Despite efforts to thwart the problem, employees across the country continue to face harassment in the workplace. You might know someone who was the victim of this repeated negative behavior or have been a victim yourself, but how can workplaces deal with these bullies?

For most, the answer is to start by going to HR and then also hiring legal aid, recommends harassment attorney Jeremy Pasternak. Those are both excellent options when an employer isn’t cooperative, but the best solution to handling bullies in the workplace starts with the company itself.

Responsible Employers

Every employer should have an anti-harassment policy in place, sometimes called a respectful workplace policy. The goal of this document is to anticipate harassment situations, offer a clear plan on investigating those instances, and provide clear steps to resolving the issue.

It’s in any company’s best interest to adopt this type of policy. Not only does it help create a positive work culture, providing various benefits to the workplace, it helps employers stay out of legal trouble. Harassment is illegal in the United States when it deals with one of the following protected characteristics:

·         Race

·         Color

·         Religion or creed

·         National origin and ancestry

·         Gender and gender identity

·         Sexual orientation

·         Pregnancy

·         Age

·         Physical and mental disabilities

·         Veteran status

·         Citizenship

·         Genetic Information (diseases, disorders, conditions, and medical history)

Identifying Bullying

The employer must also be proactive in identifying harassment if they want their policy to be taken seriously by all employees. While it’s impossible to stop every instance before it happens, the ability to identify warning signs and actions is vital to maintaining a harassment-free workplace. Here are employee-on-employee examples:

·         Verbal or physical threats

·         Physical intimidation such as standing too close or making threatening gestures

·         Deliberately impeding another’s work or undermining them

·         Yelling, profanity, insults, belittling

·         Withholding necessary information or providing wrong information

·         Spreading malicious rumors and gossip

·         Exclusionary tactics

·         Personal attacks on one’s private life or protected characteristics

Bullying isn’t exclusive to employees, though. In many cases, supervisors and management leverage their authority over employees to bully or harass them. Here are some examples specific to those managing other employees:

·         Taking away responsibilities without a cause

·         Creating impossible deadlines

·         Unwarranted punishment

·         Unreasonable demands

·         Purposefully blocking opportunities for growth, raises, or promotions

·         Demeaning or belittling feedback

When Bullying is Left Unchecked

Employers who identify these behaviors should fall back on their anti-harassment policy and follow it accordingly. If a bully isn’t handled, it has severe impacts on the workplace as the harassment continues. Employee victims develop high levels of stress, often leading to anxiety and depression. Sleep disturbances and PTSD symptoms are also common.

These negative outcomes lead to impaired concentration, poor decision-making skills, and ultimately inhibit their ability to perform their job duties. Some victims may develop physical illnesses as a result of the stress, leading to missed days at work.

When a bully is left unchecked, your entire workforce suffers as a result. Learning to identify the signs of harassment and bullying can help employers ensure their workplace retains a positive and productive culture.