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Bully Bosses

Dear David has answers to your workplace problems.

Bully Bosses originally appeared on Working America's Dear David workplace advice column:

Q.

The managers and directors at my office threaten to fire employees for things that are personal and nonwork-related. I’ve been called stupid and had something thrown at me by my boss. The president of the company travels 99% of the time, so these higher-ups do not have to answer to anyone. I've looked up workplace bullying to find that it does not fall under Title VII, nor is it acknowledged at all. How can employees defend themselves against these threats? Why is bullying not allowed in schools but is allowed in the workplace? What gives managers and directors the right to viciously attack employees? Can you help? Thanks so much.

—Standing Up, Connecticut

A.

Hey, before you read my answer to this week’s question, I want to highlight the release of our new two-tiered website, FixMyJob.com and OrganizeWith.Us. I’ve previewed the site in this column before, but now we’re officially up and running. Check it out and let me know what you think. And send the link to that friend or neighbor who you know is dealing with a problem right now, because he or she doesn’t have to go it alone.

It’s astonishing to me whenever I see adults who haven’t outgrown bullying. For some people, the whole reason to have a position of power is that you can mistreat people under you. When it’s the person who sets your schedule, your assignments or your pay, it’s especially intimidating.

No one deserves this treatment. Unfortunately, you don’t have to look far or long to find other examples of this far-too-common problem. Judging from the number of submissions on this topic, as well as what I’ve found just talking to workers directly, it feels like workplace bullying is practically an epidemic. According to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute:

35% of the U.S. workforce (an estimated 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it. Simultaneously, 50% report neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying. Hence, a "silent epidemic."

You’re correct that Title VII—the federal anti-discrimination law—does not outlaw bullying or harassment in general, only harassment that is based on characteristics like the employee's race, gender or religion, among others.  However, that does not mean it is legal for employers to treat employees this way. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognizes that workers have a right to a workplace free of violence, and that workplace violence includes both physical and verbal abuse. In some states there’s a growing push to stop this kind of abuse through legislation.

The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. From the sound of it, you’re far from the only person getting this mistreatment, so it’s worth thinking about talking with other employees about what they’re experiencing. And it’s not a bad idea to keep detailed notes of what’s happening and who witnessed it. The biggest advantage a bully can have is the belief that his or her victim will keep quiet.

Don’t forget, most employees in the private sector have the right under the National Labor Relations Act to join together in demanding a stop to this abuse. And you can start by visiting FixMyJob.com

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