Talking To Your Employer About Co-Worker Bullying
Workplace bullies affect job performance, mental health, and physical well-being, not only of the actual target, but of co-workers as well. Many victims are fearful that if they report the bullying, they will be singled out as complainers and the behavior will escalate. Others are victimized by either a direct supervisor or a bully whom seems to have their boss’s favor.
But suffering in silence is not a viable option. There are steps that you can take to protect yourself if you are the victim of a workplace bully.
1# UNDERSTAND YOUR EMPLOYER’S LEGAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Employers have a legal responsibility to prove a safe work environment. That doesn’t simply extend to your physical safety. Most larger companies have employee manuals that lay down the expected behavior of employees both in regards to their conduct with clients or consumers and with interpersonal relationships. Personnel guidelines typically also lay protocol for reporting inappropriate behavior.
If your company doesn’t have a personnel manual, you can go to your human resources director, union representative, or direct supervisor. If your boss is the bully, go to his/her boss.
2# MOTIVATION AND CONFRONTATION
There are really two types of bullies, those who bully for their own personal gain and are well aware of their actions and the consequences and those who don’t realize that their behavior is bullying and inappropriate.
Confronting a bully who is aware of their behavior is rarely effective. Since their goal is to use you in some capacity and to do so requires your compliance and/or silence, confrontation can actually increase the bullying behavior.
However, some bullies don’t realize that their behavior is bullying. This tends to happen when older people work with younger people or former military members work with civilians. Older people may have worked in a culture that permitted or even rewarded top dog mentality over team work. Others may use terms that today are considered demeaning, especially; honey, baby, son, doll, boy, or girl. The accidental bully can often be retrained. A quite word with the perpetrator (not in front of others where he/she may feel attacked) by either the target or the perpetrator’s boss can be very effective.
Whether you take this to your boss or HR or a union rep, documenting the behavior is really a practical requirement when reporting bullying behavior. Many victims inadvertently damage their own credibility by being overly dramatic or emotional when reporting the behavior. Understanding that an employer needs facts and details in order to initiate any sort of consequence for the bully should help. It’s not that people don’t care about your emotional state, but rather that employers have to meet various legal guidelines to take actions. If they attempt to act against a bully without meeting those guidelines, they can be sued by the bully.
You can download a free incidence report or make your own, by listing the day, time, and location of the bullying behavior as well as a BRIEF, bullet point of what transpired. It might look like this:
- January 3, 2017 2:25pm Ladies Restroom on 2nd floor. Michelle Jones cornered me and said that if I didn’t write her report this weekend, she would get me fired.
- January 6, 2017 5:15pm Employee Parking Lot. I was leaving with a group of workmates to go have an after work drink at TGIFridays, Michelle Jones approached us, invited herself along, said “the first round is on me” and then turned to me and said, “you can’t come, you have too much work to do, your job is hanging on by a thread.”
- January 9, 2017 9:30am Employee Parking Lot. Michelle Jones approached me as I was getting out of my car, demanded the report, which I gave her, and said that I had better keep my mouth shut.
4# ALLOW THE EMPLOYER TIME TO TAKE ACTION
Once you report the bullying behavior it can be difficult to wait out a result. However, employers have to be very careful how they proceed in disciplinary actions to avoid being sued for wrongful termination by the bully. Continue to document any incidence and focus on your work. While you should keep communication open with your boss or HR, realize that most state laws forbid employers from discussing other employees with you.
Include your report and any subsequent bullying in your incident report.
- January 12, 10:30am HR Office – Reported Michelle Jones’ bullying behavior to Gail Smith, head of HR.
Continue to maintain your report, even if they behavior stops. It isn’t uncommon for bullying behavior to cease for a period of time after an employer confronts the bully. But it can start again when the bully feels comfortable that time has passed.
Some bullies will retaliate quickly, which should also be reported and included in your incident report and reported back to HR.
5# EVALUATING YOUR FUTURE
Sometimes, the bullying behavior simply doesn’t stop. Sometimes the employer sees the victim as the problem, branding you a trouble maker or complainer. And sometimes the bully is too valuable to the company for them to really care, especially true if the bully is also a top producer. So, what do you do if the bullying behavior just won’t stop?
While it is true that many people simply stay and try to deal with the problem, this is not mentally healthy. You may be able to move away from the bully through an intra-company transfer. If the job at this company is integral to your career, you may opt to stick it out until you can move up and away. If it’s not, many people simply quit and go to work at another firm.
A company that does nothing to stem the attacks may be liable for either creating or enabling a hostile work environment and can be sued. This is where having a well documented incident report will really come in handy. Contact your Union Rep or an employment lawyer for additional assistance.