I'm convinced my friend at work is being bullied by her boss. Her boss singles her out in staff meetings and seems giddy when she can point out something my friend has done wrong, or identify any mistake she makes. My friend's boss doesn’t exhibit this behavior with any of the other personnel in their department, and this behavior has caused my friend to see a doctor and take medicine to help deal with the anxiety her boss causes. Any time my friend wants to contribute to a conversation or discussion, she is met with nasty glares and unpleasant faces from her boss, and I promise I’m not exaggerating this. In fact, this behavior has gone on for a long time and has gotten exponentially worse in the past year. I’ve read up a little on bullying in the workplace, and most of what I found says there is nothing that can be done when the bully is a boss. My friend has tried talking to her boss in a non-confrontational, positive way, but it did not help. She has also spoken to HR, as well as the CEO of our company, several times in fact, and nothing has been done. She’s afraid her last resort is to look for another job. I think it would be a terrible loss for the company to lose her. She’s wonderful in her position and receives nothing but praise from everyone else in the company. We're located in VA. Our office has just under 100 people but the company overall has 500+ employees. Is her only option to find another job?
A concerned friend
Dear A concerned friend:
It disheartens me a great deal to hear of your co-worker’s situation. There is no place for bullying in the workplace, or in anyplace for that matter. If your co-worker is not already doing so, I suggest she not only keep a written record of her boss’s behavior but a record of her efforts to resolve the situation and the results of those efforts. Understanding she has only spoken to the company’s HR and CEO, your co-worker may also want to consider submitting her complaint in writing.
Given the possible legal implication(s) of your situation, I conferred with an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law, Joshua L. Jewett, who practices with Reid H. Ervin & Associates, P.C. located in Norfolk, VA (http://www.rhervin.com/Attorney-Profiles/Joshua-L-Jewett.shtml). He provided the following information:
"Unfortunately for Concerned Friend’s coworker, there is no law that prohibits workplace bullying or general harassment. Because Coworker is being targeted so blatantly by her boss, however, she should consider whether the harassment is based on a class protected under the law (e.g., age, race, sex). If that is indeed the case, then she needs to report the matter to the Company, but she also needs to be mindful that such harassment isn’t illegal unless it is severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms and conditions of employment.
Otherwise, Coworker has a difficult choice to make. She has taken a number of reasonable steps to resolve the situation. But since the Company refuses to address the matter, Coworker must decide whether she wants to continue working under this uncomfortable environment or seek greener pastures with a different employer."
Something else for you and your co-worker to consider: All federal agencies are required to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a free service that provides voluntary and confidential counseling for employees experiencing issues affecting their mental and emotional well-being that can have a negative impact on their job performance and/or personal health. (http://archive.opm.gov/Employment_and_Benefits/worklife/healthwellness/EAP/). Many private companies have similar programs. This may be something you and/or your co-worker could not only recommend to your company’s HR and CEO, but could offer to help implement it as well.
If there is no improvement for your co-worker after she applies some of these suggestions, she should strongly consider looking for other employment. No one should have to work under such conditions, but as I recommend to all my clients, your co-worker should not leave her job until she has secured a new one. It is also important to be aware of a well-known fact. The number one reason workers leave a job is because of a bad boss or immediate supervisor. Sadly, none of us can ever be guaranteed of having a boss that ‘gets it’ and continuously values and supports his/her employees. Nevertheless, we must forge ahead, stay cautiously optimistic, and not give up!
Wishing your co-worker the very best!
© 2013 Rozanne R. Worrell