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Bullying in the workplace: Is it against the law?

On Behalf of | Jan 10, 2022 | Harassment & discrimination

Getting bullied at work is a miserable experience. It’s enough to make you cringe and quake every time you walk through the office door in the morning. 

You may feel humiliated, furious, condescended to, routinely overlooked, ostracized, offended or criticized in an excessively harsh manner, sometimes in front of others, for every minor infraction or error. There may be just one employee in the office whose cruel actions or words qualify them as a bully, or it may be an unpleasant atmosphere instigated by several individuals, either deliberately or unwittingly. The bullying can come from your peer or a person in a supervisory capacity. 

What is considered bullying? 

Bullying can present itself in numerous ways. It can be brazen or under-the-radar, spoken, physical or psychological. Here are some typical examples: 

  • Doling out faint or backhanded praise
  • Intentionally overloading someone with piles of work
  • Not including an employee in meetings or on projects
  • Voicing insults to make someone feel small
  • Acting like a bully and being genuinely oblivious to its painful effect
  • Backstabbing 

Is someone committing an illegal act by bullying at work? 

Bullying is crude, unprofessional and mean and can have a dreadful impact on an employee’s morale. But whether it actually violates the law is dependent on particular circumstances. If you belong to a protected class under the law and the bullying has to do with your protected status, it might be considered a contributing factor to a hostile work environment

In California, protected classes (and characteristics) include race, ancestry, marital status, religion, gender expression, gender identity, national origin and disability, among other things. 

What you can do 

You have choices such as telling the bully to cease or informing your company’s human resources department. Obtaining outside help to handle the issue is another. Whatever path you pick, the goal is for the culprit to back off and permanently stop what they have been doing.