In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Stand Up to Workplace Bullying

When I was in elementary school, I saw a fist-fight between a bully and my friend.

Hundreds of children surrounded them, or at least it seemed like that. Everything seems bigger in the rear-view mirror of life.

I'll never forget how the bully tried to show off, whirling around like a dancer before he threw a punch. It bloodied my friend, a fresh white canvas splashed with angry flares of red paint.

I have always felt bad about not doing anything to stop it. Here's what I have learned since then, and some things to do to stop bullying -- particularly at the workplace:

Stand Up to the Bully

Robert Sutton, writing for the Wall Street Journal, said that bad employees are like a few bad apples. They can ruin the whole bunch.

Getting rid of them starts with the hiring process and ends with the firing process. Paul Purcell, a chief executive officer at a major financial services company, said he sets the tone in the initial interview.

"During the interview, I look them in the eye and tell them, 'If I discover that you are a jerk, I am going to fire you,'" he says. "Most candidates aren't fazed by this, but every now and then, one turns pale, and we never see them again -- they find some reason to back out of the search."

Change the Culture

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, writing for Attorney At Work, reported a survey of 53.5 million Americans who said they had been bullied at work. That included:

  • Shouting, swearing and other verbal abuse
  • Unjustified criticism of a singled-out person
  • Practical jokes, especially to the same person

Tom Grella, writing for the ABA Law Practice Management Section, said law firms have to take bullying seriously. He recommended a protocol for action, including:

  • Informing the firm's leaders
  • Investigating and intervening
  • Implementing specific action

For my part, I have never dealt with bullying in a law firm or corporate office. But I got advice from law enforcement about bullying one time.

Long after I finished elementary school, I saw a man standing over a woman on the sidewalk poised to hit her. I walked up and told him to leave her alone, which he did.

I also called the police. The officer said I could punch the guy, if I wanted to. Not advocating violence here, just passing on information.

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