Dec 15 2009

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Guard yourself against harassment

By Tali Arbel, Post-Bulletin

The recession is creating a “blank check” for office bullies, said one employee advocate.

The downturn’s layoffs might make a bad situation worse for victims, said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group.

Namie is the author of the “The Bully at Work.” It was originally published in 2000, with an updated version released this year.

The “absolute control of an employer is more apparent in a recession,” he said. That means workers are feeling the heat, as the bulk of workplace harassment cases involve superiors taunting their employees, he said.

“People are more stressed because there’s no escape,” he said. While previously employees could jump to another job when the verbal abuse, humiliation, career sabotage or intimidation he defines as bullying got to be too much, a new job is harder to find during a recession.

Namie’s institute is pushing states to adopt legislation defining abusive conduct in the workplace and setting guidelines for employee behavior and possible litigation. The federal government currently prohibits harassment based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability and age.

His advice for those who feel harassed:

Understand that abusive behavior — invading someone’s space with intent to intimidate or calling the person names — isn’t just rude. “It’s not inadvertent, it’s not accidental,” Namie said. Recognize someone else’s actions as a problem that’s hurting you.

Try to get sick leave time, he said. Often workplace bullying goes on for a long time, and can even cause stress disorders for targets.

Build an economic case against the bully. Has there been high turnover or absenteeism? Is there low morale? Has productivity sagged due to a tense, inefficient atmosphere?

“You have to make the argument that the bully’s too expensive to keep,” Namie said. Take this case to the highest-level person in your company that doesn’t have a personal connection to the source of harassment.

If you can, look for another job. Getting away from the bully might be the easiest way to resolve the problem.

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