What Workplace Bullying Laws Exist And How Can They Protect You?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated November 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The workplace can sometimes be a toxic environment. You might sometimes form lasting bonds and make new friends or acquaintances at work. However, in some situations, the people you work with can become bullies.

For example, they might mistreat you verbally, try to get you into trouble or sabotage your work. If this has happened to you, your workplace might suddenly feel like middle school again, full of immature behavior and cliques. It might feel difficult to work under these hostile conditions. Hostile working conditions can even lead to PTSD from bullying in some individuals. If the bully is your boss, knowing what to do can be especially challenging.

How common is workplace bullying? Is there anything you can do about it without having to quit your job? In this article, we’ll delve into workplace bullying laws and provide information on what you can do about bullying in the workplace.

Are You Facing Bullying In Your Workplace?

Are There Any Laws Against Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying laws are designed to allow employees to sue for compensation if an employer has created or allowed a hostile work environment. In the U.S., workplace bullying is considered discrimination or harassment when a person is bullied for reasons of race, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, or belonging to another class.

In addition, 31 states have enacted the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB). The HWB goes further than the federal laws against workplace discrimination against classes of people, recognizing that hostile workplace situations affect many people who deserve legal safety against this type of harmful behavior on the job. If a workplace bully has wronged you, consider consulting an attorney and asking about the laws in your state.

Taking legal action can be easier if you maintain documentation of the offenses through a journal or series of memos. For example, documentation could include sending an email or note to someone in the human resources department, a trusted co-worker, or a supervisor. Writing a description of each incident in a notebook is another important way of documenting mistreatment at work. You can write down as much information about each incident as possible, including details about what happened, the time, the date, the location, and anyone who might have witnessed it. Written documentation provides a paper trail for supporting your claim of bullying and taking legal action.

What Constitutes Bullying?

The general definition of workplace bullying is malicious, unwanted, and repetitive behavior targeting an individual. Bullying can include written, verbal, and physical acts that create a hostile, offensive, humiliating, or intimidating workplace environment that interferes with a person’s ability to perform their job normally.

Who Are The Bullies?

In some cases, bullies hold positions at work that are senior to the people they target. Still, workplace bullying can happen between co-workers of equal rank and between workers and other people who frequent the workplace, such as customers and vendors. A bullying supervisor may threaten with disciplinary action or termination to keep their target from standing up to them. They also might blame the other person when something negative happens or undermine their work achievements.

Individuals can become bullies for several reasons. For example, they might struggle with insecurity or deep feelings of fear or self-doubt. They also might have endured past abuse or been bullied by others. However, there is no excuse for bullying, and you deserve to feel safe and valued in your workplace.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Are Specific Jobs More Prone To Bullying?

If someone is bullying you at work, you are not alone. A recent meta-analysis of studies shows an estimated 11% of workers have experienced workplace bullying. Furthermore, a 2016 survey of 2,000 workers showed that 58% of respondents had experienced or witnessed workplace bullying.

Some jobs are more prone to workplace bullying. For example, the healthcare, education, and service industries tend to have higher rates of reported bullying than other employment sectors, according to a 2013 survey. These work environments include potentially stressful situations, hierarchies of power in which supervisors work in close contact with subordinates, and frequent communication with patients, students, and patrons. However, bullying can occur in any industry and workplace.

Physical And Mental Effects Of Workplace Bullying

Experiencing ongoing bullying at work, especially a full-time job over a long period, can severely impact your health. Effects can include:

  • Excess stress: Stress from bullying can lead to physical and mental health problems, reducing workplace performance.
  • Fear of going to work: Instead of being able to focus on doing well at your job, you may wake up dreading your next shift or meeting and may be preoccupied with negative thoughts about work when you come home.
  • Sleep problems: You may struggle to fall asleep as you reflect on incidents and fear what might happen next.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Working in an environment that fosters bullying or abusive behavior can leave emotional scars. You might even look back on a previous work environment and wonder how you could remain as long as you did.
  • Other psychological symptoms: Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and mood swings might result from being targeted by a bully at work. Your body and mind tend to respond to attacks. Experiencing ill effects from bullying is not a sign of weakness but a sign that you are enduring something real and damaging.

