Archive for July, 2013

Workplace Bullying: Let’s talk about it.

Special thanks to Carly Zagaroli, who helped me write this post.

Ever have an employee complain that the boss or a co-worker is constantly breathing down his neck and ridicules his every move? Did it get to the point that this boss or co-worker was tormenting the employee on a daily basis? Is this behavior affecting the employee’s work? If so, you’ve got some workplace bullying going on. No, I did not make that up.  The concept of bullying has moved from the playground to the workplace.  We all know what bullying is on the playground, but exactly what is it in the workplace?

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, “workplace bullying” is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; conduct which is threatening, humiliating or intimidating; work interference, which prevents work from getting done; and/or exploitation of a known psychological or physical vulnerability.

As of today, there is not one single state or federal law that specifically prohibits “bullying”. Unless an employee can prove he or she was bullied for being a member of a protected class (race, color, religion, sex and national origin) he most likely does not have a cause of action. In fact, only ten states currently have “healthy workplace” bills introduced to battle bullying. While it is certainly hard for a bill to become law these days it is not impossible.  And anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel about Congress making unnecessary laws.

So, what does this mean for employers of bullied employees? It means two things

You can do nothing and wait for Congress to act or wait for one of your employees to sue you for harassment or worse yet, find yourself in a workplace situation that turns into actual violence.  Or you can put a policy in place that deals with bullying now, before it becomes an issue.  Which do I think is the way to go?  Take a guess?

If you don’t want to chance  an employee turning bullying into a harassment claim or find yourself dealing with a workplace violence incident or letting some Congressperson tell you how to run your company, write a policy that prohibits workplace bullying.  That way, the employee knows what resources are available and that there are consequences for the perpetrator. You might also get ahead of the game with regards to any future legislation from Congress. It’s a win-win for all.

If you want to hear more on the topic, I’ll be presenting “Workplace Violence & Bullying” at the Michigan Society for Human Resource Management conference that runs from October 6th through the 9th at The DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids.