In the workplace, we are all aware of Title VII discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims, FMLA discrimination and retaliation, ADA violations and age discrimination. These types of claims are some of the more common problems in the workplace. However, workplace bullying is now making its way into the mainstream. Employers need to be aware of the issues and they need to have a policy in place to address bullying issues.
When we think of “bullying,” we think of the schools. We think of the playground bully who becomes the high school bully etc. School Districts deal with such issues on a regular basis and they have policies and procedures in place to deal with bullying issues. The workplace is different. Most employers think that bullying ends with the schoolyard stuff. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Bullying in the workplace can be verbal, physical, gesture bullying or exclusion. Verbal bullying may include things like slanderous statements, ridiculing, name calling and abusive or offensive remarks. Physical bullying would include things like pushing, shoving and tripping, but it may also include actions such as damaging a person’s work area or property. Gesture bullying might include non-verbal threatening gesture or intimidating looks. Exclusion involves socially or physically excluding a person from work-related activities. Bullying may involve supervisors who engage in bullying behavior, but it may also involve co-workers.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OSHA”) has led the way in the area of workplace bullying because it determined that bullying in the workplace can lead to physical and/or mental health issues for employees. OSHA has developed its own workplace bullying policy to safeguard its employees from bullying. The language in OSHA’s workplace bullying policy provides that its stated purpose is to “provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.” OSHA defines “intimidating behavior” as “threats or other conduct that in any way creates a hostile environment, impairs operations, or frightens alarms or inhibits others. Verbal intimidation may include making false statements that are malicious, disparaging, derogatory, disrespectful, abusive or rude.”
Being aware of what might constitute workplace bullying is a good start for employers. But we also recommend that a policy be adopted to cover bullying issues in the workplace. And employers should remember that just having a policy in the employee handbook is not good enough to insure that it will be followed. Once a workplace bullying policy is agreed upon and adopted, the employer should insure that all employees are trained on the policy. When this training is done, it is also a good opportunity to provide refresher training on other forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace is well.
Clear policies that are frequently updated along with regular training can and often does prevent complaints and lawsuits from employees. In addition, consistently enforced policies on bullying harassment help to provide a workplace free of these distractions, and that is good for both morale and productivity. If you need assistance in drafting a workplace bullying policy and/or providing training to your employees on these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.