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How to Handle Workplace Bullying

Dealing With Bullying in the Workplace

It is very difficult to take legal action against your bully or employer. The Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, national origin or sex. Unless your bully is subjecting you to discrimination or harassment that falls into one of these categories, the bully is probably doing nothing illegal. Although it causes pain, it is difficult to prove their behavior is causing you harm. This is not to say you shouldn't talk to a lawyer if you feel it necessary. Just be aware going in that this is a difficult war to win.

The first step in dealing with a workplace bully is learning how to protect yourself against abusive behavior that is technically legal.

Confronting bullying requires bravery on your part. It will not be easy and may result in some unintended consequences. Bullied people have a 64 percent chance of losing their job once they've been targeted [source: WBI]. Being prepared with strategies to deal with the bully can help to increase your chances of success.

The WBI suggests three strategies for dealing with bullying.

  • Legitimize bullying behavior by naming it. (Example: emotional abuse)
  • Take time off work.
  • Expose the bully.

According to Robert Mueller, author of "Bullying Bosses," one of the first steps to warding off a bully is limiting the amount of personal information you share. Bullies will often use what you have mentioned in passing as a weapon. Maintaining personal boundaries is an important line of defense. Mueller also suggests the "Restroom Retreat" strategy. When you find yourself being bullied, don't wait for your manager to finish his or her tirade. Calmly excuse yourself and leave. By ending the "conversation" on your terms, you are sending a clear message to your bully that his or her behavior will not be tolerated.

Mueller also recommends talking to trusted co-workers in a professional manner when instances of bullying occur. Approach the abuse as "bullying for all." In other words, a bully who targets one person indirectly targets the entire team. Bullying is demoralizing to the group; it can hamper productivity and have a negative impact on the business as a whole.

At some point, you may decide that the best way to remedy the situation is by leaving. This is not a retreat or a failure to cope on your part. It is simply a decision based on your experience. If you have worked to find a solution, and the administration is less than helpful, you may want to consider going elsewhere. No job is worth losing your dignity and mental health. To leave on an empowered note, try the following tactics:

  • Ask colleagues and allies for a positive reference letter.
  • Understand the laws regarding defamation of character.
  • Review your documentation of bullying, and decide whether there is justification for legal action.
  • If an exit interview is required, bring along a letter from your attorney

[source: Namie and Namie]

If you want to go beyond simply dealing with the bully and have decided it's time to take action, read on to find out the best way to report what's been happening.