First, congratulate yourself that you made it to this page.
For those of us who have been and are in your shoes, it takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself to seek help and answers after understanding you are being bullied at work. The road ahead resembles a roller coaster of emotions and we should get the bad news out of the way first. Workplace Bullying is legal in the U.S. NYHWA is working hard with our state legislators, unions, women’s groups and others to change this fact.
Now the good news, you are on your way to begin healing from this trauma. There is a lot of reading ahead and this is the first step of what you can do about workplace bullying
Read everything you can find on workplace bullying to understand why you were targeted, what the bully seeks and why bullies do what they do. As you read the various books, web sites and other media sources, you will learn that that this is not about you, it is about the bully. You will come to find that many of the positive traits you brought to your employer are being used against you because the bully fears your success, talents and ability to get along with others. Some of the resources that NYHWA recommends you start with are:
• Workplace Bullying Institute www.bullyinginstitute.org
• Bully Busters www.bullybusters.org
• Bully Online http://www.bullyonline.org/
• Monster.com forum on Workplace Bullying http://community.monster.com/Forums/ShowForum.aspx?ForumID=95
• Google www.google.com (Search on “workplace bullying”)
• Tim Field “Bully In Sight”
• Gary Namie “The Bully At Work”
Primary Care Physician
It is important that you see your primary care physician to manage the health effects you are experiencing since the bully targeted you. The effects of being bullied will continue to escalate over time. Your initial reaction to being bullied will be anger, overreacting (a normal response from being traumatized) and argumentativeness. This is exactly what the bully is seeking from you, to show you are an unstable employee and utilize the various methods available to him or her to damage your personnel record in hopes of terminating you. As time goes on, depression, insomnia, and other ailments will lead to psychiatric injury a condition brought on by the repeated trauma of being bullied.
Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Mental Health Counselor
You next step will be to locate a mental health specialist who you can talk to and discuss what you are experiencing in the workplace. If you know you are being bullied, ask the potential counselor you are considering if he or she knows what workplace bullying or psychological violence in the workplace is and do not hesitate to ask them questions to determine their expertise about such. This will help you heal sooner as the counselor will know that many commonly held facets about “personality conflicts” and “tough management” and their solutions will not apply to your situation. Resolving personality conflicts often involve one or both parties to show vulnerability and this is exactly what the bully wants. The bully will take advantage of your newly exposed vulnerability to find other ways to impair your health and employment.
If you are already seeing a counselor about work issues but have finally come to conclude you are being bullied in the workplace, you will have to assess how helpful your sessions have been and whether to seek out a specialist in this area.
It is important to stay in touch with your primary health physician and mental health professional as the situation in the workplace continues. The longer you are exposed to the psychological violence the bully is inflicting on you, the more pronounced and serious the mental and physical health effects you will incur. The documentation these health care professionals have on file, will be useful down the line under certain circumstances
Support groups can be another avenue for you to heal from the trauma inflicted by the workplace bully and talk to others. Many support groups are low cost or free and are a way for you to reconnect to society. One of the many tactics a workplace bully will utilize is to isolate you from your coworkers. In a support group, you can reconnect with others and relate to them as they will to you in regards to the psychological and mental effects of trauma. If finances are an issue, look for support groups that are based on the “peer to peer” principle. These groups are usually very inexpensive or free and are moderated by people who have experience with the primary topic of the group. It may take several visits to different types of support groups to find one that you feel comfortable with. This is a normal process and do not give up hope if you have to visit several groups before you find one that fits. You will not upset those that feel those groups are best for them as they have done the same thing you have. While New York State does not have any known support groups that specialize in workplace bullying, some of the groups that you might consider visiting include those that specialize in depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and general trauma.
NYHWA has been working with a local “peer to peer” mental health agency in Buffalo, New York to establish a support group that specializes in workplace bullying. Due to time constraints of running NYHWA, local staff in Buffalo cannot stretch themselves to run the group. If you are interested in possibly taking on the role of running a workplace bullying support group in Buffalo, NY, send an email to email@example.com.
