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Handling Bullying Complaints in the Workplace


We have received several complaints from employees and upon investigating they seem to be more bullying than harassment. There doesn’t seem to be any reference to protected status.  How do I handle bullying complaints?


Even though bullying may not be legally actionable, it’s no less detrimental to the work environment and morale. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as “repeated harmful abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse.” In WBI’s 2017 US Workplace Bullying Survey, 60.3 million US workers have been affected by bullying.

Additionally, the survey results also found:

  • 70% or workplace bullies are men; women are the targets of bullying 65% of the time (coming from both men and other women at an equal rate)
  • 61% of bullying comes from bosses; while 33% comes from coworkers
  • 25% of companies do nothing to resolve bullying
  • 40% of people said that bullying has an adverse impact on their performance at work
  • 22% of employees surveyed said they have had to take time off as a result of being bullied
  • 36% of people leave their job as a result of bullying

(Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017 US Workplace Bullying Survey)

With numbers like these, employers are being remiss if they are not treating bullying as a serious matter. Besides the impact on the employee who is bullied, there are also impacts on those who witness the bullying and others in the work environment. The negativity that often results can create fear, increased stress, low morale and a drop in productivity. Current best practices recommend investigating all complaints, whether bullying or harassment, and addressing bullying in Workplace Harassment training. Bullying should be treated as a performance issue, with potential disciplinary action based upon the serious of nature of the findings. Avoiding workplace harassment and bullying issues, and proactively addressing those that do come up is a significant step towards creating a positive environment, increased engagement, and high employee morale.

Avoiding workplace harassment and bullying is critical to building a culture of engagement and inclusion.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? Strategic HR understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.