How to deal with and resolve workplace bullying and harassment

Harassment and bullying are some of the most common forms of workplace misconduct. If unchecked, harassment and bullying in the workplace can be a serious source of discomfort and personal distress affecting someone’s performance, self-esteem, and overall mental and physical health. Unfortunately, many people experience it. In the US and UK alone, over a quarter (26%) of office workers in each region have reported being a victim of harassment or bullying at some point in their careers.  

No one should have to be at the mercy of their harasser. But what exactly is the first step of handling any incident of workplace harassment? How do you resolve bullying in the workplace? This article will explain key definitions of bullying and harassment as well as guidance on how to address bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

What is workplace harassment and bullying, and what does it look like? 

The United Nations defines harassment as any improper and unwelcome conduct that might reasonably be expected or  perceived to annoy, alarm, abuse, demean, intimidate, belittle, humiliate, or embarrass another person. Harassment may take the form of words, gestures, or actions which create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. 

Bullying is a common type of workplace harassment. Unlike harassment, bullying is not classified as illegal—but it can be classed as harassment if the behavior is repeated over time to the point that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive environment. We share specific examples of harassment and bullying in the workplace in another article. 

How to deal with and resolve harassment and bullying in the workplace 

Since people in the workplace come from different cultural and social backgrounds—many of which have different socialization processes—it’s entirely possible that instances of harassment or bullying come from misunderstandings when coworkers interact. But even if someone did not intend to cause their colleague any harm, the word, gesture, or action they used is still considered workplace bullying or harassment if it has impacted the other person in a way that matches the above definitions. 

If you are experiencing harassment or bullying in the workplaceor you know of someone who is—consider taking the following measures to address the misconduct behavior and prevent it from escalating. 

  • Confront the harasser. If you feel safe doing so, it’s important to clearly and concisely communicate your feelings of discomfort to the harasser. As mentioned earlier, it may be that the personal was unaware of the effects their actions had on you and will stop immediately. 
  • Document the details of bullying or harassment. Take note and keep a record of the times and places where the harassment took place—in the workplace or beyond—as well as any persons who may have been witness to the offense. At this point, you may also take written statements from those present to serve as evidence should you need to file a case against the harasser. 
  • Inform your employer or HR representative. Should the bullying persist, or if the behavior is an obvious and excessive case of harassment as defined above, take up the matter with your employer or HR representative. They should be able to advise you on the guidelines to follow as outlined in your company’s workplace harassment policy. They should also let you know that they will investigate the matter and take the necessary course of action. 
  • File your complaint within 3 months. If you feel the measures taken by your employer to investigate the harassment or bullying are insufficient, you can consult an employment attorney to advise you on the next step to take. However, note that delay in taking this step can negatively impact your case. It’s recommended that you file a case within three months. 

The key takeaway 

It is very uncomfortable to be in a workplace where you face bullying or harassment and have no way of dealing with it. That’s why it’s important to make anti-harassment training a priority. It helps you and your fellow employees understand what workplace harassment and bullying is, how to identify is someone is experiencing this behavior, how to prevent it, and what the consequences are for the bully or harasser.

To learn more, request a demo of LRN’s newly designed anti-harassment and discrimination training courses.