Targets of workplace bullying: A short checklist for assessing options


(Image courtesy of clipart

(Image courtesy of clipart

We can identify four stages that targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, or abuse may experience in working their way to better places in their lives. I have discussed them at greater length in an earlier piece, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Recognition — Recognizing and understanding the bullying behaviors and their effects on you;
  • Response — Figuring out how to respond to the mistreatment;
  • Recovery — Recovering from the experience; and,
  • Renewal — Moving forward.

These stages often overlap, and they are not necessarily linear.

Weighing options

Getting to that better place, however, is no easy task. To help people understand the scope of potential options, here is a quick checklist of possibilities, with a note that the legal and employee benefit options are specific to U.S. readers:

1. Medical assistance — For seeking treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to the mistreatment.

2. Therapy and counseling — For addressing mental health issues related to the mistreatment, ideally with a licensed mental health provider who understands interpersonal abuse and traumatic stress.

3. Coaching — For understanding, developing, and assessing options and choices.

4. Career coaching/counseling/consulting — For obtaining career guidance in the midst or aftermath of a bullying situation.

5. Employer-provided vacation, personal, and sick days — Using up accumulated leave days to remove yourself from the toxic work environment and to consider options.

6. Family and medical leave — Federal and state laws providing (usually unpaid) family and medical leave may offer an option if you have used up paid leave time but want to retain the right to return to your job.

7. Legal assistance/potential lawsuit — As many readers know, we are still working to enact comprehensive workplace bullying legislation. However, in some instances, anti-discrimination laws, disability laws, whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections, collective bargaining agreements, employee handbooks, and other miscellaneous legal provisions may provide the “hook” you need for a potential legal claim.

8. Legal assistance/public benefits — Unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and Social Security Disability offer potential sources of income replacement due to job loss and work-related injuries.


The Need Help? page of this blog contains links to helpful resources and past blog posts that expound upon some of the items above.

Also, I highly recommend these two affordably priced books:

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009) — Gary and Ruth are co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, whose website also is an excellent source of information. This is the bestselling book on dealing with workplace bullying situations, and for good reason.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014) — Maureen and Len have written an excellent book, especially for those who are facing mobbing-style mistreatment at work.

A final word

As many readers can attest, there are few quick fixes when it comes to dealing with most severe workplace bullying situations. Furthermore, the challenge of sorting out options is often left to the individual experiencing the mistreatment. Making smart decisions in the midst of a bullying or mobbing situation requires arming yourself with as much information as possible and seeking out available sources of help. There are no guarantees, but these efforts can make a positive difference.

7 responses

  1. This is excellent info. I want to add a comment to #7. Sometimes it’s better to purse a complaint with an outside governmental agency – city, state, federal – rather than plan on a lawsuit which, for example in NYS, can take 5-7 years, if not more, and more can happen, and also cost thousands and thousand of dollars. Complaints can lead to lawsuits and I believe, base on my experience, that even with complaints, one should consult a lawyer. And, if one is involved with a decent union, there is the possibility of filing a grievance.

  2. The work of David Yamada is so excellent and so helpful in dealing with workplace bullying.
    The missing piece is the legal protection and we need to work more intensively on this.
    Despite the existing protections which are very few in the face of “at will” terminations there are other very serious problems:
    1. Finding an reputable attorney who wants to be involved in an area with low monetary results is very difficult.
    2. The cost of a reputable law firm is astronomical and probably will cost more than any legal settlement.
    3. Magistrate Judges have a formula to follow for legal claims and it is very low-if you win- even at the Executive level.
    4. The legal system does not understand bullying despite the Heatly Workplace initiative
    5. If you bring a whistleblower claim but are no longer an employee you have no legal stature to do so in the eyes of most States.

  3. Thank you David. This is an amazing helpful guide for understanding how important is to research and think about bullying in that kind of cases (workplace) and then to work in the correct solutions. Big hug from Puerto Rico.

  4. As David said, until the Healthy Workplace Bill is passed and put into force there is little recourse under the law for Workplace Bullying. That is why it is so important that unions educate their members and stewards about bullying and include it in their contract so that the employees have a right to grieve and bring the issue before a third party.

  5. With all do respect, out here on the East Coast, too many unions are complicit with the bullying taking place in workplace and academic settings. I believe that Healthy Workplace Bills like those being considered in New York and Albany and Connecticut and New Hampshire, if they become law, could provide better recourse. But certain unions have been too complicit with the bullying taking place. They posture publicly supporting the proposed legislation but their realpolitik says otherwise. Unions like mine seem to see the bills as undermining their positions of power.

  6. “Drop everything and solve problems.”

    The most important thing is for potentially influential people to open-heartedly understand how one becomes a target/victim of workplace bullying/mobbing, and how in spite of the lack of legal remedies, they can, through networking and referrals to jobs and housing, help alleviate bullying’s deleterious effects.

    Let’s say yours is a complex, mean-girl, multi-institutional career-mobbing situation. The complexity and unusual nature of the situation makes it very hard for people to understand and effectively help. In addition to the many fine recommendations of David Yamada and others for assessing options, one might consider reaching out to retired community leaders. These folks often have the time to listen to complex and unusual situations, and often have years of experience focusing on pragmatic, problem-solving for the benefit of the community.

    It is indeed unfortunate that even though I have worked to have Law Professor David Yamada’s Healthy Workplace Bill passed in California, and will continue working for its passage, workplace abusive behavior, bullying and mobbing are still kinds of abusive and assaultive behaviors that can be inflicted in the workplace with impudence.

    Matt Damon gave a commencement speech at MIT recently, which is essentially summarized by his message: “Drop everything and solve problems.” Lots of people need our responsible help to provide protection from abusive behavior in the workplace for everyone, not just the Title VII protected classes. We need the help of all people of conscience, even community leader retirees, in assessing our options in the current absence of practical legal remedies.

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