Most people picture children when they hear about bullying. However, bullying in the workplace is a very common problem. According to Forbes, a 2019 Monster survey found that 94% of employees who were surveyed reported they had experienced bullying at work. Of the respondents, 51.1% reported they had been bullied by supervisors or managers. While bullying might be common, that does not mean that it is acceptable. Instead, bullying in the workplace should never be normalized. Employers and employees must know how to recognize workplace bullying and take steps to prevent it. If you have been bullied at work based on your membership in a protected class, you should talk to the discrimination lawyers in NJ at Swartz Swidler to learn about your rights.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying includes ongoing mistreatment of the targeted workers by one or more abusers. It can include threats, humiliation, intimidation, sabotage, gossiping, and other types of abusive conduct that prevent the targeted employees from getting their work done.
Bullying in the workplace can occur between employees or between employees and supervisors. While workplace bullying creates terrible working conditions for the victims, it is generally not illegal. However, there are certain situations in which workplace bullying will be unlawful and allow the victims to pursue damages for their losses.
When is workplace bullying illegal?
In most cases, workplace bullying is not illegal. However, employers that allow this type of conduct to flourish in their workplaces may deal with high rates of turnover, lower employee morale, and reduced productivity. Even in situations in which bullying is not illegal, it makes sense for employers to take steps to end this type of behavior and prevent it from happening in the future.
In some situations, however, workplace bullying will be illegal. When an employee is targeted by workplace bullies based on race, gender, color, sex, national origin, disability, medical conditions, genetic information, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, the victim might have a claim for unlawful discrimination because of the bullying that he or she has suffered. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their protected characteristics, and when a person’s protected characteristics are the basis for bullying, the victim is entitled to file a discrimination charge and seek recovery of compensation for his or her losses.
What are the signs of workplace bullying?
Some signs that workplace bullying is happening to you include the following:
- Receiving unfair criticism
- Being blamed without justification
- Having a supervisor curse at you
- Being singled out for poor treatment as compared to your coworkers
- Being excluded or isolated
- Being the target of humiliation or practical jokes
- Being yelled at repeatedly
- Being excessively monitored
In some cases, people who are bullied at work are the strongest employees. They might be targeted because they have more skills or respect from people in positions of authority than their coworkers. Ongoing bullying behavior at work can cause victims to experience significant problems, including loss of sleep, high levels of stress, reduced self-esteem, lowered productivity, and health problems.
Why employers should recognize the signs of bullying in the workplace
When bullying occurs in the workplace, the victim can experience increased stress and reduced confidence, leading to reduced performance. Bullying directs the attention away from the person’s job and instead leads him or her to focus on coping. If the situation continues, the victim could feel that he or she has no other choice than to quit. This can lead to increased turnover and higher costs involved with hiring and training a new employee.
Employers that allow bullying to occur in the workplace might end up with a toxic work environment and low morale among their employees. This can affect the performance of other employees who witness workplace bullying and try to do lower-quality work to avoid becoming targets themselves. When a workplace has a toxic culture, absenteeism increases, and more employees look for jobs elsewhere. If bullying is based on discriminatory reasons, it can also lead to litigation and substantial costs.
Discrimination claims based on illegal bullying
When workplace bullies target victims based on their protected characteristics, the victims can file claims of discrimination against their employers. Victims should first report what is happening to the human resources department or whoever is named in the company’s policies. This report should be in writing to document that an internal complaint was made. The employer should then investigate the situation and take steps to remedy it. If the employer does not do anything in response to the complaint and allows the bullying to continue, the employee can then file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Once the EEOC receives a discrimination complaint, it will investigate it. The investigation can take several months. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers for filing complaints with the EEOC. In some cases, the EEOC will agree to represent the victim in a case. In others, the EEOC will give the employee leave to file a lawsuit against the employer in federal court. Through a discrimination claim, the worker might recover monetary damages for his or her lost wages, related medical expenses, legal fees, and other costs. He or she might also secure an injunction against the employer in which the employer is ordered to take preventative measures to end workplace bullying based on discrimination.
In general, workplace bullying must be pervasive enough that it creates a hostile work environment. Generally, one incident will not be enough to support a claim. The environment must be so hostile that a reasonable person in the victim’s situation would find it to be untenable and would not be able to perform the tasks of the job under the circumstances.
Characteristics of workplace bullies
Most bullies are people who are skilled at manipulating others. They might bully other people to try to feel better about themselves. In many cases, bullies try to create a false perception in others that they are superior by undercutting other people. While a supervisor might recognize that other workers dislike the bully, he or she might turn a blind eye to what is going on because of the belief that the organization needs the bully. Bullying is less likely to occur in workplaces in which it is clear that the company does not tolerate this type of conduct.
Get help from an employment law attorney
If you are being bullied at work and believe that the bullying is based on your protected status, you should talk to an experienced discrimination lawyer at Swartz Swidler. Schedule a free consultation today by calling us at (856)685-7420.