Workplace Bullying: Challenges Raised by Hostile Environment, Workplace Harassment & Poor Managers in the Federal Sector

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Workplace Bullying: Challenges Raised by Hostile Environment, Workplace Harassment & Poor Managers in the Federal Sector for The ADR Interagency Working Group

  • Workshop Leaders
  • Denise P. McKenney-FMCS
  • Jennifer Ortiz-EEOC

Workshop Objectives

  • Identify issues associated with workplace bullying and how they may turn into EEO complaints
  • Identify best route for resolution of bullying complaints
  • Assess strategies before, during and after an episode of bulling
  • Identify management and workplace allies to deter and/or resolve bullying issues

Workplace Bullying Defined

  • Repeated and unwanted actions by an individual or group intending to intimidate, harass, degrade or offend
  • Abuse or misuse of power
  • Bullying is psychological violence

Harassment of a Different Kind

  • Harassment comes from the French word
  • Harasser” which literally means to sic a “dog on someone” without provocation

Should Complaints of Bullying be Mediated?

  • What is the outcome that you seek?
    • To make the “bully” a better person?
    • Behavior modification?
    • Acknowledgement of an offense and apology?
    • Other?
    • The aim of mediation in this case is not to change the bully from the inside out, it is to change or modify the behavior in the work environment so that morale and production are not impacted.

What Does the Law Say?

  • EEO Law Protection
  • Harassment/Hostile Work Environment
  • Retaliation
  • Workplace Violence Issues
  • Lawful v. Unlawful Bullying

What’s EEO Law?

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments;
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government; and

What’s Covered by Federal EEO?

  • Charges dealing with EEO Cases Race
    • Color
    • Religion
    • Sex
    • National Origin
    • Disability
    • Age
    • *Hostile work environment
    • And what else?


  • Must have previously engaged in protected activity under Title VII, the ADEA or the Rehabilitation/ADA
  • Includes participation through testimony, investigation, at hearing or litigation proceeding.


  • Can be either hostile work environment or quid pro quo
  • Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on one or more of an individual’s protected bases under Title VII, ADEA, ADA or other statutes

Bullying as EEO Discrimination

  • A hostile work environment consists of:
    • An unwelcome act that can be Physical or Verbal behavior
    • Based on employee’s protected status
    • That is sufficiently severe and pervasive to create a hostile, offensive or abusive work environment

When can Harassment occur?

  • Before, During or After Work
  • Breaks
  • Lunch hour
  • Work-related events outside of office, (i.e. happy hours, work conferences, dinners, holiday parties, picnics)

Bullying & Workplace Violence

  • Factor to Consider if an Individual imposes a Direct Threat:
    • Nature & Severity of Harm
    • Likelihood that Harm will Occur
    • Imminent Fear or Intimidation
    • Your Workplace Violence Policy

Offensive Behavior

  • What is Offensive Behavior?
  • How many people does it take to determine that someone’s behavior is offensive?

Offensive Behavior

  • Remarks
  • Feelings
  • Behaviors
  • Hurtful
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • What Pushes Your Buttons?

Workplace Examples of Bullying

  • Being shouted at or humiliated
  • Being the target of practical jokes
  • Blame without justification
  • Exclusion or social isolation
  • Physical intimidation (proximal)
  • Excessive micro-managing
  • Purposely withholding vital information

Examples (cont.)

  • Setting impossible goals for subordinates to reach
  • Blocking potential training and employment
  • Tampering with an employee’s personal belongings
  • Removing areas of responsibility without cause

The Effect of Bullying

  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Manifestation of illness
  • High turnover
  • Increased accidents on the job
  • Violence

The Effects of Bullying…

  • When targets believe that they have been bullied:
    • Some will cut back on work
    • Some will contemplate leaving the job
      • Only 10% do
    • Take it out on innocent family or pets
    • Others will steal from the job, sabotage work, damage equipment, damage personal property of the bully or
    • Contemplate a violent act and carry it out

Bullying is on the Rise…

  • According to a recent study by the national Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) bullying in the workplace is on the rise.
  • 24.5% of companies surveyed indicate that bullying has taken place; 10.5% involving bullying by external customers
  • More women are becoming bullies

Statistics on Bullying

  • 37% of the workplace has been bullied
  • 72% of bullies are bosses
  • 57% of targets are female
  • Bullying happens four times more than illegal harassment
  • 62% of employees ignore the problem

Statistics (cont.)

  • 45% of targets report stress related health problems
    • Panic attacks
    • Clinicial depression
    • Post traumatic stress
  • 40% of targets never tell anyone
  • 3% of targets file lawsuits

Levels of Bullying

  • Institutional
  • Managerial
  • Collegial
  • Familial

The Roots of Bullying

Roots of Bullying

  • Most targets are high achievers this is more than likely between peers / jealousy
  • When bullying is boss to target, it’s usually because the supervisor is “threatened” by the target (fear)
  • Bullies may experience enjoyment because of your pain (Reuters article)

Dealing with “Group Think”

  • Be Aware of It
  • Make Group Aware of It
  • Create Environment That Allows Asking “Why?”
  • Explicitly Encourage “Dissenting” Views

What’s the Tone of Your Workplace?

  • Does speaking-up mean taking a big risk?
    • Risk of Sounding Inarticulate
    • Risk of an Idea Getting Shot Down
    • Risk of Losing Face
    • Risk of Making Enemies
    • Instead of Seeing People, Some People See “Sharks”
    • Risk of Losing Leverage by Unintentionally “Committing”

What Can You Do?

  • Before Situation Occurs
  • During Conflict
  • After Conflict

Conflict Management –v- Conflict Resolution The I-R-O Method

  • Issue - What is the issue or situation? What level of attention does it deserve?
  • Response – What is appropriate given your role and responsibility?
  • Outcome – What is your desired outcome and what communication strategies will serve that goal?

For One-On-One Situations: Back Pocket Response Tips

  • “Interesting. I’m going to need to think about what you’ve just said and get back to you.”
  • “Before we start to resolve this issue, is there anything else we need to consider?”
  • “What exactly would you like to see done?....Think on it and let’s schedule some time to further discuss.”

How to Deal with Bad Behavior…

  • First, be kind to yourself – don’t personalize it b/c even though it may be directed at you, probably not about you
  • Acknowledge that there are various sources for « rude » behavior
  • Respond with calmness; rather than behavior that escalates rudeness
  • Self righteous behavior only reflects poorly on you

How to Deal with Bad Behavior…

  • Try to address the underlying cause of the behavior: I see you are very stressed. Maybe I could help if you tell me what’s bothering you?
  • If the conversation remains irrational, then know when to quit
  • Recognize whether behavior is a pattern or mishap; respond appropriately
  • From: The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude, St Martin’s Press, 2008

How to Deal with a Poor Manager

  • A.k.a “The Bully Boss”
  • First have direct dialogue
  • Point out the Impact of Actions & Words
  • Document the Words, Actions, and any conversations you have
  • Use the Sandwich Approach: “I have a few concerns about the working environment because…”

Keep in Mind

  • Conflict Happens.
  • Situations happen but work should not hurt.
  • Remember: The only thing you can truly control is how you choose to respond.

What Can Employees Do?

  • Recognize that bullying is about control
  • Realize that it’s not your fault
  • Leave the division/organization
  • Keep a detailed diary and paper trail

What Can Managers & Supervisors Do?

  • Create and enforce a zero tolerance policy
  • Address the bullying behavior ASAP
  • Hold an awareness campaign
  • If you are the bully…stop…seek help
  • Model effective professional behavior
  • Use Facilitation, Mediation or design a Group Intervention/Team Building

The Power of an Apology

  • A sincere apology benefits the giver and receiver.
  • Shows respect and empathy for the wronged person
  • It is a way of acknowledging an act that if left un-noticed may compromise the relationship.

Words to the Wise

  • Be careful of the words you speak, and keep them nice & sweet,
  • For we never know from day to day, which ones we will have to eat.

Thank you!

  • Jennifer Ortiz
  • EEOC
  • and
  • Denise P. McKenney
  • FMCS

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