While there is no single formal definition of workplace bullying, several researchers have endeavoured to define it. Some categorize all harmful boss-behaviour and actions of malintent directed at employees as bullying. Bullying behaviours may be couched in humiliation and hazing rites and iterative programs or protocols framed as being in the best interests of employee development and coaching. Others separate behaviours into different patterns, labeling a subset of those behaviours as bullying, explaining that there are different ways to deal effectively with specific patterns of behaviour. Some workplace bullying is defined as involving an employee's immediate supervisor, manager or boss in conjunction with other employees as complicit, while other workplace bullying is defined as involving only an employee's immediate supervisor, manager or boss.
unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target
In an effort to provide a more all-encompassing definition, and catch the attention of employers, Catherine Mattice and Karen Garman define workplace bullying as "systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating or degrading one or more individual that create an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target(s), result in psychological consequences for targets and co-workers, and cost enormous monetary damage to an organization's bottom line
This distinguishes bullying from isolated behaviours and other forms of job stress and allows the term workplace bullying to be applied in various contexts and to behaviours that meet these characteristics. Many observers agree that bullying is often a repeated behavior. However, some experts who have dealt with a great many people who report abuse also categorize some once-only events as bullying, for example with cases where there appear to be severe sequelae. See: Thomas Sebok and Mary Chavez Rudolph, "Cases Involving Allegations of Workplace Bullying: Threats to Ombuds Neutrality and Other Challenges," JIOA, 2010, vol.3, no 2. Expanding the common understanding of bullying to include single, severe episodes also parallels the legal definitions of sexual harassment in the US.
Threat to professional status - including belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures
Threat to personal standing - including undermining personal integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes about target, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation
Isolation - including preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding
Overwork - including undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions.
Destabilisation - including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target.
Research by the Workplace Bullying Institute, suggests that the following are the most common 25 tactics used by workplace bullies:
Falsely accused someone of "errors" not actually made (71 percent).
Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating and was clearly showing hostility (68 percent).
Unjustly discounted the person's thoughts or feelings ("oh, that's silly") in meetings (64 percent).
Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate from others (64 percent).
Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent).
Made-up rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow (61 percent).
Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (discrediting) (58 percent).
Harshly and constantly criticized having a different standard for the target (57 percent).
Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person (56 percent).
Disrespecting and devaluing the individual
Disrespecting and devaluing the individual, often through disrespectful and devaluing language or verbal abuse
Overwork and devaluation of personal life (particularly salaried workers who are not compensated)
Harassment through micromanagement of tasks and time
Overevaluation and manipulating information (for example concentration on negative characteristics and failures, setting up subordinate for failure).
Managing by threat and intimidation
Stealing credit and taking unfair advantage
Preventing access to opportunities
Downgrading an employee's capabilities to justify downsizing
Impulsive destructive behaviour
According to Hoel and Cooper, common abusive workplace behaviours are:
Having your opinions and views ignored
Withholding information which affects your performance
Being exposed to an unmanageable workload
Being given tasks with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines
Being ordered to do work below
Workplace bullying overlaps to some degree with workplace incivility but tends to encompass more intense and typically repeated acts of disregard and rudeness. Negative spirals of increasing incivility between organizational members can result in bullying, but isolated acts of incivility are not conceptually bullying despite the apparent similarity in their form and content. In case of bullying, the intent of harm is less ambiguous, an unequal balance of power (both formal and informal) is more salient, and the target of bullying feels threatened, vulnerable and unable to defend himself or herself against negative recurring actions
Abusive work environment
These workplace bullying bills would typically have allowed employees to sue their employers for creating an "abusive work environment," and most have been supported by the notion that laws against workplace bullying are necessary to protect public health. Many of the above bills are based upon the proposed Healthy Workplace Bill. This proposed bill contains several restrictive provisions not found in workplace anti-bully legislation adopted in other countries.
Despite the lack of any federal or state law specifically on workplace bullying, some targets of bullying have prevailed in lawsuits that allege alternative theories, such as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Assault.
Although most U.S. states operate primarily under the doctrine of at-will employment (which, in theory, allows an employer to fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all),
Workplace bullying are necessary to protect public health
comprehensive workplace bullying legislation has not been passed by the federal government or by any U.S. state, but since 2003 many state legislatures have considered bills. As of April 2009, 16 U.S. states have proposed legislation; these are:
New Jersey (2007)
Washington (2007, 2005)
New York (2006)
Oregon (2007, 2005)
Hawaii (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)
Oklahoma (2007, 2004)
Additional resources provided by the author
Howard Roitman, Esq.
8921 W. Shara Ave
Las Vegas, Nevada 89117
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