What is Workplace Intimidation?

Woman Holding Up Hand Saying No to Workplace Intimidation

Workplace intimidation can make your office a toxic place to be. When your boss or coworker is subjecting you to workplace bullying, you can feel you have no choice but to quit. Find out what workplace intimidation is, and how you can stop it.

In this blog post, I will explain what workplace intimidation is and provide examples of bullying conduct. I will explain what forms of intimidation are illegal, and explain what you can do to stop it.

What Workplace Intimidation Looks Like

Workplace intimidation, which is also called workplace bullying, happens when a superior, coworker, or direct report uses physical violence or threats, blackmail, or verbal abuse to manipulate a company employee for some professional advantage. It usually occurs over time, developing a pattern of mistreatment that can negatively affect an employee's mood, productivity, and even mental and physical health.

No two workplace intimidation situations are exactly the same. What bullying looks like will depend on the nature of your business and what your workplace typically looks and sounds like. Some common examples of workplace intimidation include:

  • Physical violence or threats
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Hostile physical posturing
  • Ridiculing or insulting you in front of coworkers or customers
  • Intentionally assigning tasks outside your expertise
  • Finding fault with your work or assigning errors to you that are not your responsibility
  • Taking credit for your work
  • Sabotaging your work or setting you up to fail
  • Raising the bar for success or setting up different standards for the targeted employee
  • Interfering with your ability to work

Is Workplace Intimidation Illegal?

Not all forms of workplace intimidation are illegal. Whether bullying behavior violates state or local laws depends on what is done, and in some cases, the motives behind the bully's actions. However, there are some circumstances when intimidation crosses the line into illegal, even criminal behavior.

Criminal Assault

Physical assault is a crime. Depending on the specific language of your state's criminal code, a workplace bully can be prosecuted for hitting, kicking, tripping, poking, or otherwise injuring you. Some states also allow for criminal assault charges based on offensive touching (physical contact which a reasonable person would object to), or verbal assault which causes substantial emotional injury. Threats of assaults can also sometimes result in criminal prosecution. If you have experienced physical assault or threats, most jurisdictions require you to speak directly to the police to file a complaint. A private attorney may also be able to assist you in filing civil assault charges.

Sexual Harassment

When physical or verbal conduct is based on a person's sex or gender, it can violate federal and state laws against sexual harassment. Minor, one-time occurrences may not be enough to create a cause of action. However, the more frequent or more severe the behavior, the more likely you will be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in federal court. An employment discrimination attorney can help you determine if you have a claim and what you need to do to preserve it.

Illegal Workplace Discrimination

When workplace bullying is based on a protected trait of the targeted employee, it can easily cross the line into illegal workplace discrimination. This applies to conduct based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex or gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age

If an employer makes employment decisions (including job assignments) or allows its employees to create a hostile work environment based on one of these criteria, you may be able to file a complaint at the EEOC or in federal court. The rules about how workplace discrimination is reported depends on your employer's policies, whether you are part of a union, and what protected trait is involved. Speak to an employment discrimination attorney to discuss your options and file the proper claims.

What to Do If Workplace Bullying Isn't Illegal

If your situation does not violate any of the criminal or EEOC laws, you may still be able to put a stop to workplace intimidation. The Department of Labor encourages employers to establish clear anti-bullying policies that protect employees' physical and mental health. The bigger your company, the more likely it is that there are steps you can take internally to report the abuse.

If your employer doesn't live up to its promises or comply with its anti-harassment policies, you may be able to sue in state or federal court based on a breach of contract claim. This argument says that your employer promised to protect you from workplace intimidation and failed to do so. This kind of claim depends on the specific language of your employee handbook or company policy. Meet with a workplace harassment attorney to see if that language applies to you and your situation.

If your company does not have a formal anti-bullying policy, an employment lawyer may still be able to help. Informal negotiations on your behalf can sometimes remove the bully, reassign the targeted employee, or even help everyone in the office by creating new workplace rules of conduct.

You don't have to put up with workplace intimidation. Whether the conduct against you is criminal, against federal or state discrimination laws, or simply wrong, an employment attorney may be able to help. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our workplace harassment attorneys can meet with you to discuss your circumstances, and your options. Contact us today to schedule a meeting and fight back against the bully.

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