Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments
What is workplace bullying? What is workplace harassment?
How does one define bullying in the workplace?
What is workplace harassment? What constitutes bullying at work?
Is bullying at work illegal?
Definition of Workplace Bullying in the UKAccording to the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS):
Bullying is "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient."
Definition of Workplace Bullying in AustraliaAccording to Safe Work Australia, a statutory agency, workplace bullying is defined as
"repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed toward a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety".
The Government of Western Australia Chamber of Commerce said:
"Bullying in the workplace may be described as repeated inappropriate behaviour that can occur at work and/or in the course of employment. It may be direct or indirect, verbal or physical, or some form of negative interaction between one or more persons against another or others. Bullying behaviour can be regarded as undermining an individual's right to dignity at work."
The Australian Human Rights Commission said one definition is:
“the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker”.
Definition of Workplace Bullying in New Zealand"Bullying may be seen as something that someone repeatedly does or says to gain power and dominance over another, including any action or implied action, such as threats, intended to cause fear and distress.” Evans v Gen-i Limited unreported, D King, 29 August 2005, AA 333/05.
Definition of Workplace Bullying in the United StatesThe Washington State Department of Labor & Industries:
"Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)."
Definition of Workplace Harassment in CanadaTreasury Board Secretariat - Federal Public Service workers
Under the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, harassment is defined as: "improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm.
It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and pardoned conviction)."
Quebec Commission des Normes du Travail - Quebec workers
"Psychological harassment at work is vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures: that are hostile or unwanted, that affect the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity, that make the work environment harmful."
The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines workplace harassment as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome."
This definition of workplace harassment is broad enough to include harassment prohibited under the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as "psychological harassment" or "personal harassment."
Some of the types of harassment that workers could experience in the workplace include sexual harassment, teasing, intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos, display or circulation of offensive pictures or materials, unwelcome, offensive, or intimidating phone calls, or bullying. Leering, unwelcome gifts or attention, offensive gestures, or spreading rumours could also be considered harassment.
Types of workplace harassment? Examples of workplace harassment.
What does workplace bullying and harassment look like?
How does bullying start?
Impact and consequences of workplace bullying
Workplace bullying also hurts your organization or company. Impacts include, increased turnover, costs to workplace health programs, increased risk to workplace incidents, decreased productivity, compromised corporate brand and decreased customer service quality.
How to deal with a bully at work?
- Make it clear to the person that their behaviour is unwanted. Have a witness, such as a labour/union representative or human resources officer with you.
- Document everything, including the date, time and behaviour, the impact on you, the witnesses present and the outcome. If there is written proof, keep this as well.
- Report each incident to the appropriate person. Seek out the services of an ombudsman, special contact in the organization or human resources. They will be able to provide advice on how to report workplace bullying.
- Don’t convince yourself that this behaviour is acceptable or somehow warranted by something that you have done. Victims may feel vulnerable and as if they have no option but to remain silent.
- Take these steps before you decide to quit your job. Although there may be a power imbalance between the victim and the bully, one person or even a group of persons is not necessarily representative of the whole organization.
Top 7 Tips for Mediators Addressing Workplace Harassment
If you are a mediator, how do you deal with workplace harassment?
- Are the clients fully capable and interested in mediating the case? If one of the clients might be emotionally and psychologically struggling, it might be inappropriate to invite them to participate in mediation unless they have approval from their doctor or attending professional;
- Consider starting your time with the clients as a consultant to discuss their options, and then with conflict coaching so they are empowered to express their concerns when the time for mediation is appropriate. This is likely the best time to have the parties learn about the harassment policy and process, so that their expectations are managed. The truth is, the other person might not be separated (fired), so they might be asked to resolve the conflict with the help of a mediator. Of course, mediation is voluntary, but parties might aim for a collaborative solution, especially if one of the parties says sorry and genuinely will make an effort to improve their behaviour;
- Before the mediation, ensure that the parties are aware of their rights and obligations. Give them this website to learn more about harassment and boundaries in the workplace. Also, ask the parties if they would like a support person or lawyer present in the sessions, and offer the same to the other party as well;
- They might not be interested in working face-to-face with the other party, so if they are healthy and very interested in pursuing mediation, offer some alternative approaches, such as shuttle mediation (where the parties are in separate rooms and the mediator goes between each to manage the discussions and negotiation), or invite the parties to sit in the same room, but have them facing other directions;
- Many parts of the mediation might be similar, whereby the mediator is there to guide discussions in a safe environment with appropriate communication norms, ensuring that both parties are heard and that they are able to find a solution that works for both of them;
- A big part of the mediation might be future-focused, helping the parties establish new norms for working together. Work with them to come up with some broad norms for their relationship, and then talk through some examples and how they would be applied.
- Discuss ways in which parties might ask for help or talk to the other person, if there is a ‘relapse’ in behaviour.
About the Author - Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work EnvironmentsRhema - Legal Dispute Blogger in collaboration with Mediate2go
Rhema Kang is a litigation lawyer. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in International Relations, and Juris Doctor from the University of Ottawa. She first became excited about mediation while working for the Honourable George W. Adams, a prominent Canadian mediator who handles legal disputes worth up to several hundred million dollars. Rhema was the researcher behind the book, Mediating Justice: Legal Dispute Negotiations, and won second prize in the FMC Negotiation Competition. Rhema enjoys dark chocolate with sea salt and finds it awkward to write about herself in the third person.