More than Half of Women in Workplace Bullied

More than half of women are bullied at work– often by members of their own sex, according to the largest survey of its kind ever conducted in the United Kingdom.

The gender equality group, Opportunity Now, and PwC, an international  professional services group, commissioned a survey that included interviews with nearly 23,000 women and more than 2,000 men.

The group recently issued a report,  “Project 28-40,”  which urges employers to recognize that “harassment and bullying still occur, despite well-meaning policies. Call it out, deal with perpetuators, and make it simple and straightforward to report.”

Helena Morrissey, chairperson of Opportunity Now, said the key  to improve the workplace for women should be training  excellent managers; this will  achieve “much more than yet another initiative  or programme.”

Fifty-two percent of the women who responded to the survey said they experienced bullying at work within the past three years. The rates were highest for Black British / African /Caribbean women (69%), women with disabilities (71%), bisexual (61%) and lesbian and gay women (55%).

Without being specific, the report states that  the biggest enemy facing women in the office or other workplaces may be other women.  The researchers conducted ten focus groups to gain insight from the survey findings.  “Women often experience bullying by female colleagues and line managers, a point echoed by focus groups participants who thought female bullies felt threatened by potential and ability and so exploited their position or authority to undermine,” said the report.

More than one in four of the women surveyed said they had experienced overbearing supervision or misuse of authority, or were deliberately overloaded with work and subject to constant criticism. One in six of the women experienced exclusion and victimization or were intentionally blocked from promotion or training opportunities.

The researchers conclude that the data shows the extent to which workplaces are “dysfunctional, inefficient and fundamentally unjust” to women.

An additional 12% of women reported experiencing sexual  harassment within the past three years. One in eight said they had been sexually harassed – defined as “unwelcome comments of a sexual nature.”  This includes unwanted physical contact or leering, asking for sexual favors, displaying offensive material such as posters, or sending offensive emails or texts of a sexual nature.

Bullying in the NFL Workplace

Even Football Players Hurt When Bullied

It may seem rather silly that a participant in a sport that is so brutal that it causes its players to suffer brain damage would throw in the towel because of taunts and insults by teammates.

But the actions of 6’5″, 315-pound Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, 25,  are a testament to the damage that workplace bullying can inflict upon targets.

Martin walked off the job recently because he could no longer the endure “abusive environment” that he allegedly has suffered during his one-and-a-half seasons with Miami.  The last straw reportedly came on Monday when he sat down to eat lunch with several other players and they stood up and left when he tried to join them

Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who is allegedly one of the players who has harassed Martin, was suspended this week for conduct detrimental to his team.  He allegedly sent Martin racist and threatening texts and voicemails.

Research shows that workplace bullying can fell even the mightiest in our society.

Workplace abuse  causes targets to suffer potentially severe mental and  physical illness, including mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach, panic attacks, headaches etc.  Evidence is accumulating to suggest that stress plays an important role in chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders. Bullying targets frequently report experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for years after they leave a job in which they were bullied..

There are many well-publicized cases of suicide that are related to workplace bullying, including the recent suicide of the Chief Financial Officer Pierre Wauthier, 53, of the multi-national insurance company, Zurich Insurance Group in Switzerland. He left a note blaming his new boss, who a day after Wauthier’s suicide resigned.

Miami Dolphins Coach Joe Philbin said the NFL is going to conduct a comprehensive and objective review of the workplace environment  and the Dolphins will fully cooperate as an organization.

Individuals who are  experiencing workplace bullying are encouraged to read my book, Transcend Your Boss: Zen and the Difficult Workplace, to gain some coping strategies.  They are also encouraged to sign a petition demanding that the Obama administration address the problem of workplace bullying in our society.

Another Defeat for Healthy Workplace Bill


The decade-long strategy of adopting state-by-state legislation to deal with workplace bullying in the United States has suffered yet another defeat.

The Maine House of Representatives recently voted 87-56 to sustain Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill aimed at bullying in the workplace that had been adopted by Maine’s legislature.

 The bill, which was supported by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), directed the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board to study psychological and physical harm employees suffer due to abusive work environments. 

 In his veto message, the governor said the study was unnecessary because the Workers’ Compensation Board already provides benefits to employees who suffer physical and psychological injuries on the job.