Preventing Workplace Bullying In The Future

If you decide to leave your job due to workplace bullying, you may wonder whether a new workplace will be any better. A few key steps might help you avoid moving from one bad situation to another.

First, consider consulting a professional to determine what went wrong in your previous work environment. For example, was the problem excessive competition among co-workers, a cruel boss, or humiliating behavior in meetings? You might try to identify what traits you would like to see in a workplace instead, such as a collaborative atmosphere, a flexible and communicative boss, or a reliable human resources presence. Then, you can look up potential workplaces on the internet for reviews that indicate what the working environments are like. This information may help you feel prepared for job interviews. Below are some pertinent topics you might address during an interview:

  • Ask why the last person left the job and how long they were employed. There are many reasons why someone may quit their job, but if the employer dodges the question, this could indicate a dysfunctional workplace.
  • Ask about what policies the company takes to handle workplace bullying. If they have no specific guidelines, they might not be able to adequately address your concerns. A lack of clear policy is not necessarily a reason to turn down a job, but you might want to ask follow-up questions about the workplace environment first.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, explain your previous work environment and what issues led you to leave. You might let the potential employer know that you want to work in an environment that keeps workers away from workplace bullies. However, you might try to avoid the urge to gossip about your previous employer, as doing so may reflect poorly on your trustworthiness to a potential employer.
Getty/Halfpoint Images
Are You Facing Bullying In Your Workplace?

Seeking Help For Bullying

You don’t deserve bullying. If you are experiencing it at work, you can take several actions, including contacting human resources or a supervisor, considering a different workplace or job opportunity, hiring an attorney, or pursuing therapy. 

Professional therapists can use various types of therapy to help people who have experienced bullying. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and solution-focused therapy (SFT). In many cases, therapists can utilize these treatments through online consultations with their clients.

Several research studies have found that online therapy can be as effective as seeing a therapist in person. In addition, online treatment might be more convenient because you can connect with a therapist anywhere you have an Internet connection. For example, therapists at BetterHelp can connect with you via video chat, phone, and in-app messaging. This may prove helpful when it comes to discussing challenging emotions related to bullying.

Below are some reviews of online therapists at BetterHelp:

“I’ve been working with Alicia for about 7 months now, and I can’t recommend her enough. She is unbelievably smart and yet filled with warmth, she’s non-judgmental but still able to see negative patterns, she gives solid frameworks and solutions when I need them, and is a listening ear when I need that. Alicia doesn’t just deal with the subject matter at hand, she remembers things I’ve told her weeks prior, small names or details or passing comments, and points out patterns I hadn’t noticed, helping me re-frame my own thoughts and behaviors, all while showing how much she’s really listening and paying attention. It makes me feel like I’m talking to a friend. One personal example of her intuitive spirit is what she said to me in my very first session with her which has stuck with me since that day. This reframing of the narrative I had been telling myself from the moment I quit changed everything for me, and she had known me for 45 minutes. For anyone on the fence about therapy and its benefits, Alicia is the empathetic soul we all need in our lives.”

“Pamela Heyman is outstanding. She listens extremely well, has excellent follow up, recommends constructive feedback with a positive outlook, and she challenges me to strive for my goal of better family/friend/workplace relationships. Thank you Pamela for working with me to understand myself and how my life experiences mold me. This is helping me prosper with interactions successfully I have with personalities/people in my life.”


Workplace bullying is a common problem that can leave you feeling overwhelmed. It can also lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as sleep disturbances and lowered work performance. 

No one deserves bullying at work. If you are experiencing workplace bullying, you might keep notes of every incident, tell trusted co-workers and supervisors, and consider consulting an attorney about federal and state laws that defend you. In addition, consider talking to a therapist who can help you cope and make wise decisions about your future. Whatever type of bullying you’re experiencing, you don’t have to face it alone. Take the first step toward healing from bullying and reach out to BetterHelp.

Is bullying impacting your life?

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