As an employer, you feel like you value respect and civility. You ensure that you abide by federal and state non-discrimination and harassment laws and ensure that your employees have appropriate training. Unfortunately, some of your employees could still be the victims of workplace bullying.
Bullying typically isn’t covered under the law unless it involves someone’s protected status, such as race or religion, or it has a sexual component that makes it sexual harassment. Sometimes, people are just mean. It seems to be getting worse. More people are reporting being bullied at work than even a few years ago. As an employer, you have every reason to want to stop bullying, which can lead to a toxic workplace and claims of a hostile work environment.
How do you recognize workplace bullying?
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as:
- Verbal abuse
- Work sabotage
- Threats, intimidation or humiliation
- Repeated mistreatment
While these things may not be grounds for legal action by an employee, they certainly can create a hostile work environment and do nothing for morale – which in the end is only going to hurt your business.
Further, if bullying is allowed to continue simply because it’s not based on someone’s protected status, it’s only a matter of time before it affects someone who is a member of a protected class. Then you could potentially be looking at legal action.
Sadly, bullies are often supervisors and managers. When employees see them constantly mistreating an employee, they may feel like it’s okay – and maybe even expected — to pile on. Bullying doesn’t have to involve verbal abuse. Sometimes silence can be just as difficult to deal with – especially if it affects someone’s work. Having a co-worker or even a boss who won’t speak to you can keep employees from being able to do their job.
How can you establish a non-bullying workplace?
It’s crucial that everyone know that bullying won’t be tolerated among your employees at any level. It may help to have anti-bullying training, complete with examples so employees know what is unacceptable and how to recognize it if they see others doing it.
Be sure you have a clear process where employees can report bullying and be assured that the complaint will be investigated and addressed. Recognize that just because someone doesn’t intend to hurt a colleague, that doesn’t mean they aren’t.
It’s always wise to have legal guidance as you establish workplace policies. This can help you avoid much more serious and costly problems later.