Bullying is not just a problem in schools. It is also a threat to employees in many American workplaces. According to a recent study by the U.S. Workplace Bullying Institute, bullies on the job can cause serious health problems in their victims. In some cases, bullied employees are temporarily or even permanently disabled because of cruel treatment at work. By learning more about the dangers of workplace bullying, workers and employers can reduce the risk of serious consequences.
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What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is a complex set of behaviors that can have a devastating effect on its targets, as any workers’ comp attorney in Chicago knows. These forms of abusive conduct may include all of the following:
- Verbal or physical abuse
- Deliberate humiliation
- Withholding of necessary resources
Many bullies use a combination of these techniques to create fear and uncertainty in their victims. The cumulative effect of active abuse, passive mistreatment and withheld resources can cause workers to lose their health and their livelihood.
Long-term illnesses caused by bullying
When an employee is bullied for months or years, extreme stress may lead to serious health conditions. Many bullied workers develop psychological disabilities that can cause long-term loss of employment. Other workers may develop physical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and other circulatory or digestive disorders. A wide range of medical conditions are linked to the effects of abuse in the workplace. In some extreme cases, mistreatment on the job can be as harmful to health as domestic abuse.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
One of the most common conditions linked to severe workplace bullying is post-traumatic stress disorder. This syndrome is traditionally associated with veterans who experience combat stress on the battlefield. In recent decades, doctors have also recognized PTSD in civilians who live through experiences such as rape, assault, natural disasters, domestic violence and workplace abuse. PTSD may result from a single traumatic event. If the trauma is ongoing for a substantial period of time, PTSD can become especially complex and debilitating. According to the most recent statistics compiled by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a branch of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 5 million people in America are currently living with PTSD.
PTSD and workplace bullying
When workplace bullying escalates to the level of constant abuse, humiliation or sabotage, it can cause PTSD symptoms in workers. These symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, partial or total insomnia, exaggerated startle reactions, digestive or nervous system malfunctions, inability to discuss the traumatic events, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. In severe cases of PTSD, the patient may attempt suicide or lash out at others with violent acts.
PTSD can develop gradually in bullied workers
Some bullied workers may endure mistreatment on the job for months or even years before noticing symptoms of PTSD. Every workers’ comp attorney in Chicago is aware that PTSD can develop gradually when an employee is forced to endure abusive conditions. In today’s challenging economy, workers are often afraid to report abuse for fear of losing their job and their family’s means of support. This situation can lead to years of cumulative abuse in the workplace and disabling medical consequences.
Bullying and pre-existing medical conditions
If an employee is suffering from a pre-existing medical condition, bullying can make it worse. In some cases, a previously manageable ailment may become a fully disabling illness under the stress of long-term workplace mistreatment. In these cases, the disabled worker is eligible for benefits as long as the work-related disability lasts. If the disability is permanent, Illinois workers’ compensation law provides benefits for the duration of what would have been the employee’s career.
Public opinion on U.S. workplace bullying
Bullying on the job has begun to receive more publicity as employers and employees become conscious of its risks. For the majority of Americans, bullying is no longer acceptable behavior. According to key findings of a 2014 survey carried out by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 72 percent of people are now aware of the dangers of workplace bullying. 93 percent of survey respondents are in support of legislation to make American workplaces safer for victims and potential victims of bullying on the job.
Disturbing statistics from the WBI survey
Unfortunately, not all of the statistics from the recent WBI bullying survey are encouraging. While more than one in four American employees currently report direct experience with abuse on the job, a full 72 percent of employers have allegedly denied, rationalized, defended or even encouraged this kind of abuse. These statistics show that bullying education still has a long way to go in America. Until employers are willing and able to cooperate with anti-bullying efforts, many employees will remain at risk.
Anti-bullying initiatives are good for employers as well as workers
When employers make the effort to implement anti-bullying initiatives, they benefit along with their workers. A healthier workplace environment can lead to fewer missed days of work, less conflict among workers and a sharp drop in employee turnover. U.S. Department of Labor studies show that employees are happier and more productive when they can confront their employers about bullying and harassment without fear of retaliation.
Workplace bullying is a serious problem for millions of American employees and their families. People who have been bullied on the job should consider speaking with a workers’ comp attorney in Chicago about their options.