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How to Identify and Handle Workplace Bullying

Bullying at work is a widespread issue, yet there aren’t enough measures taken to curb the offenses. According to Monster's new data about workplace harassment, 90% of surveyed employees say coworkers or their employers have bullied them.

What Is Workplace (Corporate) Bullying?

Corporate bullying may be defined as hostile, intimidating, or abusive conduct to belittle, humiliate, and abuse a worker because they hold a lower status at the workplace. It is different from when a boss is excessively demanding and possibly over-effacing relative to work. In this case, employees may have to learn to cope since they signed up for that.

Most people who fall victim to hostile work environment bullies often end up with a significant emotional upset, embarrassment, and distress. In some cases, victims are affected to the point that they need to be hospitalized or undergo rehabilitation.

Are There Laws to Curb Workplace Bullying?

Colleagues bullying a sad girl at office

Workplace bullying laws are effected only in a few places. For example, the US does not have comprehensive legislation guiding bullying at work. In some other countries, such as in the UK, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides legal protection for employees who fall victim to workplace bullying.

In Canada, Australia, Sweden, Ireland, and Spain, there are bodies responsible for curbing workplace harassment. The conditions vary for the different countries, but it helps employees feel more secure when laws guide against bullying at work. For instance, South Korea has not passed any legislation to curb workplace bullying, but the country’s law allows victims to file a lawsuit against employers and colleagues who bullied them. It is very likely the court decision will favor them if they have sufficient evidence.

Workplace Bullying Laws in the US

The US federal and state governments have not passed any law protecting employees from bullies. However, the discussion around it has increased tremendously over the years. In some cases, victims have successfully legally dealt with employers who subjected them to such conditions. They’ve done this even without a law that protects against workplace harassment.

Many US states have considered bills to curb the widespread practice of bullying at work since 2003, and they are listed below with the proposal year attached to the states. Up until 2009, these states have considered passing workplace bullying laws:

  • Nevada (2009)
  • Illinois (2009)
  • Utah (2009)
  • New Jersey (2007)
  • Washington (2007, 2005)
  • New York (2006)
  • Vermont (2007)
  • Oregon (2007, 2005)
  • Montana (2007)
  • Connecticut (2007)
  • Hawaii (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)
  • Oklahoma (2007, 2004)
  • Kansas (2006)
  • Missouri (2006)
  • Massachusetts (2005)
  • California (2003)

If these bills become passed into law, employees can sue their employers for subjecting them to an abusive work environment. Most of these bills are hinged on the proposed Healthy Workplace Bill, which contains several restrictive provisions that most other countries with anti-bully legislation have not adopted.

In the US, any workplace bullying that comes through as an Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Assault is punishable, even without a federal or state law protecting employees from hostile work environment bullies. In most cases, workplace bullying linked to a characteristic is protected under the US discrimination or harassment law. This includes racism, sexism, religious bias, age, disability, and sexual orientation bias.

How to Identify Bullying in the Workplace?

A Circle of Wooden figures bullying another one

Identifying bullying at the workplace can be straightforward or subtle, but we will help you break it down in this article. That is, you should quickly spot bullying, whether it is glaring or lurking in some actions.

Subtle Signs of Workplace Bullying

  1. The habit of deceiving people to achieve a selfish goal, avoid punishment, or gain favor from a higher authority is manipulative and can be regarded as bullying.
  2. The act of intimidating other employees because they lack an advantage, especially when the workers are on a lower level in the company's organogram.
  3. Some work bullies deliberately ignore their victims, refuse to invite them for compulsory meetings they are unaware of, interact with others and make it so glaring they are shunning them. In some cases, bullies ignore people who need something vital that may affect their performance at work.
  4. Workplace bullies also have the habit of justifying their overbearing attitude and wrong actions over and over again with unfounded excuses.
  5. It may involve a refusal to attend to an employee’s legitimate concerns and emotions, which may be detrimental in extreme cases.
  6. Bullies try to divert issues, change pressing subject matters, cancel meetings without care for others’ opinions, and so on.
  7. Many employers make their workers feel guilty or ashamed by continually nagging them and proving that they are inadequate for their position within the company. This should not be misconstrued for employers who demand better performance from their workers, even if they are harsh when passing the message.
  8. Some who have direct supervision over other employees may deliberately delay their works, refuse to assign projects to them, or even delegate tasks meant for them to others.
  9. Pitting employees against one another shows a fundamental character flaw, but unfortunately, some employers, superiors, and colleagues within the workplace still do it. Such actions result in unhealthy competition and disagreement between coworkers. Ultimately, it affects employees’ emotions and even the company’s success.
  10. Another example is removing parts of an employee's role without practical reasons for such an action, or completely replacing the position with a less significant one altogether. These are subtle signs of workplace bullying, but they still mean a lot.

