Workplace Bullying: The Big Picture

I am pleased to be quoted in a  Businessweek  feature on the problem of workplace bullies but I also find it frustrating that  the American media consistently fails to see the big picture about this serious national problem.

Workplace bullying is not just about misguided individuals who bully co-workers and subordinates. More importantly, it is about American employers.

American employers permit bullying in the workplace because there is no law or regulation that requires them to stop it – despite the fact that it is widely recognized as a form of workplace violence. Other industrialized countries recognize workplace bullying as an important public health and safety problem. And decades of research show that workplace bullying causes targets to suffer potentially severe emotional and physical harm.

Only employers can stop workplace bullying. Employees who are targeted for bullying generally are completely helpless to do anything about it, especially if the bully is a superior.

Why don’t employers stop it?

Because in America, workplace bullying is seen as a prerogative of the employer. In fact, some unscrupulous employers use bullying strategically to accomplish a goal – such as to avoid unions, downsize without paying unemployment compensation, or to evade a potential worker’s compensation claim. In my own practice of law, I saw many cases where employees were bullied and driven out of the workplace by an employer after they complained about wage theft (which, by the way, is epidemic in the United States). 

Why don’t workers do anything about it?

The vast majority of American workers are completely priced out of the American legal system and,  besides, federal judges (who have lifetime tenure barring bad behavior) are appallingly ignorant and unsympathetic to claims of  employment discrimination and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

So one in three or four American workers are bullied by employers, either directly or because the employer tolerates or fails to stop an abusive workplace environment.  

This all  stands in sharp contrast to other industrialized countries – including the European Union – where authorities recognize workplace bullying as a major problem and have placed the burden of eliminating workplace bullying squarely on employers.

Activitists in the United States have been spinning their wheels for more than a decade in an attempt to get a state-by-state solution to the problem of workplace bullying but the only real answer lies with the federal government.  States should act – and I hope they will act – but this is not the solution.  Today, many states will do virtually anything to attract new business; it is wishful thinking that they will voluntarily pass a law protecting targets of workplace bullying  if they can gain any competitive edge by not doing so. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has acknowledged the problem by enacting workplace bullying protections for its own employees but it has failed to take any steps to protect the health and safety of millions of American workers across the nation.

This blog is a member of the coalition Protect-US-Workers that has launched a petition drive asking U.S. President Barack H. Obama and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis to formulate a national response to the problem of workplace bullying.

Talk to your legislators. Sign the petition.


  1. Sheilah Davis says:

    There is one thing that ALL employers need to understand; workplace bullying ruins your reputation. It will impact your bottom line whether you are in the public or private sector. This happens two ways. First, you’ve upset your former employee and this will cause a negative word of mouth campaign. Secondly, if you bully your employee it will impact the way he or she treats your clients, customers (or in the case of public employers) voting taxpayers. My advice to employers is to clean it up or pay for it in the long run.

  2. Maxwell Pinto says:

    Targets, victims and witnesses of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subject to repeated and obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumours, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. Although bullying is recognized as detrimental to occupational health, there is little political or corporate interest in stopping it.

    In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”.

    Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

  3. employeeadvocate says:

    Reblogged this on 1employeeadvocate's Blog.

  4. I work at a large hospital. I was bullied horribly by my supervisor, Director of HR, HR Rep, and Director of my supervisor. Others in higher positions just ignored me or pretended to care and then ignored me. I broke my wrist and then was terminated because I took too much FMLA. They terminated me in the middle of my occupational therapy. I was terminated 2 days before my insurance ran out. I have been suffering with these bullies for 2 years – it was actually a large burden removed from me when terminated. I just cannot believe this goes on. Upper management could care less. The bullies lie for one another. It is a very sick ungodly way of life.

  5. The Bullying doesnt stop with the employer.( It is usually the manager and owners of the company that are the bullies) If you are unfortunate to have had to go out on disability for the stress, the disability company will withhold your money and force you into workers comp.system.( The insurance company will not let you back out either because you wont get paid .
    ( Now your employers insurance carrier will join in on the bullying with the employer. You will go thru a horrible nightmare in the workers comp system because now your employer has access to all your medical records and you will be ripped to shreds and made to look mental. ( New York state allows it ) Its all a big game of what insurance company. is going to pay the claim at the expense of the claimant aka patient aka employee.
    Then you will have difficulty finding a doctor who will take you if you are a controverted case , you will also find trouble with finding an attorney .You will be treated like the criminal . You will complain and beg for help and be rejected over and over and then be made worse.
    New york state is all about the employer and thats it . Create Jobs , create jobs ,Create jobs -poor employers what about all the people who have lost their jobs because of bullying .
    New york state knows what is going on they refuse to do anything about it.

    The building blocks of good buisness is the employee’s.


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