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Campaign aims to end the practice
Bullying in the workplace should not be dismissed as trivial, especially because it can lead to expensive litigation by frustrated employees. That’s the message of the Campaign Against Workplace Bullies, a group trying to stamp out a dangerous practice that many supervisors assume is no more serious than a schoolyard spat.
Even bullying in the schoolyard can be serious, but many health care risk managers assume that bullying in the workplace is just a personal matter between co-workers, seeing no reason to intervene. That’s a big mistake, says Gary Namie, PhD, coordinator of the national campaign. He says recent rulings in personal harassment law make it clear that employers will be held responsible for bullying by co-workers, or even by patients. The Campaign Against Workplace Bullies is a nonprofit organization based in Benicia, CA.
Namie defines bullying as "a deliberate, destructive interpersonal harassment which ignores gender, rank, race, and age boundaries." Those distinctions set bullying apart from sexual harassment and other forms of abuse that would instantly raise a red flag for risk managers. Namie contends, however, that bullying can be just as dangerous and result in substantial exposure for the employer. The good news is that there are ways to stop it.
"The economic benefits from reducing exposure to liability from misconduct by bosses or co-workers, leading to a hostile work environment, certainly appeal to executives and risk managers in any organization," Namie says. "Fortunately, employee stress also is improved by reducing stress and its physical complications."
Namie says the group’s research indicates that 25% to 66% of employees witness or experience bullying, with the most common effects being emotional stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. About 75% of those bullied are chased from their jobs, leaving the employer open to major financial liabilities and the expense of replacing workers.
To reduce bullying and its liability risk, the group urges employers to take part in a program called the "Challenge." Participating employers will receive the Workplace Bullying Liability Management System, which includes a training program, a conduct code that forbids bullying in the workplace, and methods for recognizing, punishing, and monitoring bullies. Participants agree to submit data to the campaign for use in future research.
As a special incentive to participate, consultants working with the campaign will provide services to participating employers at a 50% discount during 1999.