Workplace Bullying is Increasing Again, Says a New Study

Survey shows a rise of eight per cent over last year’s bullying statistics and increased health implications

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Bullying, Human Resources on September 5th, 2012

In a study conducted by CareerBuilder in May/June 2012, 35 per cent of workers said they have been bullied at work, up from 27 per cent last year.  The study, which surveyed 3,800 workers across the US, revealed that 16 per cent of the bullied workers also reported health-related problems resulting from the bullying, and 17 per cent of them quit their jobs to escape the bullying.

The study also revealed that nearly half of workers don’t confront their bullies and that most incidents go unreported.

Reasons for the Increase

With a poor economy, and jobs being at a premium, more people are probably putting up with bullying in the workplace because they don’t see any other options but to put up with it,” says Gordon Berger, an Atlanta employment attorney and partner at Wagner, Johnston & Rosenthal. “Likewise, the more a bullying employee gets away with his behavior, the more likely it is that he will continue bullying. Also, it may be that more pressures in the workplace to perform well are leading to bullying behavior,” he adds.

Employers can be held liable for the effects of workplace bullying, especially when the bully is a supervisor. With 48 per cent of the workers in the study pointing to incidents with their bosses and 26 per cent indicating bullying by someone higher in the company other than their boss, seniority is clearly a factor.

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Forms of Bullying

The study indicated the following forms of bullying being the most prevalent:

  • 42 per cent reported being falsely accused of mistakes
  • 39 per cent reported being ignored
  • 36 per cent reported that bullies used different standards/policies toward them than other workers
  • 33 per cent indicated that they were constantly criticized
  • 31 per cent complained of bullies not performing certain duties, negatively impacted the victim’s work
  • 28 per cent reported that they were yelled at by their bosses in front of coworkers
  • 24 per cent reported belittling comments made about their work during meetings
  • 26 per cent reported being victims of gossip
  • 19 per cent reported that other employees had stolen credit for their work
  • 18 per cent said they were purposely excluded from projects or meetings
  • 15 per cent reporting being picked on for personal attributes

Employer Liability

“Bullying can be considered a form of unlawful harassment under Title VII, particularly if it creates a hostile, threatening and or intimidating workplace,” says Berger. “Like other forms of harassment, if an employer does not have a reporting mechanism, does not conduct training or does not investigate and thereafter take immediate remedial action, it can be held liable under state or federal law.”

Only 27 per cent of the workers in the study who felt bullied reported it to their Human Resources department. And of these workers, 43 per cent reported that the company did something about it, while 57 per cent said that no action was taken.

Employer Obligations

“An employer should have a written reporting process for incidents of bullying that offers multiple options for reporting,” says Berger. “Of course, employees should be aware of the process. The policy should prohibit bullying behaviors, including a list of inappropriate behaviors. If the company has a code of conduct, it should add a ban against bullying behavior to the code,” he adds.

And when a complaint of bullying is received, the company should act immediately.

“Reported instances of bullying should be investigated and follow-up remedial action must be taken,” says Berger. “The investigation and follow-up process should be the same as with a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint. Further, employees who complain about bullying should be protected from retaliation.”

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.