Is it Workplace Bullying or Harassment?

Both workplace bullying and harassment create a hostile work environment but what is the difference between them? Employers often treat bullying and harassment as the same class of problematic behavior. However, the law relating to each of these areas is different.

While there is no formal definition of workplace bullying, it is generally identified as a persistent pattern of mistreatment directed at an employee or a group of employees. It can include verbal, non-verbal, psychological or physical abuse and humiliation. Bullying can be covert or overt and may present itself as overbearing supervision, constant criticism, and blocking of promotions. Workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization.

Harassment is as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety and/or their job.

While bullying and harassment are very similar and produce the same results, there is one major difference: workplace harassment is illegal, and there are state and federal laws that offer protection to workers who experience it. The failure of an employer to treat a complaint of harassment seriously may lead an employee to escalate their complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a court of law.

It is important to establish a culture of non-tolerance for both bullying and harassment in the workplace, providing a safe working environment for all employees.