Workplace Bullying: Part 4

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

I’m going to break down your responses to bullying into a series of key steps and options. First comes Analysis. Then comes Action.


It is critically important that you assess your situation in an objective way. If possible, you should do so with the help of a trusted advisor.

If you feel unhappy or stressed at work, teased, or singled out for blame or punishment, it may not be immediately clear what is going on. What you may initially regard as bullying may not in fact be bullying. Managers have the right to assign work, evaluate work and terminate you if you are performing unsatisfactory. A manager’s conduct becomes bullying when it serves no legitimate work purpose or when it is cruel or arbitrary.

Here are some signs that you are under stress but may not in fact be the target of bullying that requires serious action on your part.

● Times are tough for everyone in the company. Everyone has to do more with fewer resources.

● You have a history of past antagonism with the individual whom you suspect of bullying which, although annoying, has been manageable.

● The individual who appears to be mistreating you himself may be under great pressure or face a tight deadline, and the troubling behavior may be temporary.

● The apparent aggressor is not intentionally mean or menacing, but is simply someone with less than superior social skills.


Once you have satisfied yourself that you are in fact being subjected to behavior that does not belong in the workplace, you have four main options: Ignore, Confront, Complain or Leave.


If the problematic behavior is annoying but in reality does not affect your ability to do your job, the best course of action is to ignore it. Avoid the person if possible.

This advice works well when you have to interact with the aggressor for only a short time period, or when he has no credibility with anyone else in the workplace. Ignoring the aggressor also works well then his obnoxious behavior doesn’t push one of your emotional buttons.

There is nothing cowardly or inappropriate about this course of action. We all have to choose our battles. Sometimes it is just not worth exerting the energy to correct something that isn’t really a major problem for you.


On the other hand, if the aggressor’s behavior really does get to you, then you do have to act. Action is especially important when the intimidation is coming from your manager.

If you have had a decent relationship with the aggressor and he is a basically reasonable person, a confrontation might end the bullying. Confrontation often works when the aggressor understands that the alternative to a peaceful resolution is a formal complain that might adversely affect his career.


Filing a complaint about bullying is much more difficult than it may seem. Before you complain to a more senior person or your human resources representative, you need to make sure you can back up your allegations with facts.

● You can show that you have been the victim of a pattern of repeated, serious bullying that interferes with your ability to keep your job.

● You have corroboration of the bully’s conduct in the form of emails, voice mails or other concrete materials. Witnesses can be helpful, but keep in mind that witnesses sometimes disappear or are reluctant to support your allegations because they fear for their jobs.

● The bully is not the superstar of the company. The more valuable the bully is to the company, the less inclined the company will be to discipline him and the more inclined the company will be to attempt to silence you or get you to resign. In the worst-case scenario, the company could try to fire you


It is unfortunate and unfair, but sometimes removing yourself from a bad situation is the wisest course of action.

You should consider leaving the company if you believe the chances of stopping the bullying behavior are slim or if you are so affected by the obnoxious conduct that your physical or mental health is at serious risk.

Ideally you should line up another job first, but that is not always possible. If you do interview for other jobs, you need to keep two things in mind.

● In general, you should not share with a potential employer why you want to leave your current employment. Have a credible cover story about new opportunities, skills, interests, etc. No company wants to hire someone who has been involved in any kind of interpersonal conflict, even if it is clear you are not at fault.

● Make sure you don’t exchange one bad work environment for another one that is just as bad. To address the environment on the new job, you can ask questions in the interview that appear neutral. Ask why is the job vacant and how, if at all, has the work changed. Try to get information from people who already work there about your potential boss and the culture of the company.

Keep in mind that if you resign from your present employment, it is unlikely you will be able to collect unemployment benefits. The only exception is if you can convince your state’s Office of Unemployment Insurance that you were “constructively discharged.” This means the employer made it so difficult or impossible for you to work there that you had to quit. While this may be the case, many companies will vigorous contest such an allegation.

 More to come …

What you should never do

Can you sue?



Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.



One response to “Workplace Bullying: Part 4”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: