I’m being bullied what can I do?
Below we provide a starter set of readings that will make a difference in your health, and thus your life.
Now, let us help you get on track to end your misery.
You’ve found the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) website ( https://workplacebullying.org ) and will discover that the form of harassment you’ve experienced is bullying, but not necessarily illegal. That doesn’t make it any less real!
Please know two things: (1) you are not alone (the 2014 WBI National Survey found that 27% of all U.S. workers have been directly bullied, with another 21% witnessing it alone, that is 65 million Americans touched by workplace bullying); you just think you are alone because the silence that shrouds bullying gives the false impression that targets are somehow defective or rare, and (2) you did not cause bullying to happen (how can any reasonable person believe that you invited such misery into your life; it’s the bully who chose her or his targets, when to strike, when to hold, how to hurt, who to tell, who to terrorize so they would not interfere or warn others).
Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved, and your family. It’s not mere incivility or rudeness! Bullies are not “difficult” people, they have horns!
You may not be the first person to have noticed that you were bullied. Physicians and family members typically see it before targets do. Check to see how many of these experiences match yours: You Know You Are Bullied at Work When …
Too much time is wasted by targets ruminating about the bully’s motives. Very few are psychopaths. Most are normal people who get very aggressive at work. Forget about it. It’s not about you — it’s the employer working directly or inadvertently in concert with the bully him or herself. And remember, women bullies choose to torment women in 7 out of 10 cases.
In case you haven’t learned yet, HR is not necessarily your friend. Watch a video candid confession from a former HR director …
(scroll down the page where you will find the link, click on The Real HR)
The principal reason employers, like yours, can and do ignore bullying (despite its costs and bruising impact on productivity and morale), is that bullying is not yet illegal. Bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination.
So, right now, you are left to defend yourself and to reverse the destruction to restore your health and reclaim your Dignity! It’s not fair, but if you don’t fight back in the specific way we suggest, and you are driven from the job you once loved (there is a 77% chance of that happening), you will have trouble moving on to the next job. If you leave without challenging the organization (not the bully), the risk of trauma is greater. You will take longer to bounce back. On the other hand, if you leave pointing an accusatory finger directly at the bully and dare the employer to stop it, you will ensure the best mental health possible for yourself given your circumstances. We have learned this lesson over the past 17 years as pioneers in the field of workplace bullying in the U.S.
Should you confront the bully? Probably not. If you could have, you would have, and you would not have been targeted in the first place. Don’t bother. It only leads to retaliation and more problems. Instead, use the suggested 3-step method described in this linked article. Keep the complaint impersonal and unemotional and your health will be better for it. You may not succeed, but if you have to leave you will be in control. Get the next job lined up if possible.
Remember, put your health first. Don’t believe the lies told about you. Hang with loved ones and friends. At times of debilitating stress like this, you must not be isolated. Isolation makes the stress worse.
Check out the WBI Help for Bullied Targets DVD. This 90-minute video is packed with helpful advice from WBI’s expert staff. Preview and order directly from our website.
Our book — The Bully At Work is the definitive self-help guide for bullied targets in the U.S. Order your inexpensive copy today.
Read the results of our 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2017 U.S. Workplace Bullying Surveys. The findings will validate much of your personal experience.
If you would like to receive low-fee coaching from our expert, schedule an appointment, call: 206-735-7071 (Pacific time zone).
As we said, there is no anti-bullying law in any U.S. state. However, since 2003, 30 states have introduced legislation to address workplace bullying. This work is accomplished by volunteers, just like you, as part of the network led by the Healthy Workplace Campaign. Visit this website to see past bills and to track current and future ones.
Later, when your healing begins and the misery subsides, you can get involved with helping to pass a new law in your state!
Take a moment to read current articles on the WBI News Blog ( https://www.workplacebullying.org/news/ ) and share your responses to these articles.
We also recommend that participate in and read through the posts in the newly create column, Let’s Talk with Kalola ( https://www.workplacebullying.org/talk ). It is a great way to get support, become more familiar with the bullying phenomenon, and help others by sharing your story.
There is much more to read at the two principal WBI websites. The guide above simply suggests a set of articles that serve as a primer for bullied targets. We hope it helps.
I need a Lawyer…
There are three points we have to make before guiding you through the process of selecting a lawyer. Let’s be clear. We are not attorneys nor do we purport to be giving legal advice. Only licensed legal professionals — paralegals and attorneys –may do this.
1. There is no law in any U.S. state against workplace bullying. Lawyers must use existing laws. Therefore no lawyers specialize in workplace bullying. There are few laws against cruelty toward workers in general. At work, nearly anything goes. There are stronger protections in place against abuse of animals in this country! America is an aggressive place and the legal attitude is that only “disadvantaged” people deserve protection.
