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Are You Being Bullied at Work?

Workplace bullying is a common occurrence in the United States.  It can be found in all types of workplaces, such as schools, hospitals, nonprofits organizations, government, restaurants, and corporate offices.  No workplace is immune.   Perpetrators and victims come from all walks of life — doctors, nurses, managers, school teachers, minimum wage earners, lawyers.   No one is immune from being bullied.

I frequently receive telephone calls from persons who say they are being bullied at work and want to know what they can do about it.  All too often there will not be a legal remedy because bullying is not illegal in any state.  Bullying does not violate any State or Federal laws.

It is important to note that bullying is different from harassment or discrimination for which there may be a remedy.    It is illegal under both Massachusetts and federal law for an employer to take any adverse actions against you based on certain protected categories, such as gender, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age and handicap.  The employer must also protect you from other employees who harass you or create a hostile work environment based on your membership in one of these categories.  An attorney specializing in employment law can help you distinguish the difference.

The common denominators of all workplace bullying are that the conduct is repeated towards the victim and that the victim is harmed.

Bullying has been defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.  It is abusive conduct that is:

            ▪ Threatening, humiliating or intimidating, or

            ▪ work interference – – sabotage – that prevents work from getting done, or

            ▪ verbal abuse.”

If you are being bullied at work, you should report it immediately to your supervisor.  If your supervisor is the bully, report the behavior immediately to the Human Resources Department.  Report every incident and do this in writing or in some way that creates a record, such as email.  You should also be keeping a journal account of every instance of bullying, the dates, time and names of anyone else who was present.  Keep this at home, not at work or on a work computer.

The purpose of reporting and recording the bullying is three-fold.  First and most importantly, you may be able to put a stop to it by reporting it.   Sadly, in many instances supervisors and HR do nothing or very little to stop workplace bullying.  They may disbelieve you, think you are being “too sensitive” or simply not understand the detrimental impact of bullying. If this happens, you are doubly victimized, once by the bully and again by the people who fail to protect you.

The second reason to report and make a record of the bullying is so that you may quit your job if necessary and still collect unemployment benefits.  Normally, if a person voluntarily quits, they are disqualified from getting unemployment benefits.  However, there is an exception if you leave your job for “good cause” attributable to the employer or for an “urgent, compelling and necessitous reason.”   Being the victim of bullying and the ensuing emotional and physical distress can be considered reasons for quitting a job and still qualifying for unemployment.  But before you take that action, you need to have given the employer a chance to remedy the situation and the behavior that you were subjected to needs to fit into one of the definitions of bullying.   If you have kept a record of the bullying, it may help prove your entitlement to unemployment benefits.

If you quit your job because of workplace bullying you might still be disqualified initially from getting UI benefits because of what your employer tells the unemployment office.  In that situation, you will need to appeal and attend a hearing.  The record that you have kept of the bullying will help you remember and testify appropriately.    I recommend that you retain an attorney to help with the appeal.  Generally, you do not need an attorney for the initial application for benefits.

Third, if you report the bullying and keep a record of what is happening to you, it may help an attorney decide whether the conduct was unlawful and thus actionable.

Unfortunately, an attorney will not usually be able to get you relief from the bullying.  More often than not, you may need the help of a mental health professional or physician.  Workplace bullying can cause any number of health related disorders, such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression.  I usually advise clients to find another job if at all possible, rather than stay in a job where they are being bullied, because of the enormous toll that bullying can take on the client’s health and relationships.

This website hash information and advice about workplace bullying:

www.workplacebullying.org