Workplace Bullying

By Vincent J. Quatrini, Jr., Esq.

Have you heard the term "workplace bullying?" Those of us who represent injured workers recognize this conduct, but until recently, it did not have a name.

We have noticed a clear pattern of emotional and physical distress among our clients who work for a bully. What does a workplace bully look like? A workplace bully can be male or female, young or old, or of any ethnic background. Not only can the bully be anyone, but the abusive conduct from the bully can take many forms.

Each of us can recall a bully - for example, the supervisor who singled out an employee who then became the target of harassing and derogatory remarks that lasted for an extended period of time. No matter what that person did, it wasn't right, or it wasn't good enough, or it was flat out wrong.

Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute and the author of "The Bully at Work," points out that the recession has provided a "blank check" for office bullies. The control that the supervisor, foreman or owner of a business has over an employee has been magnified by the economic downturn. In the past, an employee could jump to another job when the verbal abuse or intimidation became too much to handle. During a recession, there are fewer opportunities to move to another job.

Employees have some protection from harassment in the workplace involving age, disability, race, color, sex and religion. This same protection is not readily available for the employee who suffers abusive behavior at work. The Workplace Bullying Institute is pushing states to adopt legislation that defines abusive conduct in the workplace and sets rules for behavior.

Unfortunately, proving that bullying is the cause of an employee's physical or emotional problems is difficult. Workers can suffer from such things as elevated blood pressure, migraine headaches, stomach problems, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Proving the link between these type of problems and workplace bullying can be problematic. The name calling or the intimidation is oftentimes carried out, one on one, behind closed doors and with no witnesses. Many times, the "boss" sides with the bully, labeling the victim as the trouble maker, consequently empowering the bully to continue the abuse.

Dr. Namie provides pointers for workers who feel harassed:

  • Identify acts that are not just rude behavior, but are intentional acts designed to demean people.
  • Build a case against the bully. Team up with other employees to prove that the bully is too expensive to keep around. Prove that the bully causes high turnover, high absenteeism, low morale, or that productivity is lagging because of the bully.
  • If you can, look for another job. Getting away from the bully may be the most effective way to resolve the problem.

Do not confuse a lousy boss with a workplace bully. It is hard to work for either type of supervisor, but the conduct of the bully is pathological. It is chronic. It is usually directed at one employee.

In Pennsylvania, in order to be entitled to workers' compensation because of a workplace bully, there are two standards. If you have an emotional disability, we must prove that it was caused by an "abnormal working condition." This is extremely difficult to do. If you suffer a physical impairment, such as a heart attack or migraine headaches, we only need to show you are unable to do your time of injury job. If you feel you have suffered a work injury, please call Vince toll-free at 1-888-288-9748.