Documenting your experience as a target of a workplace bully is a very traumatic task, but is very important for several reasons. First, before you can talk to someone in the workplace that may be in a position to hear and do something about the physiological violence you are experiencing, you will need to provide some proof of the tactics the bully is utilizing to impair your health and career. As you read the books and web sites about the tactics a bully utilizes in the workplace, highlight and make some notes about your specific experiences. Some of us at NYHWA have found this to make the task of documentation less traumatic as you will only have to relive the situation for a few moments to make these notes. Later on, you will need to expand on these specific situations you noted so the person in authority you may choose to reach out to and discuss this situation can understand the actions in their entirety. As you do so, acknowledge yourself for the courage it took to have made these notes, you have made your task to denote the specific situation in more depth later on a lot easier.
Second, the process of documenting the specific situations of trauma the workplace bully inflicted on you, is another step in the healing process. One of the first defenses when you experience psychological violence in the workplace is to react. This is the “fight or flight” response at work. Your actions initially may have involved outbursts, angry email or other actions that the bully is actively promoting to show you are an unstable person and therefore someone the employer should consider removing from the workplace. As you document the specific details of each experience, you will see how your actions have played into the bullies tactics. You will be able to relate to your specific experiences as a target and the tactics the bully is likely to utilize so you do not give the bully what they want- your health, your career and the well-being and livelihood of your family. Workplace bullies could care less about you or your loved ones, the goal is to use you for their own personal agenda and rid you from the workplace because you have positive traits they envy. It is no wonder, research places workplace bullies in the same category as pedophiles and rapists. You are a person to be exploited for their needs.
A third component of documentation is to start noting the daily and weekly tactics the bully is using to inflict psychological violence upon you and again, later on, bring this documentation to the people in authority within the workplace that might be able to help you. The more you document your experiences, the more empowered and educated you will become about the tactics the bully is utilizing, how you are reacting to them and how they are affecting your health and career. Later on we will discuss the importance of documentation should you consider talking to Human Rights and/or a Labor Attorney about your specific experiences.
Finally, do not bring or store this written documentation on the computer you use in the workplace. Document and store this information someplace that the bully cannot see how you are documenting the psychological violence you are experiencing as a result of their actions. Always make backups of this data and send a copy to an email account that you own independent of that of your employer.
Another important concept of documenting your experience at the hand of the bully is to keep records of electronic and paper documentation available to you. Email that shows you are being singled out for hostile treatment, treated differently from other coworkers with similar roles, changing demands, shifting goalposts (setting you up to unsuccessfully complete roles or projects) among many other tactics will be important. Likewise, obtaining paper copies of your job description and others who perform similar roles, copies of meeting minutes and agendas and documents that can show you are a target of physiological violence at the hands of the bully will help your situation. To protect the integrity of this documentation consider making copies of these documents and store them away from the workplace. Please check the policies of your employer to see if there are any rules regarding the off-site storage of such information.
The common trait among the many types of workplace bullies is that they are very convincing in conversation. What they say to you, will be entirely different in what they tell Human Resources and others who are in a position to reprimand or terminate you. You can argue the point all you want with in paper, electronic and personal documentation but the bully who is highly likely to be your supervisor will always get the benefit of the doubt on what they verbally tell those who can affect your employment and health. One method that you could consider is to use audio or video recordings to document the bully’s tactics that are affecting your health and career. Tread lightly with this tool as it is almost assured to shock those in a position to help you in your situation that you did so, but if you have a strong case between the documentation your primary care physician and counselors have in regards to the negative effects on your health and the paper and electronic documentation you can bring to the meeting, it will be hard to deny to those in a position of authority that the behavior of the bully is out of control. There are also active cases of litigation in New York State that audio and video recordings have been successful in attracting the attention of Labor Attorney’s and the office of Human Rights to address workplace bullying situations that escalated into “protected status harassment.” There are some low cost digital audio recorders available that are easily stored in a pocket or notebook should it be necessary to document the verbal conversations of how the bully is affecting your health and livelihood.
