Man faced surgery, while bullying co-workers bet on his survival chances and gave him a toe tag

His name was Charlie Bowlby. As reported by Peter Salter for the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star (link here), he was a divorced, single, middle-aged guy whose life often “revolved around music.” Bowlby shared much of his life on Facebook:

Almost daily — and sometimes several times a day — he shared photos of his turntable and whatever album was providing the current soundtrack to his life. Ozzy and KISS, Robert Plant and Pink Floyd, Donald Fagen and his favorite, a South African-born singer named Dilana Smith.

He also posted memes and cat videos and selfies, a long-haired rock star look-alike, always wearing a black T-shirt and a big grin.

A “broken soul”

Singer Dilana Smith, who had became friends with Bowlby, shared this with the Journal Star:

Bowlby would travel to watch her perform when she was back in the States, and they’d have breakfast together. They talked about once a week, she said, through calls, messages and video chats.

He had a broken soul, she said, but had a positive attitude. “Charles seemed to me a little bit of an outsider, an outcast. Charles was special. I literally took Charles under my wing and nicknamed him CharlieBoy.”

Bowlby spent many years working for the Nebraska Department of Transportation. The work side of his life was not good, and Salter’s article goes into some detail about that. Among other things, he was repeatedly bullied by co-workers. The stress took its toll on him, and friends urged him to quit. He said he couldn’t afford to do so:

“He needed his job. He needed his insurance,” his family wrote. “Although a career at the state is not a lucrative prospect, making ends meet can ironically be the fundamental thing that ultimately keeps many bound to the source of their misery.”

Facing heart surgery

Earlier this year, Bowlby faced heart surgery. His Facebook posts, according to the Journal Star article, revealed increasing fear and concern about the upcoming procedure.

Some of his co-workers decided to pile onto that fear. They took bets on whether he would survive the surgery. Soon before the procedure, they gave him a fake toe tag with his name on it.

Charlie Bowlby went in for surgery on August 23. But he didn’t make it. He died from complications following the surgery a couple of days later.

The Journal Star further reports that in the aftermath of Bowlby’s death, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (DOT) was investigating the allegations of bullying from his co-workers, but the DOT would not provide more details. The DOT did, however, claim that bullying behaviors are not tolerated.

Familiar and unique

Over the years, I’ve encountered so many heartbreaking, outrageous stories about workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, and they typically mix both familiar and unique elements.

The story of Charlie Bowlby certainly fits this description. On the one hand, we hear so often about the bullied worker who feels trapped into remaining with their employer. In addition, multiple aggressor bullying and mobbing appears to be especially prevalent in public sector work situations. It’s also quite likely that stress from the bullying contributed significantly to Bowlby’s health problems, another common element of work abuse situations.

On the other hand, the abuse perpetrated by these co-workers took on a uniquely horrible spin. Imagine betting on the likelihood that a co-worker will survive serious surgery. Fathom the cruel nature required to give him a fake toe tag days before his operation. I found myself reading this article and wondering, what the hell is wrong with these people?

I hope you’ll read the full Journal Star article here. It provides a lot more context and background to Charlie Bowlby’s story and the people who cared about him.

Here in the U.S., October has been deemed National Bullying Prevention Month. Next week, we’ll be observing Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, while at the same time, our Canadian neighbors will be observing Workplace Bullying Awareness Week. Obviously the vital need for us to prevent and respond to bullying and mobbing behaviors remains strong, so let’s use these observances to redouble our commitment.


For those in the Greater Boston area, just a quick reminder that on Friday, October 18, I’ll be hosting a free talk about workplace bullying featuring Dr. Gary Namie, a foremost authority on workplace bullying and co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The event will start at 4 p.m. at Suffolk University Law School in downtown Boston. You may go here for registration details.

5 responses

  1. How appalling of those co-workers. As evolved human beings should we not support others in times of need? Empathy is something demonstrated by 4 year old children – I am a teacher; I know this. What happens to people – where do they lose respect for others….how come they can’t see how destructive this kind of behavior is? I don’t understand how this could be tolerated ….and I don’t just mean by the employer …..what makes people groupthink and participate in bullying?

    This is a very sad story.

    On Wed, Oct 9, 2019, 6:41 PM Minding the Workplace wrote:

    > David Yamada posted: ” His name was Charlie Bowlby. As reported by Peter > Salter for the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star (link here), he was a > divorced, single, middle-aged guy whose life often “revolved around music.” > Bowlby shared much of his life on Facebook: Almost dail” >

  2. Thank you for sharing. What a sad story. A sobering reminder that we have so much healing to do in our nation. We must find a path forward that brings us together as human beings. We must, of course, prohibit bullying behaviors and respond accordingly with serious consequences. But we have to remember that bullies are hurting too. They need help and intervention. How do we soothe the souls of all the dispossessed?

  3. I would say that I hate people who would do such a hateful and cowardly thing as what was done to Charlie B. except in a sense those bullies are also “broken people” – they are too ashamed to admit it. So they tease and “dogpile” on the guy who thought he could be himself.
    Our culture, like so many, do not ALLOW anyone, male or female, to say they feel badly.
    So most hide it.

  4. These workes should be m]named and pay the price.. POS!! I met charlie at a dilana show. He was a super cool head.. I NEVER saw the sad side of him, Which show to me He wanted to be happy. .lets bring these assholes to the front of the world. !! let the world, their families, their friends see how much low lives they are!!! #JUSTICEFORCHARLIE

  5. My hearts goes out to poor Charlie. What kind of employers look the other way indefinitely on such bullying, then insist they don’t condone it? In Charlie’s case, Nebraska clearly lost its DOT treasure and kept its DOT dregs.

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