Employment Lawyers Review this Common Form of Harassment
Imagine going to work every day and being bullied for your gender, sexual orientation, skin color or disability. This scenario unfolds for almost 37 million American workers, according to a survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute. The same survey suggests slightly over 72 percent of employers do nothing to stop the bullying, which would constitute unlawful workplace harassment. In some cases, employers retaliate and fire employees who raise red flags when they are being bullied.
For bullied employees, coming into work involves fear, shame and guilt, many times for things beyond their control. Supervisors and coworkers might single out one employee, and criticize his or her work ethic, performance or appearance. The consequences of workplace bullying can cause severe emotional and physical distress in victims.
In an interview with the Orange County Register, one employee described being called “fat trailer trash” by her boss. After numerous occasions of bullying, she was close to a nervous breakdown and quit her job. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying can lead to cardiovascular problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, stroke and heart attack. The psychological trauma from bullying can cause panic attacks, clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Workplace Bullying: Fred’s Story
A hypothetical scenario can illustrate the effects workplace bullying can have on an employee.
Fred is a 23-year-old with mild Asperger’s syndrome who just started a new job working at a major telecommunications company. Despite being great at the job, his supervisor has been exceptionally cruel to him due to social awkwardness caused by his disability. Throughout the day, poor Fred receives emails from his supervisor calling him “useless”, “socially retarded” and a “waste of oxygen”. Having no prior professional experience before this job, Fred is clueless on how to end his hellish predicament.
Every day for one year, Fred struggles to come into work despite having panic attacks. In an act of desperation, he emails coworkers and human resources over the course of two weeks, outlining his experiences with the abusive supervisor. All of his pleas are met with silence (and gossip behind his back), and his employer fires him three weeks later, stating that his job performance was lower than expected.
Do Employees Facing Workplace Bullying Have Legal Options?
What are Fred’s options for resolving his ordeal? Fred’s employer broke several laws. As a man with Asperger’s syndrome, Fred may be entitled to protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). His supervisor also created a hostile work environment and bullied him based on his disability. All of these facts taken together means Fred might have legal options.
Fred needs documentation of the harassment, bullying or discrimination through emails and other correspondence. It would help even more to have documentation over a period of several weeks. Fred’s emails to human resources and his coworkers could be extremely beneficial. If Fred hired an employment attorney, his documentation, witness testimonies and additional evidence would make a compelling case of workplace harassment and discrimination. Despite being fired, Fred may be able to sue his employer for wrongful termination.
The moral of the story is simple. If you are being harassed at work, gather as much evidence over time as possible. Keep a daily log of bullying through emails, social media or other means of communication. The next step is to call an employment attorney to obtain legal advice and options regarding the best path to move forward.
Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles Employment Attorneys