Workplace bullies come in all shapes and sizes — but complaining to human resources or a boss about a bully has to be done carefully. Otherwise, you might be the person who ends up fired — just for complaining!
Here’s the most critical thing that you need to understand about workplace bullying: There is no law against it if it’s just general bad behavior. You are only legally protected from bullying as long as you are being targeted due to your race, religion, age, disability, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. Those are the categories that are legally protected from intimidation and harassment.
What does that mean in practice? When you file a complaint, you want to make certain that you pinpoint exactly how the harassment you’re experiencing is related to one or more of those categories. That way, you cannot legally be retaliated against for reporting the bullying.
Keep in mind, bullies are pretty much the same wherever you find them: they generally try to target people who are different in some way. The odds are high that you are being targeted due to some difference that falls into one or more of those protected categories. You simply have to make certain that you take pains to point that out in your complaint.
For example, imagine that your supervisor seems to be angry that you’ve recently taken time off due to medical problems and also asked for accommodations. He’s now making comments to other employees about how they all have to work harder because you are “lazing around” and is generally going out of his way to make you miserable.
In your complaint to Human Resources (HR), you cannot just describe your supervisor’s behavior. You need to specifically tie it to your recent health issues, leave, and ongoing disability. Illustrate how your supervisor’s behavior changed following your leave and accommodation request.
If you are fired in retaliation for a complaint that clearly ties the harassment and bullying to a protected category, an attorney with experience in wrongful termination claims can help you understand your legal options.