March 29, 2024

Bullying is a Liability

Think bullying is confined to the playground?

Think again. According to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30% of workers have directly experienced bullying while at work. People who work remotely were more likely to report such bullying, with 43% responding that they had been bullied on the job.

Workplace bullying is unwelcome behavior that occurs over a period of time and is meant to harm someone who feels powerless to respond. It might be spiteful, offensive, mocking or intimidating. It forms a pattern, and it tends to be directed at one person or a few people. Examples may include targeted practical jokes, threats or humiliation, purposefully leaving someone out of a meeting, publicly reprimanding someone or overly harsh criticism. 

Criticism isn’t always bullying, however. For example, objective and constructive criticism and disciplinary action directly related to workplace behavior or job performance aren’t considered bullying. So, how do we tell the difference between legitimate criticism and bullying?

Constructive criticism is focused on job performance with a focus on improvement. However, bullying is focused on weaknesses and can often include personal and degrading comments. The intention with bullying is to intimidate, humiliate, or single someone out without reason would be considered bullying. 

What about from a liability perspective?

Bullying is actionable under federal law only when the basis for it is tied to a protected category, such as race or sex. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment on the basis of color, national origin, race, religion and sex. Other federal laws prohibit such behavior on the basis of age, disability and genetic information. 

Additionally, if bullying amounts to some other civil or criminal wrong, such as assault or battery, it could amount to a claim under state law. 

“A manager or a team member who may be unpleasant to everyone might not be engaging in unlawful conduct,” said Monica Hernandez, who has been in human resources for 20 years. “But that doesn’t mean that it should be tolerated. “Especially because bullies can create morale problems and other workplace issues.”

Employers and managers can help create a safe environment for all by committing to a few steps:
  • Adopt clear, written anti-bullying policies in as many languages as are spoken in the workplace;
  • Develop an organizational culture that prioritizes inclusion and doesn't tolerate bullying by regularly demonstrating a commitment to anti-bullying policies;
  • Conduct bystander intervention training and workplace civility training, which empowers co-workers to intervene when they witness bullying or harassing behavior. This "helps underscore the message that creating a bully-free environment is everyone’s responsibility,” Hernandez said. 
  • Implement clear and straightforward procedures so that employees know how and where to report incidents. These procedures should include multiple confidential reporting channels.

“It’s important to create the tools and resources to create a safe environment but it’s equally critical to hold employees accountable if they do not treat others with respect.”

“Managers also have an important role to play in ensuring that employees feel safe enough to report incidents and understand what the policies are – but they need support at the same time,” said Hernandez.

For MindForge customers, several resources existing, including training such as “Bullying and Other Disruptive Behavior: for Managers and Supervisors” by MARCOM.

To access, clients can go to the MindForge platform and search under “Bullying" in our Marketplace. 

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