Who should you reach out to?
Once you have sufficient documentation showing how the bully’s actions are impairing your health and career, you will need to think about the specific structure of the organization you work for, and who you might reach out to. Tread lightly and really give this issue some thought. If you are not protected by a union or work for a progressive employer that takes the health of its employees seriously, this action could result in a negative employment decision (reprimand, termination). Depending on the structure of your place of employment, some possible contacts to reach out to include:
• EAP- Employee Assistance Program
• Supervisor (providing he or she is not the bully)
• Your Supervisor’s supervisor
• New York State Division of Human Rights (http://www.dhr.state.ny.us/hrlaw.html)
• A local Labor Attorney
• Human Resources (this should be your absolute last resort, more will be written about their role within a place of employment)
Be prepared to hear that some of the options above will be less than helpful to assist you in regards to your workplace trauma. Many companies and organizations are not aware of workplace bullying/psychological violence and the costs they incur when they ignore or promote this type of working environment. If you belong to a union in New York State, and are a member of CSEA, NYSUT or UUP, NYHWA encourages you to contact them in regards to your situation. These unions are the most proactive in New York State on the topic of workplace bullying and actively recognize the damaging effects to their member’s health, career and the health to your loved ones. NYHWA has worked hard with all three unions and is reaching out to other unions, women’s and civil rights groups all the time to educate and sponsor legislation on workplace bullying.
Employee Assistance Program
The general role of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is to offer an employee a voice who will listen to your need for assistance and then work to find a person or community based organization that might be able to help. Generally, an EAP representative will not be a long term resource to counsel you or be knowledgeable, if at all about psychological violence in the workplace. EAP representatives are supposed to keep your meetings with you confidential, although they work for the same organization you do and one never knows "how confidential" the information contained in their records are or what pressure can be exerted on them to provide information the employer may want about you. In any case, EAP might be the most accessible and first resource for you to reach out to. Consider reaching out to EAP and see what resources they know of that might be available to you. They have likely heard many workplace horrors and will know based on past experiences where and want to do about getting help, whether they be through the employer or the community. When you meet with EAP, it will not be necessary initially for you to provide any documentation about your workplace trauma. If they should ask for some, consider only divulging a few experiences about what the bully has done, and never provide any physical documentation about your health and how it has been affected by the workplace bully. It is entirely up to you should you volunteer any specific diagnosis your physicians have made. Consider keeping your health effects "general" in that you may have trouble sleeping, are depressed or have anxiety. Stating that your physician has diagnosed you with post traumatic stress disorder or have clinical depression should be reserved for the unions, Human Rights and/or a Labor Attorney. EAP often offers "arbitration" services. This is where EAP meets with you and the bully either separately or together to come to an understanding about the conflicts you brought to their attention. It is very unlikely that arbitration will be of any value to you. The bully will blatantly deny any wrong doing or turn the tables back on you that "you" misunderstood his or her intentions. Workplace Bullies fear exposure and they will do everything they can to protect themselves at your expense. Arbitration is a serious threat to the bully in that another person that they have little influence over could expose them for the coward they are. The bully also has to work hard to keep the focus on you and your behavior. Research has documented that workplace bullies are narcissists, psychopaths or sociopaths. The common thread amongst all three traits is that they are good liars and very convincing at it. If you decide to arbitrate with EAP as the "referee," there is a high probability that they will not see the person you spoke about as a "bully," instead they will come to see you as the disgruntled, unstable employee the bully wants them to see.
Unions, the non-unionized and reprimands
Whether or not you belong to a union, the following information will be of value to you. One of the two reasons you may contact the union is to see what, if anything they can do about the psychological violence you are experiencing in the workplace or to find out what to do because the bully has filed a reprimand against you. Let us look at the reprimand issue first.
