Bullying in the workplace

June 12th, 2018 by 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.   

HR Webinars
Making Your HR To-Do List & Checking it Twice for the New Year
December 13th, 2018 at 7:30am CST by Greg Grisham, David Jones, Courtney Leyes, Gabriel McGaha, Robert Ratton III, Martin Thompson, Jeff Weintraub

Terminations Got You Down? 5 Tips to Tighten Your Termination Tactics
December 17th, 2018 at 12:00pm CST by Brian T. Benkstein at Fredrikson & Byron

Unconscious bias - whether you realize it or not
December 18th, 2018 at 11:00am CST by Margaret A. Matejkovic, Esq. at Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC

HR Articles
MeToo, avoiding women, and the modified Mike Pence Rule
Carnac the Magnificent says – Politicussin
Non-competes for non-skilled – non-productive, non-legal, non-enforceable?
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 3 Cause or no cause, because you gotta do something
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 2 Go Kim Possible for the investigation phase
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 1 Don't panic, ask questions
Depression – what can an employer do?
Employers beware - what you say can and will be used against you
Holiday stew – ingredients for a happy and non-litigious holiday
MO - The weed du jour - marijuana médicale
Biometrics in the workplace - not a measure of bios accumulated by an employee
Thanks-giving isn't just about turkeys - include the good employees too
The best "stay" to help you retain employees
Overtime, daylight savings time and circadian rhythyms
Controlling the political speech of buttons*
Cursing, surfing, weapons, gadgets – illegal, inappropriate or OK?
How to Ghostbuster a new hire or applicant
Election leave – employer's civic duty, migraine, or just wishful thinking (election, leave!)
Costumes, booze and the Great Pumpkin – beware the office Halloween party
Disability – Dr. or employee approved?
401(k) plan + payroll provider = 401k good things
Disability/pregnancy practices – what not to practice
Bad hire! Bad, bad hire!
TN – A drug-free workplace program is good
Open enrollment – personalizing perks pays off
Unpaid intern – depends on who benefits
The #1 office perk is . . . ?
FMLA leave before being eligible for FMLA leave
IL – Required expense reimbursement for your employees, not Bill Self
Help hiring holiday help here
Are the new DOL opinion letters like noses?
Public disclosure of confidential information is easier than you think
Bad mix – accommodation request and firing
If religious accommodation and a flu shot both equal angst, is that the transitive or substitution property?
Workplace shootings – 20 can-dos to prevent them
No call/no show shows. No what about it.
List 10 Up: Top tips for starting a workplace incident interview
Mr. Freeze unveils National Security Freeze tagline: "They can't steal your identity if it's frozen"
If it's called a dress code, can I wear pants?
I've changed my name – to Optimus Prime
TN: Conceal and carry means post to prohibit or permit
I'll take "ADA in 5s?" please Alex
Swearing at work – 7 rules
Is that red light flashing?
Four-legged office mates and the pawternity policies they benefit
Notice: notices and forms for FMLA that were already expired now updated virtually unchanged
Don't feel ripped off when you get ripped off – get even
School-related parental leave does not mean you forge a note from your kid
NY: Draft model sexual harassment policy/training released
Discipline - Demote - Depart or Communicate - Counsel - Channel
ICE audits II – FAQs to make you wiser
Round up stew: sick leave, harassment, non-compete, etc.
Identifying trade secrets does not mean figuring out how to barter better
ICE audits have nothing to do with freezer police
Being at work full time is not an essential function of a job?
List 10 up: Positive employee relations training: reap the benefits of engagement
Employment agreements – what to do before you do
Background checks of the future are continuous
Treating service animal requests (always treat the animal)
Prepare for saying "No" – you need to decide how to refuse service
List 10 up: What's the deal with employee handbook rules?
I cannot tell a lie . . . you're fired for cutting down the cherry tree
Milk Stork delivers for working mom's and their baby
