Much of this information was kindly contributed by
York Healthy Workplace Advocates, then edited by
California Healthy Workplace Advocates (CHWA)
First, congratulate yourself that you made it to this page.
For those of us who have been and are in your shoes, it takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself to seek
help and answers after understanding you are being bullied at work.
The road ahead
resembles a roller coaster of emotions and we should get the bad news out of the way first. Workplace Bullying is legal in
the United States. CHWA is working hard with our state legislators, unions, women’s groups and others to change this
Now the good news, you are on your way to begin healing from this trauma. There
is a lot of reading ahead and this is the first step of what you can do about workplace bullying
everything you can find on workplace bullying to understand why you were targeted, what the bully seeks and why bullies do
what they do. As you read the various books, web sites and other media sources, you will learn that that this is not about
you, it is about the bully. You will come to find that many of the positive traits you brought to your employer are being
used against you because the bully fears your success, talents and ability to get along with others. Some of the resources
that CHWA recommends you start with are:
Primary Care Physician
It is important that you see your primary care physician to manage the health effects
you are experiencing since the bully targeted you. The effects of being bullied will continue to escalate over time. Your
initial reaction to being bullied will be anger, overreacting (a normal response from being traumatized) and argumentativeness.
This is exactly what the bully is seeking from you, to show you are an unstable employee and utilize the various methods available
to him or her to damage your personnel record in hopes of terminating you. As time goes on, depression, insomnia, and other
ailments will lead to psychiatric injury, a condition brought on by the repeated trauma of being bullied.
Psychologist or Mental Health Counselor
Your next step
will be to locate a mental health specialist who you can talk to and discuss what you are experiencing in the workplace. If
you know you are being bullied, ask the potential counselor you are considering if he or she knows what workplace bullying
or psychological violence in the workplace is and do not hesitate to ask them questions to determine their expertise about
such. This will help you heal sooner as the counselor will know that many commonly held facets about “personality conflicts”
and “tough management” and their solutions will not apply to your situation. Resolving personality conflicts often
involve one or both parties to show vulnerability and this is exactly what the bully wants. The bully will take advantage
of your newly exposed vulnerability to find other ways to impair your health and employment.
you are already seeing a counselor about work issues but have finally come to conclude you are being bullied in the workplace,
you will have to assess how helpful your sessions have been and whether to seek out a specialist in this area. A trauma specialist
may be most likely to have the
skills to be helpful.
It is important to
stay in touch with your primary health physician and mental health professional as the situation in the workplace continues.
The longer you are exposed to the psychological violence the bully is inflicting on you, the more pronounced and serious the
mental and physical health effects you will incur. The documentation these health care professionals have on file, will be
useful down the line under certain circumstances
Support groups can be another avenue for you to heal from the trauma inflicted by the workplace bully and
talk to others. Many support groups are low cost or free and are a way for you to reconnect to society. One of the many tactics
a workplace bully will utilize is to isolate you from your coworkers. In a support group, you can reconnect with others and
relate to them as they will to you in regards to the psychological and mental effects of trauma. If finances are an issue,
look for support groups that are based on the “peer to peer” principle. These groups are usually very inexpensive
or free and are moderated by people who have experience with the primary topic of the group. It may take several visits to
different types of support groups to find one that you feel comfortable with. This is a normal process and do not give up
hope if you have to visit several groups before you find one that fits. You will not upset those that feel those groups are
best for them as they have done the same thing you have. While California does not have any known support groups that
specialize in workplace bullying, some of the groups that you might consider visiting include those that specialize in depression,
post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and general trauma. Don't rule out 12 Step groups, as there are some specifically
designed for co-dependents. Since the bully is actually the dependent one, targets often take on the role of co-dependent.
Ask your personal physician for a possible referral.
Documenting your experience as a target of a workplace bully is a very traumatic task,
but is very important for several reasons. First, before you can talk to someone in the workplace that may be in a position
to hear and do something about the physiological violence you are experiencing, you will need to provide some proof of the
tactics the bully is utilizing to impair your health and career. As you read the books and web sites about the tactics a bully
utilizes in the workplace, highlight and make some notes about your specific experiences. Some of us have found this to make
the task of documentation less traumatic as you will only have to relive the situation for a few moments to make these notes.
