Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying and Violence

Workplace bullying is a pattern of behavior that harms, intimidates, undermines, offends, degrades or humiliates an employee, possibly in front of other employees, clients or customers.

Is workplace bullying against the law?

Bullying in general is not illegal in the U.S. unless it involves harassment based on race/color, religion, national origin, sex, age (over 40), marital status, disability, sexual orientation/gender identity, Veteran/military status or any other protected class.

If the harassment falls under the laws against sexual harassment or discrimination based on protected categories, you may contact the Washington State Human Rights Commission at 1-800-233-3247 and ask them if you qualify to file a formal complaint.

What are some examples of bullying behavior?

  • Unwarranted or invalid criticism; unjustified blame
  • Being treated differently from others in your workgroup
  • Being sworn at, shouted at or humiliated
  • Exclusion or social isolation
  • Excessive monitoring, micro-managing or being given unrealistic deadlines

What can I do if I am being bullied?

Regain control! Recognize that you are being bullied and that you are not the source of the problem. Bullying is about control, and therefore, it has nothing to do with your performance.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Keep a detailed diary of the bullying incidents (dates, times, places, what was done or said and who was present).
  • Keep documents that contradict the bully’s accusations, such as timesheets, audit reports, etc.
  • Expect the bully to deny and even misconstrue your accusations; have a witness during meetings with the person.
  • If possible, report the behavior to an appropriate and safe person.
  • Find support from trusted people at work, outside of work and at home.
Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is violence or the threat of physical violence, which occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and is one of the leading causes of workplace deaths. It can affect and involve employees, customers and visitors.

Who is vulnerable to violence?

Workers who exchange money with the public, deliver passengers, goods, or services working alone or in small groups during late night or early morning hours, working in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes with high contact with the public.

This group includes health-care and social service workers such as visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators, and probation officers; community workers such as gas and water utility employees, phone and cable TV installers, and letter carriers; retail workers; and taxi drivers.

What can employers do to help protect employees?

  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy, a prevention program, and train employees
  • Secure the workplace with lighting, video cameras, alarm systems, ID badges, and guards.
  • Equip field staff with cell phones, personal alarms, and contact person informed of their location.
  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Use a “buddy system”.

How can employees protect themselves?

Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by taking personal safety training programs.

Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents
immediately in writing.

Workplace Incivility

Workplace Incivility

Workplace incivility is common low intensity, harmful behavior that occurs with ambiguous intent, no apparent pattern, violates norms for mutual respect, and with no physical assault.

What are some examples of incivility?

  • Sending blunt or terse emails
  • Failing to respond to a friendly greeting
  • Neglecting to say thank you for a favor
  • Missing a meeting without giving advance notice
  • Interrupting and talking over another person

How is incivility harmful?

Incivility contributes to burnout, feelings of strain and distress, work withdrawal, decreased job morale, satisfaction, and performance. Even worse, when people observe incivility or retaliate against an uncivil person with their own uncivil act, incivility can grow and become the norm at work.

What can we do about incivility?

The most important thing that creates a civil workplace is for management to set a strong example by modeling respectful behavior. This generates a culture of civility and respect. Employees are keenly aware of how leaders interact with others in person or by email and set the tone at all levels of the organization.

Organizations can set the expectation for civility from recruitment, hiring, reference checking, and onboarding stages of selecting new employees to join them. Civility should be modeled, emphasized, and discussed explicitly throughout an employee’s career.

Promoting civility can reduce harmful effects for employees and increase workplace effectiveness.


Journal Articles

Yragui NL, Demsky CA, Hammer LB, Van Dyck S, and Neradilek MB (2017). Linking Workplace Aggression to Employee Well-Being and Work: The Moderating Role of Family-Supportive Supervisor Behaviors (FSSB). Journal of Business and Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10869-016-9443-z. Research Findings 75_21_2016_Yragui_SupervisorSupport

Yragui N, Silverstein B, & Johnson W (2013). Stopping the pain: The role of nurse leaders in providing organizational resources to reduce disruptive behavior. American Nurse Today. 8(10).

Yragui NL, Mankowski ES, Perrin NA, and Glass NE (2012). Dimensions of Support among Abused Women in the Workplace. American Journal of Community Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10464-011-9433-2.

Foley M and Rauser E (2012). Evaluating Progress in Reducing Workplace Violence: Trends in Washington State Workers' Compensation Claims Rates, 1997-2007. Work. doi: 10.3233/wor-2012-1326.

Foley M and Silverstein B (2003). The economic burden of nonfatal workplace assaults in Washington State, in: Clinics in Occupational and Environmental Medicine: Violence in the Workplace. Eds. Wilkinson C, Peek-Asa C. 3(4)691-709.

Foley M, Silverstein B and Kalat J. (1998). Violence in Washington State Health Care Workplaces, 1992-1995, in: The Epidemic of Health Care Worker Injury: An Epidemiology. Eds. Charney W, Fragala G. pp.167-178.

Nelson NA and Kaufman JD (1996). Fatal and nonfatal injuries related to violence in Washington workplaces, 1992. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0274(199610)30:4<438::AID-AJIM9>3.0.CO;2-R.