While much of the press around bullying focuses on children, let’s face it, it’s happening with adults too! I recently read an article aboutoffice bullying and it made me think about all the instances as a Human Resources professional that boil down to someone being an old fashioned bully. Whenever I conduct Harassment Training, invariably there is at least one employee who comes to me afterwards to tell me about a manager or co-worker who is always yelling or has frequent tirades. While this isn’t typically unlawful harassment (we call these people equal opportunity harassers, which isn’t illegal) this person is a bully. Bullying behavior in the workplace can reduce employee productivity and employee morale. If productivity and morale begin to slide, you can expect the health of your business not to be too far behind.
While the office bully is probably not breaking workplace harassment law, their behavior is likely not acceptable under the company’s code of conduct, nor is it how the company expects their employees or managers to behave. Companies should deal with these employees through their progressive discipline program.
The first step in the progressive discipline procedure is to give the employee a verbal warning which clearly outlines behaviors that are inappropriate in the workplace. Where possible, give specifics about the unacceptable behaviors and specific guidelines for improvement. The employee should be given a time frame to make those improvements. This conversation should be documented. If the bullying behavior does not improve, then a written warning is warranted. A written warning possesses much of the same information as the verbal warning. This written warning can serve as a final written warning or there could be a second or final warning issued afterwards. If the behavior does not improve through the progressive discipline process, the employee can be terminated.
The importance of dealing with an office bully cannot be underestimated. The damage that their behavior can have on the workplace is real and can be devastating to a department and a company. Taking action against such behavior is your best defense.