Workplace Bullying:
An Epidemic

The most common response when asking administrators to stop the epidemic of workplace bullying in California state government workplaces is:

  • Bullying state employees is not covered by policy.
  • There is "nothing I can do". It is legal.

California State Legislators: This is an easy win. There is tremendous constituency for anti-workplace bullying legislation within state offices.

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Scope Of The Legislation We Are Seeking To Pass

Workplace bullying in the California state government workplace.

The scope does not include private industry, only California state government employees.

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Prevalence of bullying in the workplace

Groundbreaking research in the US by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed some disturbing facts about the prevalence of workplace bullying and its effects. One of the major findings of the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey - the largest scientific survey of bullying in the US - was that "Bullying is 4 (four) times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment," which includes such things as discrimination due to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, or age.

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Workplace Bullying: An Epidemic

A recent study estimates that 1 in 5 US workers has experienced destructive bullying in the past year. Bullying, general harassment, is more prevalent than sexual harassment and racial discrimination. (National Institutes of Health).

In a survey done by the UNC Business School at Chapel Hill, Christine Pearson found that 52 percent of all targets spent company time worrying about their tormentor rather than working; 28% actually missed work in order to avoid the person. More that one in five targets decreased the quality of their work. Almost twelve percent gave up and changed jobs.

Troubling Statistics

  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment.
  • 25% of those bullied suffered significant physical, emotional and other consequences.
  • In 62.5% of cases, when employers were made aware of bullying, the employer either escalated the problem for the targeted employee or did nothing.

Costs Of Bullying To California State Government

  • Loss of productivity
  • Unable to retain good staff
  • Increased medical costs
  • Possibility of investigations
  • Replacement recruiting
  • Loss of reputation
  • Grievances, and lawsuits
  • Hiring and training

Smart Policy That Saves Government Dollars

It is smart policy that saves government tax dollars through prevention of worker psychological violence, low performance, missed work, and lawsuits against state government.

One serial bully in the workplace had the potential to reduce the performance of their victims by half, and that of other employees by up to 33% (Australian Institute of Criminology Report 2001)

A recent impact and cost assessment calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6 - $36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered. (Australian Human rights commission:

According to a comment on the Workplace Prof Blog, "Recent research suggests 18.9 million working days are lost each year as a direct result of bullying at work, costing to the UK economy of 6 billion pounds", further "90% of those absent from work due to bullying tell employers their absence was the result of some other kind of illness."

Legislation: Why it is needed

Workplace bullying is not based on the targeted person's race, gender or other protected status.

Consequently, statutory law making discrimination or harassment based on a person's race, gender or other protected status does not protect the person from workplace bullying. Common law tort theories also do not provide such protection.

Worse Than Sexual Harassment

Bullied employees report more job stress, less job commitment, and higher levels of anger and anxiety than sexually harassed employees. Bullies can wreak more havoc on a company than can sexual harassment.

Why is this legislation urgent?

Bullies perceive talented people as threats and seek to destroy them. It is the intensity of this destruction affecting tens of thousands of employees throughout California state government that makes this legislation critical.

Legislation we seek to pass

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing shall be responsible for administering workplace bullying policy in the California state workplace

