One of the realities of workplace bullying is that employers are often reluctant to intervene on behalf of the target. Some will even side with the aggressor. We also know that targets frequently leave their jobs to avoid further torment. All of this boils down to the fact that targets must often consider their options on their own. For those who are in such a position, here are several questions to ask:
1. Is an in-house transfer a possibility? Especially for those in larger organizations, a transfer to a different department or working group may be a viable option. Such a move may carry its downsides, including the possibility of disrupting a desired career track, so I’m not pretending that it is cost-free. Furthermore, if the bully is your boss, obtaining that transfer may require some creative maneuvering.
2. What are your other options for employment? Remember, it’s easier to get a new job while you still have your old one. Are there people besides the bully who can serve as a useful reference? Is this particular episode a sign that you should change vocations or professions? If so, what can you do to make a transition? A good career counselor for adults can help sort through the possibilities.
3. What are your employee benefit options? They may include using up vacation and personal days, accessing Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, filing a workers’ compensation claim, applying for unemployment benefits, and — in severe cases — applying for disability benefits.
This area is tricky business. For example, “voluntary” resignations usually preclude one from claiming unemployment benefits, and it is questionable whether leaving due to bullying qualifies as an exception. Talking to a lawyer who works with employee benefits may be useful before making any decision to leave a job.
4. Do you have any viable legal claims? As I’ve written many times on this blog, current legal protections are less than ideal, but targets are not necessarily without options. Bullying situations that implicate discrimination laws and whistleblower provisions offer the most promising avenues for legal relief, but other possibilities may apply as well. A good employment lawyer can help you assess your situation.
5. How is your state of mind and your health in general? Counseling and medical care may be useful, even necessary, in severe situations. Be honest with yourself and do not feel self-conscious about seeking help.
6. How are your personal finances? Do you have a cushion of savings to sustain you during a potential period of unemployment? What expenses can you cut if necessary? In some cases, a discussion with a financial advisor may be useful.
7. Have you done your requisite homework? Don’t limit your understanding of workplace bullying to a few newspaper or online advice columns. The expertise is out there for you to tap. For starters, go to the Need Help? section of this blog to learn more about suggested resources.
I’ve raised a lot of questions and provided no answers, in large part because the answers will be unique to the individual. Hopefully I have set out some important food for thought for those who are facing difficult decisions due to bullying or similar forms of mistreatment at work.
As you can see, these questions require an individual to be pro-active about addressing the situation. This is not easy when in the midst of a threatening work environment. While there are no guarantees, considering smart actions now can potentially make a positive difference.
This post was revised in June 2016.