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  • Writer's pictureS. Anne Marie Archer

Is workplace bullying illegal?

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

I am often asked by potential clients, “my boss is bullying me. Can I file a complaint? Is it illegal?”

The unfortunate truth is that bullying is often not in and of itself illegal. A manager can be a complete ass who is verbally abusive mean-spirited and just horrible to be around but their behavior may not be illegal.

So what is workplace bullying? Workplace bullying can be defined as an ongoing pattern of mistreatment by an individual or groups of individuals against others in the workplace in that causes emotional and/or physical harm. It can include verbal, nonverbal, physical and psychological abuse as well as humiliation.

There are two ways in which you may be able to get relief if you are dealing with bullying at work.

  1. If your workplace has an anti-bullying policy.  

  2. if the bullying is discriminatory.

If your workplace has an anti-bullying  policy you may be able to bring a complaint on that basis as the Bullying by a coworker or Manager could be Violation of the written policy. You should go to your supervisor’s manager or your coworkers supervisor as appropriate to raise your concerns. Also report the problem to Human Resources (HR).

While Human Resources (HR) is known to sweep these kinds of claims under the rug or attempt to, if there is a written policy in your Employee handbook, you should consider filing a formal complaint with the appropriate documentation. Documentation will be key as it always is. Use the HWEES documentation journal to write down your daily observations of the bullying in detail. Include the names of other parties who may be at the receiving end of the bullying along with yourself. Include as much detail as possible and do so on an ongoing basis.

If your work place does not have an anti-bullying policy, your boss being a jerk in and of itself may not be grounds for a workplace claim unless it is discriminatory.

If the workplace bullying is targeted it could be grounds for not just a workplace claim but a lot more. What that means is if your manager is not an equal opportunity bullyer but instead targets specific people in the workplace based on race, ethnicity, gender, ability, gender identity or sexual orientation, there may be grounds for a discrimination complaint.

What should you do if you believe your boss is bullying you because you are a woman, or black, or disabled etc.?

Again you must effectively document the behavior. Read my blog post about the importance of documenting discriminatory behavior. Also grab the HWEES documentation journal for employees.

Once you have established and documented a pattern of behavior by your boss, it is important to report the behavior. If you do not wish to confront it directly with your manager or their supervisor, then go to human resources (HR) and report the behavior armed with your documentation. It is very important that your documentation be effectively structured and put together. If you’re not sure how to do that book a discovery call with me to discuss a one to one consultation.

So to answer the question “is workplace bullying illegal?”

The answer is sometimes.

But if you document and report it effectively it could be grounds for you to negotiate your exit from a discriminatory workplace with the severance pay to redesign your entire life.

If you need help navigating a discriminatory hostile work environment, or you want to get out of one, perhaps with some severance pay, Book a HWEES Discovery Call.

For more tips about navigating and escaping difficult HR situations,

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HR is not your enemy but they are definitely not your friend, I am.

I am the AntiHR, HRLady and I’m here to help.

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