The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:
- Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or Verbal abuse.”
In a 2014 survey, the Institute found that 27 percent of respondents had had current or past experience with workplace bullying. Further, respondents reported that 72 percent of employers denied, discounted, encouraged, rationalized or defended bullying.
So what’s the big deal?
Unlike harassment based on protected characteristics, such as age, race and sex, no laws specifically prohibit bullying, unless the behavior becomes physical. Still, the ongoing nature of bullying can lead to stress. In its 2007 poll of bullying in the workplace, the Institute found that 45 percent of the targets of bullying suffered stress-related health problems. Workers under stress are more likely to experience claims, and stay out of work longer when out on a claim.
Charles Tenser, an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation cases, said, “Whether workplace bullying could result in a successful workers’ compensation claim would depend upon several factors. If the workplace bullying were deemed to be so pervasive that it constituted a fact of employment, then injuries arising from workplace bullying could be deemed to arise out of and in the course of employment, and be compensable under workers’ compensation statutes.”
Bullying could also contribute to workplace violence, if an unstable person “snaps” in response to bullying. “Employees that become aggressive see it as a way of getting even for something,” said Tom Tripp, a professor of management and operations at Washington State University in Vancouver and co-author of “Getting Even: The Truth About Workplace Revenge—And How to Stop It,” in an interview with Business Insurance magazine. “They [bullied employees] feel they’ve been unjustly treated by the organization and they want to find a way to make it right.”
For these reasons, all employers should have a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying and address bullying behavior appropriately. Ten important steps include:
- Notify employees and supervisors alike that the company will not tolerate bullying.
- Encourage reporting of bullying or threatening behavior.
- Encourage management to have an “open door” policy to stay involved with day-to-day interactions.
- Appoint someone (ideally, someone from human resources with experience in dealing with interpersonal conflicts) to immediately investigate all reports of bullying.
- Take appropriate action, from soliciting apologies to reassigning positions to termination, if warranted.
- Educate employees on what constitutes inappropriate or harassing behavior.
- Ensure management takes a “top down” approach to modeling appropriate behavior.
- If your company has an employee assistance program, utilize the expertise of your EAP provider in investigating, intervening and providing education on bullying.
- Create a written no-bullying policy; include your policy in employee handbooks and post it in prominent locations throughout the workplace.
- Make your workplace safer by taking all complaints of bullying seriously and taking appropriate steps to remedy it.
A zero-tolerance toward bullying can improve workplace morale and safety.