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What you can do about workplace bullying: Part I

Experts have determined that workplace bullying may result in significant psychological and physical stress. In general, this kind of harassment is characterized as a matter of workplace safety and as a potential health hazard. Unacceptably, experts have estimated that roughly 14 million Americans suffer from workplace bullying each year.

Most bullying behaviors are ultimately illegal, especially those which contribute to a hostile work environment. Unfortunately, even though employees have every right to speak up and speak out about bullying in the workplace, many fail to do so for fear of retaliation. This may be one reason why bullying is often reported less frequently when the economy is unstable and workers fear job loss more acutely.

A 2005 article entitled "Workplace Bullying and Harassment," defines the phenomenon as "unwanted and unwarranted behavior that a person finds offensive, intimidating or humiliating and is repeated so that it has a detrimental effect upon a person's dignity, safety and well-being."

By this definition, bullying need not be the result of targeting a person's race, gender, ethnicity or other protected classification. Bullying can happen to anyone at any time. And though some bullying is characterized by stereotypically aggressive verbal and physical behaviors, it can manifest in more subtle ways. If someone is consistently picked on, manipulated, demeaned, etc., this behavior could constitute illegal forms of bullying.

Because workplace bullying does not always involve discrimination or harassment against a protected class due to their protected minority identity, many individuals believe that they have no recourse against such treatment. However, the law does protect workers against hostile work environments.

What should employees and employers know about workplace bullying? Please check back later this week, as we continue our discussion about workplace bullying.

Source: The Washington Post, "Career Coach: Dealing with bullies in the workplace," Joyce E. A. Russell, May 27, 2012

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