ONE WAY TO risk an employee lawsuit is workplace bullying, if you don’t investigate when you learn about it and fail to nip it in the bud if you find it’s going on.
Old-school cajoling and demeaning employees can these days land a company in hot water and at the receiving end of a costly lawsuit. The problem that many employers face when confronted with bullying is that it’s not always cut and dried and there are different types of bullying, some more overt than others.
And you also have to decide where the boundary is between harsh words or rude behavior, and bullying. Bullying can be verbal or non-verbal, and it can be overt or someone can be bullied behind their back through rumors and actions that mask the identity of the perpetrator.
To create a bullying-free workplace you need prevention rules in place. But in order to prevent it, you should first understand how it manifests itself. The article “The Dimensions of Workplace Bullying Behavior” by Edward Stern in EHS Today outlines it this way:
- Refusing to talk to someone or meet with them, or sidelining them from meetings they should be in.
- Shouting or cursing at someone either privately or publicly.
- Public humiliation.
- Physical intimidation like gestures or expressions, standing too close to someone and invading their space or blocking someone from entering or leaving an area.
- Someone being bullied may not even know it until they learn about it from somebody else. It’s done behind their back to undermine them and put their job at risk. It includes:
- Spreading rumors or gossip about a person to hurt their reputation. Gossip, true or not, is a malicious act.
- Not informing someone about meetings that they would normally be included in.
- Purposefully withholding vital information from the worker when they need to know it to do their job.
What’s not bullying
- Not all moments when a worker is feeling uncomfortable due to the actions of another employee or supervisor are bullying, like:
- A civil disagreement or argument.
- Factual, civil, professional criticism of work by a supervisor.
- Bad management decisions that were not intended to degrade or under- mine a worker.
- Not greeting someone when they arrive at work.
Setting the rules
Fold your anti-bullying rules in with the rules you have in place for prevention of discrimination and harassment. They should:
- Define bullying so that both employees and management can easily identify the behavior and address it.
- Make it clear that victims should not be fearful of losing their jobs or risk retaliation should they report bullying.
- Set up a system for employees to report bullying or use the same mechanisms you have in place for reporting discrimination or harassment.
- Require management to respond quickly to reports of bullying. They should conduct an investigation im- mediately and, even if names are not provided, the organization needs to let others in the company know when it has taken action – and what the consequences were.
One big danger is to ignore bullying because you think it adds to productivity or profitability. That’s a big mistake.
Your organization should have a zero- tolerance attitude around bullying – no matter who the bully is, or how high up they are in your hierarchy.
TACTICS THAT SOME BOSSES USE
- There are some forms of bullying specifically perpetuated by supervisors or managers, like:
- Setting impossible deadlines.
- Removing responsibilities without cause.
- Frequently changing work guidelines.
- Cancelling an employee’s vacation.
- Underworking someone so they feel useless.