Regardless of whether you belong to a union or not, it is imperative that you first find out what to do when you've been reprimanded. If you belong to a union, contact them and see what the process is. In many cases you will sit down with a union representative who will guide you through the process and work with you to rebut the bully's accusations. If you do not have union representation contact your Human Resources office to find out the rules of rebutting reprimands are. Be forewarned that the reprimand will contain "some truth" about the situation, but the "truth" will be how you reacted to the psychological violence the bully inflicted upon you. Think back to your actions which likely involved you being argumentative, used email to hastily respond to double standards or treatment as compared to your coworkers or showed instability in the workplace. You most likely "reacted" in that way and you own those actions like it or not. What you can do in the rebuttal process is show how the bully perpetrated these actions through the tactics you will have read about via the web sites and books available to you. This is also an opportunity to "expose the bully" for the coward he or she is. The reprimand and your rebuttal will sit in your personnel record for some time and certainly hurt your opportunities for advancement, salary increases and the possibility of transfer. However, you can influence the bullies' likelihood of the same by truthfully documenting the situation which led to your reprimand and providing the documentation of the specific actions the bully has orchestrated over time. As managers browse through your personnel record, they too will see the bully by name and come to association him or her with poor leadership and management by your truthful recount of the situation and documentation you provide including email, reports and or agendas and minutes of meetings. "Hopefully" Human Resources will read your rebuttal and they too will now be on record of the bullies' behavior which may be useful should you contact Human Rights and/or a Labor Attorney. Regardless of how difficult it will be for you to relive the situations you are being reprimanded for and document the specifics of the situation, you should not let the reprimand of the bully go unchallenged. This acknowledges to the employer, Human Resources and potential Human Rights and Labor Attorney resources to some extent that you "accept" the reprimand and the bullies' fictitious and exaggerated statement of events. Also recall that if you documented these details as they occurred, you can look back through your journal to rebut the reprimand and quickly pick out the specific situations that will provide the strongest case to expose the bully as the problem. It is also an enlightening experience how over time, you will read the entries in your journal and see how you have healed to some extent and have not reacted to the violence perpetrated by the bully. You will also see that your behavior and actions have not given the bully what he or she wants: your health, career and the well being of your loved ones. Several other items on importance are to find out how long a reprimand will sit in your personnel record and make a note of when it will be removed (if that is the case) or you can petition to have it removed. If you stay with the company or organization, you will want to remove that reprimand as soon as possible to be eligible for promotions, raises and other perks. There is also usually a time limit to rebut a reprimand. While the time limit may be as long as 90 days or more, the longer you wait to rebut the reprimand, the less effective your rebuttal will be. Take your time to document the facts as they have occurred and do not just hand in something to get this situation over with. A reply to a reprimand that is truthful, factual and complete may be the only way to save your career. Writing the rebuttal will be stressful and you will have to relive the events again for a few moments, recall that the workplace bully is working hard to destroy you health and career. The actions of a bully are intentional, calculated and their weapon is their words and actions. If you do not reply, or reply with a rebuttal that does not accurately reflect the situation, the bully is going to work even harder to use their words and actions to rid you from the workplace as they now know their actions have severely weakened you and you will not defend yourself. The actions of a bully are no different than someone using a gun or knife to threaten you. The outcome is the same, to threaten you to get what they want. The only difference is that someone using a gun or knife who premeditates the crime is punishable by law. The workplace bully is free to do this with the employers' resources and blessing for the time being.
If you belong to a union, it is unlikely they the representative you meet with will be knowledgeable about psychological violence in the workplace and what workplace bullying is. Even if you are a member of CSEA, NYSUT or UUP which are the most proactive unions in New York State on the issue of workplace bullying, this is still a new issue to them and educating the representative you meet with in regards to a reprimand or stating your story of abuse will be necessary. As you tell the union representative about your experiences at the hand of the workplace bully, you will likely have to educate them as to the issue. Some helpful documents you can print out that are specific to union education can be found here: http://www.bullyinginstitute.org/res/2003toc.html This meeting is important and worthy to show some of the specific documentation you have accumulated in regards to how the bully is damaging your health but also some of the specific health effects your physician has diagnosed. The union representative may know of strategies to help you find a transfer or will be able to examine your documentation for infringements into protected status harassment. In the case of an infringement into the area of protected status of harassment, your union representative may be able to file a grievance to stop the violence perpetrated against you by the bully. If the situation has gone on long enough and a clear and lengthy violation of protected status harassment has taken place your union representative may advise you to seek a Labor Attorney or you may want to contact one yourself depending how the circumstances have affected your health, career and loved ones.
