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Operations: New Year's Resolution - Stop Workplace Bullies

Jan. 17, 2013
Bullying threatens morale and drives down productivity.

Do you have a formal workplace bullying policy in place at your company? If not, it may be a corporate resolution worth considering for 2013. 

Workplace bullying is certainly prevalent, data suggest. Results of a 2012 workplace bullying survey conducted for the Society for Human Resource Management showed one-half of organizations reported an incident of bullying had occurred in their workplace. For larger organizations, those with more than 500 employees, the percentage grew to 71%.

And despite a lack of federal legislation with regard to workplace bullying, there are consequences. At the very least, bullying lowers employee morale and drives down productivity. If it rises to the level of harassment, federal legal implications exist. 

See Also: Operations Management Strategy & Best Practices

What constitutes bullying? In its survey, SHRM defined bullying as "persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior or unfair actions directed at another individual, causing the recipient to feel threatened, abused, humiliated or vulnerable." Definitions vary, however.

Attorney Howard K. Kurman, managing partner at Offit Kurman and chair of its Labor & Employment Practice Group, advises clients to establish effective policies and procedures to address workplace bullying. Almost every firm has a harassment policy, he notes. A workplace bullying policy is a logical adjunct. 

At a minimum, Kurman suggests companies develop workplace-bullying policies that:

• Spell out what behaviors constitute bullying

• Prohibit such behaviors by everyone, regardless of their position in the firm

• Establish processes and procedures for investigating bullying claims and addressing claims found to be true. The response to claims with merit could range up to and including termination, depending on the circumstances involved.

• Prohibit retaliation against individuals who bring bullying claims. 

Kurman says he does not suggest a "cookie-cutter" approach to such policies; different businesses have different needs.

Employee-side attorney Donna Ballman, author of "Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards," advises corporations to adopt "a zero-tolerance policy for bullying similar to those in place in schools. If you think about the time bullies waste for themselves and others instead of getting work done, it makes sense to ban bullying," she says. 

While there is no federal legislation to address workplace bullying on the immediate horizon, Kurman says he wouldn't be surprised if it were introduced during the next four years, given what he calls "a vastly pro-employee" administration. 

"Whether it would have enough support to pass is anybody's guess," he adds. 

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