When Dealing With Bullying, Policies Are More Effective Than Laws, Consultant Says

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By Genevieve Douglas

June 30 --Effective anti-bullying policies and procedures will do more to eradicate bad behavior in the workplace than state or federal ant-bullying laws could, Lauraine Bifulco, president of consulting firm Vantaggio HR, said June 30 at the Society for Human Resource Management's Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas.

Making bullying illegal could create “status blind” harassment, meaning individuals would no longer need to be in a protected class to claim illegal harassment, opening companies up to a much greater risk of litigation, Bifulco said.

In such a legal landscape, behavior such as spreading rumors, isolating someone socially, yelling or using profanity, criticizing someone, or establishing impossible deadlines could be illegal, she said. This could affect how managers handle their employees, and could even dissuade them from appropriately managing poor performance, Bifulco warned.

Bullying in the workplace, however, is a big issue and needs to be addressed, Bifulco said. Studies have indicated that 35 percent to 50 percent of workplaces have experienced bullying, and the cost is estimated at $250 million a year due to health care expenses, litigation, staff turnover and retraining, she said.

Additionally, Bifulco said, new technology has enabled bullying to be more pervasive. “Text messaging, social media and even e-mailing have pushed employees to a place where bad behavior has almost become more acceptable,” she said. Employers have to foster good behavior online in the same way they require it in the workplace, she added.

Bifulco recommended HR practitioners implement anti-bullying policies, conduct training on those policies and have a zero tolerance policy for bullies in the workplace. “It is a shared responsibility between the employer and the employees to treat everyone with respect,” she said, and the most effective way to do this is to influence behavior from the top leaders down.

Employers should also look at existing discipline and behavior policies and adjust them to address bullying behavior, Bifulco said. When a bullying issue arises, she said, it should be thoroughly investigated. Bifulco also recommended managers and HR keep open-door policies, in addition to encouraging employees to use the employee assistance program if they need to.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com