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Experts Recommend Workplace Bullying Policies

Although U.S. law does not require employers to have a policy and training that address workplace bullying, experts say that s​uch policies are good business practice and help promote a culture of civility.

Typically, workplace bullying cases are not covered under federal anti-discrimination law unless the target is a member of a protected class. The Workplace Bullying Institute, a research, training, support and advocacy organization, encourages states to pass The Healthy Workplace Bill, which “plugs the gaps in current state and federal civil rights protections,” according to FAQs about the bill compiled by the The Healthy Workplace Campaign.

As of September 2012, 21 states have introduced, but not enacted, The Healthy Workplace Bill.

Nevertheless, research shows that workplace bullying can have other consequences, such as decreased employee morale and loyalty, reduced productivity, lack of trust among co-workers, and higher health care and workers’ compensation claims.

In 2010, a survey sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed that 50 percent of U.S. workers have experienced or witnessed bullying. In a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management poll,51 percent of responding organizations reported incidences of bullying in their workplaces.

Policy Resources

A workplace bullying policy, which might be added to a larger anti-harassment policy, should define bullying, provide examples of bullying behavior and set forth a reporting procedure.

Catherine Mattice, president of consulting and training firm Civility Partners LLC, recommends that policies include a list of desired employee behaviors. “You have to tell them what they should be doing,” she told SHRM Online.“You’ve got to focus on the positive workplace.”

For a policy to be effective, employers must follow through with the stated procedure when an incident is reported, Jeannie Trudel, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C., said in an interview with SHRM Online. She has conducted research on workplace incivility.

Some policy examples:

  • SHRM’s workplace bullying sample policy includes a definition of bullying; a statement about the purpose of the policy; and examples of bullying behavior, such as using verbal or obscene gestures, spreading rumors and gossip regarding individuals, and manipulating the ability of someone to do their work.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) anti-bullying policy is contained in the “Violence in the Workplace” chapter of the 278-page OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual. The policy sets forth the responsibilities of OSHA employees and managers in the context of workplace bullying.
  • Margaret Hart Edwards, a shareholder in Littler Mendelson’s San Francisco office,told SHRM Online that school anti-bullying policies likely could be adapted to the workplace with little difficulty.

Training Resources

Training is a crucial part of addressing workplace bullying. Experts emphasize that employees should know that the policy exists and what it covers. Training options include the following:

  • Numerous training webinars and videos are available on the Work Doctor website.
  • A partner with Morrison & Foerster has developed a mobile app to help HR professionals navigate federal and state sexual harassment training requirements. The app, which contains information about workplace bullying, is available for iPhone and iPad.
  • Anti-harassment training from ELT, a provider of online compliance training, includes the topic of bullying. Recently, ELT merged with EthicsPoint, Global Compliance Services and PolicyTech to create NAVEX Global.

Other Resources

To write effective policies and provide meaningful training on workplace bullying, employers should stay informed about related legislation and best practices. Resources include:

  • Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ nine-page report on workplace bullying provides, among other things, a discussion of how bullying can affect the workplace and a list of things employers can do to discourage workplace bullying. Recommendations include encouraging open-door policies and structuring the work environment to incorporate a sense of autonomy.
  • A 2011 research article titled “Workplace Incivility and Turnover Intentions: The Efficacy of Managerial Intervention”provides tips for managers. Among the suggestions: conduct team building and hold regular, private meetings with immediate subordinates to create opportunities to discuss issues.
  • Stop Bullying at Work (SHRM, 2009) by Teresa A. Daniel, Ph.D., includes a chapter on strategic tools for HR professionals.
  • The Healthy Workplace Bill website tracks legislative activity in all 50 states.

Erin Binney is a staff writer for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Bullying, Violence Continue in the Workplace, Survey Finds, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, March 2012

Incivility Rising, HR Magazine, February 2012

Dealing with Workplace Bullies, SHRM Legal Report, July 2011

Related Resource:

SHRM Online Employee Relations page


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