Glaring Signs of Workplace Bullying

Shadow finger pointing at a office worker

If you notice any of the following actions from an employer, other superior, or a coworker, it is a glaring sign of bullying at work.

  1. An employer who is always yelling at a worker is an outright evidence of bullying. It may be a character flaw, but if it is regular and sometimes involving non-verbal expressions (throwing objects towards the worker or hitting the table), it is an indication of workplace bullying.
  2. The habit of lurking around an employee’s desk, spying on them, and interrupting whenever they work is a sign of bullying. In some cases, such bullies even tamper with the employee’s personal belongings.
  3. Despite having a measure of authority over employees, it’s absolutely wrong to coerce workers to do something against their will. Where this is the case, it is a glaring sign of workplace bullying.
  4. It's hard to believe, but some employers still mete out physical punishments to workers. This kind of hostile work harassment is not acceptable on any grounds and must be reported. Some other employers inflict emotional punishments and socially isolate particular workers from their colleagues.
  5. While it’s not wrong to discard a person’s opinion for a better option, doing this consistently to specific people is a glaring sign of bullying at work. It shows the employer belittling the employee’s views, ideas, work, or personal circumstances.
  6. Employers who take every opportunity to embarrass their workers are bullies, and they must be curbed or punished if they persist.
  7. An apparent retaliation for an employee’s wrong, especially after the employee has already sought reconciliation, is a sign of workplace bullying.
  8. Threatening a worker with unwarranted punishment, discipline, termination, and abusing them physically, emotionally, or psychologically is evidence of bullying at the workplace.
  9. People who use offensive language may not consider their actions wrong, but it may be offensive to other people within the workplace. Some jokes can be regarded as bullying at work because they degradingly describe people.
  10. The most common one, particularly committed by superiors in a workplace, is blocking all opportunities for an employee to advance in a company. These superiors give wrong testimonials and provide false evidence against the victim.

What Employers Can Do to Curb Bullying at the Workplace

boss yelling at employee through a megaphone

Employers can implement some policies in the company to put an end to bullying at work. These measures include the following:

1. Keep a Personal Record

Employers should encourage their workers to keep a private record of bad experiences with bullies in the workplace. Keeping these details helps to make reporting the behavior quicker.

Note the following:

  • The date and time
  • Who bullied you
  • What their words and actions were
  • Where it happened
  • Who else was there – it’s helpful if you have a coworker who can back you up
  • How it makes you feel.

2. Be Conversant with Your Workplace Bullying Policy

Depending on your location, your company may have harassment policies in place to curb bullying at the workplace. You have to be conversant with those laws to know the best way to tackle hostile work environment bullies.

3. Use Employee Monitoring Software to Control Bullies

You can’t avoid bullies in a work environment – no one adds it to their CV. However, you can use employee monitoring software to keep tabs on what your workers spend their time on while at work.

Moreover, for superiors who bully younger colleagues by spying on them and making them feel insecure, using Traqq’s employee monitoring tool can help you stop them for good.

With Traqq, superiors at the workplace don't have to be with other employees to monitor them directly. They can use features, such as app and website monitoring, screen-sharing, and lots more, to keep tabs on them instead. The tool takes screenshots which you can use as evidence to indict the bully.

4. Report Bullying to Employer or a Higher Authority

Bullying at workplace

For good employers, their workers’ safety and comfort are always a priority. That said, you shouldn’t hesitate to report any case of bullying to your employer so that they can take the right actions to stop the behavior. However, first, try to talk things over with the person bullying you. They may be willing to make adjustments. If that’s not the case, go ahead to report the behavior to your employer or other appropriate authority.

Suppose your employer is exhibiting bullying behavior. In that case, you may report the situation to a higher authority, such as the government or a legal institution.

On a Final Note

Bullying is not acceptable behavior at the workplace, even in countries where no bills are passed into law. Where there’s any sign of workplace bullying, you should attempt to curb, stop, or report the behavior.

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