Your Supervisor's Supervisor
Depending on the security and support of your position with your employer, one of the options is to go above the person who is bullying you or stifling this topic from being heard. Before you do this, you need to sit down and examine the structure of the organization. First, New York State is an "at will" employer based state. This means, that if you are not a member of a union, or have some other protection like tenure or permanent status, a New York State employer can fire you without reason. Second, think about other situations that you have heard about in the workplace where someone ran into a situation that went up the chain of command. What is or was the outcome of that situation? Did management make a decision that resolved the issue with fairness and professionalism? Do you work in an old boy's or old girls network? These among many other workplace cultural issues are items you need to consider before reaching out to your supervisor's supervisor. It may be necessary to keep working up the chain of command to get your voice heard if your supervisor's supervisor fails to help you in this matter. The supervisor may understand what you are going through but may not be able to help. Should this be the case, again, evaluate the structure of the employer you work for and consider letting your supervisor's supervisor know about your intent. At this initial meeting with your supervisor's supervisor, it is important to maintain as professional manner as possible. This person will not understand the trauma of psychological violence and composure will be your best asset. If you can convince your supervisor's supervisor of the trauma experienced as a target of the workplace bullies behavior and he or she cannot help you, this composer will certainly help you should you choose to go farther up the chain of command. The professionalism you show here will also help you to consider asking or letting your supervisor's supervisor know of your intention to proceed farther up the chain. Sometimes it is necessary to go all the way to the top of the chain. In one case, a member of NYHWA had to go to the president of a SUNY University before their case of bullying started to change. Sometimes you have to go that far because the chain below this person is apathetic to the health of their employees, or in the case of education direct costs to employee health insurance are not an issue to Dean's, department heads, principles and the like have to deal with. Sometimes a supervisor's supervisor will defer to Human Resources on the matter who will tell them there is nothing they have to do about this and ignore it. Some employers just don't understand that healthy, effective employees are the best assets to profit and reliable products and services. NYHWA is working with employers' to educate them on this issue and the costs of harboring employees who willfully perpetrate psychological violence in the workplace.
If reaching out to the chain of command with your employer is not an option and you have good documentation, one of the next two options to consider is the New York State Division of Human Rights or a Labor Attorney. In both cases, neither option will likely be able to litigate or assist you directly with the psychological violence you are incurring in the workplace, however, if this situation has gone on long enough, often the workplace bully oversteps into areas of labor law that these areas can assist with. Bullies if they know they can get away with this behavior or the employer does nothing to curb these actions, the bully will become more empowered to up the ante and increase the level of psychological violence in the workplace. When they do so, they start to utilize tactics that fall into “protected status” harassment that New York State labor laws recognize. Both the New York State Division of Human Rights and a Labor Attorney will be of help should these actions have taken place. One of the methods you can utilize to find a local Labor Attorney in your area is to consult the following web page http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/lris/directory/main.cfm?id=NY. You can call the agency nearest to you to locate Labor Attorney’s that special in workplace violence or protected status harassment.
New York State Division of Human Rights
The New York State Division of Human Rights cannot help you if you are being bullied in the workplace unless the bully has stepped over the line and ventured into protected status harassment. However, one of the responsibilities of the organization is to develop "civil rights legislation and policy for the State of New York, and for promoting awareness of civil rights issues and remedies." Workplace Bullying is "status-blind" harassment and definitely a civil rights issue. NYHWA will be working with this organization to encourage them to endorse the Healthy Workplace Bill and provide protections for both employees and their employers in cases of psychological violence in the workplace. NYHWA would like targets to seriously consider contacting the New York State Division of Rights and file a complaint with the agency regardless of the fact that your harassment is not based on protected status membership. The more often the agency sees this type of issue in the workplace, the more likely they will be encouraged to address this violence via legislation. The following web link will guide you through the process of filing a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights:
Filing a complaint with the New York State Division of Rights is not a difficult process. If you have been reprimanded in the workplace and rebutted the allegations of the workplace bully, this document and supporting documentation (factual accounts of events, paper documentation, email, witness accounts and audio/video recordings) should be more than sufficient for them to see how this affected you, your health, career and family. If you receive any feedback from this agency positive or negative, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can be aware of your inquiry.
