Dealing with a workplace bully

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Unfortunately, workplace bullying has been a hot topic these days.

A recent survey conducted by Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of American workers — or 54 million people — have faced harassment at work, while another 15 percent have witnessed it happening.

And, sparked by the tragic endings of a string of bullying cases over the past few years, the Healthy Workplace Bill — legislation that aims to provide legal protection to those who feel they have been physically or psychologically abused at work — has recently picked up speed in states like New York, Nevada, Massachusetts, Vermont and Illinois.

The issue of workplace bullying is, indeed, one that many workers face on a daily basis. But if you find yourself in an abusive situation at work, there are ways to get out of it.

Here, four workers share the stories of their bullying, and what they ultimately did to end it.

 1. “I’ve dealt with a few managerial bullies, but the worst was Mike. I heard him bragging once that every waitress who had ever worked for him had cried because of him at least once. He thought it made him tough.

One night, I was making desserts during an extremely busy shift. Mike approached me after I had delivered the desserts and began to berate me about how I had not yet cleaned up my mess — I just nodded. Later, I approached him. I told him that although I was very busy and afraid that the ice cream would melt, it is part of our job to clean up spills as soon as they occur and it wouldn’t have taken that much more time. I apologized, and told him it would not happen again. I thought that by showing him I wasn’t going to be pushed over, but that I was also mature and responsible, I would come out ahead. Mike turned and walked away without a word.

I eventually complained to our district manager about his rudeness and bullying, and she said that she knew he could be ‘a bit difficult sometimes’ but that he produced great results. She promised to have a talk with him.

Then, two weeks later, a customer made a complaint against me. My manager at the time told me that her complaint was completely unfounded, and both of us had worked together to try to please her. My manager told me not to take it personally. The next day the woman came back while Mike was on shift, and as soon as she mentioned my name, he took her to a booth and sat her down for a talk. The claims this time were more wild than the night before, and I can only believe that he goaded her on. He then left work to visit the owner, presented the complaint and asked that I be fired.

I suppose I could have fought for my job, and probably won. The owner didn’t know my name, but he knew my face because I’d served him before, and he’d never had reason to complain. It was also my first and only complaint from a customer ever in over a year of employment. But the other managers were too cowed to stick up for me on their own, and I decided I would rather not work with Mike anymore as it was.

When he sat me down to fire me, I calmly told him I quit, then took my final paycheck and left. His face, so happy when I sat down, was red with anger, and he glares at me whenever I happen to choose to eat there. He never made me cry, but it was miserable working under him, and most of my fellow waitresses would agree.” Dionne*; Hollister, California

2. “I had this experience while working on an academic journal at a university. My boss had a faculty position, which she viewed as a carte blanche for verbally beating up on her subordinates. And I wasn’t the only one who experienced her peel-the-paint-off-the-wall tirades.

However, I was the only one to quit my job without having another one to go to. Not only that, I also left the city in which the journal was located. I caught a one-way flight across the country, got on my bicycle, and pedaled more than 3,600 miles in three months. It was as positive an experience as working for this boss was a negative.

If I could ever talk with that lady again — and quite frankly, I’m not really interested in doing so — I would thank her. Because quitting that job and leaving that city were two of the most positive things I have ever done in my life.” – Martha; Arizona

3. “My first employer was a bullying, sadistic manipulator. The workplace was a 10 person ad agency, run by a husband and wife team, who always played good cop bad cop. My position was as an entry level copywriter.

During my eight months at this horrible place, I was physically threatened, made to go pick up dry cleaning, wash the boss’s car and other humiliating tasks. I later learned that our phone lines were tapped, when I discovered a recorder attached to the phone box in a hidden supply closet. The owner would lie to us about our co-workers, so we wouldn’t make friends and ‘plot against the agency.’ I was ‘fired’ eight times — each time the wife would play good cop and make sure I didn’t lose my job.

He often said ‘I like my employees young, married and in debt, because then I own them.’

Most of the people I worked with, my art director partner and a couple of younger account executives were all very close and we relied on each other. We all talked outside of work and relayed stories. We all understood the game and counted on each other for honesty and support. Since the owner’s wife also oversaw the HR function, there was no court of appeal.

In reality, we actually were all young and in debt and needed work at a time when entry level positions were very hard to find. But I still ended up quitting. It was the only way out.

To this day, it bothers me to talk about many of the things we endured.” – Bill; St. Louis, Missouri

4. “I had a very bizarre bullying experience, when I was a university student. I worked for a small alarm company and I thought the relationship I had with my manager was a good one. We used to have lunch together, coffee, etc.

One night, she asked me to go shopping with her. I was chatting with a saleswoman, asking for a smaller size in a skirt. When I turned around, my manager was behind me, with a weird look on her face (later, I surmised it was because she was upset that I had a smaller dress size than she did — I know, super weird, but it’s been the only explanation I can think of).

