November 13th, 2014

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Nurse Reports Being Bullied and Sexually Harassed

Dear Kalola,

I am presently employed as a Registered Nurse in a large acute care hospital for two years. I have always had a good evaluation on paper, yet my co-workers and managers are constantly trying to demean me by making derogatory remarks regarding my work and private life. One of my managers stated that a patient complained that I did not treat him professionally, and then stated that she, the manager had heard this about me before. When I asked her to be more specific, she could not present me with any real facts regarding her statement and was just trying to intimidate me. I have also been touched inappropriately by staff without my permission after I had explained that I suffered from PTSD from a previous physical attack in the past and did not like to be touched. When my manager found out about my condition, she purposefully made it a point to touch me giving me a knowing look that this was the reason that she did this. It was intended to be cruel and abusive. One of my co-workers made sexual gestures to me without touching me but another one did touch me in my private areas. In this facility, nothing is kept confidential by the staff whether they are collegues or management and If you say anything to defend yourself, you will be under attack and it only makes it worse. I have been accused of things that were untrue, like substance abuse, which can be very detrimental to my employment, never mind the fact that I have been accused of affairs in the work place and out of the workplace, which is entirely untrue. I go for random drug tests and they have always been negative. I believe that someone outside my workplace has made accusations about me, but when I ask if I had a negative reference, they always say no. The remarks that are made to me are slanderous and I will take it to another level if I have to. I honestly don’t know what to do and would like some advice. I would like to find other employment, but I cannot take less pay, so there is a lot at stake.


Dear Emma,

Thank you for writing in and sharing your workplace story. I hope that nurses reading your story will write in and respond.

Why do bullies exist in the nursing and health care fields? When we think of nurses we think of kind, caring individuals who want to care for others in a humane way. How could a nurse become a bully, that is, someone who is callous, cruel, and sadistic and treats their fellow co-workers with such disdain? It makes one wonder how the patients under the care of the bully are being treated. Why do bullies bully? Bullies bully because they can. Yes, the employer ought to be responsible in keeping the workplace free of those that would do harm to others. It is shameful when, all too often, the employer looks the other way while good employees fall the wayside while the offending bully or bullies continue to be employed.

Provision 1 of the American Nurses Association’s Nursing Code of Ethics states: “The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.”

Provision 1.5—Relationship with Colleagues and Others. “The principle of respect for persons extends to all individuals with whom the nurse interacts. The nurse maintains compassionate and caring relationships with colleagues and others with a commitment to the fair treatment of individuals, to integrity-preserving compromise, and to resolving conflict. Nurses function in many roles, including direct care provider, administrator, educator, researcher, and consultant. In each of these roles, the nurse treats colleagues, employees, assistants, and students with respect and compassion. This standard of conduct precludes any and all prejudicial actions, any form of harassment or threatening behavior or disregard for the effect of one’s actions on others. The nurse values the distinctive contribution of individuals or groups, and collaborates to meet the shared goal of providing quality health services.”

It is disheartening to read about nurses who bully others in the workplace.

Sharing Personal Information—Knowing what you now know about your managers and co-workers, it would be in your best interest not to share personal information about yourself with these individuals. Do not feed personal information about yourself to those individuals who would only gossip about you with the intent to do harm. Those that would gossip about you don’t care about you. Any personal health information that is given to a work supervisor or to a co-worker should be given on a need-to-know basis only. Personal health information given to the employer should be kept in strict confidence by the employer.

When a worker is criticized or reprimanded by their work supervisor the discussion should be held in private. If you do not feel comfortable meeting alone with your work supervisor seek permission to have a third party sit in on the meeting such as a union representative. Hearsay or unverified information should not be used to reprimand or to write up a worker. You asked the manager to provide you with specific information which the supervisor was unable to do.

If you are requesting a disability accommodation, do this through your Human Resources Department. You will need a note or letter from your doctor to request a disability accommodation. The letter should be brief and to the point. Note that even with a disability accommodation, a worker will still be expected to perform the essential duties of their job.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, “It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because he/she has a disability, had a disability in the past, or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if she/he does not have such an impairment).”

No one should be touching your person without your permission. Document and immediately report sexual harassment to your Human Resources Department. If you are being sexually groped by another worker and your employer does nothing to protect you after you have reported it, then go to the police and file a police report. Obtain a copy of the police report for your records. All sexual assaults should be immediately reported to the police.

According to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination. Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 151B, Section 1 defines “hostile work environment” as: “Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when … such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.” Chapter 151B, Section 3A states: “All employers, employment agencies and labor organizations shall promote a workplace free of sexual harassment.” Your employer is not providing a workplace that is free of sexual harassment.

To read more about MCAD’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Guidelines go to their website at:

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) , “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

The EEOC states on their website: “Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

There are strict time limitations to file a complaint of sexual harassment with either your state or the EEOC. You must be able to provide documentation to backup your allegations against the employer to the agency that you file a complaint with. These agencies will want to know if you filed a complaint with your employer, and if the employer followed up and investigated your complaint. Too often workers are afraid to complain about sexual harassment. You will be asked what you did to try to stop the harassment.

The EEOC states, “It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.”

The EEOC goes on to say “When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, the EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.”

It is very important that you document each incident of illegal harassment (see website: Do include details as to what happened, the date, time, location, and if there were any witnesses. Keep a copy of any complaints made to the Human Resources Department and correspondence sent or given to you by your employer and/or work supervisor. Keep a record of what the employer did to remedy your work situation. Keep your incident log and documentation at home. Print a copy of your incident log and keep your documentation in a safe place as a back-up. Never keep your documentation at work or in your desk or on the work computer. If you have reported the harassment to your employer, and the person or persons who have harassed you retaliates, document what happened. It is important to report sexual harassment or any illegal harassment to the employer in writing or the employer might say later that it was never reported to them.

No worker should have to endure psychological abuse in the workplace on a daily basis. It might be helpful to talk to a employment and labor attorney (one that works with workers only) to discuss your situation. Ask the attorney for assistance in filing a complaint with the employer or the EEOC or equivalent state agency if you are planning on filing a formal complaint. The attorney can tell you whether you have the necessary documentation to support your allegations against the employer. The anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute has suggestions on how to find an attorney.

Emma, please take good care of yourself. Your physical health and well being are most important. If the issues that you have presented have begun to affect your health then it is time to make an appointment with your doctor and share with your doctor what is happening to you at work. Ask your doctor for a referral to a licensed mental health professional who can help you to cope with what you have been experiencing in the workplace.

Given the circumstances that you have presented, it may be in your best interests to consider actively pursuing another job. I hope that you are putting away money in an emergency fund should you unexpectedly lose your job or things have gotten so bad that you decide to quit the job before another job can be found. Each and every worker should have an emergency fund. Things happen in life.

About bullies, “If you have to lie, cheat, steal, obstruct and bully to get your point across, it must not be a point capable of surviving on its own merits.” … Steven Weber, Actor.



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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 13th, 2014 at 4:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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