Dear Ted: I was being bullied at work and I thought I did what I was supposed to do by going to human resources to report it. The results weren't good. They actually turned the entire thing back on me. They told me that they knew the person I was complaining about was difficult to deal with at times; however, she has been with the company for a long time and everyone else seems to know how to handle her. They suggested that I was too sensitive and that maybe I needed to toughen up a bit. I'm confused; I thought HR was supposed to protect me from being bullied.
Answer: Unfortunately, some HR departments are not up to speed with the new obligations that are coming forward. Many are still protecting the bully and blaming the victim. This makes it frustrating for employees who are looking for support. It is also difficult for people to change, especially if this bully has been allowed to continue her behaviour throughout the years.
An employer has an obligation to ensure the workplace is free of harassment and bullying. You do have the right to work in a toxic-free environment. If your HR department is not supportive, it is going to take some work on your part to get it into the 21st century. Of course, as usual, you know I am going to tell you to first approach the bully and tell her what you need, not what she is going wrong. Tell her how she makes you feel and then tell her you need it to stop. You may get a poor response. If so, the next step would be to go back to HR and tell them what you need.
Here are some suggested words: "I know the last time I was in here to talk about how I was being treated in the workplace, you suggested I get some help with my sensitivity. Well I did some research and I found out that it is actually the responsibility of the employer to ensure that I have a toxic-free workplace. I want to be clear, I really enjoy my job and I am not out to harm anyone, but the way I am being treated is beginning to affect my health. If you cannot help me, I am going to have to take further action."
I would suggest that you go online and get some backup as to what your employer's responsibility actually is. Just search "workplace bullying" and you will find plenty of material to support your claim.
If the response from HR is negative, then you should go higher and state
your case. Keep in mind that you should never criticize HR, they are just doing what they believe is right and need updated information. Always take the high road and just tell management what you need. By doing your own research you will help them with the proof it needs to move forward on your behalf.
A tip for the HR department: You have an obligation to ensure a safe work environment for all of your employees. All HR departments should be up-to-date with the rapidly-changing laws and what the responsibilities of the employer are in 2009.
When an employee tells you that he or she is being bullied, take that as seriously as you would take an accusation of racial or sexual harassment, because it is that serious. Many companies have been held liable because they failed to protect their employees from harassment. Stop blaming the victim and focus on the behaviour of the bully.
Ted Mouradian is a workplace relations consultant, author, professional speaker and president of The Mouradian Group Inc. If you have a work-related question for Ted, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to Workplace Wisdom, P. O. Box 671, St. Catharines, Ont., L2R 6W8.