 Maine was the 24th state to consider some version of the WBI’s proposed  Healthy Workplace Bill  but no state has yet to adopt it.

 This blog advocates a federal and national solution to the problem of workplace bullying, which affects one in every three or four workers in the United States. So far about 8,000 targets of workplace bullying have signed a petition demanding action from the Obama Administration.

 Ruth and Gary Namie, founders of the WBI, have led  a decade-long campaign to pass proposed legislation called The Healthy Workplace Bill.

 Drafted by Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada, the bill was overhauled earlier this year after criticism by workplace anti-bully advocates that it offered far less protection to targets of workplace bullying than similar legislation in other countries.  

The Namies, who aggressively market consulting services and book sales on the WBI web site,  and Mr. Yamada, who formed an organization called The New Workplace Institute, have not cooperated with other workplace anti-bully advocates who formed a coalition last year (Protect US Workers) to  support a federal solution to workplace bullying.

America lags far behind Europe, Canada, Australia and many other industrialized countries in protecting workers from bullying, which is widely considered to be a health-harming form of workplace violence..


Few Consequences for Sexual Harassment

sexual-harassmentUPDATE:  Shortly after this story was written, the U.S. Supreme Court made it more difficult to win a sexual harassment lawsuit by raising the bar for who constitutes a “supervisor” in the workplace – a designation that has important consequences with respect to the employer’s liability. See Vance v. Ball State University.

Sexual harassment in the military underscores a much bigger problem in American society.

 Sexual harassment is a major problem in all workplaces but it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – for victims  to hold abusers accountable for their illegal conduct. Surveys show that third of American women say they have experienced sexual harassment on the job.

For years, women in the military complained that the military did little or nothing about complaints of sexual abuse.  Then two military officers whose duties include preventing sexual harassment and assault were arrested for alleged sexual assaults and the military was forced to confront the issue.

 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel  recently offered a solution that seems oddly misdirected.  Hagel said that  all of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention coordinators and military recruiters will be retrained, re-credentialed and rescreened. But there is no evidence that this is a problem of training; the evidence points to a problem of lack of consequences.

Members of the military who commit sexual harassment and assault have not been held to account by the “employer”  and so it continues. And this is also the problem in the wider society. There is a yawning lack of accountability for perpetrators of sexual abuse and the employers who tolerate this behavior.

Victims in non-military workplaces also complain to supervisors and human resource officers who often do little or nothing to hold the perpetrator accountable.

At that point, the victim’s only  recourse is to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – which is a necessary precursor to filing lawsuit alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The  EEOC receives about  30,000 sex discrimination complaints a year and, of these,  the agency targets systemic cases involving numerous victims. If the victim’s case doesn’t fit its parameters, the EEOC likely will do nothing but issue a “Right to Sue” letter.  That can take 180 days.  

 Now the victim’s only recourse is to file a lawsuit.  The first hurdle is finding a private attorney willing to take the case.  This can be very difficult for mid- to –low wage earners because there are more than enough high-earner victims with potentially higher damages. The victim also must pay the attorney’s up-front retainer – which in some areas is $25,000 or more.. People like to blame money-grubbing lawyers but legislatures and judges have made these cases very difficult to win and very costly.

 If the case ever gets to court it may be there for only a short time. Federal judges dismiss discrimination cases in the early stages at a much higher rate than other types of cases. If that happens, the victim’s only option is to file a costly appeal.  But if the case is not dismissed, it will take years to wind it way through the system. 

Occasionally one hears of a particularly egregious case of sexual assault that results in a spectacular jury verdict. These are rare.

In short, it is extremely difficult for victims of sexual abuse in the workplace to hold perpetrators accountable for  sexual abuse, not to mention the employers that tolerate abusive work environments. The system screens out all but the most dedicated victims and the most egregious cases. It’s like a lottery that few will win. And that’s a huge part of the problem.

It could get worse
If that’s not bad enough – the situation could get worse.

The  U.S. Supreme Court, the most pro-business Court since WWII,  heard arguments last year on a case that involves who qualifies as a “supervisor” under a federal employment discrimination law. This  question is important because it goes to the issue of damages and whether the employer – rather than the individual abuser –  is liable for the conduct of the abuser.

