Workplace Bullying

Monday, November 1, 2010

We have heard of the schoolyard bully, the neighborhood bully, of bullies stealing lunch money. But workplace bullies? Doesn’t bullying only happen to children? Adults outgrow such behavior and deal with each other in a rational and reasonable fashion, don’t we?

Maybe not. A recent blog article dealing with healthcare raises the topic of workplace bullying. The author, a former bureau chief for the New York Times, points to a study that found “35 percent of the American workforce had been bullied at work, and another 15 percent had witnessed it.”

The health concern raised by this is that 45 percent of those bullied felt some form of negative impact on their health, from mild depression to symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the most severe cases, suicide can result, or “bullycide.”

This is not an issue of simply some people being too sensitive. Recognition is finally being given to behavior that has been protected behind a smokescreen of characterizations, such as “So-and-so is just a wimp,” or “Boys will be boys,” or, “Why can’t you get a sense of humor? We’re just teasing you.” Sometimes this behavior is just plain sadistic or psychopathic.

The blog article quotes David Yamada, a professor of law and director of The New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University, as commenting that “The other collateral or peripheral harm we’re seeing is a real destructive impact on families and personal relationships, much like other forms of abuse, when other family members and friends might not fully understand what the mistreatment is doing to someone.”

Professor Yamada has introduced legislation in Massachusetts to prevent this type of behavior, and while it failed in the last session of the legislature, he will be reintroducing it. This is such a new area of recognition, that many professionals do not understand how to deal with it.

Professor Yamada state that “a lot of therapists don’t understand what this is all about, whereas if you told them you were being abused by a partner or were being beaten up at school, people would understand it and there’d be something like a therapy protocol.”

Because of the novelty, the bullying victim may have to be diligent in searching for help. An attorney knowledgeable with workplace violence and other employment law issues is a good place to start. Professor Yamada is a law professor and only deals with matters of public policy, not private clients.

The Chicago Tribune has an article that reports on abuse and bullying among healthcare professionals. It says that while nurses frequently bully other nurses, “doctors have to own up to their own harsh behavior, too.” Physicians instigate the lion’s share of verbal and physical abuse of nurses, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing.

The bullying problem is significant within the healthcare field and has an effect on patient care. Up to 75 percent of health care workers believe disruptive behavior reduces patient satisfaction and care, according to a recent study.

Professor Yamada’s blog comments on high-placed bullying in the corporate sector: “Many [bullies] also are adept at escaping detection, having mastered the art of kiss up, kick down. Their friends at work – mostly peers and higher ups but rarely subordinates – cannot believe they would treat anyone in an abusive or predatory manner.” He says that legal counsel have to be persistent and go behind the outer circle: “[Attorneys have] to learn what’s really going on, especially if the alleged targets are rank-and-file workers.”

If you or a friend or loved one may be suffering from bullying in the workplace, you need to speak with an experienced employment law attorney. These cases demand a sophisticated and nuanced investigation that goes beyond management’s kneejerk denials or worse — blaming the victim.

Once we take on an investigation, our lawyers will investigate the facts thoroughly, research the applicable law, advise our client of our findings and recommendations, and represent our client vigorously to obtain the best possible resolution under the circumstances.

Please contact our law offices immediately if we may be of help to you or your friends or loved ones.