Workplace Rights

Weekly (11/30/09)

Topic of the Week  Cold Souls... Getting away from a bully at work

Escaping a Bully:

• DO get out with a reference.
• DO bring lawyer’s letter.
• DO preemptive strike.
• DON’T rule out legal action.

Your Rant: How do you escape a bully at work?

911 Repair,

Many people think that bullying is a schoolyard thing, but my email says it also happens at work. A lot. Which reminds me of an employee who wrote to me about her boss being a cheapskate about the cost of doing a promotional mailing. Turns out the company had a direct mail piece to send out to customers. Instead of hiring temps, the boss hijacked the whole staff to work on the mailing for an entire day. The weird part is that later the boss described the mailing as being free, even though the lost time and work opportunity of the entire staff cost far more that temps would have.

That boss didn’t realize how expensive free workers can be, just as most companies also overlook the cost of bullies at work. Bullies drive out good people, sabotage morale and waste everyone’s time. I’ve included three Do’s and one Don’t for getting out from under a bully for good. For more, check out “The Bully At Work” by Gary & Ruth Namie (Sourcebooks, 2000). There are other columns at for working alongside a bully, if you aren’t in a position to leave your job.

DO get out with a reference. If your company won’t act, you may have to make the decision to move on. You’ll want to start with a positive letter of recommendation. I can hear what you’re thinking, but I already have a great reputation. Remember, bullies don’t end their campaign just because someone leaves. Some continue to harass even after you’ve left the building.

DO bring lawyer’s letter. Companies are often less inclined to hassle you if you bring a letter from a lawyer. If your company does an exit interview, you want to be sure to either get a friend to write a letter or hire a lawyer for an hour to write a letter for you. Companies can push around employees, sending the message that you have a lawyer on your side should ensure they’ll treat you with a bit more respect.

DO preemptive strike. It’s rare that a prospective employer won’t try to make contact with your former employer. Rare. So it’s probably wise to acknowledge that there is a chance this experience could come back. So you probably want to consider telling your potential new employer that there was a conflict at your former company. Skip the gory details, but this kind of news is often best to come from you rather than them.

DON’T rule out legal action. You need to talk to a lawyer, your union or the Department of Labor to explore all legal channels. Even if you don’t plan on pursuing a case against the bully or your company, you need to know your options, if only to have the threat of a lawsuit with your employer.

Follow these tips and hopefully your bully won’t hijack any more of your time or energy and you’ll move on to saner pastures.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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