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Bullying in the workplace

June 12th, 2018 hrsimple

A few years ago if you heard the word bullying, images of playgrounds and principals' offices might come to mind. It's true that many people felt that bullying only applied to children, but in recent years we've acknowledged the truth of the situation: adults can be bullied – and bullies – too. A 2010 survey showed that over 35% of adults admit to being bullied and another 15% admit to witnessing bullying. With these numbers on the rise, employers need to learn to identify and prevent bullying in the workplace, as it can lead to some very serious problems.

Why is bullying a workplace issue?
Aside from wanting to provide a safe, healthy environment for employees, employers should be concerned about bullying for a few reasons. Typically bullying leads to a breakdown in communication between staff members, and can seriously impact productivity. Who would want to work alongside someone that was picking on them? In addition to loss of production, bullying can lead to claims of harassment, discrimination, and can result in violence. These very real issues for employers can even result in lawsuits or fines.

What is bullying?
Like many workplace issues, bullying can take many shapes. The common definition of bullying is any abusive conduct committed by an individual or group against another. While that explanation is vague, it is helpful as a general way to measure appropriate behavior. In the workplace this behavior can manifest in a number of ways, such as yelling, insults, and disrespecting private space. This form of bullying is usually easier to identify and discipline, but bullying can also be a lot more subtle. Other forms of bullying can include:

  • isolating employees
  • routinely taking credit for other’s work
  • imposing unrealistic deadlines
  • unnecessarily criticizing the work of an employee. 

In the case of supervisors, being harder on one employee than others can be construed not only as unfair treatment but an act of bullying.

How can employers prevent bullying?
The first step in preventing bullying is to implement a clear anti-bullying policy. A few things to include in such a policy are:

  • A clear definition of what conduct is considered bullying. Employers should outline exactly what behavior is unacceptable in no uncertain terms. It is also wise to add that management will make any decisions about what is and is not bullying.
  • A reporting procedure. Include instructions as to how employees can report being bullied or bullying they have witnessed. Include to whom reports should be made and if they can be made anonymously.
  • A non-retaliation clause. Employees should feel safe to report bullying without fear of punishment.  A few sentences explaining that any employee who comes forward with such information will be protected can go a long way in putting employees at easy.

Find an example of an anti-bullying policy below. 

Aside from instituting a no bullying policy, employers should also consider requiring specialized training for employees to help them understand bullying. Similar trainings to prevent other negative workplace behaviors (like harassment) are a common and effective HR tool.

Finally employers and managers should make a firm commitment to avoid participating in any form of bullying. Employees can be more sensitive to the actions of those in roles of leadership and, as such, employers and supervisors have a bigger responsibility to treat each employee with respect and sensitivity.


Bullying is harmful to the employees of ABC Company, resulting in reduced productivity, efficiency and morale, and increased absenteeism and turnover.  In providing a productive working environment, ABC Company believes that its employees should be able to enjoy a workplace free from all forms of bullying conduct.   

It is against the policy of the Company for any employee, whether a manager, supervisor, or co-worker, to bully another employee.  This policy applies to all company activities and events, as well as publically accessible off-duty activities including social media.   

Prohibited bullying occurs whenever there is severe, repeated mistreatment that targets one or more persons which, through verbal abuse, offensive conduct, or interference, that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; interferes with a person’s work performance; or otherwise adversely affects a person’s employment opportunities with the Company.   

Bullying conduct could include, but is not limited to, repeated and aggressive: 

  • Teasing, name-calling, slandering, ridiculing, maligning, a person or his/her family 
  • Screaming, shouting, yelling, or swearing at another in public or private 
  • Persistent phone calls, voicemails, emails, or postings to or about another person 
  • Unreasonable public criticism, reprimands, or trivializing of another’s work 
  • Excluding others from meetings or social situations, or giving the “silent treatment” 
  • Destructive gossip, rumors or innuendo 
  • Physical pushing, shoving, throwing things 
  • Non-verbal threatening gestures or glances, staring or glaring 
  • Intentional interference with another’s work, for example, through impossible deadlines, supplying insufficient or incorrect resources or information.  

Evaluative work performance comments by one’s supervisor relating to deficiencies, constructive feedback, and counseling are appropriate and reasonable and do not constitute bullying behavior.   

Any employee who believes he or she has been bullied in violation of this policy should report the conduct immediately to his or her supervisor; or, if that person is responsible for the behavior, to the Human Resources Department. The employee always has the option of reporting the conduct directly to the Human Resources Department if he or she prefers. 

A thorough and impartial investigation of all complaints will be conducted in a timely and confidential manner.  Confidentiality will be maintained during the investigation to the extent possible without jeopardizing the thoroughness of the investigation. 

Any employee of the Company who has been found, after investigation, to have bullied another employee in violation of this policy will be subject to a required apology, counseling, training and/or disciplinary action up to and including termination. 

Retaliation against the individual reporting the bullying behavior is expressly prohibited.