1. Create a safe environment for California state employees

  • Zero tolerance policy
  • Victims have the right to file a workplace bullying complaint - victims choose to submit a complaint either to the local EEO office or to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
  • Provide victims rapid shelter - from psychological violence of bullying supervisors by transferring them out of bully's authority to another manager within seven business days, regardless of whether a comprehensive investigation is completed, if that is the employee's wishes. Reasoning: victims undergo psychological harm waiting for assistance while managers drag their feet. If the bully is a coworker or subordinate, then the organization can transfer the bully to another area within seven days if victims so desire to minimize contact with the victim.
  • Survey co-workers after complaint - within 30 days of the filing of a complaint, the local EEO office shall, in a safe environment, interview workers who frequently contact alleged bully to determine if they have observed bullying. Interview questions shall be designed to overcome fear, pressure, and intimidation from bullies because bully behavior typically involves intimidating staff to prevent reporting. For example, questioning may begin with "was any disrespect of others observed?"
  • Three strikes - if three complaints are adjudicated in three different victims' favor, then these proven cases require that the bully must have their employment terminated. Three strikes are counted regardless of time frame or location in California state government. Government organizations have the option to terminate bullies before three proven bullying complaints accrue.
  • Discipline of bully's supervisor - shall be administered if behavior is not corrected. If three complaints are successfully adjudicated against the same bully, and the same person was bully's supervisor during all three complaints, and that person was the supervisor when the bullying took place, then that supervisor must be demoted one level. The organization has the option to act before three successfully adjudicated complaints. Reasoning: Supervisors of bullies are often enablers. The supervisor shall not be liable if the complaints were successful during their supervision but the bullying acts did not occur during their supervision of the bully.
  • Entrenched institutional bullying - after ten different employees file formal bullying complaints about the same bully in one department, regardless of complaint adjudication and time frame, the department the bully works at must be investigated by DFEH for institutional bullying. The complaint count reinitializes, starting at zero again when DFEH's investigation begins so that new investigations can be directed at the organization if bullying continues after the first investigation concludes.
  • Require bullies to enroll in counseling - after first complaint is successfully adjudicated against them.
  • The Department of Fair Employment and Housing shall survey all victims - for the first 10 years after passage of the bill to determine if policy is effective, fair, and protects victims quickly enough, then make recommendations to the legislature. Abstract of survey results shall be published each month on the centralized website, and the Department's recommendations shall also be published on the website after the 10 year study is completed.
  • Retroactive notification - employees who have experienced bullying before this law was passed, may file notification with their local EEO regarding a past state-employed bully that has acted against them or others, but no longer comes into contact with them. The purpose is to avoid erasing institutional history that may be significant in future actions.
  • Trust building - making employees feel safe and building trust in managers' capacity to handle bullying shall be a priority of local administrators . If there is more than one victim, this requires meeting with victims collectively if they so wish, in order to gain appreciation of the emotional impact on the victims as a whole, build trust, and to encourage victims to communicate and support each other. Not allowing victims to communicate with higher-level administrators, each other, or other potentially bullied coworkers is strictly prohibited. Reasoning: managers have often lost credibility, are commonly and correctly perceived as reluctant to listen to bullying complaints, or seeking to isolate victims. Administrators have a very small time window within which to demonstrate concern about bullying before employees perceive credibility issues.

2. Education: Create awareness of office bullying

  • The Department of Fair Employment and Housing shall maintain the centralized statewide workplace bullying website - that includes (a) workplace bullying hotline phone number and email address (b) detailed description of workplace bullying so that employees can learn to recognize it (c) common misconceptions about workplace bullying and frequent errors made by managers in dealing with bullying so that supervisors learn to avoid common supervisory mistakes (d) workplace bullying complaint report form
  • Establish a bully hotline and email address - for every state agency, managed by its EEO office, and a statewide centralized hotline and email address maintained by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing that allows state employees to confidentially report workplace bullying. Must be easily and clearly accessible from each state organization's internal intranet and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's public facing website.
  • Each year the Department of Fair Employment and Housing shall email anti-bullying information to all state employees - email shall include the following (a) URL for the State's workplace bullying website (b) workplace bullying hotline phone number and email address (c) detailed description of workplace bullying so that employees learn to recognize it (d) common misconceptions about workplace bullying and frequent errors made by managers in dealing with bullying so that supervisors learn to avoid common supervisory mistakes (e) workplace bullying complaint report form
  • Encourage reporting - reporting of bullying to the local organization's executive office and the local EEO office is mandatory for any manager who learns of workplace bullying regardless of who the role players are. The chief executive officer of each organization and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing must receive formal notification of each workplace bullying complaint. Individual victims may directly file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Reasoning: Local EEO officer may be a personal friend of the bully. (Note: If the executive officer is the bully, then they shall be reported to the local EEO office and the Department of Fair Employment.)
  • Performance metrics - number of incidents, dates, victims, perpetrators, department name, and final adjudication shall be recorded and permanently and confidentially kept by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for measuring scope of California state problem and to measure performance and improvement. Number of incidents, dates, number of victims and perpetrators, department name, and summary abstracted adjudication shall be posted to California's centralized public-facing workplace bullying website. This is necessary to make employees feel that complaints are being resolved and confident that they can speak up and expect support from administrators. Names and identifying information of any party will not be displayed on the public site. The goals include enabling successions of administrators to keep track of the same bully who has acted over many years, and enabling organizations to track bullies who transfer from other California state organizations.
  • Confidential annual survey of employees - administered by local EEO office to determine if employees have observed workplace bullying. Local EEO office shall follow up on bullying observations, and forward survey statistics to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
  • Victims shall be given an opportunity to optionally post, without identifying who they are, comments - on the public workplace bullying website regarding these topics: (a) What is your general assessment of the workplace bullying legislation? (b) What worked in the legislation? (c) What did not work? (d) What could be done to improve the legislation? (e) What steps could your administrators take to build trust and make employees feels safe? (f) What were your priorities during this process? (g) What, if any, obstacles hindered you in filing a complaint sooner or receiving protection?