Labor Attorney's are likely to know about psychological violence in the workplace and the harmful effects of targets that experience it, although they are limited to the law and to date workplace bullying is legal in the U.S. workplace. Unless the workplace bully has again stepped into areas of law such as protected status harassment or some other realm that litigation is possible, they will not be able to help. Labor attorney's will also likely charge a fee to hear about your workplace experience so take this into account. Should your health have been severely affected by the psychological violence inflicted by a workplace bully and you have sufficient documentation by physicians and personal accounts of the specific instances, talking to a Labor Attorney might be a worthwhile situation. There has been one case in Western New York that a labor attorney did feel a case was possible against a workplace bully although they required a significant fee that for most people was not feasible. While a $200/hour fee might be expensive for an initial consolation, consider this cost over that of your health, livelihood and the health and well-being of your family. Two hundred dollars is a bargain as compared to the loss of a job, disability and the daily expense of trying to heal from this trauma. NYHWA cannot recommend any specific attorney or state with any assurance that a consultation with a Labor Attorney will be a positive experience; it is just one of the few options that are available to you at this time. To locate a Labor Attorney in your area, you can browse to the following web site:
The general role of Human Resources is to “protect the employer.” Why then does Human Resources not take the topic of workplace bullying seriously if the employer bears higher costs of health insurance premiums, lost work due to sick time and employee leaves of absences? Simply because there is no law that says it has to. Even though Human Resources is aware of departments with high turnover, repeated complaints from employees in these same areas over time, and know of the individuals who utilize psychological violence in the workplace and what is costs the employer to ignore their behavior, be prepared for Human Resources to “circle the wagons.” One of the few ways Human Resources might help you is to allow you to transfer to another department or location within the company or organization. While this in itself might be a traumatic option to consider, research has indicated that it can help you heal from the trauma inflicted by the workplace bully even if you have to accept a lower salary or some decrease in title. One of the most important questions to ask Human Resources is to have them tell you what ALL your options are. If the only thing they tell you is to consider employment with some other company or organization, you have gotten the only advice you are likely to get from this resource. Some NYHWA members have received that advice to “look for some other employment.” Consider the fact that you work for a poor employer and consider moving on. Many of the people you are likely to meet in Human Resources that will hear your story are going to be legal professionals who have a law degree or are very knowledgeable about Labor Law. While the Human Resource person may seem sympathetic, they are evaluating your situation to see whether "they" (the employer) has something they could be held liable for. Even if you have a case that sufficiently warrants action because the workplace bully did violate protected status law, you will not likely get the help you seek. Their first job is to protect the employer and cover-up the actions the bully has made them liable for.
Spread the Word
The only effective method to rid the workplace of a bully is to “make them too expensive to keep.” Keep this statement in mind when you talk to your employer, Human Resources and the community at large. Employees spend tens of thousands of dollars educating themselves for the careers they establish. When it comes time enter the world of work or look for a second career, employees want to find the best employers. If you work or worked for a company that promoted the behavior of the workplace bully, did nothing to assist you with this repeated and intentional trauma that was inflicted upon you, let others know. This is not going to stop people who will apply to work for that employer, but it will let potential employees who know about workplace bullying to avoid a place where they know the employer does not take the health of its employees seriously. Furthermore, how good can a product or service be where its employees cannot focus on the job at hand? Those of us who have been and are where you are, many of us will seriously consider not purchasing a product or service from such an organization simply because we know it is likely the quality of such is impaired.