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By Mike Schlicht

This past October, 32 villages, towns, cities and counties across New York State issued proclamations recognizing “Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week” and acknowledging that protection from abusive work environments should apply to every worker and not be limited to legally protected class status based only on race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability.

Workplace bullying is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment and employees have no recourse in law but to quit their jobs. In today’s jobless recovery, that is not possible. Employees will stay as long as they can in abusive work environments, incurring mental and physical health ailments to provide for their families until they become disabled, take their own lives or strike out in acts of workplace violence. Targets of workplace bullying can incur severe depression, anxiety, increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Employers also incur costs from workplace bullying. Studies continually show that workplace bullying reduces productivity, incurs higher sick leave and health insurance costs, turnover and talent flight. Sadly, most employers do not understand these costs. Even if they wanted to reprimand, transfer or fire a bully for these specific actions, they face a wrongful termination suit.

Employees often seek out the services of human resources, believing that this department will help them address workplace bullying only to find that in most cases it does nothing or makes the situation worse. A recent survey found that 31 percent of human resources personnel are also bullied in the workplace. If they can’t help themselves, it is assured nothing can be done about it in current law.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment in the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation and work sabotage that undermines business and services. Targets of workplace bullying are employees who are bullied because they bring positive attributes to their employer and work environment. They are employees who are productive, talented, educated and team players. Workplace bullies are threatened by these traits so they make the workplace environment abusive and toxic in hope that the person will leave. When this doesn’t happen, the stakes rise and more egregious and aggressive tactics are used to impair the employee’s effectiveness that will assure the employee develops health issues.

For the lucky ones, an early retirement may be a way out, but at substantial cost. The unlucky may become partially or permanently disabled, under-employed or unemployable due to health impairments. Thirty-two communities have spoken. It is time to be free from workplace bullies.

Mike Schlicht is state coordinator for New York Healthy Workplace Advocates.