When workplace bullying crosses the line to discrimination or harassment

Workplace bullying is a growing problem across America.

Most people, upon hearing the word "bully" will conjure up a mental image of a hulking child harassing another one on the playground or something similar. The act of bullying is often associated with school, and we may assume that once we graduate, we have left such issues behind us. Unfortunately, many of those same people who targeted the weak as children will grow up to do the same thing in the workplace.

Workplace bullying is a growing problem across America: the Workplace Bullying Institute reports that an estimated one out of every four of us has suffered some form of bullying while on the job. Even with the issue of workplace bullying being so prevalent - and becoming more common year-over-year - it has still not been made illegal in the vast majority of jurisdictions.

That being said, it is well-known that bullies often target their victims based on differences, like people who are older (or younger), a different race/nationality/ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Discrimination against people because of their membership in one of these "protected classes" is indeed illegal, so bullying or harassment based upon it is likewise against the law. When bullying turns into illegal harassment or discrimination, it also becomes illegal and actionable under current state and federal employment laws.

What is workplace bullying?

According to the WBI, workplace bullying is the repeated, harmful mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. Workplace bullying can involve a wide range of abusive conduct or behavior that threatens, intimidates or harasses the target, including:

  • Verbal abuse - yelling, cursing, using demeaning language or racial slurs
  • Work interference - preventing the target from doing his or her job duties effectively or efficiently, taking tasks or responsibilities away from the target without reason, giving the target an unreasonable amount of work to do or an unreasonable amount of time in which to complete it
  • Physical contact - pushing, shoving, hitting or otherwise touching the target of the bullying; this can even extend to so-called shows of camaraderie or affection like pats on the back or hugs if they are unwanted and part of a larger pattern of behavior
  • Social isolation - purposely not including the target of the bullying in work-related meetings, social gatherings or team-building exercises in an attempt to isolate him or her from colleagues

Though workplace bullying isn't yet illegal in Texas - State Representative Garnet Coleman introduced a bill in 2015 aimed at making the practice against the law, but it wasn't passed during the year's legislative session - when lines are blurred to include harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, religion, pregnancy or membership in other protected classes, it can be actionable. If you are the target of bullying, you don't have to suffer in silence. You should complain to a supervisor or manager, or to an appointed human resources contact, and consider bringing legal action against your tormentor. To discuss your employment-related discrimination and harassment claims with an experienced employment law attorney, contact Kennard Law P.C. by calling 855-KENNLAW (855-536-6529) or sending an email.