Job tasks and essential functions under the ADA
Who are you? Why are you here? Personality testing?
No, you can't sleep on the job
Technology driving the hiring process
Should you give your employees a little Slack – or do they have enough already?
"We need to talk" isn't any easier to say than to hear
Bet employers must make: call and raise your minimum wage
Zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies
Ralph Waldo Emerson as a productivity consultant
Is the employee "disabled" under the ADA?
The six step DOL audit polka
PTO on the house!
New rules for work rules
Dr. Strangelabor or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Millennial
Did Bartleby the scrivener write his own job description?
"Treating" disgruntled or bad behaving employees
Hiring under the age of 18
DO NOT LICK THE BRAIN! and other obvious stuff
Helping your employees save for emergencies
Right to bare arms in the workplace
#MeToo quiz
Under standing desks
How to approach an employee showing signs of cognitive decline
Dress codes should not be encoded
Foul language *
Rorschach, Horshack and Abednego
Don't ask a woman the gender of her child, especially. . .
Guidelines for a valid no-solicitation/no-distribution policy
All aboard the Love Train for long-term onboarding!
Gender and workplace bathrooms
No FMLA for pet's death
Personal hygiene in the workplace
Yes Virginia, there is a St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
Master the modern method for managing March Madness
Drug testing in The Office
Background checks
"Thank you" and "I'm sorry" – meaningful, simple and impactful
Michael Corleone HR tip for the day
S'not flu or it is, doesn't matter
Be prepared for ICE raids
Looking for employees: an untapped source of talent
Calling Dr. Love(less)
Non-exempt employees – what counts as wages?
HR is not a happy accident
Do new hires have to be a culture club fit?
Remote workers and telecommuting
When former employees ask for references
Model written lock out/tag out program
Wrong table cat
They might be giants . . . transforming healthcare?
Conducting internal I-9 audits
The Nebraska Chamber has issued a W-2 challenge to state taxpayers
The impact of super bowl(ing)
12 steps to handling violence in the workplace
Workplace retaliation: don't give in to the Dark Side
Would you really want to work with a bunch of yous?
What is the ADA?
Monty Python should not write your job descriptions
FMLA definitions
Unemployed or wear a bra – are those the only choices?
What "government shutdown" means for employers
An intern by any other name
FMLA - "leave" as in "leave the employee alone"
 “M,” “F,” Or “X”? Nonbinary Gender Designations in the Workplace
Sexual harassment – can't find it – what now?
Probationary periods
Employee contracts
How to treat fringe benefits for employees
Attendance policies
Different repeal
Temporary and leased employees
Birthdays in the workplace
Needy employees
Holiday parties - acknowledge, avoid, assume (nothing)
Dress codes: who, what, wear
Punch clock
Nepotism: favoring relatives and friends in the workplace
Year-end performance reviews
Hiring interviews
The Form I-9 has changed… Again!
Service dogs at work
Bring your own gun
Social media
Year-end or holiday incentives
Arizona sick day policy
Paternity leave
HRsimple spotlight - Fiona Ong
Permissible post-accident drug testing
Paid family leave: a growing trend
Politics in the workplace: how to remain legally compliant during election season
Termination Series: Communicating the reason for discharge
It’s only a matter of overtime
Interview with attorneys at Kastner Westman & Wilkins
Valentine's Day heartaches around the office
Safety and health tips
Wearable technology
Favorite HR sites
Back to school time is here!
Vacation policies and time off
Interview with author J. Hagood Tighe
Non-compete agreements
Workplace romance
Bullying in the workplace
Employment references
Telecommuting or remote (control) workers
Social media and employment
Performance evaluations
Interview with attorneys at Wilson Worley PC
Interview with attorneys at Knudsen Law Firm
Interview with Kathy Speaker MacNett
Firing, a job to do right the first time
Job advertisement do’s and don’ts
Employee handbooks – getting a handle on your policies
Technology in the workplace
Interview questions: do's and don'ts
Employee personnel files