 The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that only a person with the ability to fire or hire employees can be considered a supervisor,  not managers who supervise workers but cannot fire them. Other federal appeals courts and the EEOC  define a supervisor as a person with authority to direct daily work activities and can undertake or recommend “tangible employment decision affecting employees.”

 The case was brought by Maetta Vance, an African-American catering specialist at Ball State University, who accused a co-worker, Shaundra Davis, of racial harassment and retaliation in 2005. She  claimed the university was liable because Davis was her supervisor. A federal judge dismissed her lawsuit, saying that Davis was not her supervisor because she could not fire Vance. The judge also ruled the university was not liable because it  took corrective action. The 7th Circuit of Appeals upheld that decision, and Vance appealed to the Supreme Court.

Elements of a Good Workplace

GallupMany of us have experienced the horrors of a  bad workplace but what does a good workplace look like?

Jim Clifton, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Gallup poll organization, says he knows, based upon decades of polling data.

  What follows, according to Clifton, are the 12 most important, and most predictive, workplace elements.  If these elements are in place, the employer has an engaged, healthy workforce where employees innovate, work hard  and achieve results.  If these elements are not in place, it is likely that workers are disengaged, less healthy, less productive, and less invested in the success of the company.

What’s your workplace look like? Feel free to show this article to your boss.

  1.  I know what’s expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work talked to me about my progress.
  12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

 According to Clifton, a major reason that workforces are not engaged is bad management or what he calls “management from hell.”

 Gallup research has found that the top 25% of employees — the best-managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst-managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, he says, people in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs.

Judges Who Blog

gavelI was surprised to find out this week from LawSites that I may be one of only three judges in the United States who “blog.”

 I am an appellate justice for a Native American tribe in Northern Nevada. I work for a sovereign nation that has its own court and code of laws but  is bound to the United States by a complex series of federal laws and treaties.  I formerly worked as a tribal court judge for another tribe.

 I don’t blog about being a judge, per se, though that experience undoubtedly informs my blog.

I write about employment discrimination, workplace bullying and abuse – from a worker’s perspective.  I began blogging after I took a job at a national domestic violence organization and became a target of a bullying supervisor.  I have since written a book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.

 I find it appalling that the United States is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that does not protect workers from workplace bullying,  which is a widely recognized form of  violence that can severely impact a target’s health, lead to physical violence,  and costs society billions each year in lost work hours, higher medical costs, social services expenditures, etc.

 Back to blogging judges  …

 It seems a shame to me that more judges don’t blog. Their silence supports the status quo, which works largely to benefit corporate interests, the powerful and the rich (who contribute to political campaigns).   

 I would argue that silence does not serve the judiciary.  As Alexander Hamilton stated in The Federalist Papers,  the judiciary is the weakest branch of government because it controls neither sword nor purse.  The judiciary has utterly failed to make its case to American taxpayers for  appropriate funding.

 According to the American Bar Association,  most states have cut court funding by at least ten percent in recent years. Many states have stopped filling judicial vacancies and/or laid off judges. Many states have frozen or cut the salaries of judges or staff, despite ever increasing caseloads.  Many courts have reduced their opening hours or even close on some work days.

 It’s almost like the painful post-Internet downfall of the Post Office, but there is no satisfactory alternative to the court system for the vast majority of Americans.

 By its silence, the judiciary fails in particular to effectively champion the plight of people who need a just resolution of civil disputes. Civil courts are largely inaccessible to the poor and, increasingly, to the middle class. This has led to injustice on a massive scale. Meanwhile,  taxpayers become more disillusioned, which makes the judiciary even weaker.  

 I suspect that some people find the judiciary  to be arrogant and secretive – perhaps because its leaders on the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to allow their proceedings to be televised and it’s virtually impossible to work there unless you graduate from an Ivy League law school.  

Also, judges seem to think – admittedly with some justification – that they will never be promoted if they voice a public opinion on anything that is  more substantial than the weather.

 But the biggest disservice that is done by the silence of the judiciary involves the public perception of the work of a judge.  

 Many people don’t realize that being a judge is really hard work.  Imagine trying to make a good decision,  with the clock running,  rarely enough reliable information or too much conflicting information to be helpful, with emotions running high on both sides.  Even if the stakes seem low to you or me, they are always high to the litigants.

 A few years ago, a judge in Reno, NV, was shot while standing in his office through a plate glass window  by a sniper crouched in a parking lot across the street from the courthouse. The sniper was a litigant in a divorce case who had just murdered his wife. The judge was presiding over that case.   

