Bullying in the Workplace: Childish Behavior Not Just Limited to Children

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The idea of the schoolyard bully is a common one that many of us have witnessed, be it firsthand or at least in a movie or TV show. Although bullying is a childish behavior and is often thought of in association with children, it is a concept that is not limited to kids taking your lunch money. Bullying remains common in the adult world too, including in the workplace.

According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power that is repeated over time. The Workplace Bullying Institute (“WBI”) defines workplace bullying as:

  • Repeated mistreatment
  • Abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating
  • Work sabotage
  • Verbal abuse

This is a widespread problem. According to the WBI’s 2021 survey, 30% of Americans have suffered some sort of bullying at work and another 19% have witnessed workplace bullying. There are compelling reasons why employers should take steps to ensure that bullying is not occurring in their businesses:

It’s the right thing to do. Quite simply, business owners should prevent their employees from being bullied because it is the right thing to do. Every business should be built on a foundation of mutual respect.

Bullying hurts morale. Additionally, it simply makes good business sense to curb bullying, as bullied employees are not going to do their best work. Employees who feel intimidated are more likely to be absent from work. If they come to work, they will likely be distracted and will not produce their best work product. Those who feel bullied may hesitate to collaborate with their coworkers. They might feel resentful and be less likely to contribute.

Bullying could lead to legal action. Workplace bullying currently is not prohibited under federal law. While approximately 30 states have introduced legislation to curb bullying, Ohio currently has no law against bullying in the workplace. However, that does not mean that bullying cannot result in legal action. Bullying can overlap quite a bit with harassment, which IS against federal and Ohio law. Moreover, if the employee feeling bullied can claim they were bullied because of their race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin or any other protected class they belong to, then they have a credible discrimination claim against your business.

You can discourage workplace bullying by requiring employees to treat each other respectfully, by maintaining an open-door policy that encourages employees to report any concerns or complaints, and by immediately investigating any complaints that bullying is occurring. Your employment attorney can help you review your employment policies and practices to ensure that you are taking the most effective steps to prevent bullying at your business.

This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

Barnes & Thornburg LLP is a national, Midwestern-based business law firm that strives for a more entrepreneurial and cost-effective approach both to client service and its own business. Read more Metropreneurial Legal Insights.