Bullies in the Workplace: What To Do When Work Becomes Hostile

by Sami Gardner, Education and Employment Resource Specialist

No Bullying

When people think about bullying, images of playgrounds and school cafeterias come to mind. However, bullies can show up in many forms and locations. Workplace bullying has been getting more attention in the last decade because of the impact that it has on productivity, health, and employee retention. Successful legal battles over workplace harassment have forced businesses to pay millions in restitution. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, “the American public, aware of abusive conduct, want to see worker protections extended beyond the anti-discrimination statutes – 93% support specific anti-bullying legislation.” Yet, despite support, there is much work to be done to support harmonious and peaceful workplaces. If you are being bullied at work, you are not alone!
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes unlawful harassment as such:

“Harassment becomes unlawful where

1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or

2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Some trivialize workplace bullying, but to those surveyed it caused problems from hypertension to anxiety to resigning from the job despite financial consequences.

Some targets of workplace bullying have even committed suicide.

Bullies 2


Studies have shown that LGBTQ people are vulnerable in the workplace.

90% of transgender people have experienced harassment on the job as well as over 40% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

It’s difficult for our community to find work and can be just as difficult to remain productive in toxic social situations after we get hired. However, the city law is on our side (though not state or national law… yet). Tucson stands in contrast to much of Arizona due to its LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation that includes employment. Unfortunately, bullies seldom respect the law.


How does a hard working LGBTQ person navigate a hostile work environment?

  1. Evaluate the Situation As You Stand Up For Yourself
    Find out what is going on with the bully and see if their bullying is spread around the office or if you are the only target. Be clear that you don’t appreciate their behavior and tell them that. Document that conversation, if possible. Stay professional and firm in your interactions with them. Make sure that you do not stoop to their level with name calling or aggression because a common bully tactic is to declare the target as the hostile obullies 5ne. Gaslighting (i.e., presenting false information to make the victim doubt their own memory) is very common so keep records, seek out witnesses, and save evidence.
  2. Document Everything & Save It
    Make sure that you document their behavior. If you suddenly get changes to shifts, assignments, and responsibilities, record them. Any harassing emails or texts? Save them. If possible, try to communicate with the bully only through email or in front of a neutral/supportive person.
  3. Inform Supervisors & Human Resources Personnel
    Take your documentation (be sure that it is backed up and don’t take originals) to your supervisor and state your case. Bring together other bullied targets if possible. If the supervisors are the bully or supportive of them, then take it to HR. It’s good business sense to have a safe work environment because it can be very expensive to businesses that lose harassment lawsuits, public goodwill, and productivity. Make sure that you detail how this harassment has affected your work and that of others. Be clear to them that your goal is for a peaceful resolution. Make sure that you document the HR visit.
  4. Move On
    If these avenues fail, the best move is to move on and look for a new job. If you can’t leave your employer then try to switch departments or locations. Legal actions are possible, but keep in mind that it isn’t easy to take on an employer and that it could have consequences later. There is no typical route for workplace harassment cases. “When investigating allegations of harassment, the EEOC looks at the entire record: including the nature of the conduct, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination of whether harassment is severe or pervasive enough to be illegal is made on a case-by-case basis.” (EEOC website)

Bullies 4
Don’t forget that even if we are not the targets of a bully that we can speak out about hostile behavior in the workplace. Be an ally to those who are bullied and stand as a witness for them. Do not let a bully’s gaslighting obscure the truth of the situation.
These are just some suggestions on how to deal with bullying in the workplace. Remember to consult the employee handbook of your company for specific processes and please do not take this blog entry as legal advice.
Resources:

Workplace Bullying Institute – 2014 Survey – Bullying and Race
Bullying and race

Workplace Bullying Institute – 2014 Survey – Bullying and (Binary) Gender

2014-ig-female-bullies2014-ig-male-bullies

Bullying by Binary Gender

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