2. Filing a lawsuit leads to predictable retaliation, tremendous financial expense, and the risk of worsening the emotional damage caused by bullying. Despite some laws that prohibit retaliation for filing formal complaints, nearly all employers ignore the rule and retaliate. They hate being exposed. Attorneys are expensive. Chances are high that you will have to pay a significant retainer. Many bullied targets also report that being deposed is akin to “intellectual” rape. The anxieties triggered are strong and repeat the worst feelings experienced during the original bullying. If you were traumatized at work, and become involved in a lawsuit that requires you to repeat your story, frequently and to the opposing legal team, you risk being re-traumatized.
3. The justice you seek to reverse the unfairness experienced in your bullying workplace can rarely be achieved in a courtroom. We know targets who have won more than $1 million dollars in a settlement and were still not satisfied. The bully still had his job and was telling lies years after the lawsuit. Fairness comes in small, unexpected ways — the bully is caught committing criminal activity and goes to jail, the bully is finally fired and you get to wave goodbye from the front office door.
4. Do not be offended by a callous lawyer who has too little “bedside manner.” Lawyers, just like humans, differ in their style of telling you bad news. Knowing that there is no law should help you accept the judgment coming from attorneys. They may have to let you down. It’s just that some are better than others at doing this.
Types of Lawyers to Hire and to Avoid
– Plaintiffs vs. Defense Attorneys
Most attorneys specializing in employment law represent employers. So, when calling attorneys’ offices, ask if the person represents primarily plaintiffs (the little guy or gal fighting the corporation) or mostly defends corporations and employers. There is an organization of attorneys who are primarily plaintiffs’ attorneys: NELA (National Employment Lawyers Association). NELA members must have 51% of their clients be individual plaintiffs. Consult the NELA website for members in your area.
– Employment Law Specialists
You want a specialist in employment law — consult NELA or your local bar association for a list. The most popular area of employment law is civil rights. There are state and federal laws that make harassment and discrimination illegal. In 1/5 of bullying incidents, discrimination plays a role. Employment attorneys listen carefully to prospective clients for evidence of illegal discrimination. They want to hear that discrimination is present.
Discrimination can be based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, veteran status, or disability. You must be a member of a “protected status group” to claim damages. But if your harasser is similarly protected, you could be out of luck. Same-gender or same-race bullying rarely qualifies as a violation of existing civil rights laws. Without discrimination, it is hard to get an attorney to take your case.
Bullying and the Law
The bad news is that bullying is much more prevalent than illegal forms of mistreatment. And most attorneys are deaf to cases that don’t have discrimination as part of the mistreatment. It’s not just their fault; blame the law.
Furthermore, if you claim discrimination in some states, you have to get permission from the federal EEOC before you can hire a private attorney. Sometimes it is mere formality, but it can delay your taking action. You have to tell the federal government that you have a discrimination complaint against the employer first, then get a “right to sue” letter. The EEOC has little interest in pursuing cases on behalf of individuals. You can expect to try mediation to resolve your claim. Furthermore, their cases may take years. Consult an attorney to find out if the EEOC requirement applies in your state.
Another type of bullying-related case that could be illegal is when the conduct is so outrageous, and the impact on you so severe, that you could claim “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” U.S. courts have nearly impossible standards to reach to win emotional distress claims. And your entire medical record for a lifetime can be reviewed by your employer when you sue for emotional distress.
There are some other, equally unsuccessful, legal avenues to pursue. Read related legal research by law professor David Yamada.
In short, U.S. employment law — either federal or state — is weak. Employers have the upper hand. If you have a union, you have more rights and can slow down the employer’s drive to fire you (if the union is supportive). Without a union, the doctrine of “employment at-will” prevails in the U.S. All rights belong to the employer, except in rare instances.
– Conflict of Interest Avoidance
Whenever you call a legal office to schedule a preliminary appointment (sometimes complimentary) ask if anyone there represents the employer you are considering suing. When there is conflict of interest in the office, your side of the case will get scant attention.
On the other hand, you want to inquire if any attorney in a given office has experience fighting your bullying employer (search public court records to identify which attorneys have fought them in other cases — they will be more effective than a rookie who never dealt with that employer and its defense counsel before).
– Paying Attorneys
First of all, the best use of an attorney’s time is to rent them to write you a demand letter to your bullying employer. Only an attorney could or should threaten legal action. You should not threaten; you will scare no one and it will backfire. Attorneys are also ideal to help you negotiate favorable separation agreement terms. In all other matters, you are probably looking at a longer-term relationship with an attorney.
There are three payment methods:
(1) contingency — in cases where the attorney accepts the case and does not charge her or his fee until a victory is won and a percentage of those winnings go to the attorney (you may have to pay the much smaller court costs as they are incurred)
(2) retainer — a large chunk of money is advanced and regular payments are expected as the case progresses
(3) pay-as-you-go — and hourly rates vary from $250 to $600 per hour.
It always makes sense to volunteer to help your case by doing as many small things as you can to keep costs low. For instance, you should not give your attorney voluminous documentation about your case. Shorten descriptions to save reading time. He or she can always ask for elaboration when it’s time.
