Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Sep 10, 2010

How do you handle workplace bullying?

Q&A 

About two hours after receiving a scathing e-mail from his boss, a managing editor for a University of Virginia literary magazine shot himself to death not far from his workplace. Was his suicide the result of serious depression or workplace bullying?

While it may take a while to answer that question, the facts that have come to light since this employee’s suicide can be a lesson for all employers. The employee believed his boss was picking on him. The employee, along with his co-workers, repeatedly contacted human resources voicing concern about the supervisor’s actions and the employee’s mental health. It appears that those concerns were either not addressed or the university determined there was nothing they could do to resolve the situation.

Q: How should we handle this kind of situation?

A: Perhaps nothing could have been done to prevent suicide if the employee’s mental health was to blame. But the university’s response certainly could have been better. If an employee repeatedly voices concern about workplace bullying, you need to listen and investigate. Even if the employee isn’t being subjected to illegal harassment, you may still need to step in and defuse the situation. Sit down with each employee and discuss the issues. If bullying is taking place, discipline the person doing the bullying and take steps to protect the victim. Act as a mediator (or hire a professional) in achieving peace between the two sides. If that doesn’t work, consider separating the two employees through a transfer or job reassignment. You should also consider providing individual coaching, training, or counseling for the employees involved.

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