Later on, you will need to expand on these specific situations you noted so the person in authority you may choose to reach
out to and discuss this situation can understand the actions in their entirety. As you do so, acknowledge yourself for the
courage it took to have made these notes, you have made your task to denote the specific situation in more depth later on
a lot easier.
Second, the process of documenting the specific situations of trauma
the workplace bully inflicted on you, is another step in the healing process. One of the first defenses when you experience
psychological violence in the workplace is to react. This is the “fight or flight” response at work. Your actions
initially may have involved outbursts, angry email or other actions that the bully is actively promoting to show you are an
unstable person and therefore someone the employer should consider removing from the workplace. As you document the specific
details of each experience, you will see how your actions have played into the bullies tactics. You will be able to relate
to your specific experiences as a target and the tactics the bully is likely to utilize so you do not give the bully what
they want- your health, your career and the well-being and livelihood of your family. Workplace bullies could care less about
you or your loved ones, the goal is to use you for their own personal agenda and rid you from the workplace because you have
positive traits they envy. It is no wonder, research places workplace bullies in the same category as pedophiles, rapists,
and spousal abusers. They see you as a thing to be exploited for their needs.
third component of documentation is to start noting the daily and weekly tactics the bully is using to inflict psychological
violence on you repeatedly. You will want to bring this documentation to the people in authority within the workplace
that might be able to help you. The more you document your experiences, the more empowered and educated you will become about
the tactics the bully is utilizing, how you are reacting to them and how they are affecting your health and career. Keeping
a sequential list of occurances will help you remember each incident, assuring that you won't forget any details.
Later on we will discuss the importance of documentation should you consider talking to Human Rights and/or a Labor
Attorney about your specific experiences.
Finally, do not bring or store this written
documentation on the computer you use in the workplace. Document and store this information someplace that the bully cannot
see how you are documenting the psychological violence you are experiencing as a result of their actions. Always make backups
of this data and send a copy to an email account that you own independent of that of your employer. You may want to use a journal
you can carry with you, take home every day, and transfer information to and from.
Another important concept of
documenting your experience at the hand of the bully is to keep records of electronic and paper documentation available to
you. Email that shows you are being singled out for hostile treatment, treated differently from other coworkers with similar
roles, changing demands, shifting goalposts (setting you up to unsuccessfully complete roles or projects) among many other
tactics will be important. Likewise, obtaining paper copies of your job description and others who perform similar roles,
copies of meeting minutes and agendas and documents that can show you are a target of physiological violence at the hands
of the bully will help your situation. To protect the integrity of this documentation consider making copies of these documents
and store them away from the workplace. Please check the policies of your employer to see if there are any rules regarding
the off-site storage of such information. You can even mail important documents to your home address and keep sealed
to ensure verification of the date.
The common trait among the many types of workplace bullies is that they are very convincing in conversation.
What they say to you, will be entirely different in what they tell Human Resources and others who are in a position to reprimand
or terminate you. You can argue the point all you want with in paper, electronic and personal documentation but the bully
who is highly likely to be your supervisor will always get the benefit of the doubt on what they verbally tell those who can
affect your employment and health. One method that you could consider is to use audio or video recordings to document the
bully’s tactics that are affecting your health and career. If you have a strong case between the documentation
of your primary care physician and counselors in regard to the negative effects on your health and the paper and electronic
documentation you can bring to the forefront, it will be hard to deny to those in a position of authority that the behavior
of the bully is out of control. There are some low cost digital audio recorders available that are easily stored in
a pocket or notebook should it be necessary to document the verbal conversations of how the bully is affecting your health
and livelihood. It is perfectly appropriate to request to record meetings for future reference. At the very least, take notes by
hand listing dates, quotes, and sources.
Who should you reach out to?
