How to Handle Workplace Bullying

Bullying takes place everywhere, from the sandbox to the boardroom.  In fact, a Society of Human Resources Management survey found that about 51% of employees have suffered from bullying in the workplace.  Our own Dustin Paschal even consulted recently on the book by Pete Havel, “The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees and Cultures.”  When people feel comfortable and safe at work, productivity and morale increase across the board; therefore, it is very important for employers to be proactive in containing and eliminating instances of workplace bullying.

Is Bullying Associated with Other Concerns?

Bullying may precede or accompany other very serious prohibited behaviors, many of which become illegal bullying; specifically, civil rights violations involving racial, ethnic and religious discrimination. When we think of bullying, the most common example is public shaming for an individual’s differences. Those who engage in bullying behavior often target protected classes of individuals.

A common form of bullying occurs as sexual harassment. From unwanted touching or unsolicited comments to advocating for gender stereotypes in the workplace, bullying that breaches acceptable conduct is harmful and can, in fact, become unlawful.

What can I do as an Employer?

One step that an employer can take is to implement a program to eliminate employee bullying. Examples include having sensitivity training or instituting conflict resolution practices. These programs should also include definable ramifications for those who continue to engage in bullying.  Without some sort of policy, your business could be vulnerable to employee lawsuits and the legal costs associated with them.

Federal law requires that some employers have anti-bullying policies. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Field Safety & Health Manual includes a statement prohibiting bullying in its Workplace Violence section.  OSHA has determined bullying damages workplace safety and now mandates anti-bullying policies for those businesses it oversees.

A second step would be to foster the reporting of bullying activities. This can be difficult because in many cases, the bully is the supervisor, exploiting his or her position of authority over another person. Encouraging employees to report incidents of bullying is the key to ending the practice in your business. Some business owners developed anonymous reporting systems to identify potential problems and covertly put high-level managers at attention to survey the bullying if and when it occurs. In order to stop bullying, an employer must first be alerted to the problem, validate there is a problem, and then put a stop to it.

How can a Business Lawyer Help with Workplace Bullying?

Understanding federal laws relating to employment safety and employee rights is critical when drafting any new policy. If your business plans to create an anti-bullying program, guidance of experienced employment lawyers can strengthen your proposed policy solution. The employment and business attorneys at Simon | Paschal PLLC can help you engineer a policy to create a safe working space for your employees. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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