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When workplace bullying becomes discrimination or harassment

Workplace bullying does occur, but at this time, it isn't technically illegal. Being mean-spirited or pressuring to someone isn't usually illegal if you aren't pressuring that person to do something that is illegal or sexual. A supervisor pressuring staff to work overtime or a team bully forcing his or her opinions on everyone else is unfortunate and uncomfortable. But you might not have a legal basis for a claim if leaders overlook such behavior.

The Workplace Bullying Institute recommends a three-step approach to dealing with workplace bullying. First, name the action. Calling the action by a name, such as bullying or emotional abuse, make it more legitimate in your mind. It also helps you to realize that the bullying comes from a source that makes the decision to act in such a manner -- not from any decision that you made.

Next, if possible, take some time off to decide how to approach the issue away from the activity that is stressful to you. If you can't take time off, see if you can be moved temporarily to another location or function. Take time to really think about the bullying and do research on state and federal laws. If you think that the bullying could be a form of harassment or discrimination, consider speaking with a lawyer about your case.

Finally, expose the bully. If you've already approached business leaders about the issue and they have done nothing, consider approaching them again from a business perspective. Why is the bully dangerous to the bottom line?

If the bully is discriminating against you or crossing legal lines and no one is acting to protect you, then you might have a legal case against the bully or the business. Understanding where the line is between general unpleasantness and illegal action is important when framing such a case.

Source: WorkPlaceBullying.org, "The WBI 3-Step Target Action Plan," accessed Jan. 01, 2016

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