Definition of Bullying

It is mistreatment severe enough to compromise a targeted worker's health, jeopardize her or his job and career, and strain relationships with friends and family. It is a laser-focused, systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction. It has nothing to do with work itself. It is driven by the bully's personal agenda and actually prevents work from getting done. Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Constant nit-picking, faultfinding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication
  • Simultaneous with the criticism, a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognize your existence and value
  • Constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential
  • Where you are in a group (e.g. at work), being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken against you
  • Being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, sent to Coventry
  • Being belittled, demeaned and patronized, especially in front of others
  • Being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others
  • Being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all
  • Finding that your work - and the credit for it - is stolen and plagiarized
  • Having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away
  • Having annual leave, sickness leave, and - especially - compassionate leave refused
  • Being denied training necessary for you to fulfill your duties
  • Having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them
  • Ditto deadlines which are changed at short notice - or no notice - and without you being informed until it's too late
  • Finding that everything you say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented
  • Being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation
  • Being coerced into leaving through no fault of your own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc.

Dr. Mark Hayes in an article in Webdiary (Feb 2007), "the literature suggests that workplace bullies tend to be threatened by their targets in various ways and to deal with the threat, bullies seek to control, contain, or even remove the threat, all the while getting off on the torment they are causing. The threat can actually be the target's productivity, skills, talent, popularity with peers and even superiors, which, completely inadvertently, shows up the bully's inadequacies. Like whistleblowers, the bully's target may well have a strong conscience that all but drives them to speak and act truthfully because they cannot act in any other way. The target must be put in their place." "A Target is an individual who by accident has the desirable qualities of competence, networking and emotional intelligence. This individual is selected as an object towards which the Workplace Bully can direct an unrelenting stream of harm - mainly subtle and some obvious - in order to reduce the Target's performance and self esteem while increasing the Workplace Bully's own view of her/his own self importance. For the Workplace Bully, the Target is perceived as a threat."

A common characteristic of many bullies is that when called to account, they immediately and aggressively deny everything, then counterattack with distorted or fabricated criticisms and allegations; if this is insufficient, quickly feign victimhood, often by bursting into tears (the purpose is to avoid answering the question and thus evade accountability by manipulating others through the use of guilt)

Eighty per cent of targets are women. Fifty-eight per cent of bullies are women. -

What is corporate/institutional bullying?

Corporate/institutional bullying occurs when bullying is entrenched in an organization and becomes accepted as part of the workplace culture.