Once you have sufficient
documentation showing how the bully’s actions are impairing your health and career, you will need to think about the
specific structure of the organization you work for, and who you might reach out to. Tread lightly and really give this issue
some thought. Your current or former employer may offer employee assistance (EAP). However many EAP counselors have trouble
honoring confidentiality or feel sympathetic to the employer who pays their contract. Find an independent mental health professional. We
get too many complaints from bullied targets betrayed by their EAP.
If you are
not protected by a union or work for a progressive employer that takes the health of its employees seriously, going to EAP
could result in a negative employment decision (reprimand, termination). Depending on the structure of your place of employment,
some possible contacts to reach out to include:
• Supervisor (providing he or she is not the bully)
Your Supervisor’s supervisor
• Human Rights agencies
A local Labor Attorney
• Human Resources (this should be your absolute last resort,
more will be written about their role within a place of employment)
to hear that some of the options above will be less than helpful to assist you in regards to your workplace trauma. Many companies
and organizations are not aware of workplace bullying/psychological violence and the costs they incur when they ignore or
promote this type of working environment.
Employee Assistance Program
general role of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is to offer an employee an ear who will listen to your need for
assistance and then work to find a person or community based organization that might be able to help. Generally, an
EAP representative will not be a long term resource to counsel you or be knowledgeable, if at all about psychological
violence in the workplace. EAP representatives are supposed to keep your meetings with you confidential, although they
work for the same organization you do and, as stated previously, one never knows "how confidential" the information contained
in their records are or what pressure can be exerted on them to provide information the employer may want about you. Never
provide any physical documentation about your health and how it has been affected by the workplace bully. Consider
keeping your health effects "general" in that you may have trouble sleeping, are depressed or have anxiety.
Stating that your physician has diagnosed you with post traumatic stress disorder or have clinical depression should be reserved
for the unions, Human Rights and/or a Labor Attorney. Workplace Bullies fear exposure and they will do everything they
can to protect themselves at your expense.
non-unionized and reprimands
Whether or not you belong to a union, the following information
will be of value to you. One of the two reasons you may contact the union is to see what, if anything they can
do about the psychological violence you are experiencing in the workplace or to find out what to do because the bully
has filed a reprimand against you. Let us look at the reprimand issue first.
of whether you belong to a union or not, it is imperative that you first find out what to do when you've been reprimanded.
If you belong to a union, contact them and see what the process is. In many cases you will sit down with a union representative who
will guide you through the process and work with you to rebut the bully's accusations. If you do not have union
representation contact your Human Resources office to find out what their rules of rebutting reprimands are. Be forewarned
that the reprimand will contain "some truth" about the situation, but the "truth" will be how you reacted
to the psychological violence the bully inflicted upon you. Think back to your actions, which likely involved you being
argumentative; possibly used email to hastily respond to double standards or treatment as compared to your coworkers
or showed instability in the workplace. You likely "reacted" in that way and you own those actions, like
it or not. What you can do in the rebuttal process is show how the bully perpetrated these actions through the tactics
you will have read about via the web sites and books available to you. This is also an opportunity to "expose the
bully" for the coward he or she is. The reprimand and your rebuttal will sit in your personnel record for some
time and certainly hurt your opportunities for advancement, salary increases and the possibility of transfer. However,
you can influence the bullies' likelihood of the same by truthfully documenting the situation which led to your reprimand
and providing the documentation of the specific actions the bully has orchestrated over time. As managers browse through
your personnel record, they also will see the bully by name and come to associate him or her with poor leadership
and management by your truthful recount of the situation and documentation you provide including email, reports and or agendas
and minutes of meetings. "Hopefully" Human Resources will read your rebuttal and they too will now be on record
of the bullies' behavior which may be useful should you contact Human Rights and/or a Labor Attorney. Regardless
of how difficult it will be for you to relive the situations you are being reprimanded for and document the specifics of the
situation, you should not let the reprimand of the bully go unchallenged. This acknowledges to the employer, Human
Resources and potential Human Rights and Labor Attorney resources to some extent that you "accept" the reprimand
and the bullies' fictitious and exaggerated statement of events. Also recall that if you documented these
