Bullying: From the Backyard to the Boardroom?

Chriss Swaney

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – More than 60 million workers experience workplace bullying every year. Has the backyard bully grown to inhabit cubicles and offices instead of the backyard?

According to Gary Namie, head of the Workplace Bullying Institute, some 60 percent of bullied victims are women. “Workplace bullying is the repeated mistreatment by one or more employees of an employee,” Namie said. “And it is increasingly difficult to get any kind of legislation to help stem the problem.”

As of today, universal ruling for workplace bullying does not exist, of course, unless the bullying is in reference to a protected class with title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

A workplace bullying claim to be valid under current federal law must be classified as either discrimination or a hostile work environment, according to Lindsey Wagner of Scott Wagner and Associates.

“In Florida, we are working to lobby for anti-bullying legislation,” Wagner said. “We are not there yet.”

And while there are no current federal laws that prevent workplace bullying in the private sector, Joyce Russell, of the Helen and William O’Toole Dean of the Villanova Business School, points out that Healthy Workplace bills have been debated in many states.

Tennessee recently became the first state to pass the Healthy Workplace Act, a law designed to encourage public sector agencies to create an anti-bullying policy that complies with the law.

More recently, California passed a workplace anti-bullying law for private-sector employers that became effective Jan. 1, 2015, and requires employers with 50 or more employees that already provide training on preventing sexual harassment to include new training on preventing “abusive conduct” in the workplace to supervisory employees.

Experts claim that workplace bullying is on the rise because of increased cyber-bullying and the general lack of civility in today’s work environments. There are also obvious signs of bullying that managers should be aware of. Examples include: offensive communication (using profanity, gossip or divisive jokes), aggression (yelling or shouting at an employee) belittling or demeaning someone publicly in front of others, or actively campaigning to get rid of them.

“Bullying can cause extreme stress and impact health by socially isolating the victim,” said Russell, who is working with her faculty to discuss the impacts of workplace bullying with Villanova students. “We need to change the culture and we need workers to be more savvy about how they select where they want to work,” she said.

Although workplace bullying spans all industry sectors now; it can be more common in manufacturing sector.

At present, Russell said the most common solutions to bullying are to seek help from an expert from the human resource department or from a supervisor not connected to the boss or person who is doing the bullying.

“In many cases, the person simply leaves his or her job to escape the bullying,” Russell said.

“We want to get some legislation passed nationwide that will help those being bullied; giving them more options than ultimately leaving their job,” Namie said, noting bullying problems also cost employers a loss in productivity.

Industry experts estimate that workplace bullying yearly costs more than $100 million in production losses and increased work absence by those being bullied.