Bullying: Not just for the playground

You would think it would be left behind in the school playground: teasing, name-calling, and the gossip. Think again.

Research suggests that 40% of Canadians are bullied at work

Bullying is defined as regular and repeated criticizing, ignoring, humiliating, belittling, undermining, over-supervising, over-managing, intimidating and ridiculing a person at work.

Bullying caries heavy costs for the employee, employer and the economy. As an employer, it is important to  really know how much sick leaves, long term disability, burnout, and turnover are costing and how they are related to workplace bullying.  

Most organizations and companies do not know what to do with this problem. Research suggests that some companies tend pretend it does not exist, and even pay off people who are being bullied, and insert a clause in their contracts preventing the victim from talking about it. At the same time, the bully gets promoted and they stay in the organization.

That is what happened to one Ontario woman who said her former job made her life “hell.” She was an assistant manager; she was doing really well with her job, had won multiple awards for her work, and saw a bright future in the company. This stopped when she became a target of her former manager. The employee refused to falsify logs on the request of her manager. When she refused, he began tormenting her everyday for nearly six months.  It took a significant toll on her mental and physical health. She lost more than 25 pounds in the six-month period. She stated: “ I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I wasn't myself anymore”.

Despite documenting the incidents, taking the issue to senior management, and having other employees witness the behaviour to confirm her story, she said, her company did “absolutely nothing” and soon she began finding herself facing disciplinary action for making false allegations.

She quit her job, and filed a lawsuit against both her manager and the company. The Ontario Supreme Court sided with her and awarded her $1.4 million in compensation which was eventually reduced to $400, 000. The judge found the manager’s abuse was “flagrant and outrageous” and she suffered “a visible provable illness as a result.”

However there is no happy ending to the story.

Despite this legal success and financial compensation, this employee still felt vindicated, is still out of a job, and the manager is still working at the organization. This employee is not alone.

There are many people who are victims of bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying has an effect on your self-esteem and creates self- doubt, but also can create an environment of more conflict if the person chooses to retaliate and fight back.

There are laws in almost every province against workplace bullying, however the laws leave it up to the employer to do the right thing. The laws in place also require the person being bullied to go to the extra step to prove in court that the bullying or harassment constitutes “emotional suffering and intentional infliction.”  It also becomes an issue of “he said, she said” and which side is more believable.

No should have to put up with that kind of abuse at work.  Workplace bullying has an effect on the person, but also affects the workplace culture, colleagues and the victim’s family members.

What is your workplace doing to prevent bullying and create a respectful work environment?  Have you managed an incident of workplace bullying before? Please share your thoughts on this important issue in the comments below.



The National (2014). Workplace Bullying: The Silent Epidemic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6PsgAqES2s

 Ontario Safety Association for Community & Healthcare (2009). Bullying in the Workplace: A handbook for the workplace first edition. Retrieved from http://www.osach.ca/products/resrcdoc/rvioe528.pdf

Hutchinson, M, Vickers, H, Jackson, D & Wikes, L 2005, ‘I’m gonna do what I wanna do; Organizational changes as a legitimized vehicle for bullies’, Health Care Manage Review, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 331-336.

Rowe, M & Sherlock, H 2005, ‘Stress and verbal abuse in nursing: Do burned out nurses eat their young?’, Journal of Nursing Management, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 242-248.

Sofield, L & Salmond, S 2003, ‘Workplace violence: A focus on verbal abuse and intent to leave the organization’, Orthopaedic Nursing, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 274-283.