details as they occurred, you can look back through your journal to rebut the reprimand and quickly pick out the specific
situations that will provide the strongest case to expose the bully as the problem. It is also an enlightening
experience how over time, you will read the entries in your journal and see how you have healed to some extent and have
not reacted to the violence perpetrated by the bully. You will also see that your behavior and actions have
not given the bully what he or she wants: your health, career and the well being of your loved ones. Several other
items on importance are to find out how long a reprimand will sit in your personnel record and make a note of when it will
be removed (if that is the case) or you can petition to have it removed. If you stay with the company or organization,
you will want to remove that reprimand as soon as possible to be eligible for promotions, raises and other perks. There
is also usually a time limit to rebut a reprimand. While the time limit may be as long as 90 days or more, the longer
you wait to rebut the reprimand, the less effective your rebuttal will be. Take your time to document the facts as they
have occurred and do not just hand in something to get this situation over with. A reply to a reprimand that is truthful,
factual and complete may be the only way to save your career. Writing the rebuttal will be stressful and you will have
to relive the events again for a few moments, recalling that the workplace bully is working hard to destroy you health
and career. The actions of a bully are intentional, calculated and their weapon is their words and actions. If
you do not reply, or reply with a rebuttal that does not accurately reflect the situation, the bully is going to work even
harder to use their words and actions to rid you from the workplace as they now know their actions have severely weakened
you and you will not defend yourself. The actions of a bully are no different than someone using a gun or knife
to threaten you. The out- come is the same, to threaten you to get what they want. The only difference is that someone
using a gun or knife who premeditates the crime is punishable by law. The workplace bully is free to do this with the
employers' resources and blessing for the time being.
If you belong to a union,
it is unlikely they the representative you meet with will be knowledgeable about psychological violence in the workplace and
what workplace bullying is. Even if you are a member of the most proactive unions in California, the issue of
workplace bullying is still a new issue to them and educating the representative you meet with in regards to a reprimand or
stating your story of abuse will be necessary. As you tell the union representative about your experiences at the
hand of the workplace bully, you will likely have to educate them as to the issue. Some helpful documents you can print
out that are specific to union education can be found here: http://www.bullyinginstitute.org/res/2003toc.html This meeting is not only important and worthy to show some of the specific documentation you have
accumulated in regards to how the bully is damaging your health, but also some of the specific health effects your physician
has diagnosed. The union representative may know of strategies to help you find a transfer or will be able to examine
your documentation for infringements into protected status harassment. In the case of an infringement into the area
of protected status of harassment, your union representative may be able to file a grievance to stop the violence perpetrated
against you by the bully. If the situation has gone on long enough and a clear and lengthy violation of protected status
harassment has taken place your union representative may advise you to seek a Labor Attorney or you may want to contact one
yourself depending how the circumstances have affected your health, career and loved ones.
Depending on the security and support of your position with your
employer, one of the options is to go above the person who is bullying you or stifling this topic from being heard.
Before you do this, you need to sit down and examine the structure of the organization. First, California is an
"at will" employer based state. This means, that if you are not a member of a union, or have some other protection
like tenure or permanent status, a California State employer can fire you without reason. Second, think about
other situations that you have heard about in the workplace where someone ran into a situation that went up the chain of command.
What is or was the outcome of that situation? Did management make a decision that resolved the issue with fairness and
professionalism? Do you work in an old boy's or old girls network? These, among many other workplace cultural
issues, are items you need to consider before reaching out to your supervisor's supervisor. It may be necessary
to keep working up the chain of command to get your voice heard if your supervisor's supervisor fails to help you in this
matter. The supervisor may understand what you are going through but may not be able to help. Should this be the
case, again, evaluate the structure of the employer you work for and consider letting your supervisor's supervisor know
about your intent. At this initial meeting with your supervisor's supervisor, it is important to maintain as professional manner
as possible. This person will not understand the trauma of psychological violence and composure will be your best asset.
If you can convince your supervisor's supervisor of the trauma experienced as a target of the workplace bullie's behavior
and he or she cannot help you, this composer will certainly help you, should you choose to go farther up the chain of command.