 A good judge must be strong enough to make the right decision when it does not serve that judge’s interests. When it goes against the grain of powerful people who feel entitled to more justice than they deserve. A good judge must be strong enough to do the right thing when it could alienate a campaign donor or someone with power over the judge. It can be  like a politician from a “red” state  who has to vote on gun control every day.

Justice is the elusive goal that good judges strive to reach in their deliberations.  But justice is often a moving target. It can be difficult to find the bulls-eye. If you make a “mistake,” there is  an appeals court that will point it out.  Sometimes you make the right decision legally but you know in your heart that it isn’t right on a moral or human level.  You don’t forget those cases.

 There is so much about the judiciary that people don’t know because the judiciary has not told them. I think more judges blogging might help people understand that the course of justice is often imperfect, even when everyone is working in good faith toward a just resolution.

Knowing that so few judges blog makes me feel oddly vulnerable – like the soldier who stands up in a field while bullets whistle past.  Alas, it may be  time to  give up any expectation of promotion to the federal bench.  



Rutgers’ “Independent” Investigation

RutgersOne wonders how an “independent” investigation could support a finding that Rutgers bullying basketball coach Mike Rice should remain on the university payroll?

Rice was forced to resign recently after a videotape was leaked to the public and showed him verbally and physically  abusing players, while using homophobic slurs.

 In his letter of resignation letter to Rutger’s President Robert L. Barchi, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti writes:

 “As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”

Corporate Counsel  reports that the outside counsel, Attorney John Lacey, an attorney with Connell Foley of Roseland, NJ,  issued a report in January stating that Rice could not be fired “for cause.” because there was no clear violation of his employment contract.

  Lacey found that Rice was extremely demanding of his assistant coaches and players but that his behavior did not constitute “a ‘hostile work environment’ as that term is understood under Rutgers’ anti-discrimination policies.”  Lacy said  the “intensity” of Rice’s misconduct may have breached provisions in his contract against embarrassing the school but, as Rutgers officials conveniently point out, did not recommend termination. 

The conclusion of the so-called independent investigation once again raises questions about these so-called  independent investigations.

 Increasingly,  employers hire  outside parties to “investigate” claims of workplace abuse.  There  often is  an unstated expectation that the result  of the investigation will affirm the employer’s goal of retaining the valued bully while insulating the employer from a potential lawsuit if the less valued target files a lawsuit. Too often the so-called independent investigators are attorneys who place themselves in the position of appearing to be for sale to the highest bidder.

 The videotape is so shocking that it defies reason that any “independent” investigator could reasonably  conclude that Rice’s behavior did not justify dismissal. In fact, some of the basketball  players could have filed criminal assault complaints against Rice for physically manhandling them. Instead of dismissing Rice, Rutgers fined him $50,000 and suspended him for three games in December.

 Just as in the Penn State scandal involving  pedophile football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Rutgers appears to have tolerated Rice’s bad behavior.

After the videotape was leaked, the dominos began to fall. Rice was fired.  Assistant Coach Jeremy Martelli, Rutger’s General Counsel John Wolf, and Pernetti resigned.  If I were Barchi, I wouldn’t make plans to redecorate the Presidential suite.  Barchi’s  claim that he never took the time to watch the videotape.until it was made public was met with obvious disdain at a press conference. Barchi blamed his bad decision on a “failure of process.”

Here is what needs to happen so that employers will take workplace bullying seriously – managers  need to be held accountable.  

These student athletes are essentially workers who are paid in the form of scholarship assistance by the university.  Like any other worker, they know that  a complaint can result in retaliation and their termination.  These players  relied upon their unofficial employer, Rutgers, to insure they were treated with dignity and respect and certainly not subjected to emotional and p physical abuse.

 Most of the players just put up with Rice’s abuse. However, according to news reports, at least three players transferred from the program as a result of Rice’s abuse.



Somewhat Improved Healthy Workplace Bill

… But Still Needs Work

The heretofore anemic  Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has received a dose of iron in its latest iteration in Massachusetts.

The version of the  HWB subpumping ironmitted for consideration to the Massachusetts’ legislature omits  the  $25,000 cap on damages for targets who were not subjected to demotion or dismissal.

