Bullying: Against the law or not, you don’t want it
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Bullying: Against the law or not, you don’t want it

If you’re a pro football fan — and even if you’re not — you’ve probably heard the rumblings about the alleged bullying of a rookie player that went on in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room.

And maybe these reports have got you asking yourself: Are any of the employees I manage silently putting up with a bully or bullies right in this workplace? That is to say, are any of these folks being repeatedly abused or humiliated, verbally or nonverbally, by a co-worker?

Not always a legal issue
First of all, we hope that’s not the case. Second, if it is, it’s not necessarily a legal issue. Bullying as such isn’t against federal or state law (at least not yet), unless the victim is being bullied for belonging to a group that is protected under anti-discrimination law — like women, racial minorities, the elderly, the disabled, and so on.

But third, and most critically, it doesn’t matter whether it’s against the law or not. You don’t want it!

Why? There are lots of reasons:

  • Tolerating a bully encourages others to engage in bullying behavior
  • Bullying can create unwanted turnover by driving productive employees away
  • The existence of bullying sends a message that managers don’t know and/or care about what’s happening in the workplace
  • Employers who fail to take bullying seriously give ammunition to advocates of anti-bullying laws that would make managing the workplace even more legally fraught than it already is.

Spotting the signs
Your employer may have a policy on bullying, and of course you should adhere to it. But you can also be proactive in spotting bullies before their behavior causes serious problems for the organization. You may suspect a person is being bullied when you notice that:

1. The person seems especially downhearted on Monday morning. When people dread coming to work, it’s may be because a bully is tormenting them.
2. A specific co-worker frequently criticizes the person. Bullies often hold their targets to a different standard than the one they apply to others.
3. A co-worker shouts or yells at the person. This is separate from bullying-by-criticism, which can be delivered in what seems to be a civil tone. One of the chief behavioral characteristics of bullies is their use of a raised voice to cow or frighten their victim.
4. A co-worker keeps a catalog — mental or physical — of the person’s mistakes and frequently refers to them.
5. The person’s belongings or work equipment are tampered with. Sabotage is another classic bullying tactic.
6. There’s a lot of malicious gossip circulating about the person. Bullying can be covert, too.

Source: Based in part on a post at forbes.com

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