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    July 2020

    Address Workplace Bullying

    Addressing Workplace Bullying

    Strive to eliminate workplace bullying at your K-12 school, college, or university. Doing so could reduce employee turnover, boost morale, and decrease costs.

    According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 19% of American workers have experienced abuse at work. Workplace bullies control those around them, creating a difficult working environment for targets of and witnesses to the bullying behavior.

    Generally, workplace bullying is not illegal. However, it affects victims by causing:

    • Reduced productivity
    • Increased stress
    • Poor health
    • Withdrawal from office life

    What Is Workplace Bullying?

    Bullying is more than rude or uncivil behavior directed toward subordinates or colleagues.

    It involves:

    • Repeated, health-harming mistreatment
    • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating actions
    • Interfering with productivity and work being completed
    • Potentially verbally abusive behavior

    Because bullying isn’t necessarily based on a protected characteristic such as race or sex, and it’s not based on a desire to discriminate, it’s different from workplace harassment. Likewise, bullying is not retaliation for engaging in a protected activity. 

    Workplace bullying can involve anyone at any level. The bully can appear to be a productive employee who may label the behavior as “motivating” or necessary for “handling” problematic subordinates or coworkers.

    Have a Policy

    To eliminate bullying without imposing a general civility code, differentiate between unreasonable bullying behavior and appropriate supervision.

    In your institution’s anti-harassment policy define and prohibit bullying. Include examples of prohibited behavior, such as shouting or swearing at employees, embarrassing or publicly ridiculing coworkers, and sabotage.

    The policy should encourage employees to report bullying behavior to a neutral party, such as an ombudsperson or a designated human resources employee. Emphasize that bullying doesn’t need to be illegal harassment for your institution to take corrective action. Provide an anonymous reporting option to reduce any concerns of retaliation.

    Identify and Respond to Bullying

    At the complaint stage, it can be difficult to differentiate between unreasonable bullying behavior and appropriate supervision. Investigate the alleged actions as well as the surrounding work climate. Do not ignore the complaint merely because the worker appears disgruntled.

    Witnesses to bullying behavior may be reluctant to come forward but will discuss behavioral issues during an investigation. Focus the investigation on the bully’s conduct — not the content of speech — and the conduct’s impact on the workplace.

    After identify bullying, act immediately. Consider reassigning the bully if the behavior does not warrant termination. Document the investigation’s findings, corrective actions, and counsel against retaliation. Offer resources to the victim, including access to your institution’s employee assistance program (EAP).

    Additional Resources

    Workplace Bullying Institute: 2017 Survey
    Prof. David Yamada: Workplace Bullying and Ethical Leadership

    University of Louisville: Workplace Bullying Information

    University of Mary Washington: Workplace Bullying Policy

    University of Georgia: Workplace Violence Policy

    University of Alaska: Workplace Bullying Presentation

    By Heather A. Salko, senior risk management counsel


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