The Workplace Bullying Institute has pushed the HWB, written by Suffolk University Law Professor David C. Yamada,  for more than a decade as part of state-by-state campaign to pass workplace anti-bullying legislation.  More than 20 states have considered the HWB bill since  2002 but none as yet have adopted it.  This year the bill is under consideration in about a half dozen states.

International scholars criticized the HWB in recent years because it was far less protective of targets of workplace bullying than laws and regulations of other industrialized countries.

This blog criticized the HWB’s  requirements that targets prove malice and psychological damage (the latter was expressly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in federal anti-discrimination laws) and the unreasonably low cap on damages.

The revised bill still defines an abusive work environment as one where “an employer or one or more of its employees, acting with intent to cause pain or distress to an employee, subjects that employee to abusive conduct that causes physical harm, psychological harm, or both.”

How would one go about providing that a  bully acted “with intent to cause pain  or distress?”  I have no idea. Suggestions?

In addition,  workplace bullying almost always involves psychological harm. The bill’s requirement to prove psychological harm penalizes poor people and members of minority groups who tend to visit mental health professionals far less frequently for monetary or cultural reasons.  In addition, this approach was explicitly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court as a requirement in race and sex  discrimination cases involving a hostile workplace . (Harris v. Forklift System510 U.S. 17 (1993)).

The proposed  Massachusetts bill,  sponsored by Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Katherine Clark.

A far better alternative to the problem of workplace bullying has been proposed by State Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom of Nevada.

Segerblom proposed extending the umbrella of  discrimination laws to protect any worker who is exposed to a “hostile work environment.”  Currently, only workers who have protected status under these laws by virtue of their race, sex, national original, etc. are protected.

If an employer or an employee are held to be in violation of the law, the Massachusetts bill  provides  that a court can  order any relief that is “deemed appropriate, including, but not limited to: reinstatement, removal of the offending party from the complainant’s work environment, back pay, front pay, medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.”

According to the proposed bill, an abusive workplace environment is one where “an employer or one or more its employees, acting with intent to cause pain or distress to an employee, subjects that employee to abusive conduct that causes physical harm, psychological harm, or both.”

Abusive conduct involves “acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find abusive, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct … .”  This includes but is not limited to:

  • repeated verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets;
  • verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature;
  • or the sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance.

The proposed Massachusetts bill continues to distinguish between targets of  bullying who have and have not been subjected to an adverse employment action (i.e., demotion or dismissal).  The cap is gone but the latter still cannot  recover from the employer  damages for  emotional distress or punitive damages unless the “actionable conduct was extreme and outrageous.” This limitation does not apply to “individually named defendants.”  Thus, an employee who did not suffer an adverse employment action can only seek monetary damages from bully unless the actionable conduct was extreme and outrageous.

The bill also prohibits retaliation against targets who complain and anyone else who testifies, assists or participates in an investigation of workplace bullying.

The stated purpose of the Massachusetts bill is to provide a “legal incentive for employers” to prevent and respond to abusive treatment of employers at work.

Under the bill, it is  an “aggravating factor” if the abusive conduct exploits an employee’s known psychological or physical illness or disability. In that case, a single act that is “especially severe and egregious” would be actionable.

Employers  can escape liability by showing they exercised “reasonable care to prevent and correct  promptly any actionable behavior; and, the complainant employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.”

Also, employers cannot be penalized if the complaint is based on an adverse employment action made for poor performance, misconduct or economic necessity, a reasonable performance evaluation or “an employer’s reasonable investigation about potentially illegal or unethical activity.”

The bill would require an employee to  file an action within a year of  the last act that constitutes the alleged violation.

Co-Workers Suffer Second-Hand Workplace Abuse

second hand smokeNote: For a related story, see Bullying Causes Coworker Stress. Pat



Bosses who bully their subordinates also  damage co-workers who see or hear about the abuse, much like second-hand smoke affects those in the vicinity of a smoker.

That is the conclusion of a study published recently  in The Journal of Social Psychology, “An Investigation of Abusive Supervision, Vicarious Abuse Supervision, and Their Joint Impacts.”   The study was conducted by Paul Harvey from the University of New Hampshire,  Kenneth Harris and Raina Harris from Indiana University Southeast and Melissa Cast from New Mexico State University.”

