It can be challenging to work with many different personalities in an office setting; however, there are some offices and workplaces that are more toxic than others. You might even deem your workspace as a “hostile work environment.” Before you seek legal action, read the information provided in this article about workplace bullying and hostile work environments.
Bullying in the Workplace
People often think of bullying as a problem in the schoolyard; however, this issue is becoming more prominent in the workplace. Bullying is considered a targeted effort to destroy the reputation or interpersonal relationships of an employee. In most cases, the bully singles out one person and recruits others to join in the bullying tactics. These actions create isolation of the targeted person.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue for many employers. This type of behavior can cause physical and psychological harm to the victim, and it can also create a psychological power imbalance between the target and the bully. Three criteria define workplace bullying. They include:
This type of bullying must be repetitive. This behavior should not be brushed off as someone having a bad day. The bullying must happen at least once a week for six months. In most cases, bullying behavior often occurs from two to five years.
Psychological and Physical Harm
The purpose of bullying is to cause physical and mental harm to the target. Many people who have experienced workplace bullying will have symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. In turn, these emotional issues can manifest into physical problems. For workers experiencing workplace bullying, they may develop headaches, stomach aches, heart disease, or insomnia. In recent years, bullied workers have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
For the bully, it is all about the mental hold over the victim. If the victim doesn’t speak out after the initial bullying incident, the bully feels a sense of power. Over time, the bully will continue to be more aggressive and target the victim more frequently. The primary purpose of the bully is to have complete power over the target. In the end, the target may feel completely helpless at their workplace.
What Type of Behavior is Bullying?
Humiliation, threats, and intimidation are all types of workplace bullying, and it is the coworkers or management that may cause it. In some cases, the targets have their work sabotaged and are the recipients of verbal abuse. While this all sounds hugely detrimental to a cohesive work environment, no state or federal laws deal with workplace bullying. If you are a target of bullying, you might only have the option to file for worker’s compensation or find another place to work.
When Bullying Turns Hostile
While it may seem like bullying is the same as harassment, there is one key difference: some instances of workplace harassment are illegal. If you have experienced any of these hostile work conditions and you are a protected class member, you may have a case for a hostile work environment.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
According to the United States labor law, workplace bullying must be “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.” In that case, the environment is considered to be a “hostile work environment.”
Bullying and workplace harassment might seem like the same thing, but they are treated very differently under the law. Any non-sexual harassing behavior not based on a protected characteristic is legal under the law. However, if the bullying is based on a protected characteristic, then it may be considered a “hostile work environment.” In this case, the victim may have legal recourse to file a lawsuit against the bully and the employer.
What is a Protected Class?
State and federal laws protect individual workers from a hostile work environment. If you want to pursue a lawsuit against workplace harassment, you must be a member of a legally mandated protected class. The bullying behavior must be so severe that it has created a hostile environment for you. Under federal statutes, protected classes include race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or genetic information. In some states, laws are in place to protect workers against harassment due to sexual identity. If anyone is a target due to their status in a protected class, they may have a case for a hostile work environment.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, only about 20 percent of cases can meet the legal definition of workplace harassment. The other 80 percent offer no other legal recourse to the victim.
Document Your Experiences
If you experience any harassment, you need to document everything. Your next step should be to the Human Resources department, and you can begin a discrimination complaint against the bully. If you still don’t receive some action on your complaint, you can then escalate it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and file a complaint. At this time, you may be authorized to file a lawsuit against the bully and your employer.
It is essential to document all the incidences of harassment in the workplace. You should keep a list of the days and times, along with a few witnesses who may have seen the harassing behavior. While you have been the target, the burden of proof is on the victim to prove that these allegations are true. The more information that you can provide for your case, the better chance you have for a favorable outcome. You will also want to find a qualified attorney to take your case.
If you have experienced a hostile work environment, you may want to seek legal counsel. Fill out the contact form for a consultation with one of our attorneys about your potential case.