Workplace Bullying, Nurses, and Employment Law

noworkplaceviolence July 17, 2012 0

 By Carol Wells

Workplace bullying is a form of non-physical violence that takes place, both vertically and horizontally, in the workplace. In the 1980′s, academia and employment organizations began to take notice of this issue. According to Gary Namie, the Co-Founder of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, 1 in 6 workers experience some form of workplace violence. Statistics also show that 58 % of perpetrators are women and 42 % are men. Women are more likely to be targeted by other women, while men are more likely to target other men. In over half of the reported cases, the subjects are women to women bullying.

This type of violence is predominantly psychological in nature. Because of the close proximity of the perpetrator/victim and the length of time spent together, workplace bullying closely resembles domestic violence and as in domestic violence there is a blame the victim mentality. What the perpetrator is seeking is to control the situation and the victim. If the victim does not “cooperate” with the perpetrator, they are “punished”, and if they do cooperate they remain marginalized as long as they work together.

Namie divides types of bullies into four categories, a) the screaming mimi – controls by obvious and loud bullying; b) the constant critic – a nitpicker who obsesses over employees performance to hide his or her own inadequacies; c) the two-headed snake – uses defamation and scheming to divide and conquer employees; and d) the gatekeeper – which is micromanaging on steroids.

Why bulling occurs:

Namie also states that it is probable the perpetrator may have their own issues whether psychological, political, or professional. In 71% of the time, perpetrators are in positions that outrank their intended victims, but the desire to control the victim and render him or her powerless and unproductive remains the same. Studies have found a direct correlation between bullying behaviors and the political climate within an organization. This could be due to a lack of job satisfaction and poor opportunities for advancement. Restructuring during organizational change may cause hierarchical changes to occur, leading to competition.

Who is affected and how:

On the individual level, bullying may be experienced as over-criticizing, ridiculing, and exclusion from group activities. As a group experience alienation of a group of employees may occur as experienced by new employees that are “hazed” or during a merge when new employees are absorbed into the organization. The victim may develop stress related health issues, including severe anxiety, problems sleeping, problems concentrating, panic attacks, clinical depression, and in severe cases PTSD. Victims also have a 70% chance of becoming jobless, either through direct discharge or resignation. When this occurs, the person also experiences financial difficulty.

Employment Law recourse:

There are no laws in the United States that directly combat workplace violence. Instead workers must attempt to use legal theories that may have application and therefore provide some relief.

These theories are:

  • Civil Rights – which may apply in cases concerning individuals with protected status
  • Retaliation – which would apply if the victim was bullied after filing a complaint
  • Occupational Health and Safety – which was established to provide workers with “healthful working conditions and to preserve human resources”, since workplace bullying can cause the employee harm, it would be applicable
  • Whistle-blowing – again along the lines of retaliation for complaints and including workplace bullying and wrongful discharge
  • Workers Compensation – applies mostly to actual battery
  • Assault/Battery/and Defamation fall under Criminal law
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress is a Tort Law and is the primary legal theory in workplace bullying
  • Intentional Infliction of a Business Relationship – falls under a theory similar to constructive discharge whereby the victims relationship with his or her employer was interfered with to the point of resignation, either voluntary or not
  • Constructive Discharge where the victim felt that after attempting to resolve the problem with his or her superiors, there is no other resolution other than resignation

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers minimal legislative protection to employees as it was originally passed to protect against discrimination and segregation. Because of the trend of decline in unionization, focus has shifted from a collective bargaining system to individuation; and while more employees have the right of legal process for workplace complaints, far fewer have the protection of contractual rights and benefits. While unionization is still available, the decline of union representation also reduces pressure to enforce individual rights. Consider the untenable situation where a union representative must mediate a meeting between a victim and perpetrator. Given the lack legislation protecting workers from workplace bullying, it is up to the organizations and their Human Resource department to respond to this problem. Unionization does provide some protection, but non-union employees remain vulnerable to abusive behavior and workplace hostility.

In Europe employment laws emphasize workplace conditions and the dignity of the individual worker. Several countries have passed legislation specifically targeting worker bullying. U.S. anti-discrimination laws are written so that a person bringing a complaint must prove that they have been targeted because of their gender, ethnicity, race, or other protected status associated reason; with european anti bullying laws they just have prove they were bullied.

Bullying in Nursing:

The experience of Nurse Bullying is not a new or isolated one. It is a worldwide issue written about extensively in Nursing Journals and Employment Journals. Given the unit based employment structure, the most common forms of bullying among Nurses are ostracizing, professional blocking, and harassment on the job through employment practices or peer pressures.

Nursing, as a female dominated profession, was basically powerless for much of its history breeding professional frustration. It’s not uncommon for Nurses to become so competitive that they deliberately sabotage the performance of co-workers to ensure their own professional opportunities. Workplace bullies have been known to degrade, manipulate, demoralize, and attempt to show up the perceived competitor as incompetent or unpopular with insiders in order to ensure their own gains. This not only has a negative effect both psychologically and physically on the victim, but also on coworkers who are affected by hostility in the workplace and low morale; on the patients who may be indirectly affected; and on the organization which probably experiences a rapid turnover of personnel. It is especially worthy of attention in Nursing where compassion is one of the hallmarks of the profession. Since Nurses are licensed by a state licensing board it is also a matter of professional conduct.

In Nursing, ethical decision-making, duty owed to oneself and to others – including coworkers, are professional tools that come with experience. “Duty to oneself” in the Nursing profession includes moral accountability. An interpretive statement by the American Nurses Association (, requires that Nurses examine their own belief systems, attitudes, and personal values in order to “work through ethical dilemmas using a cogent and logical process ….that in the end will …reduce legal liability risk and foster the duties of the profession and to society (Watson and Hillman, 2010). Granted in origin that statement has to do with providing patient care, but isn’t the professional supposed to have moral accountability to other professionals?

Source : leftistmoderatespeak

By Carol Wells

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