The study defines abusive supervision as a dysfunctional type of leadership that includes a sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors toward subordinates. The authors say abusive supervision generally  is positively related to  job frustration and co-worker abuse and  negatively related to perceived organizational support.

“Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be physically harmful as other types of dysfunctional behavior (workplace violence or aggression), the actions are likely to leave longer lasting wounds. One reason for these long-lasting “scars” is that workplace violence and aggression are often stopped quickly, whereas abusive supervisory behaviors (such as being rude or giving the silent treatment) can continue for considerable times,” the researchers state.

Vicarious supervisory abuse occurs when an employee hears rumors of abusive behavior from coworkers, reads about such behaviors in an email, or actually witnesses the abuse of a coworker.

The report posits that workers who do not experience the abuse first hand may experience similar negative effects as the worker who is being abused. They may realize they could become targets for abuse by the same  supervisor  or they could be transferred to work under an abusive supervisor.

According to the study, employees expect to be treated with respect and consideration by their supervisors. In exchange, they work hard, have positive attitudes about their work and the workplace, and treat others with consideration. When abusive supervision occurs, employees are likely to feel less positively about their work (higher frustration and lower perceived organizational support) and react negatively toward coworkers who are a “safe target” upon which to  vent aggression.

The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job frustration, tendency to abuse other coworkers, and a lack of perceived organizational support.

 The researchers queried a sample of 233 people who work in a wide range of occupations in the Southeast United States. Demographically, the sample was 46 percent men, 86 percent white, had an average age of 42.6 years, had worked in their job for seven years, had worked at their company for 10 years, and worked an average of 46 hours a week. Survey respondents were asked about supervisory abuse, vicarious supervisory abuse, job frustration, perceived organizational support, and coworker abuse.

“Our research suggests that vicarious abusive supervision is as likely as abusive supervision to negatively affect desired outcomes, with the worst outcomes resulting when both vicarious abusive supervision and abusive supervision are present,” the researchers said. “Top management needs further education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse.”

When Workplace Bullying is Illegal

blackandwhiteWhat is the  difference  between workplace bullying and illegal harassment?

The major difference is that no law at present prohibits workplace bullying –  despite the fact that workplace bullying can severely impact an employee’s emotional and physical well-being.  And most other industrialized countries have enacted laws or regulations that address workplace bullying.

However, bullying  can become illegal when it creates a hostile or abusive work environment in violation of  federal or state civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 Generally, two factors must exist:

  •  The harassing conduct must create a “hostile work environment.”
  •  The harassing conduct must be directed toward a characteristic that is protected under  federal and state  civil rights laws.  Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Therefore, workplace bullying may be illegal if it creates a hostile or abusive work environment and it is directed toward an individual who has protection under federal and state civil rights laws on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, etc.

What is a hostile work environment?  The U.S. Supreme Court says a hostile work environment  is a workplace that is permeated by discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of a victim’s employment and to create an abusive working environment.  Harris v. Forklift Sys., 510 U.S. 17 (U.S. 1993).  The Court has repeatedly said that Title VII  does not prohibit simple teasing or a merely offensive utterance.

NOTE:  A  target of illegal harassment does not have to suffer a nervous breakdown to gain the protection of Title VII. The U.S. Supreme Court says that as long as the environment would reasonably be perceived and was perceived as hostile or abusive, there is no need for it also to be psychologically injurious. The court says psychological harm could be taken into account but is not required by the statute.

To sum up,  there may be no substantive difference between  the conduct that constitutes serious workplace bullying and the conduct that is acknowledged under the law to create an illegal hostile or abusive work environment.  The harassing conduct can be identical, with the exact same devestating  result.

The significant difference between serious workplace bullying and illegal harassment  is a legal distinction pertaining to  the characteristics of the  target of the conduct.

Nevada State Sen. Richard Segerblom has proposed making Title VII “status blind” so that the law provides a remedy for  all targets of a hostile or abusive workplace, whether or not they fall within a category that is now  protected under the law.

 As Shakespeare once observed: “If you prick us, do we not bleed.”

Individuals who are targets of workplace bullying may have other legal recourse, in addition to federal and state civil rights laws.  All targets of workplace bullying  are  encouraged to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law for employees (not companies) to discuss the specific facts of their case and any potential legal remedies within their jurisdiction.