For all but the wealthiest Americans, working isn’t a matter of choice; it is a necessity. Pew Research Center reports that over 157 million Americans are part of the nation’s workforce. The majority of workers are millennials, although more older Americans are working now than in previous decades.
With so many people employed, it is easy to see why stress, fatigue, and burnout are so common among Americans. But a striking number of workers are experiencing another type of personal injury: workplace bullying.
The Definition of Workplace Bullying
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as ongoing abusive conduct by at least one coworker. The coworker may be in an equivalent, supervisory, or subordinate role. Abusive conduct includes anything that is:
Abusive conduct includes overt or passive work sabotage as well as verbal abuse. It causes personal injury as a result of employer negligence.
- Actions that make the victim feel alone
- Excluding the victim from group activities and (directly or indirectly) encouraging others to do the same
- Repeatedly calling someone out for alleged workplace violations
- Yelling at the victim (usually in front of other colleagues)
- Engaging in harsh and unwarranted criticism
- Threatening or administering poor work evaluations without cause
- Ganging up on one person (also known as workplace mobbing)
- Causing personal injury to an employee
- Engaging in or encouraging gossip
- Blaming a person for mistakes without cause
How Is Bullying Different From Harassment?
It is essential to understand the difference between bullying and harassment. Both actions:
- Include unacceptable conduct directed towards a specific person
- Frequently occur in the workplace
- Can lead to personal injury
However, unlike bullying, harassment is a pattern of behavior based only on the victim’s race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation. As such, harassment violates both state and federal law.
Bullying at Work Prevalence
The WBI’s 2021 US Workplace Bullying Survey found that 79.3 million workers are affected by workplace bullying across America. Alarmingly, the survey conducted in January 2021 also discovered that:
- 30% of all workers have direct experience being bullied
- 48.6 million Americans are bullied at work
- 65% of all workplace bullies are bosses or hold a managerial role
Based on those findings, the WBI classified workplace bullying in America as epidemic-level.
Workplace Bullying Perpetrators and Victims
The recent WBI survey also yielded information about workplace bullying perpetrators and their victims. The majority (67%) of workplace bullies are men, while 33% are women. Furthermore, while male bullies tend to target women, women target other women twice as often as they target men.
The research determined that 21% of workplace coercion is peer-to-peer, 65% comes from bosses, and 14% occurs from subordinates.
In terms of race and ethnicity, the survey found that Hispanics were most often bullied at work, followed by African American and white workers.
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Personal Injuries Caused By Workplace Bullying
The impact of workplace bullying varies based on the severity of the activity, how long the victim has been targeted, and personal resiliency. Workplace bullying injuries affect a person’s physical health and cause psychological damage.
Mentally, bullied individuals can develop PTSD. The misconduct can lead to high stress, depression, panic attacks, and compromised memory. The psychological damage from ongoing bullying leads to physical impairments, like:
- Teeth grinding
- Mood swings
- Frequent flu-like symptoms
- Elevated blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Skin irritations
- Upset stomach
As bullying takes a toll on a person, their work performance nearly always declines. To avoid a hostile work environment, victims of workplace bullying may have higher absenteeism than their peers. Outside of work, the victim may also have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.
Most Victims Stay Quiet
The WBI report found that targeted individuals have a 67% chance of losing their jobs due to bullying, which explains why so many victims of workplace bullying stay quiet. In 12% of cases, the employer fired the targeted employee.
Why do victims stay silent? Most organizations do not pursue formal recourse. As the survey indicates, only 11% of bullies are punished, and 9% are terminated.
Of the survey participants who filed complaints, 12% said their employer did not take action, and therefore, the problems did not stop. Six percent reported that positive changes from their employer stopped bullying behaviors, and 4% stated a coworker put an end to the misconduct.
Is Bullying in the Workplace Illegal?
So far, 31 states have introduced various iterations of the Healthy Workplace Bill. The bill does not use the term “workplace bullying” but defines and addresses ”abusive work environments.”
The Healthy Workplace Bill includes provisions that allow affected employees to:
- Pursue legal recourse for health-harming cruelty at work
- Sue the perpetrator as an individual
- Hold the employer accountable for the perpetrator’s behavior
- Seek reparations for lost wages and benefits
- Compel employers to prevent and correct future instances
Its provisions also protect employers from frivolous complaints and litigations by:
- Requiring proof of health harm by licensed professionals
- Giving employers the ability to discipline offenders
- Mandating that plaintiffs use private attorneys
- Filling loopholes in current state and federal civil rights protections
The Healthy Workplace Bill does not:
- Require state agencies to enforce any provisions of the law
- Incur costs for adopting states
- Mandate that plaintiffs are members of protected status groups
Employees Want Safer Workplaces
The WBI survey found that 90% of respondents support the enactment of a new anti-bullying law. The provisions would “protect all workers from repeated health-harming abusive mistreatment in addition to protections against illegal discrimination and harassment.”
Preventing Bullying at Work
Strong leadership can effectively address workplace bullying in the absence of existing laws, workplace education, and zero-tolerance policies.
Encouraging all employees to treat each other with a healthy dose of compassion and empathy cultivates a better workplace culture. Employees should be urged to lead by example and speak out if they see something wrong.
The WBI report found that 34% of respondents ignored or were unaware of workplace misconduct. Educating workers on proper conduct and providing resources for potential victims can minimize workplace delinquencies and create a more productive environment.
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Do I Need a Lawyer for a Workplace Bullying Claim?
A victim of workplace bullying suffers physically, mentally, and financially. A personal injury lawyer helps victims prove a direct link between a perpetrator’s actions and a person’s damages.
In some cases, legal action can prove how bullying behaviors caused emotional disability or physical impairment, allowing the victim to collect workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation requirements for workplace bullying claims vary by state. To determine if you are eligible to collect damages, review your case with a personal injury lawyer.
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Personal Injury Lawyers for Workplace Bullying Victims
Workplace bullying is a serious matter, and victims may be entitled to compensation. If you or someone you know has endured personal injuries due to bullying in the workplace, contact Dansker & Aspromonte Associates now.