It's rare to find a school that doesn't have an anti-bullying policy nowadays. The modern workplace, on the other hand, hasn't seemed to follow suit. While most companies have some sort of system to deal with sexual harassment, very few actually have a clearly defined policy for reporting and dealing with bullying.
"Bullying in the workplace is something that's often overlooked," said Jennette Pokorny, COO of human resources service provider EverNext HR. "People should come to work and feel safe. You don't want to allow something minor to escalate."
Pokorny defines bullying as any words or actions that aren't sexual in nature (which would be covered by sexual harassment), but still make an employee feel uncomfortable, threatened or intimidated. Common examples include threats of violence or blackmail, hazing of new employees or spreading rumors about co-workers.
These types of actions occur in many workplaces, but often go unaddressed because leaders take a hands-off approach to interpersonal relationships among their employees. Some bosses feel that employees should work out their issues with one another on their own time, since they are adults, but Pokorny said this can be a dangerous attitude. [Why You Should Confront Your Abusive Boss]
"It's just as important to protect your workers from bullying as it is to protect them from slip-and-fall accidents," she told Business News Daily. "Any time you have someone who feels it's okay to bully, you open the door for liability for your company. If an accused bully ever follows through on threats at work, the victim can sue. A leader needs to step in and intervene, because bullying can really destroy a workplace."
Even if no lawsuits are filed, turning a blind eye to workplace bullying can have other negative repercussions that only make the problem worse.
"We've seen cases of workplace violence where people come back and retaliate because they were bullied or hazed," Pokorny said.
If your company doesn't have a strategy in place to deal with bullying, now is the time to implement one. Pokorny offered three tips to help you shape your workplace bullying policy:
- Clearly define bullying and its consequences. It's not enough to tell employees that your company will not tolerate bullying. Your employee handbook should also include a detailed list of what actions constitute bullying in your workplace — threats, blackmail, violence, etc. — and what disciplinary actions will be taken if bullying occurs.
- Get everything in writing. Investigate a bullying claim the same way you would investigate a claim of sexual harassment. Request written statements from both the victim and the accused bully, as well as any witnesses. If the claim turns out to be true and it's serious enough to suspend or fire the bully, written documentation about the event can protect your company from liability or wrongful termination charges down the road.
- Encourage immediate reporting. Make sure your employees know who they can approach to report a case of bullying, and encourage workers to speak up as soon as possible after an incident.
Originally published on Business News Daily.