When we think of bullies, we generally picture children picking on one another, stealing lunch money, or teaming up against one kid in dodgeball. Unfortunately, bullying doesn't go away after high school ends. Rather, it is something that persists in workplaces across the country. A 2017 survey reported that nearly 40% of people have either witnessed or directly experienced bullying in their workplace.
What Constitutes Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying can take form in a number of different ways, including:
- Threats and other forms of verbal abuse,
- Yelling or intimidation,
- Inappropriate jokes or comments,
- Derogatory comments,
- Repeated requests for sexual favors, and
- Sabotage, including unrealistic deadlines, hiding necessary resources, or extensive micromanagement.
Bullying behavior is not a one-time event. Instead, it is characterized by ongoing, persistent actions over a period of time that are calculated to inflict harm on their intended target.
Workplace harassment, while similar, is separate from bullying. Bullying generally involves psychological aspects, whereas harassment typically involves some sort of physical component, such as physical harm or overt hostile comments or statements.
Although bullying could be directed at a member of a protected class, specifically targeted because of their race, skin color, national origin, religion, age, disability, or sex, this is not always the case. Harassment, however, is usually directed towards a member of a protected class due to their place in that class.
Consequences of Workplace Bullying
It is not always the case that, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Workplace bullying and harassment – even with no physical component – can create long lasting health consequences. Facing a constant onslaught of abuse can lead to long-term stress, causing mental and physical ailments, including:
- Personality disorders,
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia,
- Drug or alcohol abuse,
- High blood pressure,
- Heart disease, and even heart attacks or strokes.
The additional stress created by workplace bullying can exasperate existing medical conditions.
Serious forms of workplace bullying could even lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as a violent attack, or a series of ongoing traumas, such as repeated and ongoing sexual harassment in the office.
Moreover, victims off workplace bullying and harassment face financial consequences of this treatment. In addition to failing to achieve their potential at work and missing out on career growth opportunities, bullying victims often end up spending more money on health care and mental therapy due to their unfair treatment at the office.
Legal Remedies for Workplace Bullying
There is no one, comprehensive source that victims of workplace bullying can turn to for redress.
There are many federal laws protecting certain classes of workers, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and has been interpreted to prohibit harassment on the basis of protected class as well;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits unfair discrimination or harassment based on physical or mental disabilities, and
- The Age Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination or harassment against workers over 40.
California has enacted similar legislation designed to protect workers, such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on a person's race, religion, national origin and ancestry. This law offers greater protections than federal legislation, because it includes marital status, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as protected classes.
Additionally, California has addressed the issue of workplace bullying by requiring workplaces with more than 50 employees to hold regular training that addresses this sort of hostile behavior in an office environment. However, the state has not yet passed legislation that would specifically create a legal cause of action for workplace bullying.
In addition to the potential for redress under federal legislation, victims of workplace bullying can turn to personal injury attorneys, such as the Law Offices of Freeman & Freeman in order to receive adequate compensation for mental and physical injuries.
The correct response may be an action is directed at the bullying individual is appropriate, or pursuing of your company as a whole for either failing to address ongoing bullying or harassment, or creating a culture where such actions thrive. We can work with you to discuss what options you may have under existing laws to address the bullying you face at work and make you whole again.
You should not bear the mental, physical, and financial burdens of workplace bullying alone. Our team of attorneys has been seeking creative solutions to stand up to bullies for more than 50 years. If you believe you were the victim of workplace bullying and want to speak with an attorney to discuss your options, please contact us at (866) 361-7546 to set up an initial consultation.