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

Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The workplace can sometimes be a toxic environment.You mightsometimes form lasting bonds and make new friends or acquaintances at work. Other times, you have little in common with your co-workers, but you can get along well enough and get your job done. 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 being in middle school again, full of immature behavior and cliques. It might feel difficult, or even impossible, 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 permitted 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 you a workplace bully has wronged you, consider consulting an attorney and asking about the laws in your state.

Taking legal action is 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 importantway of documenting mistreatment at work. Write down as much information about each incident as possible, including details about what happened, the time, date, 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 bullyingis 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 whichinterferes 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 also happen between co-workers and other people who frequent the workplace, such as customers and vendors. A bullying supervisor may threaten with disciplinary action or firing 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, reasons are not excuses; there is no excuse for bullying, and you deserve to feel safe and valued in your workplace.

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 percent of workers have experienced workplace bullying. Furthermore, a 2015 survey of 2,000 workers showed that 58 percent of respondents had experienced or witnessed workplace bullying.

Some jobs are more prone to workplace bullying. For example, healthcare, education, and service industries have higher rates of reported bullying compared to other employment sectors, according to a 2013 survey, as well as law enforcement. These work environments all 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.

Health Effects And Other Outcomes Of Workplace Bullying

Experiencing ongoing bullying at work, especially a full-time job over a long period, canseverely 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 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 are responding to attacks. Experiencing ill effects from bullying is not a sign of weakness but a sign that you are enduring something real and damaging.

Are You Facing Bullying In Your Workplace?

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 can help you avoid moving from one bad situation to another.

First, consider consulting a professionalto 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? 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 can help you find a new job where bullying is less likely. Then, look up potential workplaces on the internet for reviews that indicate the working environment. This information can help you feel prepared for job interviews. Some pertinent topics you might address during an interview include:

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 is 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. Let the potential employer know that you want to work in an environment that keep workers away against workplace bullies. However, avoid the urge to gossip about your previous employer, as doing so may reflect poorly on your trustworthiness to a new potential employer.

Seeking Help For Bullying

You don’t deserve bullying, and if you are experiencing it at work, then you can take several actions to change it, including contacting human resources or a supervisor, considering a different workplace or job opportunity, hiring an attorney, or pursuing therapy. Of these options, you can start right away through an online service like BetterHelp.

Professional therapists use various types of therapy to help people who have experienced bullying. These includecognitive 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 counselor in person. In addition, online treatment can be less stressful because you can connect with a therapist anywhere you have an Internet connection or a phone. For example, if you are under the stress of workplace bullying, talking to an online therapist might make it easier and more convenient to get the help you need. Therapists at BetterHelp can connect with you via video chat, phone, text messaging, and email.

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Workplace bullying is a common problem that can leave you feeling helpless and overwhelmed. It can 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, 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.

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