bullying in the workplace

I Thought We Were Friends

Another update from the Jungle….

Rebecca is a real pain. She seems nice when people first meet her. But her former boss once compared her to a cancerous cell or a virus, spreading evil in the company. Abby agrees.

Rebecca was the first person to befriend her when Abby began working for the company. Abby was so grateful that it was several months before she realized that every encounter with Rebecca left her deeply depressed, often on the verge of tears. Abby is self-conscious about her weight and a speech impediment that causes her to slur words like Sylvester the cat. Rebecca has a way of drawing attention to Abby’s most sensitive characteristics.

Rebecca once begged Abby to walk with her to the coffee shop because Rebecca said she didn’t want to go alone. While waiting on her latte, Rebecca picked up a muffin for her breakfast. Suddenly, she turned to Abby and said “Here, this is too fattening. You eat it. I’ll get myself a banana.” Abby was so shocked she couldn’t explain that she had already eaten breakfast at home. She felt humiliated because the barista overheard Rebecca’s comment.

Rebecca often imitates Abby’s speech impediment, especially if there’s an audience. Abby’s told Rebecca to stop it because it is not nice to mock people. Rebecca says she’s just “picking at” Abby and doesn’t mean any harm. Rebecca also accuses Abby of being too sensitive. It all leaves Abby feeling like every misunderstanding is her fault.

After one humiliating episode, Abby is discovered crying in the bathroom by Michelle, the HR rep. Michelle is exasperated with Abby’s lachrymose acceptance of Rebecca’s special brand of “friendship.” But now that she’s seen Abby crying, Michelle knows she needs to take action. She meets with Rebecca to remind her of the company’s anti-bullying policy. Now Rebecca runs around telling everyone that Abby can’t take a joke.

What should Michelle do next?

  1. She could tell Abby to stand up for herself and stop being a victim.
  2. She could ignore the situation and hope it fixes itself, probably when Abby quits.
  3. She could confer with Rebecca’s supervisor about the next step in progressive discipline.

Bullying is becoming more subtle in the form of micro-aggressions.  Deciding when behavior crosses the invisible line between teasing and aggression is difficult because it all depends on reasonableness. What would a reasonable person think or feel in a similar situation? There are no easy answers but HR can help set workplace expectations of what is acceptable.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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