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Workplace bullying: How to recognize it, how to handle it


Bullying is a serious issue and should not be tolerated in any place or any form, including in the workplace.

Workplace bullying can be defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees,” according to the website of the Workplace Bullying Institute, which is based in Clarkston, Washington state.

This can also be defined as “abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse” or behaviors “perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating” and includes “work sabotage” or any combination of the aforementioned, they note.

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“Abuse at work is the only form of abuse in America that is not yet taboo,” the website also says. “All other forms have been condemned — abuse of children, spouses, partners — while bullying at work is still considered a normal, inevitable or even a necessary business practice.”

For those who believe they’re victims of bullying, there are specific things to do.

sad employee

Workplace bullying can be defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees,” according to the Workplace Bullying Institute website. (iStock / iStock)

Here are steps to take.

Start documenting instances of bullying

If you believe you’re being bullied in the workplace, you should start to create a paper trail to chronicle the mistreatment, experts advise.

“If you’ve experienced workplace harassment or bullying, having a good record is critical to reporting it and making sure your complaint is taken seriously,” John Joy, managing attorney with FTI Law in New York, told FOX Business.

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FTI Law specializes in representing whistleblowers who report legal violations to the SEC.

If any of the harassment or workplace bullying has taken place via emails, be sure to save those and print out a copy.

“Regardless of whether you report [your information] within your organization or to local authorities, having a record is what separates successful claims” from those that are unsuccessful, Joy said.

Know the laws and limitations in documentation

“While you may have suffered harassment or bullying, there can be state laws that prohibit you from bringing recording devices into work or even recording phone or Zoom calls with other people without their permission,” he said.

man hiding under laptop

“Abuse at work is the only form of abuse in America that is not yet taboo,” according to the Workplace Bullying Institute of Washington state. (iStock / iStock)

If you feel the need to record a conversation, Joy said to make sure you get local legal advice first or be sure to let the person you are talking to know that you want to record the conversation.

Create written records as incidents happen

Since recording a conversation is not always an available option, the safest bet is to create a written record of all workplace bullying incidents contemporaneously, Joy recommended.

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“This means that you write down what happened as soon as it happens — not the following day or weeks later,” he said.

“If your employer discovers your true intentions, they could act against you before you’re adequately prepared to make your move.”

A contemporaneous record can sometimes be used as evidence in court proceedings, according to Joy.

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However, a record you create later, after an event has happened, will carry much less weight — or may not even be accepted as evidence.

Print out evidence of workplace bullying

If any harassment or workplace bullying has taken place via emails, be sure to save those and keep a printed copy, Joy advised.

tired and upset man on laptop

It is important to create a written record of all workplace bullying incidents contemporaneously, said one expert. (iStock / iStock)

You can email such correspondence to a private email account, he noted.

If you signed a non-disclosure agreement, there may be certain prohibitions around taking company emails home or forwarding them to a personal account, Joy said.

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These rules will vary by state and by company, so it’s a smart move to get legal advice early in the process, he added.

If you can’t get legal advice, if you have a good-faith belief that the emails are evidence of harassment, and if you intend to use them in court, then you will likely be safe keeping a personal copy, he said.

Chronicle any health results of bullying

It is important to “diligently capture a paper trail” detailing the “emotional and physical distress” you are suffering — and any other personal events related to the workplace bullying — said Danielle Clark, a business professor at both Hillsborough Community College and University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.

nurse working on patient chart

Make a record of the “emotional and physical distress” you are suffering — and any other pertinent personal events — related to workplace bullying, said Danielle Clark of the University of South Florida. (iStock / iStock)

“Examples of things you should document include doctor’s visits relating to the bullying, such as if you’ve had stress headaches and sought help,” she said.

“Word gets around — and not everyone you work with is your friend.”

Clark added that people should document “therapist visits, where you explore your feelings from being bullied” and social events they’ve missed due to anxiety, such as “no longer having the motivation and energy to continue going to spin class.”

colleagues meeting

If possible, it is good to get legal input on your workplace bullying experience, said one lawyer. (iStock / iStock)

While it can be taxing to document everything, it will be helpful if your workplace takes action against you.

It will also be helpful if you’re able to pursue legal claims.

Proceed with caution

Think carefully before you share your experiences in your workplace about any bullying or abuse you’re experiencing, experts advised.

“Word gets around — and not everyone you work with is your friend,” Jeff Caesar Chukwuma, founder and senior partner of Chukwuma Law Group with offices in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida, told FOX Business.

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He said that as long as you proceed discreetly, you’re at an advantage since you have the element of surprise.

“But if your employer discovers your true intentions, [the employer] could act against you before you’re adequately prepared to make your move,” Chukwuma said.



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