Workplace bullying has become more important to employers as it has become more visible.
Depending on the study, it is estimated that between 35 percent and 50 percent of the workforce has been subjected to some form of bullying. But how is bullying defined?
The literature that exists (and it is relatively recent literature at that) defines workplace bullying as deliberate, frequent misconduct by one employee directed toward another employee through either physical or verbal behavior that objectively interferes with the victim’s ability to do his job. While one act of misconduct typically would not constitute bullying, a serious enough act with severe personal consequences to the victim might be viewed as bullying.
The legal analysis underlying a bullying claim is comparable to the legal framework that has become accepted in defining workplace harassment under Title VII or an analogous state law prohibiting such harassment on the basis of some protected classification such as race, sex, age, religion, etc.
Yet, a void exists for victims of workplace bullying who don’t necessarily fall into a typically protected classification. Such victims might find themselves without a legal remedy since there are no statutory protections.
The following actions will serve all employers well now and in the eventuality that workplace bullying legislation is enacted:
- Develop a comprehensive anti-bullying policy which is part of your overall workplace harassment policy.
- Clarify that severe disciplinary consequences may result from any provable bullying behavior.
- Create a well communicated process that employees can utilize in making complaints and assure that no retaliation can result from the utilization of such process.
- Periodically train all employees, supervisors and rank-and-file employees on the concepts of bullying and what behavior will be prohibited in the workplace.
People are generally reluctant to share bullying experiences; it is therefore up to the employer to create and maintain a culture in which bullying cannot thrive.
While no federal or state statutes prohibit bullying, proactive employers should promulgate and implement anti-bullying policies as a means of promoting intelligent and forward-thinking employee relations.