How To Recognize and Prevent Workplace Bullying

by | Apr 18, 2014 | Blog, Employee Handbook, Employment Policies, HR Issues, Monitoring Employees

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

Workplace BullyingWhen we hear the word “bullying”, we typically think of school-aged children picking on each other. But this type of childish behavior is not contained to the playground.

Workplace bullying is also a serious concern for companies. As a business professional in a management position, you need to understand the definition of workplace bullying so that you can recognize it, how it differs from harassment, how prevalent the problem is, and how it can impact your company before you sit down to write your anti-bullying policy and try to prevent this from happening in your workplace. Luckily, we’re broken it all down for you in this blog. First, let’s straighten out of definitions. In the HR world, we are always talking about harassment. So how does workplace bullying differ from harassment?

Workplace Bullying vs. Harassment

Workplace Bullying:

In the United States, workplace bullying is not specifically defined by the law or public policy. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as: Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse.
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal), which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating
  • Work interference – sabotage – that prevents work from getting done.

(For a more detailed definition, click here.)


In the United States, harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as:

  • Unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
  • Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Let’s Sum It Up

Harassment is prohibited by law while bullying is not. Harassment relates to a person’s protected status while bullying can be directed at anyone and does not have to be related to a person’s status. Harassment can take place whether or not there is a relationship and does not have to be directed at an individual. Bullying is characterized by an individual who targets another individual. (To read more about how workplace bullying differs from harassment, click here.)

Workplace Bullying By The Numbers

  • 27% of American workers have been bullied at work
  • 72% of employees are aware that workplace bullying happens
  • 62% of employees actually helped the bullying victim
  • In 61% of cases, bullying stopped only when the target lost her or his job.

(To view more statistics on bullying, you can view the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 report here.) So what does this mean for your company?

Decline In Performance and ProductivityThe Bottom Line on Workplace Bullying

  • Higher Absenteeism
  • Lower Morale
  • Decline In Performance and Productivity
  • More Investigations (which means more time and more expenses)
  • Higher health care costs
  • Possible legal costs
  • Company PR suffers

It is clear that bullies can do some serious damage to the internal operations of your organization by causing debilitating effects on your other employees. If you’ve read our blog before, you know where we’re headed – that’s right – you need a policy in place! Implementing an anti-bullying policy at your business is a great way to nip the problem in the bud.

How To Write Your Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy

Step 1: State The Purpose Of the Policy

The first step in creating your anti-bulling policy should be to state the purpose of the policy. For example, it should state that the organization has a commitment to provide a safe, healthy work environment and strictly prohibits conduct that is intimidating, hostile, verbally or physically abusive.

Step 2: State the Scope of the Policy

It should be made clear that the policy applies to every single position at the organization, as well as at all locations, events and activities connected with the company.

Anti-Bullying PolicyStep 3: Define Bullying

You have to define exactly what your policy pertains to. You should provide a definition of bullying, along with the various aspects constitute it. Make sure to be specific! It’s is also a good idea to put a clause in the policy pertaining to “mobbing,” or bullying carried out by a group of individuals.

Step 4: Explain Your Complaint Procedures

Employees need to be aware of how to go about with the complaint procedure if they become a victim of bullying. They should know that incidents should be reported immediately and who to report the incidents to.

Step 5: Outline The Consequences Of Breaking This Policy

Lastly, it is necessary to state the consequences (such as termination for a no-tolerance organization) that will fall onto those who commit workplace-bullying behaviors, as well as those in management positions who fail to report the incidents or carry out an investigation. So how exactly can you stop bullying from tearing apart your organization? You need to be proactive (just like with every other possible employee issue).

Train Your EmployeesFinal Tips To Prevent Workplace Bullying

  • Create your policy.
  • Train your employees. (Harassment Prevention, Discrimination, Code of Conduct, Respect in the Workplace, and Workplace Violence are good topics to cover.)
  • Pay attention to the atmosphere at your company.
  • Investigate complaints of bullying. (Don’t just write them off!)
  • Show through your actions that you are bully-free workplace!

Interested in holding training for any of the topics we listed above or need to update your Employee Handbook to include policies such as Anti-Bullying? Integrity HR is here for you. Our staff is composed of highly experienced HR professionals bearing the titles of PHR, SPHR, and even GPHR who have been assisting companies just like yours for many years. Learn more about our training services here, our employee handbook services or just contact us here!

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