Workplace intimidation can make workplaces very toxic to employees. When employers or coworkers bully others or subject them to coercive actions, the victims may be left feeling that they have no other choice than to resign. Workplace intimidation or bullying is problematic for businesses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When bullying at work is pervasive, it can impact employee morale and productivity and harm the businesses in which it occurs.
Workplace intimidation or workplace bullying happens when supervisors, coworkers, or subordinates direct verbal abuse, physical threats, blackmail, or violence to manipulate other employees of an organization to gain a professional benefit. Intimidation in the workplace is normally recurrent and creates an ongoing pattern of mistreatment that can have substantial impacts on the physical and mental health of the victim and his or her mood. Intimidation can also harm the victim’s productivity and interfere with his or her ability to do his or her job and can also impact the morale of other workers who witness the behavior. At Swartz Swidler, our attorneys represent people who are dealing with a broad variety of workplace issues and can help people to understand when workplace intimidation may cross the line into illegality.
Types of workplace intimidation
Workplace bullying can take many different forms. How intimidation may take place will normally vary based on the nature of the business and the workplace environment. Some of how workplace intimidation can occur include the following:
- Threats or physical violence
- Yelling or screaming
- Ridiculing or insulting a victim in front of coworkers or clients
- Assigning the victim duties that are outside of his or her expertise
- Hostile posturing
- Sabotaging the victim’s work
- Taking credit for the victim’s work
- Interfering in the victim’s ability to work
- Establishing different standards for the victim than exist for other workers
Is workplace intimidation ever illegal?
While workplace intimidation might seem wrong on its face, not all forms are illegal. Workplace intimidation may be deemed to be illegal based on what occurs. Sometimes, the motivation behind the behavior can be important. There are some occasions when workplace intimidation will be illegal such as when the actor engages in criminality.
Under the criminal laws of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, physical assaults are crimes. If a workplace bully causes bodily injury to you by kicking, hitting, tripping, or engaging in other similar behavior, he or she may be charged with assault. People may also be criminally charged when they menace others and cause them to fear that they are in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily injury. If you are the victim of assault or a threat of assault at your job, you will need to speak to the police for charges to be filed.
Sexual harassment at work that is based on the sex or gender of the victim is unlawful under state and federal law as illegal discrimination. While a single occurrence may not be enough to establish a claim, ongoing, frequent, or severe conduct may form the basis for a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler can help you to determine whether your claim has merits and how you can protect your rights.
Unlawful workplace discrimination
When workplace bullying is based on the protected status of the victim, it may rise to the level of unlawful workplace discrimination. Discrimination at work that is based on the protected characteristics of the victim is unlawful under state and federal law. Under federal law, the protected characteristics include the following:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Pregnancy status
- Citizenship status
Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the protected statuses are broader. In addition to the characteristics that are listed above, New Jersey prohibits discrimination based on the following additional characteristics:
Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, all of the federal categories of protected status apply. Pennsylvania also protects people from workplace discrimination based on the following protected characteristics under state law:
- Having a GED instead of a high school diploma
- Use of a service animal
- Having a relationship with someone who is disabled
If an employer makes an adverse employment decision based on your protected characteristic or allows other employers to be hostile to you and to create a hostile workplace environment, you can file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. You may need to follow your employer’s policies to report the discrimination internally so that your employer has a chance to correct the problem before you can file a discrimination charge. If you file a complaint, and your employer does not take appropriate measures to resolve the problem or engages in retaliation against you for complaining, you should talk to an experienced attorney at Swartz Swidler for help with filing a discrimination charge or a retaliation lawsuit against your employer. Our attorneys can help you to determine the types of evidence that you might need to gather to support your discrimination charge and assist you in determining whether to file it with the state or federal agency.
What to do when the workplace bullying at your job is not illegal
If the workplace intimidation and bullying at your workplace does not rise to the level of criminal behavior or unlawful discrimination, it is still possible for you to take steps to end it. The Department of Labor has encouraged employers to create anti-bullying policies. Large organizations may have policies in place for workers to report intimidation. Some smaller companies also have such policies in place.
If your workplace does have policies in place to prohibit workplace intimidation, you might be able to file a lawsuit against your employer for a breach of contract. Whether you will have a valid claim will be based on your company’s written policy and your employee handbook.
