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Harassment, Bullying, and Discrimination in the Workplace

11. June 2014 08:32

Workplace bullying situation with woman using slingshot

In the U.S., 35 percent of workers suffer workplace bullying, according to a 2010 Zogby International survey commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). That percentage climbs to 50 percent of workers when witnesses are involved.

Other startling stats:

Most bullying is same-gender harassment (~68 percent), which is mostly legal according to anti-discrimination laws. But even though bullying isn’t illegal (yet!), your small business could still face an employment practices liability suit if you don’t intervene. Plus, your business may endure a host of other problems as a result of an unfriendly work environment.

What Does Workplace Bullying Entail?

According to the Healthy Workplace Campaign, an organization that seeks to enact anti-bullying laws, workplace bullying is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.” Usually, this behavior manifests through…

Telltale Signs of Workplace Bullying

Like most employers, the last thing you want is to create a work environment that your employees dread. After all, such a workplace can hamper morale and productivity. Not to mention, no one likes a bully.

But bullying is a quiet epidemic. About half of the people surveyed by Zogby have never been bullied or witnessed it. So how can you be sure something’s amiss?

The Workplace Bullying Institute outlines several signs that your employees or supervisors may be bullying others:

Harassment, the EEOC, and Bullying’s Legal Gray Area

Though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t regulate workplace bullying, there are times when it can be considered harassment – a form of discrimination the EEOC does monitor.

Workplace bullying can be considered harassment if the conduct is directed at the target because of their membership in a protected class. Protected classes are a group of men and women who may experience employment discrimination on the basis of their…

For example, if one of your managers constantly makes fun of an employee because of their religion, they could sue your business for illegal harassment. Similarly, if a manager impedes a female employee’s progress at work and belittles her, she could sue for discrimination.

To learn more about protected classes and the EEOC, read “Hiring an Employee? Know What Can Go Wrong.”

The High Cost of Bullying for Employers

Bullying not only hurts the individuals targeted by the mistreatment – it hurts businesses, too. In workplaces with bullying problems, the employee absentee and turnover rates are high. That means businesses will have to invest more in hiring and training new employees. Plus, a business with a bad bullying reputation may have a hard time recruiting new talent once the word gets out about why employees won’t stick around.

Left unchecked, harassment and bullying problems can lead to low productivity and health problems for employees. The Zogby survey cites that 45 percent of individuals bullied at work suffer cardiovascular problems, impaired immune systems, debilitating anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. This means employees may end up filing more Workers’ Compensation claims, which can drive up your premium rates.

Plus, bullied employees can always sue a business for the emotional distress workplace harassment or bullying caused. Though you should protect your business from the cost of these lawsuits with Employment Practices Liability Insurance, you should also take measures to ensure workplace bullying isn’t tolerated. You can get some ideas here: “The Small Business Guide to Avoiding Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace.”

This post is part of an ongoing series on Employment Practices Liability Insurance, the high cost of employment discrimination lawsuits, and EEOC laws. Stay tuned for more on what can go wrong when hiring (and firing) employees.

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