A panel discussion in Chicago addressed workplace bullying.  See ABA Journal report.  According to the panel of experts, one-third of employees suffer some workplace bullying.  Dept. of Justice statistics say two million violent crimes occur each year in the workplace.  Workplace bullying is defined as verbal bullying, as well as physical altercations.

The experts however, believe that only one-third to one-half of such incidents are reported.  Many employees are afraid to speak out.   Some employees simply believe the employer will not take any action.

The panelists agree the best thing for employers to do is have a clear policy in place that prohibits any act of violence.  The panelists believe that 90-95% of employees will comply with employer requirements, so long as those requirements are made clear.   A good policy on preventing violence will: 

  • define workplace violence
  •  provide a reporting procedure for workplace bullying
  • encouraging reporting of incidents by using language like "all acts will be investigated"
  • include a "no retaliation" for reporting clause
  • inform employees that violation of staff policy will result in discipline

Be quick to investigate, urges one panelist.  Document problems, urges another employment lawyer.  One panelist also suggests the first line of defense for workplace violence is a good prescreening.  Require two letters of reference for every employee.  Be sure that at least one is a personal reference.  Some folks behave differently at work than they do away from work.  Bullies will have difficulty obtaining letters of reference, because they have a track record of alienating those they know and work with.  Make sure resumes are factually accurate.  

Sometimes, employers make a bullying situation worse.  According to one poll, 6 out of 10 victims said the employer made things worse.  To avoid making the situation worse, employers should not:

  • ignore threatening or abusive behavior
  • be confrontational
  • retaliate against the complainant
  • fail to document and respond to misconduct
  • ignore provisions in company policies
  • rely on employee assistance programs or healthcare providers to change personalities of bullies

Employment lawyer, Carlos Perez, says escorting employees out of the building is generally overkill.  It is counter-productive and makes it harder to resolve the issue.  It is counter-productive.  Escorting an employee out of the building is demeaning.  Many potential clients have told me they were okay with the termination until they found themselves "treated like a criminal."