One of the most difficult worker complaints that I experience is bullying. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “…The repeated mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse or, threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior/actions (verbal and nonverbal forms) or, work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done that is so severe that the mistreatment harms the health of the targeted person — stress-related physical consequences or psychological/emotional injury — or leads to economic harm through termination, demotion or denied promotions.”
Why is bullying so difficult to deal with? because even though it can cause severe emotional strain, physical illness and can destroy a person’s career and financial health, bullying is usually completely legal, with few or no repercussions for the bullier. If bullying is based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, age (over 40), race, disability or a few other ‘classes’ protected from discrimination, it would be illegal. But if a workplace bully is typical, the target is not chosen for any particular background or condition.
On May 12, the NYS Senate passed ‘landmark legislation’ to fight bullying: it establishes a civil action when an employee is subjected to what it calls ‘an abusive work environment.’ Many groups and individuals, including the national Workplace Bullying Institute and the NYS-specific NY Healthy Workplace Advocates, have been fighting to pass anti-bullying laws here and in 16 other states. Unfortunately, some very powerful people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC and Assemblywoman Susan John, chair of the Assembly Labor, are opponents, equating pro-worker safeguards with an anti-business environment. Read the Wall Street Journal article about the legislation here.
The Workers Center has also been looking for ways to help targeted employees when their legal rights have been so narrowly defined. We are now lucky to have a former bullied employee (who eventually was fired) contact us, offering to give something to others who are living through the stress of bullying at work. I am happy to report that there may be a Bullying Support Group starting this summer.
In the meantime, we are always available to speak to people who are suffering from a traumatizing work environment. One resource that has helped some people tremendously is The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Dignity on the Job by Gary Namie and Ruth Namie. I hope to get it for the Workers Center library soon.