After that night, my work environment became almost intolerable. She became very rude and snappish, angry if the clients asked for me (instead of her). As soon as I would walk into the office, she would stand up, go into the boss’s office and lobby for him to fire me.

I endured — what else could I do? I couldn’t leave because of school — I needed the job. So, I tried to ignore her, but that didn’t help the embarrassment/anger I felt every time she criticized me.

Eventually, I found out she was leaving and thought, ‘thank God, I only have to endure this for a little longer.’ I was promoted and given her title, so her behavior worsened. Then, during a staff meeting my boss said they would have to let me go because my job and school hours conflicted.

After the meeting, he called me into his office and said, ‘Look, what I said in there, it’s not true. We’re just going to let [the manager] believe this. She’ll be gone in a couple of weeks, and after that you can come back. We’ll work around your schedule.’

But it was too much for me. I had endured this woman’s rude comments, nitpicking over my work, snide remarks about my clothing — and now, my boss was taking her side and asking me to submit to a fake firing — a totally humiliating act — just to appease her. We got into an argument — he acknowledged her bad behavior, but just excused it. I guess I thought if I’d ever brought it up to him, he would have taken my side. To know he’d known all along and excused her behavior was too much. I gave my two weeks and left.

If I had to do it over again, I would have schooled myself on my rights as an employee and I would have documented everything she did. Employees really do need to know what their rights are.” — Natasha; Edmonton, Alberta, CA

Most of the workers that we talked to who faced a workplace bully ultimately left the abusive environment, which is often the best decision in an extreme situation (your mental and physical health should always be your top priority). However, there are other options if you really feel that you can’t quit your job, or if you think the situation can be bettered. Check out the Workplace Bullying Institute for more information on dealing with on-the-job harassment.

*Last names have been omitted to protect privacy

18 Comments
  1. I worked with a production manager at a major plastics processor and my first week there I was immediately turned off by his behavior. He then was talking behind the backs of all others in the management team, that means I too was talked about, referring to how worthless so and so was and how he was gonna get this person fired. So this impression was stuck in my mind every day, I found it very difficult to work in that dynamic and I basically gave up and decided it was not the place I wanted to be. Long story short, I couldn’t buy in to his causes and support him professionally. Ironically I was let go because I could not deal with a person like that. I must say that was one of the happiest days of my life!

  2. Bully sabatour gossip terrorist

    no one fixes the mess they have made

    when will something be done

    Employment at will you get harrased NO PROTECTION No raise lousy pay

  3. Presently have worked for same non-profit for five years. My bully came in with sister and boyfriend, standing near my desk, she state that the way she felt, she wanted “To kill somebody” as her sister mutters in agreement. I emailed a complaint to my supervisor. The actions taken were satisfactory. Although she was not easy to work with, she quit within months and a sigh of relief that I didn’t back down helped me deal with other aggressive co-workers. Last fall she visited co-workers and a comment was made to her in passing, “To get the number of the guy who whacks people.” So I made mental strategy for the inevitable–next visit. As she entered building I spoke to my supervisor, I was able to limit her time visiting friends at work, and she left without incident. I have additional strategies for future visits. I feel vindicated that my fear was taken in consideration, that although she has not been prevented from visiting, at least my supervisor responded, respected my opinion and allowed her limited time with her former co-workers.

  4. I suffered in a job working in a closet-sized office with three related demon-sisters for years. Finally one screamed like a shrew right up in my face exactly like the picture depicted in the article, and she even got the administrator to come gang up on me with her, after all the longsuffering torment I endured while working my fingers to the bone with no pay increases, horrible “benefits,” and no appreciation or respect. They forced me to go fleeing out the door and yelled if I left I can never come back. Three months later and with still no new job in sight, I have to say it was a good decision and I am happier with no money at all than to be belittled by belligerent monster coworkers.

  5. I’ve experienced more than one bully at a major mental health care facility in the Baltimore area. I am a nurse and the worst episodes came when I worked with children and then adolescents, over a period of some 15 years out of 22 years that I worked there. Despite new accreditation rules by the Joint Commission, somehow the facility administrators managed to sugar-coat the behaviors of nursing supervisors and a program administrator, so the facility maintained its accreditation. Since I am an older worker, I qualify for protection under EEOC and am pursuing that route, since the harassment involved age discrimination and retaliation. Unfortunately the targets of bullying behaviors tend to be smarter and more productive than the bullies, providing major losses to the organizations when the bullying behaviors exact their negative emotional, physical, creativity, and productivity tolls. It is certainly something that ALL business organizations must address if they are to be successful in this hyper-competitive world. By the way, there are very few laws that protect employees from this vile and vicious behavior.

