Bullying in the workplace could lead to charges under employment discrimination laws that make it illegal to subject protected classes of employees to a hostile work environment. Legal protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and guidelines established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), may be used to stop workplace bullying and sanction an employer that has allowed a hostile work environment to exist.
If you or others have endured workplace bullying in Florida, the Cruz Law Firm, P.A., of Tallahassee, can review the situation and help you take legal action to end bullying and obtain justice. Standing up to a bully takes courage, but our attorneys will stand beside you. We’ve built a solid reputation across the Florida Panhandle for our commitment to pursuing cases of workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination claims.
Cruz Law attorneys have prevailed in many of the most difficult employment-related lawsuits filed in Florida, including several against government agencies. We’ll fight to help you put your life back on track — and seek compensation for the unjust and illegal treatment you have endured. Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced Florida workplace bullying lawyer.
Understanding Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior aimed at a co-worker or co-workers. Workplace bullying is often made possible by an actual or perceived imbalance of power between the abuser and victim. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or psychological. Bullying includes such actions as:
- Intimidation — Making threats or physically looming over or brushing up against a victim.
- Humiliation — Spreading rumors about a victim, making derogatory comments, or engaging in shaming, sexual teasing, or sexual innuendo.
- Manipulation — Using intimidation to compel a victim to do or say things they normally wouldn’t.
- Assault — Attacking someone physically (hitting, pushing, grabbing, tripping), verbally, or in writing (taunting, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments).
- Sabotage — Interfering with a victim’s work or work product.
- Isolation — Purposely excluding a co-worker from a group.
- Cyberbullying — Bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cell phones and computers and on social media platforms, messaging apps, conference apps, and online forums.
To be considered bullying in the workplace, targeted aggressive behavior must include the following:
- An Imbalance of Power: A bully in the workplace uses their power to hire and fire, access to personal or embarrassing information, or even their physical strength to harm or control victims of their abuse.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Legal Restrictions on Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying may be considered a form of harassment.
Under federal law, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on the victim’s:
- Sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy)
- National origin
- Older age (beginning at age 40)
- Genetic information (including family medical history).
As a form of harassment, bullying in the workplace laws make harassment unlawful when:
- Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of being hired or continuing employment.
- The conduct is pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive — a hostile work environment.
Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including:
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor from another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim may be the person harassed or anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful harassment may occur even if there is no economic injury to the victim or termination of the victim’s employment.
Role of Management in Addressing Bullying
The EEOC encourages employers to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment, including bullying. Employers should clearly communicate to employees that unwelcome, harassing conduct will not be tolerated. They can do this by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training to their managers and employees, and taking immediate action when an employee complains.
Employers should also strive to create an environment in which workers feel free to raise concerns and are confident that those concerns will be addressed, the EEOC says. Florida law requires employers to have procedures in place so that employees may report sexual harassment, and complaints will be investigated and resolved.
Employees who are subjected to bullying or who witness bullying should:
- Inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.
- Report harassment to management when it starts to prevent its escalation.
Filing a Bullying Complaint in Florida
Bullying in the workplace is illegal harassment when it is directed at a member of a protected class, and it either creates a hostile work environment or enduring the behavior is a condition of continued employment. Illegal harassment in the workplace is a form of employment discrimination.
Anyone who is a target of or witness to harassment in the workplace should feel confident that they can report employment discrimination in Florida without fear of retribution. Retaliation for reporting workplace harassment is illegal under Florida and federal law.
How To Deal with Workplace Bullying
If bullying is a problem where you work, you should report it to your company’s director of human resources or personnel department. Follow any instructions provided in company employee manuals.
When preparing a complaint, gather any evidence available to show what has been going on, such as email, texts, copies of photos, or printed material. Write out what has happened and include it with the complaint filed with your company’s HR department. Keep a copy of your complaint and all other evidence you have.
If your employer’s response to your sexual harassment complaint is not satisfactory, you may file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or possibly the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies investigate complaints about unlawful discrimination and may attempt to mediate a settlement.
Under EEOC rules, an employer will be held liable for harassment by a supervisor if it results in termination, failure to promote or hire, loss of wages, or other negative employment action.
If a supervisor’s bullying results in a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability only if it can prove that:
- It reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior; and
- The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.
The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
If the EEOC cannot settle the issue to your satisfaction, you may be able to proceed with a federal lawsuit to demand compensation and/or other relief, such as reinstatement to your job.
How Cruz Law Firm, P.A. Can Help
You may have questions about how to deal with workplace bullying. We suggest that you speak to a Tallahassee employment discrimination lawyer from Cruz Law Firm, P.A., as soon as your employer shows any sign of not responding to your bullying complaint appropriately. There are specific rules and deadlines you must follow when making a complaint to the FCHR or the EEOC, which we can ensure you comply with.
If you are allowed to pursue a federal lawsuit to settle the case, you will have only 90 days to file the suit after the state or federal agency tells you that you may do so. You will need an attorney to file a federal lawsuit and will fare better with one who is already familiar with your case. Our attorneys have more than 18 years of combined experience in employment law.
Contact Our Tallahassee Workplace Bullying Lawyers
No one should have to endure bullying at their place of work. Both state and federal laws expressly forbid employers from allowing a hostile work environment that adversely affects a protected employee’s work life. If you have been bullied at work to the point that it has damaged your job performance, a workplace bullying lawyer in Tallahassee with Cruz Law Firm can help you hold your employer accountable for what they have let you suffer.
Cruz Law can help you file an EEOC claim and follow up with a lawsuit on your behalf if federal authorities do not come to a settlement that suits you. With a lawsuit, you may recover compensation for lost wages, loss of reputation, and emotional distress and suffering. In some cases, a suit may also seek punitive damages to punish an employer that intentionally created or recklessly fostered a hostile work environment.
Contact Cruz Law Firm to learn about your legal options, what to expect during the EEOC claims process, and how we can provide the legal assistance you need during this difficult time. Our experienced employment discrimination lawyers stand up for hard-working people like you in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and across the Florida Panhandle. Call Cruz Law Firm at (850) 755-9856 today for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights.