Workplace Bullying 4X More Likely Than Sexual Harassment

bullyingI spoke with a friend of mine recently who is a single mom. She loves her work and is great at it. We had been discussing the issue of workplace bullying/harassment and she told me how she was able to finally get her boss to begin acknowledging her existence. She had tried just about everything – good sales numbers, new ideas, suggested revenue streams – but the woman was difficult, demeaned her work and even threatened to close her division when she was asked to cut budgets.

“I knew she liked a rare kind of coffee and I had a good friend who knew someone who worked at the coffee company. Every other week my friend had a new shipment sent to her office,” she said.  “Also, her dad’s birthday was February 3rd and he was a huge Ravens’ fan. I got him tickets to the Superbowl in New Orleans this year and got him a meet and greet with Beyonce before the game, and a special invite to the Ravens locker room after the game.”

It did “win” her over, but the cost was truly extortion, even if the boss didn’t ask for it.  Her dismissal of my friend’s work and constant suggestion that her division was on the chopping block was a sick way her boss fulfilled her insecurity and she did it at the company’s cost. [Full disclosure the “package” above wasn’t exactly what my friend got her boss, but it was seriously close. I just can’t print it here because her boss is a bully and I don’t want to be responsible for her losing her job.]

Workplace bullying has become eye-opening to me recently. I had the great fortune of getting to know Ellen Pinkos Cobb, an attorney and a woman who passionately works to get the message about workplace harassment out. She wrote the following article and is allowing me to reprint it here. Her contact info is below as well as more resources she has produced on workplace bullying.


Workplace Bullying: USA versus much of the world

With alleged harassment on the Miami Dolphins football team, there is increased discussion of workplace bullying. It’s about time. The United States lags behind many countries in this area.

As a start: think about sexual harassment. It’s not done. And yet, it was done, flagrantly, constantly, with a wink and a nod, until not that long ago. It still happens, but less, and public perception has changed.

In the United States, workplace bullying has been found to be four times more prevalent than sexual harassment.

A 2010 Zogby International survey of adult Americans (commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute) showed that 35% reported personally being bullied at work. Of the respondents, 64% supported having laws to protect workers from “malicious, health-harming abusive conduct” committed by bosses and co-workers.

Despite these findings, an employee can still be a target of bullying in the workplace in the US and have no legal recourse. State and federal laws do not cover acts of harassment unless based on characteristics covered by law, such as race, religion, gender, or disability. Numerous states have introduced anti-bullying legislation drafted by Suffolk Law School Professor David Yamada. None have been enacted. Yet.

The US would do well to look around the world. Numerous countries have legislation to protect workers from bullying. Canada, Australia, and nine European countries have enacted anti-bullying laws, including Sweden, France, and Denmark, and Serbia. As of January 1, 2014, an Australian worker who believes he or she has been bullied may apply to the Fair Work Commission for an investigation and if cause is found, have an order issued to the employer to stop the bullying.

Costs to workplaces in which bullying is allowed to occur include loss of skill and experience when a worker leaves due to being bullied, lowered employee morale, medical and insurance costs, and harm to a company’s reputation. Research has shown that workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand.

Under workplace health and safety laws, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment for employees. This requirement is often interpreted to require ensuring persons in the workplace are both mentally and physically safe at work and increasingly interpreted to require a workplace free from bullying.
It is time for public perception on workplace bullying to change. Maybe, with attention focused on the complexities of the Dolphins situation, it will.

ellencobbEllen Pinkos Cobb, J.D. is with The Isosceles Group in Boston. Her resource Bullying, Violence, Harassment, Discrimination and Stress – Emerging Workplace Health and Safety Issues is available on or at She may be contacted at

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