You graduated. You left the elementary school playground and the unforgiving halls of high school behind. More importantly, you left the bullies behind.
Or so you thought.
A 2019 Monster.com survey reports that nearly 94% of employees report being victimized by a bully in the workplace.
In fact, bullies are everywhere, and bullying can affect anyone at any age. At any age in any location by anyone, bullying is unacceptable.
If you’re among the vast majority of American workers who have experienced bullying in the workplace, read on to learn more, including how to file a workplace bullying lawsuit.
What Is Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying is a form of “psychological violence.” It occurs when a perpetrator repeatedly targets one or more colleagues for mistreatment that has significant effects on the target’s mental or physical health or workplace productivity. Key aspects of this definition include “repeated” mistreatment and “significant effects.”
Bullying is, by definition, an ongoing pattern of behavior. Its effects are likewise significant and ongoing. Victims of bullying report increased levels of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other mental illnesses. They also experience physical consequences, including trouble sleeping, ulcers, and higher blood pressure.
Victims of workplace bullying find their performance at work suffers, as well. They struggle to concentrate, make decisions, and get work done. This decreased productivity, in turn, diminishes the victim’s self-esteem. It can also have other tangible negative effects on the victim, including job loss.
What Are the Signs of Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying includes behavior that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. Specific examples of workplace bullying include:
- An employer or colleague who targets a victim for unfair, repeated, and/or public criticism
- An employer or colleague who takes credit for a victim’s work
- An employer or colleague who undermines, or “sabotages,” the victim’s work
- An employer or colleague who excludes the victim
- An employer or colleague who regularly gossips about the victim
- An employer or colleague who regularly insults the victim or make snide remarks
- An employer or colleague who threatens the victim
What Can You Do About Workplace Bullying?
If you’ve experienced these or similar types of mistreatment on an ongoing basis and it is affecting your health and productivity, you can, must, and deserve to protect yourself. So what can you do?
Every situation is different. However, initial steps echo elementary school advice. Try to resolve the issue with the bully yourself. Depending on the circumstances, you could try to speak calmly and privately to the bully. You could ignore the bully. You could attempt to deflect her attacks with nonchalant responses.
At this point, however, you’re reading an article about filing a workplace bullying lawsuit. So you’ve likely tried these initial steps and found little success. In that case, it’s time to involve others.
If the bully is a colleague, the first person to involve is your boss. It’s important to prepare yourself for this conversation. Most importantly, preparation involves documenting the bullying. Gather evidence, including the date, time, frequency, and nature of the incidents. Then be prepared to present it to your employer in a calm and objective manner.
If your boss is the bully or if you’ve spoken to your boss and received insufficient support, you’ll need to escalate the situation further. In these cases, your company’s human resources department can be another internal resource. Again, documentation is key, and again, knowing when to escalate further is important.
If you’ve exhausted all the steps you can take internally, it’s time to involve outside help, and it may be time to file a workplace bullying lawsuit.
Is Workplace Bullying Illegal?
Currently, workplace bullying laws are limited. California recently became the first state to require large employers to train managers to handle abusive behavior. However, the law does not make workplace bullying itself illegal.
In fact, state and federal laws do not specifically prohibit workplace bullying. Nevertheless, bullying can fall under federal and state laws regarding discrimination and harassment. These laws protect employees on the basis of certain characteristics, including:
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court added sexual orientation and gender identity to this list.
How Do You File a Workplace Bullying Lawsuit?
If you’ve been targeted for any of these characteristics, you’ve reported it, and the bullying has continued, you may have a legal case. The first step in filing a hostile work environment claim is to find an experienced lawyer who can evaluate your situation.
Here again, the documentation you’ve compiled is essential. At this stage, the evidence you’ve gathered should include:
- Instances of mistreatment
- The effects it has had on you
- The steps you’ve already taken to try to resolve the issue
Again, be sure to document the date, time, location, and parties involved in every internal report you made. Also, document the outcome of each report in detail, including any retaliation you experienced.
Unfortunately, some victims of bullying are further victimized when they report mistreatment. Retaliation can include being disciplined, having your pay docked, receiving a negative employee evaluation, being demoted, or even being fired. These forms of retaliation themselves qualify as harassment, and your attorney needs to be aware of them.
Armed with all of the evidence, including any instances of retaliation, your attorney can help you determine if you should file a hostile work environment complaint. Involving an experienced attorney and making this decision as soon as possible is crucial because you have a limited time frame — often only 180 days — in which to file such a complaint.
Filing such a complaint is a prerequisite to filing a workplace bullying lawsuit, so meeting these deadlines ensures that you protect your legal rights and have time to build a successful case.
Sticks and Stones Can Break Your Bones, But Words Hurt Just as Much
Most bullies leave their playground weapons of sticks and stones in school. However, they bring their weapons of words and subtle actions into the workplace. Because they can be covert, protecting yourself against these weapons can be more difficult. With proper documentation and an experienced lawyer, however, you can protect yourself.
Consulting a lawyer in a timely manner is the first and most important step toward filing a workplace bullying lawsuit, protecting your rights, and maximizing your success and happiness at work.
For more information about maximizing your success and happiness at work and at home, check out our blog.