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Study: Workplace Bullying on the Rise

As the issue of bullying in schools continues to occupy the national spotlight, researchers are discovering another environment where bullying behavior is having negative impact: the workplace.

In a 2017 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), more than 60 million U.S. workers reported having been affected by workplace bullying, which the WBI defines as “repeated harmful abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage, or verbal abuse.”

While the study shows that the majority (70 percent) of workplace bullies are male, female employees are equally likely to be bullied by women as by men. Sixty-five percent of male bullies’ targets are female, as are 67 percent of those targeted by female bullies.

Bosses are the group most likely to bully subordinates (61 percent), but one-third of bullying cases are perpetrated by coworkers, and 6 percent of cases are “bottom up” situations in which a lower-ranking worker bullies those in higher positions. Minorities are most likely to be the targets of bullying, with Hispanics representing 25 percent of reported cases and African Americans 21 percent.

What are employers doing about workplace bullying? Not much, according to the study. One-fourth of respondents said their employers did nothing, and 46 percent reported that a “sham investigation” was conducted. Only 23 percent of employers helped the target, and 6 percent punished the perpetrator.

Although there is not currently a federal law that specifically prohibits workplace bullying, some workers may be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA), Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code (prohibiting discrimination) and some tort laws such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, defamation and others.   Texas is among several states that have introduced a Healthy Workplace Bill to combat abusive conduct in the workplace.

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