In recent years, the topic of workplace bullying has garnered growing public awareness, especially when it falls under the headings of sexual harassment or religious, ethnic, age or racial discrimination. Unchecked, it can hurt an employer’s bottom line by increasing turnover, undermining safety and eroding productivity.
While bullying has been on employers’ radar largely stemming from sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaints, expect the issue to face greater attention in the future because of the June Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination against LGBTQ employees.
Even before that decision, a sting of cases had been successfully prosecuted by the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and upheld by federal courts where employers had allowed bullying by fellow workers of men who were harassed for appearing too feminine, and women who appeared to be too masculine for the liking of their peers.
A survey conducted by Monster, the global online employment service, found that about 90% of workers reported they have been bullied at their place of employment. In addition, 51% said they were bullied by their boss or manager, while 39% reported that they had been bullied by co-workers.
Another 4% of those polled said the perpetrator was someone other than a co-worker, such as a client or customer. This is a phenomenon that has surfaced more often in recent years regarding sexual harassment complaints and has risen to such a level of concern where it has been incorporated into sexual harassment regulations and employer anti-harassment policies.
In spite of the prominent role played in workplace bullying by sexual harassment, research shows that while male perpetrators predominantly target women (65%), many men also choose to target other men (35%), and 33% of female bullies target other women.
Repeated bullying can trigger physical, mental and emotional health problems, such as high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, stress, anxiety and depression, note attorneys Setareh Ebrahimian and Holly Wintermute of the Fisher Phillips law firm. “When the victims are your employees, that translates to low productivity, absenteeism and poor morale. Bullying also compromises employee judgment and creates safety risks, because when workers are bullied, they are more likely to forget safety procedures.”
The direct financial impact can be measured in high turnover. According to the Monster survey, 65% of workplace victims chose to leave to avoid further mistreatment, quit when conditions worsened, or were terminated by their employers. Making matters worse for employers, the bad publicity stemming from sexual or racial bullying in today’s highly charged “cancel” culture also can cost the employer dearly in reputation and sales.
“It is important to acknowledge that your human resources team and leadership group might not always be able to stop bullying, but you certainly can curb it,” Ebrahimian and Wintermute tell employers. “Like most problems in the workplace, a critical step in addressing bullying in the workplace is training. You should provide training for all employees to help recognize and address bullying.”
Make sure all employees know how to report complaints and supervisors know what to do when they receive one. Victims and witnesses should have multiple avenues available for reporting bullying and an anonymous reporting system is a good way to encourage that.
“You must also show your commitment to addressing bullying by fully and swiftly investigating reports regardless of the severity of the complaint. You cannot ignore complaints from employees you deem overly sensitive,” the Fisher Phillips attorneys warn. When bullying is found to have occurred, enforce the consequences, whether they are in the form of an apology, written warning, suspension, or even termination.
Finally, an employer must have an anti-bullying policy and make sure both new and current employees acknowledge receiving and having reviewed it, Ebrahimian and Wintermute stress.