According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2021 survey, about 30% of American workers have experienced bullying in the workplace. And a separate study suggests that many employees in toxic workplaces are unlikely to report harassment.
It is alarming and unfortunate that so many workers have been a victim of or witness to unfair, inappropriate, and unacceptable behavior at work. Workplace bullying and toxic workplaces can negatively affect a person’s emotional and physical wellbeing, even if they are not the one the treatment was directed at.
As such, it is necessary for employees to recognize when intolerable behaviors are occurring at work and take steps to address them. This might mean reporting the conduct, leaving the company, and/or pursuing legal action. Although workers might feel intimidated or worried about reporting workplace bullying or toxic work environments, speaking up may be beneficial for the worker’s overall wellbeing and can stop such conduct and prevent it from occurring in the future.
What Are Workplace Bullying and Toxic Workplaces?
Both workplace bullying and toxic workplaces involve negative treatment towards one or more employees. Any person connected to the company can create or foster such conduct, including coworkers, supervisors, and third-party vendors.
Workplace bullying is characterized by repeated, unreasonable, or abusive conduct towards one or more employees. It can be perpetrated through various mediums, including phone, email, Internet, or in person.
Workplace bullying can be physical or verbal and is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating.
Signs that a worker is being bullied include:
- Being degraded during meetings
- Being excluded from work-related functions and social events
- Being subject to false or malicious rumors
- Being prevented from attending training available to all other workers
- Being subject to unrealistic work expectations
- Being denied time-off requests without an appropriate or valid reason
- Being subject to constant and unwarranted criticism
Similarly, toxic workplaces are those that cause an employee or employees to face negative experiences. They are dysfunctional and create an atmosphere disruptive to workers’ productivity and performance.
Signs of a toxic workplace include:
- Sexual harassment
- Overstepping boundaries
- Unrealistic expectations
- Micro-management mentality
- Individualistic culture
- Unmotivated team members
- High turnover
- Office cliques
- Poor communication
- Bad leadership
- No upward mobility
What Are the Effects of Workplace Bullying and Toxic Workplaces?
As noted earlier, workplace bullying and toxic workplaces can have significant adverse effects on employees, both those directly subject to the conduct and those witnessing it.
Some of the impacts of workplace bullying and toxic workplaces include:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of enjoyment in work
- Negative rumination
- Substance abuse
- Sleep disorders
- Anger issues
Those witnessing either workplace bullying or toxic workplaces might also lose faith in the company and resign.
What Can Employees Do About Workplace Bullying or Toxic Workplaces?
Because of the negative effects of workplace bullying and toxic workplaces, anyone subject to either should speak up. Failing to act can cause the inappropriate behavior to continue and lead to health conditions or worsen existing ones.
General workplace bullying and toxic workplaces are not themselves illegal. Thus, an employee might not have grounds to make a legal claim against their employer. However, if the case meets certain requirements, the conduct may be prohibited by state or federal laws, and the worker may pursue a suit. We’ll discuss that more later.
Even if the conduct does not meet the definition of prohibited behavior under the law, the employee can still take steps to attempt to remedy the situation.
A few of the available avenues include:
- Reviewing the company’s policy on bullying and harassment
- Documenting the abuse
- Keeping physical evidence, such as notes, comments, or emails of the abuse
- Talking with management about the situation
- Reporting the conduct to human resources
It is also important that the employee does what is necessary to take care of their wellbeing. For instance, they might start working out regularly or take up a hobby outside of work to help relieve some of the stress. They might even seek professional help to cope.
In severe cases, and if all options for remedying the situation have been exhausted, it might be time for the employee to seek a position elsewhere. This can be a difficult decision, but it might be needed to ensure that their needs and emotional health are prioritized.
When Do Workplace Bullying and Toxic Workplaces Become Legal Issues?
Several state and federal laws exist prohibiting conduct that may be considered bullying or may lead to a toxic atmosphere. For such behavior to rise to the level of a hostile work environment, it must be directed at one or more persons in a protected class.
Protected classes include:
Not all instances of workplace bullying or toxic workplaces meet the laws’ definition. For instance, if a supervisor constantly and unnecessarily criticizes all their employees, they might not be violating any laws. However, if they single out an employee or group of employees because of their sexual orientation, that might meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.
If an employee believes that they have been subject to unlawful treatment, they can pursue a claim against their employer to seek remedy. An employment law attorney can help determine whether the employee has a case and begin the process of taking legal action.
At Nisar Law Group, P.C., our New York lawyers stand up for workers subject to discriminatory treatment. Such conduct should not be tolerated in the workplace. Those perpetrating, facilitating, or willfully ignoring it should be held accountable for their actions or inactions.
Are you the victim of workplace bullying or a toxic workplace? Talk to us about your case by calling (646) 760-6493 or submitting an online contact form.