Origins of the International Workplace Bullying Movement

A brief history of the international bullying movement


The anti-bullying movement began in Sweden. In the 1980's, ex-patriat German Heinz Leymann (1932-1999), psychologist and doctor of medical science, studied worker trauma. He established a unique clinic at Violen for individuals traumatized by the workplace. His scientific articles linking mobbing to PTSD were published from 1990 to 1999. He wrote books and became a staunch advocate to stop bullying at work. As a result, Sweden was the first nation to have a law against "Victimisation At Work" (1994).

The term "workplace bullying" was coined by journalist-turned-advocate Andrea Adams in England in 1988. She published Bullying At Work in 1992, gave speeches, and lobbied for legislation. She passed away from cancer in 1995. The Andrea Adams Trust is an organization preserving her legacy and fighting bullying. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) also sustains the UK anti-bullying movement. Academic Charlotte Rayner emerged as a practical researcher who worked originally with unions. Popular bullying websites were launched by Brits Andy Ellis and Tim Field.

A 1996 special issue of the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology legitimized the science of workplace bullying and mobbing. Scandinavian researchers, led by Stale Einarsen at the University of Bergen and Helge Hoel (who migrated to England's University of Manchester), dominate the principally European and British scientific studies published. International researchers began a series of biennial meetings (2008 was in Montreal, 2010 in Cardiff, Wales) and in 2008, created the International Association on Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace.


Australia formed a membership organization in the early 1990's, the Beyond Bullying Association, which hosted a 1994 conference from which the book (Bullying: From Backyard to Boardroom) of presentations was created. Queensland state anti-bullying laws went into effect. The principal Australian researcher, Michael Sheehan, subsequently moved to the University of Glamorgan, Wales. Another major conference was held in 2002 in South Australia. From that event, with the collaboration of the State Ombudsman (then Gary Collis) with Working Women's Centre, emerged a strong state anti-bullying law in 2005.

South Africa's movement was begun by a popular 1997 book, Hyenas At Work. One of the authors, Susan Marais-Steinman, started the Workplace Dignity Institute in her country. She hosted a 2003 International Conference.

The French movement was launched by the overwhelmingly successful publication (500,000 copies) of Marie France Hirigoyen's 1998 book Stalking the Soul. Laws followed. Anti-bullying (still called "mobbing" in Europe) groups started in Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Canada's principal academic researcher and anti-mobbing (he doesn't use the term "bullying") specialist is Ken Westhues. The first of his series of books on the topic of mobbing in the academe was the 1998 Eliminating Professors. Loraleigh Keashley researched emotional abuse at work and moved to the U.S. where her work continues. In 2004, the province of Quebec enacted the first North American statutory law against psychological harassment (bullying) at work. Saskatchewan in 2007 added an anti-bullying provision to its Occupational Health and Safety Code. A 2008 revision of the Canada Labour Code mandated anti-bullying policies and education within all federal ministries. In 2010, Ontario passed a law (Bill 168) addressing workplace violence and workplace harassment. In 2011, Manitoba joined the list of provincial OHS regulatory changes to take into account workplace bullying. In 2013, British Columbia revised its workers compensation law to allow for bullying-related claims.

New Zealand's movement was begun by Andrea Needham, who wrote the nation's first book, Workplace Bullying, in 2003. Andrea has since passed away after lung transplant surgery.

United States

Prior to 1998, U.S. academic researchers who dared to conduct workplace bullying studies were rare. Social scientists include Loraleigh Keashley, Judy Richman (generalized workplace mistreatment), and Joel Neuman (workplace aggression) who preceded Kathy Rospenda, Suzy Fox, and Lamont Stallworth. Since 2003, the most prolific U.S. academician has been Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik whose facility at exploring different aspects of the phenomenon exceeds all others. The only legal scholar is David Yamada from Suffolk University Law whose 2000 Georgetown Law Journal treatise was the impetus for the WBI-Legislative Campaign working to enact legislation in the U.S.

The U.S.-based WBI (formerly known as the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying) began work in mid-1997 and launched the first of its unique websites in 1998. The founders wrote BullyProof Yourself At Work in 1998 and the first edition of The Bully At Work in 2000 (2nd edition, 2009). Two conferences were held in the U.S. in 2000.

In 2003, the first bill was introduced in a state legislature, thus initiating the WBI-Legislative Campaign. Consult the website for the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill to see progress since then. To date, no state or federal U.S. law has been enacted.

In 2007, 2010 and 2014 WBI conducted national scientific surveys of workplace bullying. In 2011, the Drs. Namie finished their third book, The Bully-Free Workplace, written for employers and published by Wiley & Sons.


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