Workplace Bullying: What You Should Know (and Do)

Carrie Mendrick Roane photo

Bullying in the workplace, or at least our awareness of it, has become much more prevalent in recent years. It is therefore important that we – employees and employers alike – be educated on what workplace bullying is, how to prevent it, and what legal recourse is available in Florida for a victim of workplace bullying.

  • Bullying in the workplace is defined as repeated and unreasonable actions which are designed to intimidate, humiliate, threaten or undermine an employee.
  • Workplace bullying can be committed against an employee by supervisors, co-workers, and groups of coworkers.
  • Examples of workplace bullying include: verbal abuse, embarrassing the employee in front of peers or customers, cursing at the employee, placing unreasonable demands on the employee, giving unwarranted or invalid criticism, treating an employee different from the rest of the group, exclusion or social isolation by the bully, excessive micro-managing, dismissing employees who suffer from job-related stress as being weak, encouraging employees to fabricate complaints about co-workers with the promise of promotion,
  • Unfortunately, there are no laws in Florida or any other state which render bullying in the workplace as illegal. Similarly, there are no federal laws in the U.S. which outlaw bullying.
  • However, if you are being bullied because you belong to a protected class, you may have a cause of action against your employer under state and/or federal laws designed to outlaw discrimination in the workplace. Such causes of action include claims for sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or a hostile work environment. To bring such a claim, you must have evidence that the adverse employment action was taken against you because of your gender, race, color, disability, national origin, sex, age, and religion, veteran status, and citizenship status.
  • In Florida, it is conceivable that a bullied employee could also bring an action for negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotion distress, or battery.
  • If you feel like you have a basis for a lawsuit, the most important thing you can do outside of hiring a lawyer is to keep a journal or calendar detailing the nature of the bullying or harassing events. The more detailed your journal or calendar can be, the better. It is also important to maintain any type of documents or paper trail which serve as evidence of the bullying behavior.
  • To bring about positive change in your workplace outside of litigation, encourage your employer to create and maintain a “zero tolerance for bullying” policy; immediately address any bullying behavior when witnessed; hold awareness campaigns for everyone regarding what bullying is and how it can be addressed; establish an independent contact for employees like a Human Resources manager; conduct employee attitude surveys; and provide sensitivity training for all employees, including management.
  • Employers need to know that allowing workplace bullies to exist is simply bad for business. Bullies do not run or manage a business well – staff turnover and sick leave will be high and productivity will be low. Costs of bullying to a business include those associated with reduced productivity; replacing good staff members who have left their employment because of the bullying; training new employees; investigating claims and defending legal actions; and loss of the company’s reputation and good will.