Bullies in the Workplace

Tue, Jun 12, 2012

General Legal Issues

Bullies in the WorkplaceBullying is a hot topic in schools right now. Legislation is being enacted all over the United States to deal with bullying in schools. Teachers attend training so they know the proper ways to deal with both the victim and the aggressor. Students are taught about bullying too. But employees (and sometimes managers) are often not taught to recognize signs of bullying and, like many other workplace problems, this behavior is often minimized as trivial or is swept under the rug.

Workplace bullying can be hard to prove, especially when a supervisor or manager commits it. It is often assumed that those in positions of authority are just exercising their earned right to tell those who work under them what to do or that it is just their management style. Bullying by coworkers is seen as competitive or good-natured or is just hard to prove. Those being bullied in the workplace are often left to fend for themselves and unsure where to turn. This type of problem is especially trying in the time of economic uncertainty that this country currently faces. No one wants to rock the boat or risk losing a job that his or her family depends on.

Workplace bullying is usually not physically brutal. It is not usually committed in writing and verbal bullying is sometimes not even within earshot of another. It is often subtle in nature. Trying to gain support of co-workers or family members can also be met with admonishment of the employee with statements like:

  • “that’s what bosses are like” or
  •  “better just ignore it since it will be hard to find another job” or
  • “good luck getting a recommendation from this job if you quit with this type of allegation” or
  • “ I am sure they are just kidding or they didn’t mean it—so just ignore it”.

So, what can you do if you are being bullied in the workplace? Those with a good-sized human resources department are in the best position to get help. Those with no human resources department or in very small companies where the boss (and perhaps the one bullying) is the human resources department are usually in a tougher position. However, all employees being bullied can start by writing down all incidents with as much detail as possible. Make notes about dates and time and the details of the incident. Especially take note of anyone else who might have heard or seen the incident. Keep an ear out to see if this type of thing might be happening to anyone else too. Bullies usually do not pick on one person.

Make sure your work shines and cannot be placed under scrutiny. And keep up good relationships with others in the workplace. Bullies are often looking to get ahead or make themselves feel more confident and will usually try and downplay your contributions to the workplace in an effort to make their bullying look valid and reasonable. Try to remain calm and gather evidence while still contributing to the company.

After you feel you have enough incidents and information to go to your human resources department, bring it and a calm demeanor to a meeting with them. Each company will handle these complaints differently, so it is hard for SmithLaw to comment on how a company will handle it.

However, if your human resources department does not handle it efficiently or to your liking then there are other places to turn. This is true of those who work in very small or family businesses also, where they know their complaints will not get full recognition. In these cases, it can often be helpful to consult with an employment attorney. They will have recommendations for dealing with the situation.

Sometimes it is in your best interest to leave a workplace you are being bullied in, and only you know that, but an employment lawyer can also help deal with the aftermath of any bad recommendations or inappropriate actions regarding benefits. Make sure you consult with an attorney if you feel hopeless and threatened enough to make a rash action. Remember to let the bully take the fall, do not let them win by causing you to damage your own reputation.



  1. Recognizing Bullying in the Workplace | SmithLaw Attorneys Blog - 14. Jun, 2012

    […] previous piece on the SmithLaw blog dealt with bullying in the workplace. (It can be found here.) There you will see some ideas about how to deal with a bully. However, as we discussed in that […]

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