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Workplace Bullying

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | Bullying

Workplace bullying is a widespread problem. A manager who yells, belittles or even causes employees emotional distress may be creating a hostile environment or toxic workplace. Depending on the circumstances, if you are a victim of such mistreatment, you may have remedies.

You won’t find the word bullying in employment law statutes. But when an employee is bullied or faces harassment related to a protected status or characteristic such as race, nationality, age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, religion, veteran status, taking family leave, or being a whistleblower, then it could be illegal discrimination. Additional protection may exist under state law. In Michigan, the ElliottLarsen Civil Rights Acts offers a broad range of civil rights protections, including protection against discrimination on the basis of height, weight, and marital status. Government employees may also have First Amendment protection, if they are being harassed on the basis of public speech.

If you believe that you are being bullied or harassed on the basis of any one of these protected characteristics, you may have a legal claim. However, if the bullying or harassment is not connected to a protected status, your remedies are more limited. One option is to seek medical leave, if your stress and anxiety rises to the level of a diagnosed medical condition. At that point, you may have protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Another possibility is to review your workplace policies, which often have rules regarding fair treatment, and make a complaint to Human Resources.

Be forewarned that if your HR complaint is not based on one of the protected characteristics discussed above, you may not have protection against retaliation. More bluntly, unless your complaint includes a claim that you were discriminated against, you may have no legal recourse. How do you know whether bullying or harassment is prompted by a discriminatory reason? The words used are one indication. Less obvious is how an employee is treated compared to others who are in a different protected class (i.e. different race, age, gender, etc.), but if you are treated differently than a coworker who is not in the protected class, by all means point that out if you can do it in good faith. Write something like, “I believe my manager is bullying me because of my (age, sex, race, etc.) and here’s why I believe that,” and that may better protected you against illegal retaliation if you are fired in retaliation.

But the reality is that some people, and some workplaces, are just toxic. Many managers believe – in the face of evidence to the contrary – that yelling, screaming, and belittling employees is an effective motivating tool. But that is not necessarily illegal. One court rejected a discrimination claim, citing the example of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, of whom one former player once claimed, “He treats us all the same – like dogs!”

Roumel Law can help you decide if you have a legal claim for the bullying, harassment, or retaliation. But even if you don’t have a claim, getting away from a toxic working environment may be the best thing for your emotional health and selfworth.