Taking Workplace Bullying Seriously – Even During Remote Work - American Society of Employers - Heather Nezich

Taking Workplace Bullying Seriously – Even During Remote Work

workplace bullying“I’m not joking when I say this: If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts.”  That is a direct quote from President Biden on his very first day in the White House. What if corporations took that same stance?

It’s a bit harsh for the average workplace.  But the strength of that message gets the point across quite clear, and workplace bullying and just plain old bad behavior still exists – even with remote work.  Instead, recognize it, document it, and correct it.

Can you be the victim of workplace bullying and harassment when you aren’t in the same location as the other party? The answer is yes.

Remote managers need to be aware of the signs and know how to properly and quickly address a bullying or harassment situation before it gets out of hand.

Behaviors to be on the lookout for include:

  • Threats or humiliating language by email, voicemail, or social media
  • Verbally berating people or belittling them on conference calls, meetings, or web conferences
  • Deliberately lying, spreading rumors about people
  • Threatening or demanding extra work or favors
  • Off color, racist, or obscene texts, IM’s, and messages

Additional, less serious but still damaging behaviors include:

  • Making disparaging remarks during meetings that don’t rise to actual bullying but either undercut confidence or diminish the other person in the eyes of the team
  • Intentionally excluding people from information, then accusing them of not paying attention
  • Bad-mouthing team members to each other (whether the information is accurate or not)
  • Lying or withholding critical information
  • Verbal hints or comments that you should quit your job
  • Excessive monitoring of work
  • Being ignored or having a hostile reception when you approach them
  • Information being withheld from you that affects your performance
  • Giving jobs that are impossible to do within the given timeframe or resources provided
  • Excluding you or preventing you from working in activities or with others that are relevant to your work

A national survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 20% of U.S. workers experience bullying in the workplace and 19% have witnessed it.  Another survey by Monster found that 94% of employees reported being bullied in the workplace.

Can employers be held responsible? Yes, if the abusive conduct is related to the employee’s race, sex, religion, etc. (otherwise known as a protected characteristic) then the mistreatment is unlawful under Title VII and related laws.  It could constitute a hostile environment under these conditions.  According to National Law Review, if a supervisor creates a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability if they can prove the following:

  • It reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior; and
  • The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities offered by the employer

(Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 762-63 (1998); Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 807 (1998))

If a non-supervisory employee harasses an employee, the employer could be liable for the harassment if the employer knew, or should have known, about the hostile work environment, but failed to promptly correct it. 

Managers and HR need to be aware that workplace bullying still exists.  Train managers to identify it and address it.  If not, it can cost you:

  • In 2018, a jury awarded over $13 million to an employee in a hostile work environment/sexual harassment case (Mayo-Coleman v. American Sugar Holdings, Inc., 1:2014cv00079, S.D.N.Y.). Due to caps on the amount of damages that can be awarded under Title VII, this amount was later reduced.
  • In a case against the New York Knicks, an executive sued the team regarding, among other things, a hostile work environment and the jury awarded $11.6 million in damages. Sanders v. Madison Square Garden, L.P., 1:06cv00589.
  • In a racial hostile work environment case, the jury awarded $25 million to a Black employee who alleged that his employer failed to adequately address the racist statements, vandalism, and graffiti to which he was subjected. An appeals court subsequently ruled that the damages should be reduced. Turley v. ISG Lackawanna Inc. et al., 1:06-cv-00794.

Additional ASE Resources

ASE Training & Development – ASE offers many courses to help both employees and managers.  View our full online catalog or contact Roseatta Stoops for class recommendations at [email protected].

ASE Coaching – If you have an employee that needs help, ASE's offers a personalized coaching experience based on the client’s position, level, objectives, and personality.  For more information, contact Michael Burns.

ASE Custom Training – If you’d like to offer a harassment prevention course to your entire team or organization, please contact Tony Kaylin.

ASE Workplace Investigations – ASE can provide your organization with full service, compliant workplace investigation services.  From providing an intake phone number to performing the investigation we can manage the process for you.  For more information, please contact Tony Kaylin.


Sources: remoteleadershipinstitute.com; ishn.com; natlawreview.com

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