WORKPLACE BULLYING is rising at an alarming rate. Although, it does not generate the same media attention and coverage that school bullying does, the problem and its threats are real for workers. Statistics from the 2014 US Workplace Bullying Survey revealed that 27% of respondents have past or current experience with bullying at the workplace. It also indicated that 72% of employers deny, defend or rationalize the act.
Defining Workplace Bullying and Its Effects
Intimidation at the workplace can come in several forms such as yelling, insulting, belittling, discrimination, threats of job loss and so on. In addition to verbal abuse, there are also non-verbal forms such as offensive conduct. This type of behavior is persistent in nature and the perpetrator (s) can be an individual or group of persons. The conscious intent is to harm the well-being of the target.
The effects of workplace bullying are extensive including fear, emotional trauma, depression, anxiety and stress. Adverse physical effects set in such as high blood pressure, insomnia and digestive problems leading to rise in absenteeism due to falling ill, low motivation & commitment and as a result, lower productivity at work.
Failure of the System in the Workplace
One of the major issues affecting bullying at the workplace is the failure of both victim and the company in addressing the problem. Victims feel so helpless that they do not report these threats and abusive behavior for fear of reprisal or making the condition worse. Employers, on the other hand, might not act at all when workplace bullying cases are brought to their attention because of several reasons: HR cannot establish a strong case, possible damage to the image of the company or the bullies are the hierarchy and management themselves. The latter is a compelling reason for HR to act sluggishly to complaints or even ignore cases of intimidation and harassment. In such scenarios, victims are faced with little choices: stay and continue to be bullied or leave and find another job.
A Case in Point
If looked at this angle, it seems like there is not much hope for bullies in the workplace. After all, fighting management seems a gargantuan and impossible task. However, a recent ruling by Sacramento jurors awarding damages to a dental assistant at Folsom prison raises hopes that workplaces might be able to do something about bullying and intimidation. To be specific, the judicial system can step in and send strong signals to both wrongdoers and employers.
On July 28, 2016, jurors awarded Ms. Onalis Giunta $1.1 m in damages. She claimed in a case filed in 2012 that the hierarchy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did ‘little or nothing at all’ to protect her from intimidation made by a subordinate. The person even retaliated when she complained and threatened to bring a gun to the workplace. The victim had to take leave of absence for one year on medical grounds due to the stress she suffered during the months of harassment and aggravation.
After her return, she was given options: go back to work with the bully, tender her resignation or look for another job. She was assigned to a different post and even took a voluntary demotion.
In their decision, the jurors ruled that the plaintiff was a casualty of employer misconduct because her transfer to another duty station was a consequence of her reporting the threats to the hierarchy. The verdict demonstrated that employers and management should take workplace bullying seriously with HR taking a reactive role to identify strategies that help targets. More importantly, this means enacting and enforcing policies that reduce harm and aggression on workers.