Q: Employees are complaining that their manager constantly yells and degrades them in front of co-workers or clients. Could this type of behavior be considered workplace bullying, and if so, what is our obligation as an employer?
A: Bullying comes in many forms but normally involves any repeated behavior meant to intimidate, humiliate or degrade another individual. A few examples of behavior that may be considered bullying are alienating or isolating an employee, harassing or intimidating an employee, or providing an employee with unreasonable or impossible work assignments, as well as any form of verbal abuse such as name calling, etc.
There is currently no existing legislation specifically addressing this issue. However, if the offending behavior is pervasive enough to be considered threatening, intimidating and creating an environment full of hostility, then the potential for hostile work environment harassment or claims of constructive discharge when employees quit is certainly worth taking into consideration. Employers that choose not to take measures to identify and prevent such abuses of power are allowing bullying to occur within their workplaces and may be exposing themselves to some legal risk. In addition to possible legal exposure, allowing such behavior to occur will eventually result in significant costs to the employer due to lowered employee morale, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and turnover, not to mention possible filings of stress-related disability or workers compensation claims. Employers are encouraged to take this matter very seriously and consider it as intolerable as any other type of harassment within their workplaces.
When employees come forward with complaints of bullying by either a manager/supervisor or another co-worker, employers should address the matter by initiating an investigation to determine if there is in fact evidence of bullying between the alleged victim and perpetrator. Developing and communicating policies that clearly define what is considered bullying and that the behavior will not be tolerated, as well as what disciplinary action will be taken for violators of the policy, is also critical to ensure an organization’s culture is based on mutual respect. Additionally, employers have an obligation to properly train managers/supervisors and employees on what is and is not considered appropriate behavior for the workplace to help promote a more harmonious environment for all and minimize any associated legal risks, which can arise when such behaviors are known but not dealt with appropriately.
Please Note: This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. National members may reach the Information Center by calling (800) 283-7476 and choosing option #5 or by using the Information Center’s Assistance Request Form found under HR Resources on SHRM Online.