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Is There a Bully in Your Workplace?

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 4/23/2014
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workplace bully

Chances are there is a bully in your workplace, and that’s bad for business. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as repeated mistreatment involving physically or verbally abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating, or that interferes with or prevents work from getting done. According to the WBI’s 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey:

  • 27% are or have been victims of workplace bullying
  • 21% have witnessed workplace bullying
  • 23% are aware of workplace bullying
  • 65 million workers are affected by workplace bullying

Though the frequency of workplace bullying may come as a surprise to some, the consequences should not. Workplace bullying typically increases employee turnover, decreases productivity, reduces job satisfaction, undermines morale, increases workers’ compensation costs and increases employment-related litigation costs.

Despite the disruptive and costly consequences of workplace bullying, employers aren’t taking steps to control the problem. The WBI survey found that employers react to workplace bullying in the following ways:

  • 25%     deny existence of bullying and don’t investigate complaints
  • 16%     discount or disregard the impact of bullying
  • 15%     rationalize bullying as innocent or routine
  • 12%     eliminate bullying by creating and enforcing policies and procedures
  • 11%     defend bullying when offenders are executives and managers
  • 10%     acknowledge bullying by showing concern for affected workers
  • 6%       condemn bullying with a zero-tolerance policy
  • 5%       encourage bullying in competitive environments

Without a commitment from employers to combat the problem, the WBI survey found that workplace bullying was resolved when the:

  • victim quits to escape mistreatment (29%)
  • victim quits after conditions were deliberately made worse (19%)
  • victim was fired by the employer (13%)
  • victim was transferred to a different position or location (13%)
  • perpetrator was punished but not fired (11%)
  • perpetrator was fired (10%)
  • perpetrator quits (5%)

One reason for the frequency of workplace bullying could be the lack of laws protecting victims or punishing employers. Generally speaking, in the absence of criminal behavior, such as assault or battery, bullying is not illegal. However, employers should still be concerned about potential employment-related liability resulting from workplace bullying.

For example, workplace bullying may lead to a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Though Title VII isn’t a general civility code, it does prohibit discrimination on the basis of various protected classifications, such as race and gender. This is significant since bullies often incorporate sexist or racist undertones when mistreating others. According to the WBI,

  • 57% of male perpetrators target females
  • 32% of female perpetrators target males
  • Hispanics (57%), African Americans (54%) and Asians (54%) are more likely to be affected by bullying than Whites (44%)

This means that employers need to take steps to prevent, identify and stop bullying in the workplace. Employers should implement and enforce an anti-bullying policy that includes disciplinary consequences, provide employees with a mechanism for reporting incidents of bullying without fear of retaliation, anonymously if necessary, and train all employees about bullying in the workplace.

If you would like to learn more about preventing employment-related liabilities, check out The Human Equation’s library of online courses or contact us.

The Human Equation prepares all risk management and insurance content with the professional guidance ofSetnor Byer Insurance and Risk.

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