Workplace bullying and intimidation is widespread, but since it doesn’t always have a clear legal definition, it often goes undetected and undressed. Whether you have a case for the courts or not, you don't have to tolerate a hostile environment just because others take it. If you’re being intimidated at work by a co-worker, superior or customer, take steps to address the problem so you can work in peace.
Identify the Problem
Get a clear idea of what you’re dealing with. Some people have domineering attitudes, and many bosses make reasonable requests that might sound threatening. Review the situation carefully. If your boss is hinting, for example, that your productivity is too low and that the company doesn't need to keep you on the job, take a look at the facts. Unpleasant as it is, your boss might be right and may be well within her legal rights. It’s not intimidation if you really are doing a poor job and she’s just pointing out that fact. On the other hand, if you feel her behavior is not warranted because you do a great job, you might be dealing with someone who’s just a plain old bully. Keep a record of what your accuser is claiming and when she does it. Keep close track of your work performance and reviews, too.
Respond to Intimidation
If you perceive that you’re being intimidated, don't hesitate to take action. Whether or not your perception is correct, your comfort at work is at stake. Start by taking threats seriously no matter how ridiculous they seem. If a co-worker says she will kill you tomorrow, take the threat and intimidation at face value. Seeking advice from friends and trusted associates is one possible move at this stage. If you know your intimidator well, you just might ask her to explain her behavior, as she might not realize how she’s coming across. If you can’t talk about it with the intimidator, go straight to your boss or the head of security and report the threat.
File a Complaint
Many people have serious problems at this stage because they fear they’ll be punished for their actions. It’s common for victims of intimidation to believe they might be overreacting. Compounding the problem is the fact that superiors and supervisors are often the people who are guilty of the intimidation. Many victims question if they could possibly be in the right and their bosses in the wrong. Fortunately, there are legal protections that outlaw retaliation against people who file workplace complaints. The thing to do is file a simple written complaint that lists the major incidents and relevant facts, and to make sure it is sent to the right party. This can be the HR department, the corporate office or a police department.
It’s very difficult for victims of intimidation to persist without support. Since complaints are out of the ordinary, it creates a situation where you're almost squaring off against the company as a whole. To keep you aware of your rights, your options and the law, as well as to offer moral support, it’s best to seek outside help at this stage. Legal counsel, if you can afford it, is one option. There are law firms and organizations that can offer support and advice without charge. An organization or an individual that specializes in these types of scenarios will understand the hurdles you face and will be able to give you a clear idea of your options moving forward.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."