So What Exactly is Workplace “Bullying”?

policies and training to include “workplace bullying”California employers are to expand their harassment policies and training to include “workplace bullying” effective January 1, 2015.  With as much training and guidelines that have been published, harassment can still be a “gray” area…the same goes for workplace bullying.  Workplace bullying is defined as “a conduct that may be considered “abusive”, such as repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three”.  So, we see that workplace bullying isn’t always visible aggression, and as responsible employers, we need to understand the gray areas.

Of course, it’s easy to understand “physical bullying”, but what are the other forms?

  • Verbal – includes such conduct as yelling and use of profanity
  • Intimidation – intentional behavior that causes fear or harm
  • Sabotage – deliberately destroying, damaging, undermining or obstructing something
  • Ostracism – intentionally excluding someone for no good reason; shunning
  • Humiliation – to reduce to a lower position in one’s own eyes or others’ eyes
  • Gossip – casual or unconstrained unconstructive conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true
  • Impossible tasks – assigning tasks that are knowingly unattainable for intentionally unbeneficial reasons
  • Unconstructive criticism – criticism meant to belittle or humiliate

Understand, “bullying” means a pattern of such behavior.  Many people may lose their cool at times, not that this is acceptable.  However, be on alert for repeated behavior.

What should you do?  Playing the proactive card is best.  Revise your policies and trainings to include examples of “bullying”.  It might be best to run the revised training early next year and restart the two year clock for employers who are required to repeat training for supervisors every two years.  Train your employees as well as to the nuances of the policy.  Provide examples.  If you conduct teambuilding sessions with your employees, include a piece that talks about communication styles and behaviors at work.  A skilled facilitator will be able to bring out the conduct in a safe manner for constructive discussion.  When dealing with offenders, be sure to use wordings such as “when you _________, you make me or others feel ____________.  That statement cannot be debated.  Work from there to help an offender recognize, understand and remediate this kind of behavior.  Be sure to address this behavior with your disciplinary procedure.

Why should you do it?  Not only is it a legal risk, but bullying contributes to absenteeism, turnover, stress, poor morale and poor productivity.

If you are the recipient of “bullying” behavior:  Tell the offender that you find the behavior unacceptable.  If it persists, inform your manager or Human Resources.  Keep a confident, constructive attitude when dealing with such people.