Workplace harassment and when it might be illegal can be difficult to determine. For example, intimidation of workers based on their protected statuses is illegal as is the intimidation of whistleblowers. In other types of situations, it may not be illegal.
Workplace intimidation and bullying of workers based on their protected characteristics is prohibited by federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and others. Despite these laws, some workers continue to engage in bullying of other workers based on their age, race, sex, color, religion, disability, or national origin. When this occurs, the EEOC can prosecute cases in which the victims have been intimidated to the extent that a hostile workplace has been created when the bullying has been allowed to continue by the company. The perpetrators might include supervisors, owners, co-workers, and clients. Victims of illegal intimidation at their jobs have a right to sue their employers for failing to stop the behavior.
Under federal and state laws, whistleblowers are protected against retaliation by their employers for blowing the whistle. Employees who have reported illegal conduct, unlawful intimidation, safety hazards, and other similar problems are protected against retaliation under the law.
Criminal behavior at work targeting bullying victims
In some cases, workplace intimidation can become criminal. This can include sexual abuse, theft of the victim’s property, threats of violence, or physical assaults. When the behavior of the perpetrator rises to this level, the victim should report the conduct to the police by calling 911. They should do whatever they need to do to feel safe. Having a police report can also be helpful if the victim wishes to apply for unemployment benefits or to pursue a lawsuit against the employer or the abuser.
Unemployment compensation is meant to help people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In some situations, it is possible to recover unemployment compensation benefits even if you resigned from your position. While people who voluntarily quit normally are unable to collect unemployment compensation, people who felt that they had no other choice because the workplace had become so untenable that they couldn’t work could be deemed to have been constructively discharged.
Bullied workers who resign from their jobs should understand that their previous employers might challenge their claims for unemployment compensation. They should gather evidence to support their claim when they file with the unemployment office. Appeals of decisions can take weeks or months, so you should be prepared to support yourself in this type of situation.
Consequences of workplace bullying and intimidation
Workplace bullying and intimidation can have severe impacts on the victims. Many victims report severe stress that may come with physical symptoms, including digestive problems, insomnia, and high blood pressure. The victims may also suffer low self-esteem and develop anxiety or depression. Workplace bullies may gossip about the victims to try to harm their reputations. This can negatively impact the victim’s productivity and the morale of other workers who witness the conduct.
As the bullying of the victim continues and causes his or her productivity to fall, the victim risks losing his or her job. This can be catastrophic for the victim because he or she might have trouble finding a new job if he or she cannot get a positive recommendation from his or her former colleagues or employer.
Eventually, other workers who witness the abuse may suffer low morale. A toxic culture can become pervasive in the workplace. Good employees may quit their jobs to try to protect their careers and reputations, which can harm the organization over the long-term.
Responsibilities of employers
Employers should do everything that they can to prevent, discourage, and promptly address workplace intimidation, bullying, and harassment. These types of actions should include human resources policies that forbid workplace intimidation and strive to create a positive environment for whistleblowers. Employees and employers should proactively collaborate to build a respectful and positive environment at work. The employee handbooks should clearly define workplace intimidation and the steps that the company takes to deal with offenders.
Employee strategies to combat workplace intimidation
Workplace bullying can worsen as time passes. In many cases, offenders will test the limits to see how the victims will react and whether the offenders will be able to get away with their behavior. If the victim does not take action, the workplace bully may intensify his or her behavior and start to bully others.
The victims of workplace discrimination should stand up for themselves. When someone makes a demeaning comment, the victim should politely push back. Quiet confrontations about bullying behavior can discourage further similar actions. If this does not work, talking to human resources should be an option. If this does not work, the victim might want to look for a new job where the workplace culture is more positive.
Not all types of workplace intimidation and bullying are prohibited under state and federal laws. However, people should take steps to end workplace intimidation whether they are the victims, coworkers, supervisors, or company owners. Workplace bullying can have severe impacts on the mental and physical health of the victims, and it can also cause substantial harm to a business.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
If you are the victim of workplace intimidation, you may have legal rights. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can review what occurred and explain whether you might have valid grounds to file a lawsuit or discrimination charge. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by filling out our online contact form.