Not to deter from sexual harassment’s watershed moment(s)

but bullying in USA workplaces is four times more common

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

I am glad that sexual harassment is having a moment…many moments in fact. The truth needs to come out. 

Not to take away from this, and in the spirit of adding to the conversation about mistreatment at work, but bullying in US workplaces is four times more common than sexual harassment.  

“I didn’t know that was a thing” was my friend’s response when I told her I was publishing a book on international workplace bullying laws.

Workplace bullying is a thing. The Workplace Bullying Institute has found that 27% adult Americans have been bullied at work, while 49% have been targets or witnesses to bullying. 

What is workplace bullying, and equally important, what isn’t it?

Workplace bullying is cumulative and repeated conduct which may include false accusations of mistakes, screaming, exclusion, withholding resources and infromation necessary to the job, behind the back sabotage, and unreasonably heavy work demands. 

It is not everyday disagreements and “dust-ups” in the office, someone having a bad day and losing his/her temper, reasonable instructions, a tough performance review. 

It is also not discrimination as it not based on being in a protected class such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or disability.  

Workplace bullying damages: the targeted employee may experience a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, up to and including commiting suicide; the organization faces absenteeism and turnover, reduced morale, and harm to reputation. An employee who witnesses the bullying of another can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand.

It may make people feel a little crazy: they are experiencing repeatedly abusive treatment by a supervisor or co-worker, not related to their race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, etc, but knowing something wrong is happening to them.  A term, workplace bullying, to attach to their distress is a relief. It makes it real.

There’s a big problem here. Workplace bullying is generally not illegal in the US. So if you are being repeatedly and severely harassed at work, and it isn’t because of your race, or your age, or gender, or religion or disability, there is not a law to protect you  or to deter your supervisor or co-worker’s abusive conduct. 

To add insult to injury (I’ve never actually used this term before but it seems fitting here) numerous countries have laws against workplace bullying, including Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Australia, Quebec, and Ontario. The laws use different terms: victimisation, moral harassment, psychological harassment, but their message is the same: severe abusive conduct in the workplace is not acceptable.  

There is movement in the US to prohibit bullying in the workplace. The Healthy Workplace Bill, to legislate against bullying, has been introduced in 29 States and moves closer to passage each year. Meantime, a company policy against workplace bullying and a confidential complaint procedure can  go a long way to temper abusive conduct. You don’t need a law to create an organizational culture of respect.  

As is said–When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Bullying behavior and its sour, destructive impact is on display in the highest office of the US.  Maybe workplace bullying is beginning to have its time. 

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.