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How to End Workplace Bullying

In the wake of the growing #MeToo movement, many employers recently focused their efforts to implement anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures.  However, many employers fail to realize that their attention must also be placed on the related behavior to sexual harassment: workplace bullying.  Most forms of civil rights violations and discrimination, including sexual harassment, include bullying.  Like the effects that sexual harassment have on a company’s work environment, workplace bullying will likely lead to a decrease in employee morale, productivity, and efficiency, and an increase in employee attrition.  Hence, employers should develop policies and programs to eliminate workplace bullying.

Defining Workplace Bullying

In order to create a framework to prevent workplace bullying, employers must learn and understand what workplace bullying entails.  Although there are various forms of bullying, many forms of bullying may involve behaviors such as the following:

  1. Making derogatory or intimidating comments towards an individual, their work, or their ability to perform their work;

  2. Attempts to negatively impact an individual’s work, or prevent an individual from performing work;

  3. Attempts to incite others to engage in the bullying of an individual; and

  4. Spreading gossip or rumors designed to negatively impact an individual, or cause others to question that individual’s professionalism, capability, and skills.

Usually workplace bullying is verbal in nature rather than physical; the above list is far from comprehensive to describe what could be considered as workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying may be difficult to spot because the bully may take discreet actions to bully their target.  Examples of workplace bullying include the following:

  1. During a meeting, an employee is continually interrupted or mocked by another individual who speaks over or belittles them, or the individual makes exaggerated facial expressions such as rolling their eyes to discourage the employee from participating in the meeting.

  2. An individual aggressively berates another employee at a staff meeting or in a group e-mail.

  3. An individual makes negative comments or disparaging jokes about another employee either whether the employee is present or not, and/or encourages other co-workers to do the same.

  4. An individual who has the responsibility to delegate tasks to an employee deliberately chooses not to notify the employee of the task and deadline until such a time as the employee will be incapable of completing the work, likely causing the senior management or the boss to question the employee’s work ethic.

  5. An employee is intentionally excluded from department or team meetings or events, to make the employee appear unimportant or disengaged.

  6. An individual physically intimidates an employee by invading the employee’s personal space or disrespecting their privacy.

Employers should also understand that workplace bullying is likely to be repetitive and may escalate over time.  Victims of workplace bullying are made to feel powerless or too embarrassed to defend themselves or seek redress to end the bullying.  This is why employers must also implement an anti-bullying policy in the workplace.

Drafting an Anti-Bullying Policy

The only way an employer can protect its employees from workplace bullying is to adopt a robust anti-bullying policy that clearly sets forth that any form of bullying will not be tolerated and identifies and provides examples of unacceptable bullying behaviors.  The policy should also set forth procedures for how employees at any level may report incidents of bullying, even if the employee may want to report it anonymously.  An anti-bullying policy should include a framework where an employee may be able to bypass having to report the bullying in a specific sequence or up through a specific chain of command, if the bully in question is the victim’s direct supervisor or manager.  Further, employers should encourage an open-door policy for employees to report workplace bullying in a safe, supportive environment without penalty or judgment.

An effective anti-bullying policy will set forth the procedures for how an allegation of workplace bullying will be dealt with, including who will be responsible for investigating the complaint and what steps will be taken to investigate the complaint to promptly address the complaint.  The policy should also explain that if an investigation corroborates the allegation of bullying, immediate corrective actions will be taken to redress the bullying.  Additionally, the policy should explain the consequences and disciplinary steps that will be taken against the aggressor based on the severity, duration and scope of the bullying.

Providing Anti-Bullying Training

Implementing a policy is not enough to protect your employees.  All employees should be trained and educated on the nature of workplace bullying and how to recognize it – whether as a victim, witness, or bully, and how to report it.  Further, all managers and supervisors must be trained not only to recognize the signs of workplace bullying and how to respond to bullying complaints, but also be trained on effective management skills and techniques, since managers and supervisors may tend to display bullying behaviors as a result of their position.  The key to protecting employees from workplace bullying is to avoid a disrespectful and negative work environment and to establish and continually support a corporate culture that impedes the inclination to bully before the behavior can start.  Training all senior management, including all managers and supervisors, on anti-bullying in the workplace will begin to set a positive corporate culture that will trickle from the top of the company down to all employees.


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