Workplace Bullying

It is disgusting how many people are bullied at work by their boss. I get inquiries repeatedly about supervisors who use threats and name calling as management tools. While Illinois has not yet passed legislation to address these tactics, the State is considering a bill. However, even if it is passed, the bill limits damages to $25,000 if the bullying does not result in an “adverse employment action.” That mean, unless you are a victim of retaliatory termination or a retaliatory transfer, your damages are severely limited.

There are other avenues of relief. There are civil claims that may be filed against both the individual supervisor and the employer, depending on the specific circumstances. But most claims don’t come into play unless the bullying results in a physical harm or a medical condition. And, even then, it is hard to prove causation.

I have heard people argue that the response to bullying is to find a new job, but in this market it is sometimes easier said than done. Instead, hard working individuals are suffering mental breakdowns and stress related disorders because they feel they have no where to turn. The cost will be high for employers, but even higher for these individuals.

Even if a lawsuit is unwanted or unfeasible, there are steps that can be taken to take some control of the situation. Many employers have written policies addressing this type of workplace behavior. And, bullies often have multiple targets. Documenting the situation could be a means of limiting their power. Keep in mind though, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. A report should be focused on the affect the supervisor’s behavior may have on the company, on team morale, and how it is in conflict with the employer’s culture.

Know your goals before you submit a report. Keep in mind that it is unlikely your supervisor will be terminated. But, if the goal is to stay at your job and be transferred to a new manager, make sure you are clear in that request. Or, if that would not be possible and you just want someone to intercede and diffuse the situation, make sure you propose a solution. You may not be successful, but at the very least, taking a stand can be empowering.