Workplace Culture

If You Put Up With Bullies in Your Workplace, Stop (Before Someone Else Makes You)

By Jon Hyman

Nov. 19, 2012

I came across an article on TLNT last week entitled, The 7 Ways Organizations Justify Bullying in The Workplace. According to the article, these are the seven most popular excuses companies make for workplace bullies:

  • He just goes off from time to time; he means no harm.
  • OK, I will ask him to apologize again.
  • Ron’s skills are so valuable we can’t afford to lose him.
  • I just had “another” conversation with Ron. He will be OK.
  • It’s easier to keep him than to find a replacement.
  • That’s just how Ron is. He is just passionate.
  • He doesn’t mean any harm; he’s just under a lot of stress.

If you find yourself making these excuses for anyone in your organization, it’s time to reevaluate the type of workplace you want to be.

And, it’s not because bullying is illegal. In fact, in many cases, it’s not. Unless a bully is harassing someone because of a protected class (race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin…) bullying is probably lawful. As the U.S. Supreme Court has famously said, our workplace discrimination laws are not meant to be a “general civility code” for the American workforce. In layman’s terms, our laws allow people to be jerks to each other at work.

The question, however, is not whether the law protects the bullied, but instead what you should be doing about it in your workplace. If you want state legislatures to pass workplace bullying legislation, then continue to ignore the issue in your business. If you want to be sued by every employee who is looked at funny or at whose direction a harsh word is uttered, then continue to tolerate abusive employees. If you want to lose well-performing, productive workers, then allow them to be pushed out the door by intolerable co-workers.

The reality is that if companies do not take this issue seriously, state legislators will. What can you do now to protect your workplace from a future of anti-bullying legislation?

  1. Review current policies. Most handbooks already have policies and procedures in place that deal with workplace bullying. Do you have an open-door policy? A complaint policy? A standards of conduct policy? If so, your employees already know that they can go to management with any concerns—bullying included—and seek intervention.
  2. Take complaints seriously. These policies are only as good as how they are enforced. Whether or not illegal, reports of bullying should be treated like any other harassment complaint. You should promptly conduct an investigation and implement appropriate corrective action to remedy the bullying.

In other words, take seriously bullying in your workplace. If you don’t state legislatures will, and you won’t like the results.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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