Workplace bullying: Getting stepped on at work

Here’s an interesting article relating to workplace bullying which was posted in the Toronto Star last November. The reporter is Janis Foord Kirk.

Getting stepped on at work

“She loved the work at first, ” a worried husband confides. “But now she drags herself in every day. A couple of people who’ve worked there for years seem to have it in for her. I can’t believe some of their antics. “Is this workplace bullying?” he asks. “And if it is, what can she do about it?”

Bullying is one of the fastest-growing complaints of workplace violence, according to the International Labour Office. It runs the gamut from extreme violence, even murder, to intimidation and snide remarks.

The psychological harassment of a co-worker tends to fall into the latter category. And when two or more people join forces to lie, gossip, criticize and socially isolate a specific employee, the ILO says, it’s called “mobbing” or “ganging up.”

Valerie Cade is a workplace bully expert based in Calgary who consults internationally on the issue. “It’s important to distinguish between workplace bullying and difficult behaviours, ” she cautions. “Bullying is deliberate, disrespectful, repeated malicious behaviour. Bullies really do know what they’re doing. This is the difference. A difficult person is just grouchy and steps on other boundaries in order to get their own needs met. But a bully will actually calculate how to embarrass and demean someone else.


“Bullies often target people who are good at their jobs. Or people who have a high tolerance for dealing with difficult people and won’t fight back, ” says Cade, author of Left unchecked, workplace bullying tends to influence things like retention, absenteeism as well as health care and disability costs.

“Eighty per cent of the time, the person targeted leaves the company, ” Cade says. “They put up with it too long, until they’re highly stressed and they have to leave because of illness.” If you’re on the receiving end of bully tactics, there are ways to “bull proof” yourself, she says.

Keep a journal or log of specific incidents, noting the time and place. Bullies tend to like an audience so take note, as well, of the people who witness the abusive behaviour.

Try to ensure that you’re never isolated and alone with a bully. This can be particularly difficult when the bully is your boss, Cade acknowledges. “Don’t meet in your boss’s office with the door closed. Use your own office when you can; ask questions in the hallway.”

Stand up for yourself. If someone starts yelling at you or belittling you, say: “That sounds like a put-down to me” or, “I do not appreciate you speaking to me like that.”

If the bullying continues despite your best efforts, take your documentation to someone in authority, even if you have to go over your boss’s head, Cade says.

Only two provinces, Quebec and Saskatchewan, have workplace bullying laws. In Ontario, Bill 168, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to workplace violence and harassment, has received first reading and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy.

If and when Bill 168 becomes law, says Michael Kealy, a litigation lawyer with Moodie Mair Walker in Toronto, Ontario employers will have to be far more vigilant and aware of the psycho-social atmosphere in which their employees work. Increased awareness is a good first step, says Cade. In a workplace community, she says, “stopping workplace bullying is everyone’s responsibility.”

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