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When Employees are Bullied by their Bosses

West Virginia employment lawIn the aftermath of the #MeToo movement that has swept the country, employees, both female and male, should be aware of their rights on the job.

And while most workers understand they have a right to a safe workplace, regular hours, paid lunch and paid overtime, many workers have no idea how to handle a common source of stress in the workplace: bullying by the boss.

According to Radius Global Market Research, 81 percent of workers report some sort of bullying on the job. Additionally, one-fifth of American adults have directly experienced abusive conduct at work, according to a 2017 Workplace Bullying Institute survey of more than 1,000 people.

More than two-thirds of office bullies are men, and both male and female bullies target women at higher rates. Hispanics report higher levels of bullying than members of any other race.

Signs of Bullying

It usually starts slowly, with a few pointed remarks, and can progress to outright hostility, poor evaluations, poor raises, if any at all, and an employee who feels forced to quit.

Types of bullying include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Ostracism or isolation
  • Withholding resources or information
  • Intimidation
  • Sabotage
  • Reputation damage due to rumors

In addition to negative career consequences, many workers experience significant health issues because of bullying. Physical ailments such as high blood pressure, more illness, or mental health symptoms can become common. In particular, workers who are being bullied experience anxiety and depression and dread going to work.

What’s Off Limits

In West Virginia’s workplaces, it is illegal to harass anyone based on their sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, and other factors.

Your boss has every right to give you assignments, evaluate your work progress, and fairly criticize your work. But your boss does not generally have a right to comment on your appearance, clothing, social or family life, particularly in a negative way. Additionally, your boss does not have the right to make untrue comments about the quality of your work.

It can be hard to define, but we all know when constructive criticism morphs into bullying by a boss. You know when you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. But because it’s hard to define, you must keep track of what happens.

Steps to Take to Protect Yourself

  1. Review your employee handbook and company policies on a regular basis: Chances are your boss is not as familiar with the handbook/policies as you will be. When you are criticized, ask specifically which policy the boss is referring to and ask for a chance to have a discussion. You may want to have your human resources department involved, too. Make sure you have a witness at any meeting.
  1. Maintain an email trail when requesting a meeting: Make sure you send a copy to human resources and your boss’s boss if necessary. That way, no one can deny that the problem exists.
  1. Keep a written log of incidents: Make sure you note the date, time, place and who else was present, even if you think they did not hear anything. If the bullying is about your appearance, write down what you are wearing, or better yet, take a picture. Do not keep the log at work. But do write down what happened as soon as possible so you remember details. Use your cell phone to send yourself a voice message. From that, you can write down notes when you get home. Ask others to also write their recollections of incidents.
  1. Ask to see your Personnel file: Do you know what’s in it? Most people don’t. Your boss may be writing you up without your knowledge, even though that is usually in violation of company policy. It’s a good idea to ask human resources to see your file. It should contain the basics: your insurance and basic employment information, a copy of your job description and pay scale, any raises, and your job evaluations. Even asking to review it is a good way to start a conversation with human resources about your concerns.

In the event that workplace harassment and bullying gets out of hand, an experienced employment attorney can further discuss your options. Contact Klie Law Offices and find out how we can help.

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