Workplace bullying could spawn a new wave of employment-related lawsuits

Workplace bullying behaviors might run afoul of state and federal employment laws.

Sadly, bullying is becoming more common in workplaces in Florida and across America. Many of us dealt with bullies in the schoolyard as children, and some of those bullies grew up to taunt others on the job as well. Workplace bullying can encompass a wide range of behaviors all designed to make the victim feel targeted and powerless. These include:

  • Jokes, mocking or teasing (often centered around something that seemingly sets the victim apart from his or her bully, including the victim's gender, race, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, lifestyle, pregnancy/parenthood, religion or political affiliation)
  • Physical touching or assault (this could be couched as teasing or camaraderie, such as giving someone a "good-natured" punch in the arm or hearty pat on the back, but to a bully's target, such seemingly innocuous behavior could have a deeper, more malevolent meaning)
  • Abusive language (including yelling, belittling or using profanity)
  • Interfering, acting or failing to act in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for the victim to do his or her work
  • Spying on or stalking the victim (on the job or outside the workplace)
  • Intimidating or threatening the victim (or otherwise insinuating that physical violence could happen)
  • Making threats against the victim's job security or safety if the bullying is revealed to a supervisor/manager or to human resources
  • Spreading gossip about the victim
  • Socially isolating the victim from others in the workplace (i.e., purposely not inviting the victim to work-related meetings or social functions or moving his or her desk away from others)
  • Changing the victim's workplace responsibilities often or without notice
  • Giving the victim too much or too little by way of work-related duties such that a reasonable person would feel targeted
  • Preventing the victim from taking advantage of career development opportunities like training, additional responsibilities or promotions

Unfortunately, the mere act of workplace bullying itself isn't yet illegal in Florida or in many other jurisdictions, but bills have been introduced in recent years to get this issue into the spotlight. This doesn't mean that nothing can be done to stop the behavior, though. Oftentimes, bullying crosses the line into illegality by focusing on the victim's membership in protected classes (being based on gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, political affiliation, family or marital status, disability or religion), violating criminal laws (anti-stalking, assault, etc.) or otherwise creating a hostile work environment.

If you are being bullied in the workplace, there is help out there. You may feel alone - and that is often the entire point of bullying, since it is based upon exercising power and control over another person - but you don't have to suffer by yourself. Speaking up to a manager or supervisor can sometimes do the trick, and filing a formal complaint with human resources or the Florida Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can also be helpful.

Should traditional remedies fail you, however, it may be time to seriously consider bringing legal action against the person making your work life unbearable or against your employer for letting the bullying continue unabated. To learn more about employment-related causes of action to hold a workplace bully accountable, contact the Fort Lauderdale offices of The Amlong Firm; call them today at 954-519-2235 or contact them online.