The definition of bullying includes when an individual uses intimidation to achieve dominance over another individual. Bullying can include many different types of conduct, such as:

  • Threats;
  • Force;
  • Coercion;
  • Aggressive or offensive behavior; and
  • Actual physical abuse.

In many instances of bullying, it involves a pattern of repeated, cyclical interactions between the victim, or the individual being bullied, and the bully. Bullying may be based on different things, including:

Is Bullying the Same as Harassment?

Although bullying is similar to harassment, they are different issues. Although harassment may also include unwanted behavior, it usually involves milder conduct which is more offensive than it is coercive.

Bullying, as opposed to harassment, has a definite element of dominance and persuasion. In the majority of cases, an individual bullies another individual because they are attempting to accomplish a certain goal.

For example, bullying often occurs when an individual wants a victim to do something for them. This may include situations where if a victim does not finish a project for the bully, the bully will tell other coworkers some embarrassing story about the victim.

Harassment, on the other hand, typically does not include specific goals or requests and is often simply an overall atmosphere of inappropriateness.

What is Bullying in the Workplace?

Bullying is often engaged in to place another individual in a position of fear or subordination by using:

  • Threats;
  • Intimidation; or
  • Actual physical contact.

Bullying may occur in numerous different settings. If, however, bullying occurs in the workplace, it may lead to various legal or employment issues.

Bullying laws may be relatively new depending on the location. In addition, laws governing bullying may differ by state.

Workplace bullying is a recently coined term which is used to describe certain forms of behavior which are unacceptable in the workplace. It often involves verbal misconduct, which may include name-calling and teasing, and is often associated with harassment claims.

Workplace bullying may occur between an employer and an employee or between employees. In many situations, the bully is a supervisor or the employer who abuses their authority in order to obtain some type of personal gain from a co-worker of a lower rank.

What Are Some Examples of Bullying in the Workplace?

Workplace bullying often involves one or more types of behavior, including:

  • Any form of:
    • teasing;
    • name-calling;
    • degrading; or
    • taunting;
  • The use of threats, intimidation, or other behavior;
  • Using one’s position to obtain favors, or other things; and
  • Taking advantage of an individual’s fear of reporting misconduct, such as, if an employee reports this, the bully will fire them.

As previously noted, harassment and bullying may be similar due to the offensive or threatening conduct which can be involved. Harassment, however, can occur for no apparent reason.

Bullying, in contrast, if often utilized in order to accomplish some specific purpose. Examples of bullying may include:

  • Using threats in order to gain a better advantage or higher position over a coworker;
  • Threatening to reveal private or confidential information about a co-worker unless they perform a task, which may also be called blackmail;
  • Presenting an overall demeanor of intimidation;
  • Campaigning with other co-workers in order to present the victim in a negative light; and
  • Coercing a co-worker into doing more work.

In many cases, bullying overlaps with other types of legal claims, as noted above. These may include discrimination or sexual harassment claims.

How is Bullying Punished?

How bullying is punished will depend upon the nature of the conduct as well as the company policies. In some cases, when bullying is occurring, having a meeting with a supervisor or with the human resources department may help the situation.

To address bullying, management in the company may draft new workplace policies or the individual who is bullying may face discipline. In more serious instances of bullying, it may be necessary to file a civil claim.

Filing a civil claim may allow the victim to obtain compensation for:

  • Lost wages or salary;
  • Loss of business opportunity, for example, if the defendant uses bullying to take over sales leads or possible clients;
  • Wrongful termination; and
  • Assault or battery, if applicable.

These issues can be remedied by a monetary damages award. In situations where a bully acted in a particular irresponsible or reckless manner, punitive damages may also be awarded.

Are There Any Legal Remedies for Workplace Bullying?

One of the main issues with workplace bullying is that it is common for the behavior to go unreported for long periods of time. This is because an employee often does not want to risk losing their job due to reporting an incident of bullying.

However, it is important for an employee to inform their employer or human resources department if bullying is creating problems in their workplace. There are several options for legal remedies for workplace bullying, which may include:

  • Having the bully disciplined or reprimanded for their behaviors;
  • Recovering damages for emotional distress;
  • Requiring the employer to institute new company policies; and
  • If the bullying has caused an individual to lose their job or lose wages, they may be able to get their job back, plus back pay.

As previously noted, workplace bullying is often included in harassment claims, especially in cases where the bullying involved sexual harassment. In addition, it may be possible to file a claim under anti-discrimination laws.

Employment discrimination issues may also arise if the bullying is aimed at the individual’s membership in a protected category, such as their race, age, or sex. Workplace bullying claims can also be included in claims of hostile work environments.

What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment?

Hostile work environments can arise in numerous different ways including sexual remarks or harassment which creates an environment of fear and intimidation. What qualifies as hostile work environments varies by workplace.

Hostile work environments are created when individuals in a workplace engage in harassment which makes it impossible for employees to perform their job duties. The harassment typically includes unwelcome comments or conduct which is based on:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Sex, including pregnancy;
  • National origin;
  • Age, 40 years or older;
  • Disability;
  • Genetic information; or
  • Any other legally protected characteristics which may unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance.

Hostile work environments may be created by numerous individual, including:

  • A co-worker;
  • A supervisor or manager;
  • Repeat clients;
  • Vendors;
  • Visitors;
  • Contractors; or
  • Other employment staff who have significant contact with an employee.

It is important for an employee to be aware that not every annoyance, petty slight, or isolated incident will give rise to a hostile work environment.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With a Bullying Case?

It is important to have the assistance of a discrimination lawyer for any issues you may have with workplace bullying. Cases involving bullying often also involve a combination of legal issues.

Your lawyer can advise you regarding the laws in your area as well as available remedies. Because bullying policies and laws are relatively recent developments, it is important to have the help of a lawyer who will be aware of recent updates.

Your lawyer will represent you when you have to appear in court. They will also fight to obtain the best reimbursement you can get for any damages you have incurred as a result of the bullying.