  6. I worked at a well known restaurant for 3 years in high school and into college. After working there for about 8 months we got a new female manager. She was highly innapropriate with the rest of the staff, especially the high school aged male and female workers (She was 24) and would text them sexual content and buy them alcohol–among other things. She also brought one of her personal ‘toys’ into work and told everyone about it. While I would tell her i think her actions made me feel uncomfortable she would apologize, but we never got into an argument. Then, a year later after a long night, she got in my face and starting telling me to F**K off and that i was a B***H and a few other choice words–I had just asked if I could roll my silverware and leave. Luckily there were 3 other witnesses to back me up and the next day I went into the GM’s office to complain. Another girl also happened to be launching a complaint after she sent her text messages calling her a s**t. She was fired a day later when she came in. My only issue with the whole thing was after this someone told her it was only me who logged a complaint and she began calling my cell phone, calling the workplace and even had my parent’s home number and would tell other coworkers of mine she would like to kill me. The company told me that since she wasnt always doing it to me at work they couldnt do anything for me. I left the company soon afterthis and changed my number.

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  13. Bullying is the reason I hae going to a new job because it’s everywhere.I guess my quiet demeanor I look like a push over but some have witness the eye of the tiger and I had know more problems.I just recently lost a job,personal injury, and had been approached by a female a lot of people told me about,she was a total B.This individual approached me and had a little attitude with me.I don’t know of this look people tell me about when I get mad but she didn’t bother me again.

  14. I work for a Life Sciences lab in Boston.When i started as a shipper receiver back last July I had a great boss.I’m one of those employees who works well without supervison,as my boss worked out of the Texas office.Upon my review in January I was given maybe the best review in years with things like always exceeds expectations and a roll model to other employees.In February my boss was replaced by a new individual.She does nothing but question, my work ethic,how long I work,and what functions I provide.Not to mention when I was hired I worked with an individual inventory system.My new boss comes along and tell s me she wants everything done in Excel, I tell her i have no training in Excel she says its my responsibility to get training not the companies.Every idea or thought I have that I bring to her attention is met with criticism and disdain.She replaced my last boss because shes a number cruncher and extremely organized, but she is emotionally unattached from everything and makes my life a living hell on a regular basis.I dont know what to do.I’ve thought about reporting her to HR because i think she has a personal vendetta against me ,but i dont want to lose my job over it.What should i do???

  15. I was recently laid off due to “reduction in work.” Truth be told I was working under an associate attorney with about 3 to 5 years experience in the legal field. I’ve been in the legal field over 20 years. This person is transparent, she made claims that reflected her actions which I witnessed on several occasions. Management believed her, even if I had defended myself decisions were made based on this difficult co-worker’s actions. I didn’t quite understand her looks of hostility towards me when she would look me up and down because I was wearing business attire. When I went to HR to discuss one of this person’s less than professional nasty emails to me (and there were several, HR just glossed over the issue. The sad thing is I wasn’t the only one that was in receipt of this person’s nastiness and immaturity. This is the first time I have dealt with this kind of wishy washy management and unprofessional behavior by a co-worker.

  16. My co-worker loves to play practical jokes, constantly. He thrives on inventing new ways to “get” me. On an occasional basis, his jokes are tolerable. But they began escalating to several times a week, then several times a day. Often calling me “stupid” has lost most of its power since he calls everyone stupid and an asshole as he proclaims his genius-ness yet cannot conjugate a verb ["me and her would have ran and went yesterday if we'd have saw the ad" egads]. The rubber troll under the toilet seat was funny. April 1, wrapping all my desk items in foil was funny, both on top of my desk and inside the drawers [invasion!]. Putting fake cockroaches all over my office and phone recording my reaction to them then posting it on YouTube, less funny. Putting my hair in a rubber band in a less than flattering style [Cyndi Lu Hu] then posting the picture on Facebook–humiliating; I was trying to be a good sport about it so maybe he’d leave me alone. Constantly telling me where he’s put my pens and Witeout and staple puller, etc., on his bodily parts, ew. Putting a fake “turd” in my toilet, so I have to retrieve it before I can use the toilet, ha ha [not]. Finding a gob of who knows what on my toilet paper, just glad I saw it first. Calling me into his office and telling me to bend close to the computer monitor to see something small on the screen, then farting in my face and asking me how it smells–absolutely infuriating. Depositing what appeared to be poop into my toilet and not flushing then phone recording my reaction sent me over the line into raging bull out of control hopping mad completely lost it. I took the bowl scrubber and dipped it into the “poopy” toilet bowl and flung it at him as he stood laughing in the doorway with his phone in front of his face recording my fury. Whereupon I punched out, grabbed my purse, and stormed out of work. It didn’t matter that it was only ground up raisins in the toilet bowl. He had been doing a daily countdown to April Fool’s 2011, texting to friends what his plans for me were. As a result of my “tantrum” I put a stop to that and luckily was out of the office on April 1. One can only imagine.

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