Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dealing with Bullying Behavior

I was speaking to someone, who asked what to do when dealing with bullying at work. One of the first things I mentioned is that bullying should be referred to as being part of a hostile work environment, since bullying isn't always actionable in many states. Bullying behavior and a hostile work environment can come in many forms, depending on the people involved in commiting the abuse.

The following are some considerations and suggestions:

1) Always document acts of bullying and anything that creates a hostile environment at work. This includes behavior such as a harasser: making unwarrented written and verbal threats to your job, false allegations about your work performance, personal/personality based attacks, blaming you for problems caused by the harasser or other staff, hostile and offensive emails and voice messages, the use of racial slurs and epithets, pointing in your face, screaming at you, intentionally humiliating you in front of coworkers and/or clients, standing in your personal space to make you uncomfortable and to intimidate you, intentionally bumping into you or engaging in other physical contact as a means of abusing and intimidating you, stare down contests, malicious gossip spread around the office, your personal information being shared with coworkers, refusing to answer your emails and voicemails, omitting instructions needed to complete assignments, malicious performance evaluations, always speaking to you with the person's back turned to you/refusing to acknowlege you and look you in the eyes, placing the soles of the shoes towards you (pointed at your face) on a desk/table, you, etc.

2) Ask the person to stop the behavior. Speak to them face-to-face to initially address such a sensitive issue. Your employer could later say that you over-rely on email and may use that to twist what is happening as a negative against you and not your harasser. Give specific examples of bullying and hostile behavior and talk about how that impacts your work environment and/or work production. Talk about how you can better work together and communicate in order to put in a good faith effort to fix the problem.

3) Make a note of the face-to-face meeting, including quotes from your harasser and details of their response. Note any promises they made or any threats relayed.

4) If the problems continue, make future contact via email to get written documentation. Note specific problems with the behavior and the impact on you--professionally and personally. Keep the email professional. Strip out any emotional language, which can be used against you later to label you as overly sensitive and/or childish.

5) Keep a list of people who've witnessed bullying and hostile behavior. Write down what they've seen, the date, time, etc. Save hostile and offensive emails (electronic and hard copy) and nasty voice messages. Save your time sheets and any instructions you receive from a harasser. You might need these later to refute false allegations, etc.

6) Report the abuse to your supervisor and/or HR. Consider speaking to your harasser's supervisor.Request that they intervene in the situation. Make a note of the date/time of the meeting(s) and any promises made to fix the problems, including next steps (additional meetings, investigation, etc.)

7) Follow-up with the supervisor(s) and/or HR, if you don't hear back from them or see results from their attempt to prevent abusive behavior. Follow-up verbally and in writing to document the conversation.

8) Consider filing a formal internal complaint against the individual/request an internal investigation.

9) If the problem persists, consider filing an external complaint (e.g., EEOC) or seeking legal counsel.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:16 AM  

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