What is a Workplace Bully?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 March 2020
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Bullying is not limited to neighborhoods or elementary school playgrounds. A workplace bully uses many of the same tactics in order to intimidate, harass or assault his or her co-workers during regular business hours. Although this behavior would meet the legal standard for a hostile work environment, a workplace bully is not always reprimanded or disciplined by superiors, which in turn emboldens him or her to escalate the bullying and intimidation. The tactics of a workplace bully may include physical harassment, verbal abuse, racial and/or gender slurs and the spreading of damaging workplace gossip.

A workplace bully is often in a position of authority or supervision, or at least enjoys a certain level of seniority over other employees. He or she uses this perceived power to create and maintain a stressful work environment for other workers who depend on him or her for job-related matters. A workplace bully could force a new employee to start over on a project before he or she will sign off on the work, for example. Relatively minor mistakes could become major offenses to a workplace bully determined to intimidate subordinates. The same procedures followed on Monday could be considered completely unacceptable on Tuesday according to a workplace bully.


There is also the element of actual physical, verbal or sexual abuse when it comes to workplace bullying. On a factory floor, a workplace bully could deliberate create a hazardous situation in order to injure or intimidate another employee. Physical assaults during breaks are also a possibility, as are cases of constant verbal abuse or racially/sexually-charged slurs. A workplace bully could also use sexual innuendo or offensive language around other employees of the opposite sex, creating a hostile work environment and exposing the company as a whole to a sexual harassment complaint.

It is not always easy for a company or business to deal effectively with a known workplace bully. The offender may indeed have a certain level of job security based on his or her expertise, relationship with employers, or other factors. Some employers may try to defuse an office bully by suggesting anger management counseling or sensitivity training, but there is no guarantee the employee will agree to such an arrangement voluntarily. A workplace bully could also be transferred to a different department with far less interaction with co-workers, but this could be difficult if the employee has specific skills which must be performed in a specific location. Other employees who feel intimidated or harassed by a workplace bully may request reassignment or relocation in order to improve their own working conditions.

Workplace bullies may get a sense of personal satisfaction through intimidating other employees, but often their own documented actions lead to their own undoing. Victims of a workplace bully have the right to file grievances with union representatives, company officials or a governmental oversight agency in order to end the reign of any employee or supervisor who repeatedly crosses the harassment line in the workplace.


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