Medical Economics

Asheville partner Jonathan Yarbrough provided insight on workplace bullying in an article written for Medical Economics. Bullying in the workplace can be defined as repeated mistreatment; abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; sabotage and even verbal abuse such as belittling comments, persistent performance criticism and withholding resources.

In some cases, employers may be liable for workplace bullying. Under federal, state and some local laws, the harassment of employees based on membership in a protected category such as race, color, religion, sec, national origin, age, disability or genetic information is prohibited. While some bullies may target individuals based on their membership in a protected class, bullying can become more indiscriminate as the bully attempts to control more individuals in their organization without regard to personal characteristics. In cases devoid of such targeted bullying, employers are not necessarily liable and also have no obligation to ensure employees engage in professional conduct when interacting with each other.

While only about 20 percent of workplace bullying cases contain what could be deemed “discriminatory” activity, this does not mean employers are not potentially liable in situations included in the other 80 percent. In the case of Raess v. Doescher, in which a workplace bully threatened violence against another employee for speaking up against the bully’s harassment, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict of more than $300,000. Physical threats and conduct can amount to assault and battery, and bullying conduct can open the door to the violation of other employment laws.

“All employees must recognize that the employer does not tolerate such conduct and if the employees observe it, they should report it. One way to facilitate this is to have a written policy that not only prohibits bullying but also explains what employees should do when they are either the target of a bully or simply witness a co-worker engaging in bullying behavior,” Yarbrough said. “Having a policy, however, is not enough as healthcare employers should also train employees to recognize and appropriately address workplace bullying. Training to build teamwork and camaraderie in addition to reinforcing positive behaviors further serves to lessen workplace bullying.”

the full article is available here.

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