An Employment Law Blog Focused on Civility, Bullying and Discrimination
Category: WHY ME?
Surveys show that one out of every three or four American workers reports being bullied in the workplace. There is never an acceptable reason for it – bullying is widely considered to be a form of workplace violence. It is like domestic violence, where one person exercises undue power and control over another. However, targets may find that knowledge about workplace bullying is power.
Note: The irony of workplace bullying is that the “victim” may be an excellent employee who is well liked, works hard, and demonstrates creativity and initiative. Bullying is often motivated by the bully’s insecurity, fear and jealousy. You may be targeted because the bully perceives you to be a threat. Employers take note – Good employees quit or are fired while bullies – who do not act in the company’s s best interests – remain to wreak more havoc. Also, co-workers who witness bullying are more likely to quit if the employer tolerates the abuse – PGB
Are you being bullied?
Here’s a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire developed by researchers from the State University of New York in New Paltz and Wayne State University that identifies often subtle bullying behaviors.
Take the quiz to find out if you’re a victim of bullying. Occasional insults don’t count. Bullying occurs when the behavior has occurred consistently during the past six months.
In the past six months have you regularly:
Been glared at in a hostile manner?
Been excluded from work-related social gatherings?
Had others storm out of the work area when you entered?
Had others consistently arrive late for meetings that you called?
Been given the “silent treatment”?
Not been given the praise for which you felt entitled?
Been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner?
Had others refuse your requests for assistance?
Had others fail to deny false rumors about you?
Been given little or no feedback about your performance?
Had others delay action on matters that were important to you?
Been yelled at or shouted at in a hostile manner?
Been subjected to negative comments about your intelligence or competence?
Had others consistently fail to return your telephone calls or respond to your memos or e-mail?
Had your contributions ignored by others?
Had someone interfere with your work activities?
Been subjected to mean pranks?
Been lied to?
Had others fail to give you information that you really needed?
Been denied a raise or promotion without being given a valid reason?
Been subjected to derogatory name calling?
Been the target of rumors or gossip?
Shown little empathy or sympathy when you were having a tough time?
Had co-workers fail to defend your plans or ideas to others?
Been given unreasonable workloads or deadlines — more than others?
Had others destroy or needlessly take resources that you needed to do your job?
Been accused of deliberately making an error?
Been subjected to temper tantrums when disagreeing with someone?
Been prevented from expressing yourself (for example, interrupted when speaking)?
Had attempts made to turn other employees against you?
Had someone flaunt his or her status or treat you in a condescending manner?
Had someone else take credit for your work or ideas?
Been reprimanded or “put down” in front of others?
Steps to take if you are being bullied:
In the early stages, consider telling the bully that his/her behavior is not acceptable and firmly ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or co-worker to be with you when you approach the person. This may not be helpful if the bully is a sociopath who lacks empathy. It could even backfire, causing an escalation of the bullying. It’s a judgment call.
It is very important to keep a factual journal or diary and record each instance of bullying. The record should include:
o The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.
o The names of witnesses.
o The outcome of the event.
Here’s a possible example of a journal entry: 11/21/10: Bob came down the corridor at approximately 10 a.m. He grabbed my arm, pulled me into an unattended office and shouted, “Get that ***** project on my desk by lunchtime.” He then walked out without giving me a chance to reply. I felt humiliated, pressured, disrespected, and emotionally distressed. John Doe witnessed the incident; I talked to John later that afternoon. John said he was shocked by Bob’s actions, which he called “violent” and “uncalled for.”
Keep your notes in a safe place – not at the workplace.
RETAIN copies of letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.
RESPOND to criticisms or allegations in writing, and ask the bully to respond in writing.
KEEP all memos and correspondence related to your work if the quality of your work is challenged.
It may be necessary to file a complaint. It may be advisable to first consult with an employment lawyer in your community. Most employees work in an “at will” employment state, which means they can be fired for any reason except an unlawful reason (such as race or age discrimination). It is important to know your rights so you have a realistic assessment of your options.
If you COMPLAIN, follow the process outlined in your employee or workplace policy manual. Complain to the individual who is identified as handling harassment complaints. The courts will interpret this as providing proper notice to your employer of the harassment and bullying. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management. It is usually advisable to make sure that your complaint clearly states the problem; this is not the time to sugar coat the issue or to worry about being the squeaky wheel. If feel you are being bullied because of race discrimination, provide the evidence upon which you base your belief to your employer. Down the road, the account you provide in your complaint my be important in a retaliation or wrongful termination lawsuit.
Sadly, the Human Resources officer may not be an objective or neutral arbiter. He or she may perceive their role as acting as an agent for management. Management may view your abuser as more valuable to the organization than you. It is important to provide management with as detailed a record as possible about what is occurring so the employer can see the pattern of abuse. A single instance may be dismissed as trivial. One would hope that management would recognize that the bully is having a negative impact in the workplace or is creating needless legal liability. But be aware that most targets of bullying are forced to quit or are fired. Some experts advise targets to immediately start looking for another job.
BUT DO NOT …
If you retaliate, you could appear to be a perpetrator. This may confuse the manager who is responding to your complaint. Also, an estimated 70 percent of bullies are bosses and in these cases the power dynamics do not favor the target .
Abusive bosses may simply be clueless, insecure and poorly trained. However, an abusive boss may a narcissist or sociopath. without empathy. Their actions may be very deliberate. They could be skilled at manipulating management and co-workers. To the bully, it’s the equivalent of a chess game. But you may feel a range of strong emotions, including fear and anger. Bullies often try to manipulate their targets into making an impulsive and unwise move. As best you can, stay detached and focused. Don’t give the bully more ammunition than he or she already possesses.
* Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney with expertise in both domestic violence and employment law.
One can see similarities between domestic violence and workplace abuse by looking at a tool developed by domestic violence advocates in Duluth, Minnesota, 30 years ago to illustrate the tactics used by domestic violence abusers, the Power and Control Wheel (see below). By substituting the workplace for the home, one can see the application of this tool in the context of workplace abuse:
Instead of male privilege, abusive bosses exert “supervisory” privilege.
The abusive boss alone feels entitled to define the boss/employer relationship, whether or not it bears any similarity to the victim’s job description.
The abusive boss emotionally abuses the victim, putting him/her down, calling him/her names, etc.
The abusive boss uses intimidation, coercion or threats, including unfair threats of demotion or dismissal.
The abusive boss uses economic tools to abuse the victim by meting out rewards and punishment as he or she pleases, without regard to merit or actual job performance.
When the abuse is pointed out, the abusive boss makes light of it, minimizes it, or accuses the victim of being overly sensitive.
The abusive boss may send out a signal that encourages others to abuse an employee, a phenomenon that has been called “mobbing.”
The abusive boss may isolate the employee by making it clear the employee is “unsafe” to be around because he/she is viewed as a pariah by management.
Here’s my primitive adaptation of the Power and Control Wheel for workplace abuse/bullying situations, followed by the original Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel: