Workplace Bullying: Present Yourself in a Professional Manner

Bullying is no longer something that takes place from the schoolyard. However, you are not alone. Workplace bullying is more prevalent than you think; more than one-third of workers in the United States report having an issue with a bully. While there is no national law enacted to address workplace bullying, it’s very important to stand your ground.

What Defines a Workplace Bully

A workplace bully employs tactics to undermine you at your place of employment. These tactics can range from verbal abuse to sabotage. Bullying can also occur through the use of computers. This tactic is referred to as cyberbullying. According to The Healthy Workplace Campaign, an initiative to pass laws against bullying, 37 percent of employees report they are dealing or have dealt with a workplace bully. This can be anything from harassing emails to insults and intimidation at work.

What is Being Done

Initiatives such as The Healthy Workplace Bill have been introduced in the legislature, but to date have failed to pass. That’s not to say a law against workplace bullying won’t pass in the future or that your state isn’t considering one. The United States is currently the only country in the Western world not to have a federal law addressing bullying in place. Sioux City, Iowa, was the first school district in the country to address the issue on its own. The district voluntarily enacted its own policies against workplace bullying, recognizing it is a problem that needs to be addressed. Many other companies have followed Iowa’s example, but bullying policies vary from place to place and are not currently subject to any regulation.

How to Cope

Workplace bullying can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. What’s important to remember in a bullying situation is that you aren’t alone or at fault. You also need to stand up for yourself and let the bully know you aren’t going to take the abuse. If you feel the situation is undermining your performance at work it’s important to voice your concerns to your employer. If you feel overwhelmed by the situation, seek out the help of a counselor, and keep in mind you are not the problem, you are the victim.

Fighting Back

It’s paramount to address the bullying where it begins — at your place of employment. If management responds to the situation with negative consequences, such as a loss of a promotion or disciplinary action, people are less likely to bully. You should also document what is going on and how you are being treated. If you have received harassing emails, save them. Make notes of any confrontations you may have with the bully, documenting time, place and exactly what occurred. Employers are likely to respond proactively to reports of workplace bullying in order to avoid litigation reports the Insurance Journal.

Having documentation on hand will support your case with your boss or human resources department. Consult the regulations of the organization you work for, and encourage them to put anti-bullying policies in place. If you seek out medical help to deal with the stress of being harassed by a workplace bully you are eligible to file a claim for worker’s compensation. However, without medical treatment, your compensation claim is limited, as are your alternatives until laws dealing with workplace bullying are put in place.

Workplace bullying often entails intimidation, humiliation, or degradation of an employee by another employer or employee, as stated by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Far from park antics, workplace bullying can cause continuing tension and affect overall morale and productivity. Finding out how to shield yourself out of a workplace bully can cut the probability that you’ll become a target.

Familiarize yourself with legislation protecting employees from workplace bullying. Employers and other employees don’t have the right to mistreat workers, and there are laws in place to prevent this from happening. Bullying itself isn’t illegal in the United States, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, but harassment is illegal. Many behaviors associated with workplace bullying may fall under the umbrella of harassment or retaliation. Examples of potential bullying and harassment might include swearing at an employee, humiliating a worker in front of others, or shouting at an employee.

Confront colleagues directly when behaviors make you feel uncomfortable; don’t allow incidents to slip because they seem trivial. Letting someone know immediately when he or she has crossed the line establishes professional and personal boundaries, and helps set a precedent for open communication. Employees might request that managers hold trainings in workplace bullying, providing an opportunity to discuss workplace bullying openly, while asking for feedback from employees for ways to make the work environment a safer place for everyone.

Document incidents that make you feel uncomfortable by creating a log of incidents that notes the day, time, nature of the incident, individuals involved and any witnesses to what happened. Creating a record of workplace bullying incidents helps employees evaluate whether a problem is developing with another individual or group of individuals, and provides evidence in the event that management needs to get involved.

Approach managers and upper-level administration with workplace bullying problems, but proceed with sensitivity. Reporting negative incidents without documentation or evidence of prior attempts to resolve the conflict independently might create a negative impression with management. To avoid appearing unprofessional, approach the situation calmly, with documentation, in a private environment. If the workplace bullying is coming from a manager, make an appointment to speak with his or her supervisor. Some businesses have mediators to help individuals arrive at resolutions, especially for instances where no clear legal boundary has been crossed.

Can a Person Get Fired After Complaining About the Inappropriate Behavior of Another Employee?

