With the news reports on teens bullying each other, and subsequent suicides, have you thought about a workplace bullying policy? If not, you should do so to avoid all sorts of disasters, including lawsuits. Jean Scheid, a business owner and HR expert, discusses anti-bullying policies.
What Is Workplace Bullying?
If you think bullying is just for the schoolyard, think again. Workplace bullying can consist of verbal intimidation, threats, or just plain old harassment of a co-worker or subordinate each day. Because these situation can and do happen, all employers need to implement a workplace bullying policy.
This policy can be written with the help of your HR department and should follow a procedure much as an employee disciplinary warning; however, a bullying warning usually involves an investigation, solution, and consequences.
Skipping the Policy
First off, if you’re an employer or HR manager and think that, “Hey my employees are adults—they can take care of their own personal problems," that’s not always true. Subordinates can be intimidated by supervisors and vice versa.
WordNet from Princeton defines the word bullying as, “The act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something," and to “discourage or frighten with threats or a domineering manner."
If you see or hear about any employee intimidating another with threats, teasing, or forcing a co-worker to do something he doesn't want to do, you need a workplace bullying policy.
Failure to implement such a policy could land you in court with an employee lawsuit, especially if you turn a blind eye to the problem. Lawsuits are not cheap, and these days you must protect your business and your employees.
Creating Your Bullying Policy
Your policy should be written, offered to all employees, and consist of the following four elements:
Written Policy – Clearly state what bullying is in the company’s eyes and explain the company will not tolerate bullying of any kind. It’s also a good idea to include some examples of bullying; don’t use real employees but instead create fictitious scenarios. Make sure you don’t just write examples from supervisors to subordinates. Include scenarios from all level of employees, even the owners.
Complaint Policy – Here, you’ll need to tell employees who they can report to if they feel they are being bullied. While the HR manager or owner is probably the best choice here, if the bullying is coming from one of these sources, allow employees to speak to supervisors as well. Make sure you include a form in the complaint policy that has the complainant’s name, date, and allow the complainant to write down in as much detail as possible the incidents of the bullying including the alleged bullying co-worker’s name(s). On your complaint form, also include a space for witness statements (if any) and a place for the person taking the complaint to sign and acknowledge he has received the report.
Investigative Procedure Policy – Here, the person taking the complaint should comfort the bullied employee and tell him that he will immediately begin an investigation. The person responsible for the investigation should take detailed notes and talk to any witness and the accused in private. Anyone who offers a statement should be told that the company policy states his comments must be in writing and signed by a witness. When the investigation is complete, the person taking the complaint must report to either the HR manager, the owner of the company, or another designated person if the HR manager or one of the owners is charged with bullying.
Discipline Policy – If an incident of bullying at the workplace is deemed to be correct, this can be tricky. One option is to include the workplace bullying policy in your HR Policies & Procedures and state that anyone found guilty of bullying may be immediately terminated, suspended without pay, or transferred away from the co-worker. If you choose the option of separating access of the two employees, the offender should be spoken to and a written disciplinary form should be utilized where he acknowledges he was indeed guilty of workplace bullying and continued incidents will result in termination; usually two incidents that can be proven are enough to terminate.
Often it may be hard for your HR Manager or you as the business owner to define that fine line between sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace bullying. This is why it’s essential for you to address a policy and include this policy as part of your employee orientation sessions.
Another item to consider may be to assign someone that’s dedicated to handling workplace bullying complaints. Use personality or character tests to identify this person.
The Department of Labor for the State of Washington offers additional information on how to develop an anti-bullying policy along with ways to safeguard your employees.
Problems & Solutions
Any written HR policy that involves an investigation, much like a discrimination or sexual harassment policy must be taken seriously. If you don’t, you will find yourself in a dilemma only an attorney can get you out of.
Keep the policy simple and state what will not be tolerated. Make it uniform and don’t allow accusers to make complaints that aren’t workplace bullying, i.e., “she stole my stapler, etc." Make sure you follow through with disciplinary actions even if the alleged bully is a top employee—how good an employee is he really if he is found guilty of bullying? Doing nothing, especially with higher-level employees, will cause distrust and dissension and bring on low productivity and morale.
Some HR managers have suggested installing workplace cameras as a solution to stop workplace bullying, especially if it becomes a constant problem. It’s best to inform the employees there are cameras on site and this alone may sway workplace bullying.
Sometimes implementing a policy such as this can have legal ramifications, especially if accusations are ignored. If you don’t have a qualified HR manager who is trained to implement such a policy, it’s best to speak to a labor law attorney who can define your workplace bullying policy so that you and your employees feel safe from these types of circumstances. You first step to starting a no-bullying policy is recognizing you need one.