– Attorneys Who Pay Attention
This case is probably your first, and will hopefully be your only, case. Attorneys are fond of saying that they have many cases that need their attention. Therefore, recognize the following tradeoffs.
In a small firm (a solo private practice is the smallest possible), you will get attention, but that person may not have the resources/money to fight a big employer with many defense lawyers. Large firms may have the resources to fight the big employers, but their caseload is so high they will take weeks to return your phone calls or respond to e-mail questions.
When you are screening attorneys, ask about their caseload during the period anticipated to work on your case. Also, ask how they prefer to be contacted — phone, e-mail — and stick to what they request.
Remember that you are a consumer of a very expensive service. You have the right to shop around and to ask tough questions. Attorneys offended by your assertiveness will not be good legal partners for you. Demand experience, ask for their success rate, and ask for referrals from satisfied clients. Call the referrals before signing contracts.
Eventually, when there is an anti-bullying law in your state, certain attorneys will emerge as experts. After a law is in place, we can begin to train attorneys to better understand the phenomenon of bullying and the special type of clients who are bullied targets.
Until then, the above advice is the best we can offer.
Whether or not you eventually file a lawsuit can only be determined in concert with a licensed legal expert in your state or city.
I Need a Therapist…
Please forgive this impersonal reply. Due to the volume of correspondence we receive, this is the most efficient way to reply to you in a timely manner.
The help you need has to be locally delivered. We suggest using your health insurance, if you have it still, to meet with a counselor. Counselors can be Masters-prepared (M.A. or M.S. in clinical or counseling psychology or L.C.S.W. clinical social workers). Psychologists have either a PhD or PsyD in clinical or counseling psychology.
Psychiatrists are physicians (M.D.) who are able to prescribe medications for psychological distress. In most states, only psychiatrists can order medication. In some states psychiatric nurse practitioners or physicians’ assistants (A.R.N.P, P.A.) can also order medication. Most counselors work collaboratively with a professional who can prescribe and monitor medications.
Your current or former employer may offer employee assistance (EAP). However, many EAP counselors have trouble honoring confidentiality or may feel sympathetic to the employer who pays their contract. Find an independent, licensed mental health professional.
Types of Counselors to Avoid
– One who says that you’re the problem and does not believe that anyone could do what the bully did.
– One who is curious about your relationship with your mother, but doesn’t want to hear what happened at work.
– One who specializes in family relationships or teenagers.
Types of Counselors to Hire
– A specialist in trauma and abuse, post traumatic stress (PTSD), or one who leads treatment groups for trauma survivors.
– A specialist in domestic violence.
– A specialist in anxiety disorders.
– A therapist who advertises certification in EMDR (a technique to reduce anxiety).
You may be reluctant to quiz prospective therapists on the phone prior to an initial appointment. Remember you are the client. You are paying or directing insurance dollars to their pockets. Shopping for therapy is a consumer task. Therapists are in business. If he or she makes you feel uncomfortable when you ask the questions we suggest you ask, do not use him or her as a therapist. If, during the initial session, a therapist makes you uncomfortable…feel free to leave that session.
You probably tolerated bullying too long. That’s why you’re seeking a therapist now. So don’t let a therapist bully you and worsen your emotional health.
Questions to Ask When Shopping for Therapists
– Have you heard of the term “Workplace Bullying?” If not, would you be willing to learn about it? (You can download articles from the website and direct the therapist to the book The Bully at Work)
– Do you understand how a work environment can elicit or cause to happen dysfunctional behavior at work?
– Do you emphasize present issues and concerns over early life experiences?
– Do you have a conflict of interest regarding any matters related to company X (my current or past employer)?
– Is there an ideal number of sessions that you prefer? How would you describe your therapeutic technique?
Try to interview 3 or more therapists (or their receptionists) before scheduling the initial session. If it doesn’t work out with one, you will be able to call on another.
If the therapist resists the concept of workplace bullying and is not open to learning, do not hire that person. If he or she underestimates the role of a work environment, which includes having a bullying boss and an unsupportive HR, this type of therapist is likely to blame you for your fate. You cannot work with a therapist who has a conflict of interest. He or she will defend the employer and be biased.
Most contemporary counselors use “cognitive-behavorial” approaches that would include desensitization techniques that work well to decrease anxiety. Most therapeutic philosophies work well for treating the emotional harm caused by workplace bullying, with exception to psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approaches.
In summary, the task of finding a therapist cannot be passive. You must be a questioning, active consumer. If this threatens any therapists you screen, avoid them.
Your experience with bullying validates years of research. Bullying clearly affects the psychological health of targeted people.
At WBI, we also have low-cost solutions for those of you struggling to find a helping professional. The first is WBI’s Professional Coaching by telephone. Find out more about this option here: https://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/personal-coaching/
The other option is our training DVD for Mental Health Practitioners. This 50-min video is perfect to watch alongside your therapist in a single session: https://www.workplacebullying.org/dvd-suite/
You might want to check out some of the scientific articles at the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) website.
Workplace Bullying Institute