Workplace bullying is becoming a hot topic for news stories and human resource departments. Clients frequently call and ask “Should I really be concerned about bullying in our workplace?” Workplace bullying is the deliberate, hurtful mistreatment or humiliation of one or more employees driven by a desire to intimidate and control. Some of the forms it takes are constant and unfair criticism, teasing, shouting, insults, malicious gossiping, hostile glares and gestures and other aggressive behavior.
Employers must confront and stop workplace bullying because of the potential for significant costs to both employees and to the employer. Costs for the employee include physical ailments and emotional problems. Costs to the employer include high turnover, low productivity, low morale, retaliation, violence in the workplace and possible litigation.
Workplace bullying is inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, but it is not currently prohibited by any federal or state law, unlike illegal discrimination and harassment claims based on protected group status. Bullying often occurs regardless of the victim’s status as a member of a protected group. However, depending on the facts, employees may still be able to bring legal claims such as: Discrimination; Harassment; Retaliation; Defamation; Assault; Battery; and Infliction of Emotional Distress.
Employers should take reports of workplace bullying seriously to avoid being dragged into litigation over these issues. Once an administrative charge or lawsuit is filed, the employer has already lost because they now have to pay attorney fees to justify action or inaction.
Establishing an anti-bullying policy is a good way for employers to confront and stop workplace bullying. The policy should include training managers and all other employees on the new policy and establishing processes for reporting, investigating and resolving complaints. If complaints are received that involve executives or high performing employees, consider providing EAP assistance or coaching, remind them of the potential for personal liability to the victim and if those efforts fail, implement progressive disciplinary action. Avoid treating these top performers more leniently. Employers can create a more productive, efficient and cohesive working environment and avoid potential legal costs and liability, by taking proactive steps to address and eliminate workplace bullying.
*This article was published in the January 2015 edition of Evansville Business Journal, a publication of the Evansville Courier Co.
Should you have any questions regarding workplace bullying or any other employment or labor matters, please contact Keith A. Sermersheim of Jackson Kelly PLLC at (812) 422-9444.