Bullying in the workplace can pose serious health and safety issues. Bullying can affect an employee’s mental and physical wellness as well as the mental and physical wellness of a workgroup. Employee morale can decline because of a single bully. The long-term effects of bullying are wide ranging, including absenteeism, lost productivity, and a lack of achievement toward organizational goals and objectives. Take the proper steps to minimize the impacts of bullying and to ensure termination occurs in a legal manner.
The first step in battling bullying is to first address the bully. Sometimes bullying is nothing more than conflict that occurs between two or more employees that needs to be addressed properly. This may require arbitration or mediation by an HR official or outside representative. Bullying behavior must be brought to the attention of an HR representative and documented. A manager must document unprofessional conduct and must respond to all complaints brought to their attention by targeted employees. The employee targeted may be encouraged to confront the bully depending on the severity of the bullying behavior. In some cases, bullying is severe and qualifies as harassment. This may require intervention by Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officials in the company.
When documenting bullying, particularly bullying that qualifies as harassment, all information regarding offensive behavior must be documented accurately. Harassment may include a wide range of behaviors including verbal or physical abuse or sexually exploitative language as defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). A report of bullying behavior should include the date and time of an incident, the employee(s) involved, and the behavior that occurred. Any witnesses involved should also be included in a report.
Corrective action taken should also be included in the report. This will help leave a paper trail for when the time comes for termination. The HR department will need adequate documentation prior to terminating a bully for offensive or harassing behavior.
If a bully is reprimanded and disciplined for unprofessional conduct and repeats an offense that is at the level of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) violation, then the company should place him on suspension. This may include time off with goal setting, where the employee has specific goals he has to attain before he can return to "at will" employment status with the company. Employment "at will" is a working relationship where at any time the employer or employee can terminate the working relationship without cause. The employee may have to undergo bully training or harassment training before he can return to a non-probationary employment status with the company.
If an employee violates probation, suspension may be the next step. Suspension may provide the company a period of time to discuss their legal alternatives prior to termination.
Termination resulting from bullying is a serious legal offense. Termination should result after a company has thoroughly documented an employee’s behavior resulting from bullying, as well as a company’s attempts to rectify the behavior. The company should have a record of behavior management attempts with the employee. This information should be reviewed by an employment attorney. The company should provide an employee with a termination letter and final paycheck. A human resources official may meet with the employee to discuss the reasons for termination.