Whistleblower Act and Law of Retaliation

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects people from retaliation because they reported a violation of law or wrongdoing by a federal agency or employee. This law applies to those who work in federal government. Congress has made retaliation by private sector employers unlawful; but that doesn’t mean a company can’t fire you if you report inappropriate behavior. The recourse that you have for being fired for reporting inappropriate behavior is contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a claim.

Hostile-Free Work Environment

You have a right to a work environment free of hostility based on discrimination. If someone is intimidating you, harassing you, making offensive sexual, gender, race or other prejudicial remarks about you or someone in a protected class, it is your responsibility to speak up. To ensure that you stick to the facts, keep a record of the behavior exhibited by the other employee. Write down dates and times of occurrences and note the presence of any witnesses to report what was said or done accurately.

Reporting Inappropriate Behavior

In addition to a factual record, it helps if a co-worker who witnessed the event is willing to back your position. Ensure that you use the proper channels for reporting inappropriate behavior. Your company’s personnel manual should outline the steps you must take in these situations. Follow the steps to ensure you comply with the company’s requirements. Make it a practice to avoid discussing the situation with your co-workers.

EEOC Enforcement

If you work for a small business, the EEOC may not be required to enforce the “law of retaliation.” On general issues, businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the laws EEOC enforces. You can contact the local EEOC field office to determine if it can help you. The EEOC can also direct you to another agency or department that might help. If not, keep in mind that the state in which you live might have specific laws that prevent discrimination or retaliation for reporting the inappropriate behavior of another employee.

Organizational Strategies for Workplace Bullying

Talk About Bullying

Just like schools across the nation implement anti-bullying policies, you can do the same thing in your workplace. Be very specific in describing bullying behavior in seminars and training sessions. Employees who attempt to take credit for others’ work, spread malicious, false rumors about co-workers, try to coerce others into doing their work or intentionally miscommunicate with colleagues to keep them out of the loop, are workplace bullies. Conduct role-playing workshops in which you show examples of behavior that constitute bullying so there are no misunderstandings about what is considered appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior.

Create Anti-Bullying Policies

Encourage a practice of reporting bullying behaviors before they get out of control. Have an open door policy and allow employees to come to you with concerns about being bullied or seeing others being taken advantage of in the workplace. Counsel employees to keep track of questionable instances if they feel they’re being bullied so they can establish a record of poor behavior. Let employees know, in writing, the consequences for bullying, by way of an addendum to your employee manual.

Confront Bullies

If you see someone being a workplace bully, or get reports of such behavior, hold a one-on-one private meeting with the offending employee and a representative from your human resources office. Outline the offensive behavior and allow the employee time to provide feedback or defend herself. In some instances, poor behavior may be just that — a bad sense of humor, an unprofessional approach to providing feedback or asking for input. If the employee just needs to work on her social skills, put her on notice about her behavioral issues. If repeated offenses occur, take action, whether that’s an official write-up, probation or even termination, if actions want.

Create a Positive Environment

Create an environment of inclusion in your workplace in which colleagues are encouraged to support one another, treat each other with respect and be collaborative, contributing team members. Developing this type of environment leads to enhanced productivity, increases morale and decreases instances of negative behavior. Recognize and reward employees for their teamwork efforts as a way to provide positive reinforcement.

Report a Workplace Bully in Writing

Write down all the incidents that happen or have happened, detailing the date, time, the nature of the incident and the people involved, including any witnesses. Keep the information in a journal or notebook in a safe location at home.

Print out any other documentation you may have about the bullying, such as e-mails or social media interactions.

Address your letter to the Human Resources officer or the supervisor in charge of the bully, using a cordial greeting. In the body of the letter, state the facts of the situation, using professional language and avoiding being emotional or drawing conclusions such as, “He’s a jerk!” as you detail what happened during the bullying. Include a short synopsis of the most egregious acts of bullying, and then refer to your incident sheet and other documentation to address more dates, times and nature of all of the incidents. Do not threaten the addressee with any actions — simply state the facts and ask for a meeting to discuss the issue further.

Attach your documentation, including your incident sheet and any printouts you have as proof of the bullying, to the letter.

Hand the letter to the addressee in person, or put it in her inbox where you know she will see it right away.

Talk with co-workers who may also be the victims of the bullying, and ask them to write a letter to the boss or Human Resources, as well. While your claim should stand on its own, hearing complaints from more than one person can add weight to the issue and may make the situation seem more urgent. That said, though, avoid spreading gossip about what you’re reporting to co-workers; you want to remain professional throughout this process, so your behavior will be above reproach.

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