The professionalism you show here will also help you to consider asking or letting your supervisor's supervisor know of
your intention to proceed farther up the chain. Sometimes it is necessary to go all the way to the top of the chain. Sometimes
you have to go to the top of the organization because the chain below this person is apathetic to the health of
their employees, or in the case of education, direct costs to employee health insurance are not an issue to Dean's, department
heads, principles and the like have to deal with. Sometimes a supervisor's supervisor will defer to Human Resources
on the matter who will tell them there is nothing they have to do about this and ignore it. Some employers just don't
understand that healthy, effective employees are the best assets to profit and reliable products and services.
bullies know they can get away with this behavior or the employer does nothing to curb these actions, the bully will
become more empowered to up the ante and increase the level of psychological violence in the workplace. When they do so, they
often start to utilize tactics that fall into “protected status” harassment that California State labor
are likely to know about psychological violence in the workplace and the harmful effects of targets who experience it, although
they are limited to the law and to date workplace bullying is legal in the U.S. workplace. Unless the workplace bully
has again stepped into areas of law such as protected status harrassment or some other realm that litigation is
possible, they will not be able to help. Labor attorney's also will likely charge a fee to hear about your workplace
experience so take this into account as well. Should your health have been severly affected by the psychological violence
inflicted by a workplace bully and you have sufficient documentation by physicians and personal accounts of the specific instances,
talking to a Labor Attorney might be a worthwhile situation. CHWA does not recommend any specific attorneys, but
to locate a Labor Attorney in your area, you can browse to the following web site:
The general role of Human Resources is to
“protect the employer.” Why then does Human Resources not take the topic of workplace bullying seriously if the
employer bears higher costs of health insurance premiums, lost work due to sick time and employee leaves of absences? Simply
because there is no law that says it has to. Even though Human Resources is aware of departments with high turnover, repeated
complaints from employees in these same areas over time, and know of the individuals who utilize psychological violence in
the workplace and what is costs the employer to ignore their behavior, be prepared for Human Resources to “circle the
wagons.” One of the few ways Human Resources might help you is to allow you to transfer to another department or location
within the company or organization. While this in itself might be a traumatic option to consider, research has indicated that
it can help you heal from the trauma inflicted by the workplace bully even if you have to accept a lower salary or some decrease
in title. One of the most important questions to ask Human Resources is to have them tell you what ALL your options are. If
the only thing they tell you is to consider employment with some other company or organization, you have gotten the only advice
you are likely to get from this resource. Some CHWA members have received advice to “look for some other employment.”
Consider the fact that you work for a poor employer and consider moving on. Many of the people you are likely
to meet in Human Resources that will hear your story are going to be legal professionals who have a law degree or are
very knowledgeable about Labor Law. While the Human Resource person may seem sympathetic, they are evaluating
your situation to see whether "they" (the employer) have something they could be held liable for. Even if you
have a case that sufficiently warrants action because the workplace bully did violate protected status law, you
will not likely get the help you seek. Their first job is to protect the employer and cover-up the actions
the bully has made them liable for.
EEOC - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
some cases, your situation may be qualified for protection under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If the federal law has
been broken, you can contact the EEOC, website provided here. http://www.eeoc.gov/
Spread the Word
The only effective method to rid
the workplace of a bully is to “make them too expensive to keep.” Keep this statement in mind when you talk to
your employer, Human Resources and the community at large. Employees spend tens of thousand of dollars educating themselves
for the careers they establish. When it comes time enter the world of work or look for a second career, employees want to
find the best employers. If you work or worked for a company that promoted the behavior of the workplace bully, did nothing
to assist you with this repeated and intentional trauma that was inflicted upon you, let others know. This is not going to
stop people who will apply to work for that employer, but it will let potential employees who know about workplace bullying
to avoid a place where they know the employer does not take the health of its employees seriously. Furthermore, how good can
a product or service be where its employees cannot focus on the job at hand? Those of us who have been and are where you are, many
of us will seriously consider not purchasing a product or service from such an organization simply because we know it is likely
the quality of such is impaired.
*Much of this page has been gratefully
contributed to CHWA's website from the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates website at http://www.nyhwa.org/bill.html