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"We Don't Do That Here" Bully, Harrassment and Workplace Violence

“We Don’t Do That Here”
Protecting Your Human Capital


There is a workplace that keeps owners, executives, and other leaders awake all night.  Missing from that workplace is “respect.”  The leader knows that every day brings the potential for turnover, poor productivity, low morale, legal problems with the state or federal government, or something much worse - violence.

Leaders, who sleep well at night, understand how to identify and eliminate offensive behaviors and how to create a culture where employees value “respect.”  The company has a Standard of Conduct policy, disseminates it widely and enforces it vigorously.  Every member of management is vigilant and stops acts of disrespect.  Employees are empowered to report acts of disrespect with impunity. 

A Great Leader demonstrated his method in my presence after observing an employee on lunch break with co-workers relate a conversation that included some profanity and sexual language.  Later in the day, the company leader invited the employee to visit in his office and said, “I wanted you to know I heard your conversation at lunch time.  It caused me to believe that no one has told you that ‘We Don’t do That Here.’  We believe that profane and sexual conversation is disrespectful and inconsistent with our culture.  So, just in case you did not know that your conversation was inappropriate, I wanted to be the one to tell you.  Thank you for your time.”  He is a genius!

 “We Don’t Do That Here” - was part of the company nomenclature (for acting disrespectful) and was invoked in a variety of situations to indentify inappropriate behavior.  Typically, the kinds of behavior that fit under the We Don’t Do That Here can be defined into three types, but they are not uniquely different.  None is more egregious than another and the consequences can be horrifying, destroying the business and devastating the employees. 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT - which has nothing to do with sex; it is about power.  The offender uses position, influence, affiliation, or even physical size, to harass the victim.  There are two kinds of sexual harassment.  Submitting to sexual demands in order to keep a job, get a raise, or be promoted, is quid pro quo and most egregious when it involves employees of unequal power.  It is not hard to describe but it is impossible to defend.  Hostile Work Environment is much harder to describe.  The offending behavior could be jokes, inappropriate touching, sexual remarks, videos, cartoons or sexual profanity. 

Sexual Harassment is prohibited by federal law and the laws of every state in the US.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces theses laws and they have published the 2017 statistics regarding the claims filed with the Federal Government only.  These numbers do not include claims filed at the state or local level and do not include those who filed a lawsuit directly in state or federal court.

Number of Claims filed for Sexual Harassment with the EEOC:  12,428

  • Percent of claims filed by males:  16.5%
  • Claims determined to be without probable cause:  about one-third
  • Amount of money awarded to claimants:  $46.3 million

In addition to a workplace culture that confronts inappropriate behavior, every company must have a well-written policy and a procedure to enforce it.  The EEOC has clearly described the elements that must be included in the policy and exactly what a company must do to prevent punitive outcomes. 

HOSTILE WORKPLACE - A hostile workplace is a workplace that interferes with the ability to perform the work because of the hostile actions of a co-worker, subordinate, supervisor, or other stakeholder.  A workplace bully is the person usually responsible for a hostile workplace.  This is a different challenge for companies to manage than a violation of the Civil Rights Law.  There are laws in every state to prohibit bullying in schools but no such laws exist to prevent bullies at work.  California is out in front on this topic and defines Workplace Bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment at work.  Workplace bullying can include verbal abuse, intimidating or humiliating behavior, or interference with the victim's work.  There is no specific law against workplace bullying in California, but California employees have the right to sue the bully or their employer if the workplace bullying violates workplace harassment or discrimination laws, such as the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (the "FEHA").

California also requires supervisors to be trained regarding abusive behavior and 30 states have introduced a bill called the Healthy Workplace Law.  The Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, WA researched the cost of allowing a bully to victimize a workplace.  The research is the gold standard used to demonstrate that allowing a workplace bully is financially prohibitive, and will assure the company earns a reputation as the Employer of Last Resort.  The WBI research shows:

  • Turnover:  Combined salaries of departed workers x 1.5
  • Opportunity lost:  Lost revenue
  • Absenteeism:                                   Number of missed hours x hourly rate
  • Presenteeism:  Total salaries of checked out workers
  • Legal defense:  Varies
  • Worker’s comp:  Varies

For an employee paid $50,000 annually, the grand total could look like:

  • Turnover:  $75,000
  • Opportunity lost:  $30,000
  • Absenteeism:  $250
  • Presenteeism:  $50,000
  • Legal defense:  $30,000
  • Workers comp:  $2,000

TOTAL:                                               $187,250

Our employees often mistake the hostile workplace created by a bully with the hostile work environment covered by the Civil Rights sexual harassment regulations, although they are different.  The conduct of a bully may actually violate the Civil Rights Law when the victim was selected based on gender, race, national origin, or another of the classes protected by the Civil Rights Laws.  The employee complaint would then be called a discrimination claim - Same church…different pew!

 Some employees, who complain about a workplace bully, become ill and file a Worker’s Compensation claim related to the stress.  Substantiating a claim for workplace stress was once almost impossible to prove, but that has changed.  Employees may also demand damages beyond lost income and medical bills.

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE - If Company leaders need any reason beyond their commitment to a culture of respect for ensuring that every employee understands that “We Don’t Do That Here,” they need only consider what OSHA has to say about this subject.

OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.”  A report commissioned by the Department of Justice suggests that there are about 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence in the United States each year.  Workplace assaults cause about 500,000 employees to lose 1,751,000 days of work annually.  Employees who fall victim to workplace violence lose $55 million annually in wages.  However, workplace violence is not only costly to employees; it also adds up to a $4.2 billion annual expense for employers as well.  When indirect costs such as loss of public image, insurance, and lost productivity are added in; the total cost to employers increases to between $6.4 and $36 billion annually.

These statistics may seem mind boggling to a typical business person, but a more stunning statistic is that workplace murder is the third leading cause of multiple-fatality incidents on the job in the United States and is the leading cause of death on the job for women.  

Many states have Workplace Violence laws and almost every major company has a written policy because their insurance company demands it.  Few leaders still have the optimistic view that an act of violence would not happen at their business.  They know that employees have complicated personal issues, completed unrelated to work, that can escalate to an act of domestic violence that takes place in the workplace between the domestic partners.  They also know they must not allow situations to exist that promote violence. 

If an employer allows a hostile workplace to exist, the potential for violence increases.  Every bully must hear, “We Don’t Do That Here.”  Any employee who is allowed to abuse power is a target for violence and his/her colleagues may become collateral damage.  This is particularly important information for those in positions of authority to remember.  Disciplinary actions, especially those that end in termination, are especially concerning.  We know that preparation is essential, demonstrating respect is critical, and every employee must be allowed to leave with his/her dignity intact.  At every termination, it is the goal of Human Resources professionals that the employee leaves peacefully and no one gets hurt!  Terminated employees are frequently the perpetrator of workplace violence with multiple deaths and injuries.

To the enlightened leader, who insists that respect is always the bedrock on which the company culture rests, you will sleep well tonight and you can be sure that your employees are grateful that you care and unafraid to always do the right thing.

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