have been proven effective and empowering for targets and I’m committed to sharing them with the world.
I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.