Bullies in the Workplace: when does it become illegal discrimination?
By Jacque Larrainzar, Policy and Outreach Manager
When I hear the word bully I usually think of the third grade playground bully who often resorts
to using his fists to get his way. Unfortunately, bullying is not just limited to the school yard.
Sometimes grown-ups also have to cope with bullies - in the workplace.
Workplace bullying usually involves an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying includes
behavior that intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates a worker, often in front of others.
Bullying is often directed at someone a bully feels threatened by; it may be covert and occur behind closed doors.
What does bullying looks like?
- Unwarranted criticism or blame.
- Being treated differently than the rest of your work group.
- Exclusion or social isolation.
- Being sworn or shouted at.
- Being humiliated or the target of practical jokes.
- Excessive monitoring.
Bullying is different from aggression. Aggression may occur as a single act,
but bullying involves repeated attacks against the target, creating an on-going pattern of behavior.
Bullying is different from harassment, which is a form of illegal discrimination. Harassment is
defined as offensive and unwelcome conduct serious enough to adversely affect the terms and
conditions of a person's employment, and which occurs because of the person's protected class,
such as their race or their gender.
Bullying also differs from retaliation, which also is illegal under federal and local anti-discrimination
laws. ( For more on illegal discrimination, visit www.seattle.gov/civilrights/discrimination.htm )
In general, bullying is not illegal in the U.S. unless it is harassment or retaliation based
on a protected class.
If you believe that you are being harassed or retaliated against, contact the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 684-4500.
Although bullying is not illegal, you do have options. Take action to stop the bully!
1.Regain control - recognize that:
- You are being bullied.
- You are not the source of the problem.
- Bullying is about control; it has nothing to do with your work performance.
2. Take action!:
- Keep a diary detailing the nature of the bullying (e.g., dates, times, places, what was said or done and who was present)
- Keep a paper trail. Obtain copies of documents that contradict the bully's accusations against you (e.g., time sheets, audit reports, etc.)
- Report bullying behavior to a supervisor, manager or other appropriate person.
3. Other actions:
- Expect a bully to deny or misconstrue your accusations; bring a witness with you to any meetings with the bully.
- Seek professional help from a counselor or an employee assistance program.
Remember, if you are unsure about what is happening in your workplace or have questions, call the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 684-4500.
We're here to help. For more resources visit us online at www.seattle.gov/civilrights/related.htm
Enforcement Update: Recent Discrimination Case Settlements
In the first three months of 2009, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights closed 43 cases. In nearly 28% of those cases,
we were able to achieve settlements between the charging parties and the respondents. Here are a few examples of recent settlements:
- At the end of February a woman received $750 in settlement after the owner of a fast food restaurant where she worked fired her because she missed work due to her disability.
- In early March a charging party received $15,000 from his former employer after charging disability and sex discrimination, as well as retaliation.
- In late March a hearing-impaired client of a health services company received $2,000 after alleging that the company failed to pay for American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation services.
SOCR investigates charges of discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and contracting. Our services are free. If you feel you have been discriminated or to learn more
about your rights under the law, please contact us at (206) 684-4500.
Introducing Scott Winn
New staff member for the Race and Social Justice Initiative
We are proud to announce Scott Winn as the newest person to join the staff of SOCR.
Scott is part of the team leading the Race and Social Justice Initiative, the Citywide effort
to eliminate racial disproportionality in City government. Scott is a part-time lecturer at the
University of Washington School of Social Work, where he teaches classes in the Master's program
supporting social workers to become agents for social and economic change. Scott has a strong
commitment to working with communities to bring about racial justice. He is a founding
board member of the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice and a current member
of the Coalition of Anti-racist Whites Organizing Collective. In addition he leads trainings
on challenging oppression and is also active in the LGBT community.
"I had heard of the incredible work RSJI was doing, and I was excited to be part of furthering that legacy.
I definitely believe the strategy to end racism is an institutional one," said Scott. "My primary role as a
white person is to organize and educate other white folks around issues of racism. The effort is to
get white folks to act against institutional racism, but these efforts won't stick until we move the analysis
from our heads to our hearts and attempt to deeply feel the realities that institutional racism creates."
Scott's work includes co-leading the next iteration of the Core Team, an internal group of City staff trained to
work as internal consultants to departments on the initiative. He also will work with the department as we move
into the next phase of bringing the initiative into the community. "I am grateful to current and past efforts of
communities of color and their white allies in working to hold the City accountable to racial justice goals, and
I recognize that without those efforts I would not have this job. Ultimately, I see my goal as working to deepen
the accountability the City has to communities of color and to leverage resources for these communities."
Following the classroom presentations on fair housing Angela Dawson-Milton received the following from the St. Joseph's school newsletter:
Quincy Milton's mom, Angela Dawson-Milton, from the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, came and spoke with the entire 5th grade this morning about Fair Housing.
It was a great opportunity for the students to learn about their rights and the rights of others, especially in regards to housing opportunities. They had so many great questions for Ms. Dawson-Milton..
She also received wonderful comments from the students themselves
Our staff investigate charges of discrimination, provide training in civil rights protections for the public, and train City employees on Race and Social Justice issues. We received the following great feedback for staff work over the last month:
I didn't have a chance to thank you for your help in resolving this matter with Ms. ___. While the realist in me thinks we haven't seen the last of Ms. ____, the optimist in me hopes she's satisfied. At any rate, I appreciate your efforts in communicating with her in a
way that I could not.
Pat C. just called to say how much she appreciated your presentations - she said that even after doing three trainings with lots of people, you were still positive and energetic and helpful and knowledgeable!
I want to express my appreciation of the work you do on behalf of the RSJI and the service you
provide to SPU. Your message yesterday to the field crews was so personal, specific, warm, hard hitting and acceptable, with no-holds-barred. What a winning combination! You also fielded the questions expertly being open, acceptable and responsive to all. According to the 35 completed evaluations the participants appreciated the opportunity to talk amongst themselves and with others interested in hearing their voice.
Kudos to all of you-great job!