Bully Facts:
Misconception dispellers

  • Bullying is not a clash of personalities -
  • Mediation doesn't work. Bullies view mediation as a game to win and continue bullying after mediation. (a) (b)
  • 62.5% of all supervisors of bullies actively support and enable the bullies. Bullies expend considerable effort ingratiating themselves with higher-level administrators to bypass colleagues for promotions. When confronted with bullying evidence, supervisors often defend the bully and attack the victim's credibility rather than admit they were wrong.
  • Bullies are shrewd politicians. They charm their supervisors to get promoted, and employ many tricks to evade investigations, manipulating administrators so that victims are blamed
  • The bully's target is usually a capable, dedicated person. The stereotype of the 'nerdy' bully target' is far removed. While the 'targets' of workplace bullies do share a number of common characteristics, these traits generally paint 'targets' as being: ethical, just, fair, well-liked, highly personable, strong, independent, intelligent and self-assured people.
  • Bullying isn't the same as tough management, but rather dumping misery on someone else. Recent research has found that targets often suffered anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress - while costing employers millions in stress-related illnesses, absences and lost productivity. "Verbal abuse, or conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating - it is the undermining of somebody's work, it is sabotage," according to the Workplace Bullying Institute's, Dr. Gary Namie.
  • The 'fear' about speaking up may be well founded, with a survey conducted by Zogby on behalf of the Workplace Bullying Institute revealing that despite losing an estimated 21-28 million workers because of bullying, "In 62 percent of the cases, when made aware of bullying, employers worsen the problem or simply do nothing".

What is not workplace bullying?

There are a number of situations that, although they may feel unpleasant, are not examples of bullying.

  • A single incident does not normally qualify as bullying, although it may be considered inappropriate
  • Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way
  • Unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment
  • Conflict at work. Occasional differences of opinion between people at work are inevitable and a part of normal working relationships and working life. Non-aggressive conflicts and problems in working relations can leave you feeling upset but they should not be confused with bullying in the workplace.
  • A manager or supervisor providing legitimate and appropriate feedback on an individual's work performance is not workplace bullying. This may include communicating a negative performance evaluation.
  • Reasonable administrative decisions such as changing work allocations or workstations do not normally constitute bullying or harassment.


Our goal is to provide compassionate policy for victims, but to also have compassion for bullies who do not have insight into their behavior.

Alex Glaros is a California state employee. This effort was initiated outside of union scope, extending protection to government managers who are not normally covered by union contracts but who are also victimized by other managers. Both California state employees and managers deserve to have a safe working environment free from psychological violence.

After having numerous coworkers confide in me about being victimized by the same bully, stating that repeated requests to the bully's supervisor were met with hostility, I researched the issue and found that in other workplaces also, administrative remedies almost never occur, or take many years to resolve only after overwhelming numbers of witnesses and victims finally come together to force the issue. During that time span of five to ten years or more, many lives and careers are ruined.

It is the statewide culture of ignoring multiple and independent complaints against the same serial bully that is the motivation for this effort. A complaint against bullying is often the single greatest act of courage an employee makes in their life, and the fact that 62% are ignored or receive hostile responses makes the need for legislation undeniable

If a bully's supervisor is inexperienced, perhaps one can see why one complaint might not work, but why after a pattern of several independent complaints, doesn't the organization get it? There seems to be lack of tracking, empathy, and a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the problem, the fear employees experience, and crushing attacks that they endure. Another problem is the lack of insight administrators have regarding intimidated coworkers who are reluctant to support the victim due to career considerations. Finally, administrators fail to recognize that the bully's fabricated counterclaims and skillful maneuvers are standard tricks employed by all bullies to obfuscate and throw investigations off track.

I am deeply concerned when female coworkers tell me that when they leave work, they go home and cry every night as a result of relentless psychological violence directed at them by their supervisor.

Clearly, there is a need for simple policy to protect these state employees.

Please join this effort in passing legislation and saving thousands of current and future employees from daily workplace bullying.

Alex Glaros

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This is the only legislative protection that victims of psychological violence have in California state government.

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Legislative Campaign to Stop Bullying in the California State Government Workplace
500 Main Street
Winters, CA 95694