Bullying IS Harassment

We have all seen it. The manager who yells, screams, belittles, and is an overall bully to his/her employees and co-workers. In my career I have not seen many instances of overt sexual harassment – and it DOES exist, what I do see more often and in almost every organization is bullying, which can be a form of harassment.

In many cases, organizations don’t recognize bullying as harassment, but in many instances it is harassment and it does create a potential liability. Often the office bully is passive in his/her behavior. Below are 10 employee complaints and signs that may indicate you have a bully on your hands:

  1. You may hear complaints from employees who say they frequently feel as if they are being singled out and are being treated unfavorably. Complaints may include being left out of meetings, not recognized for their contributions, not given preferred assignments, not being allowed to take off time, or not being included in frequent lunches; which may make them feel like social pariahs. We have all seen it, the manager who hangs out with select employees socially and treats others differently – this is a concern.
  2. Complaints that another employee/manager is taking credit for a fellow employee’s accomplishments. I had a co-worker who was bypassed for a promotion because his manager took credit for a huge project that the co-worker had lead and the manager had no part in. This could be considered bullying.
  3. Complaints that an employee/manager frequently yells and screams at other employees. I have seen this up close and personal – it can be devastating and should never be tolerated. I actually learned that a manager was telling his employees to “yell back” to handle it – this is not a solution.
  4. You may have employees complaining that they are being treated differently than their co-workers. I once had an employee who was told by her manager that though her performance was excellent, she could not work from home because she didn’t have children, yet other employees with children were allowed to work from home. Another co-worker was told not to attend any meetings with a senior executive because the senior executive could not stand to see this employee. This is a huge liability waiting to happen.
  5. If you have complaints of employees/managers frequently swearing, sending political or offensive emails, etc., which creates a hostile or uncomfortable work environment – you have an issue on your hands. With the political season here this may well be prevalent at your workplace and you are unaware of it.
  6. You may have received employee complaints of being “thrown under the bus” or being blamed for issues in front of other employees. Haven’t we all seen this? I was once in a meeting where a manager made another employee cry. Even if there was a major issue with the employee’s work or conduct it should have been handled differently.
  7. You may also have employee complaints of being threatened to do “something” or else; or receiving threatening communications via email, in person, etc. I once had a co-worker receive an email from a senior executive that had “replied all” shaming the employee for something the senior executive completely misunderstood. At least in that circumstance there were many witnesses to the bullying behavior and plenty of documentation.
  8. If you are hearing concerns that a manager is constantly publically criticizing an employee’s behavior and/or work product, this might be an issue. Whether this is valid or perceived – there is a better way to provide feedback to the employee. I had a manager come to me about putting an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and/or to receive coaching. By the end of our conversation, there really was no issue with the employee’s performance, but the manager seemed to just have a personal conflict with this employee. It turned out the manager needed the coaching.
  9. You may see frequent turn-over as well as unplanned absences in a specific department or division. When an organization sees more than 25 percent turnover without any massive organizational change or other organizational changes for the turnover this could be an indicator that there is an issue or a “problem child” creating havoc in the group or entire organization.
  10. Pitting employees against one another or speaking negatively about a direct report to another employee is a potential issue. Yes, everyone has a bad day and needs to vent, but there is a time and a place – possibly talking to Human Resources (HR)? The complaining manager could still be deemed as creating a hostile work environment and the behavior needs to be addressed.

Other signs to be aware of:

  • Isolating employees and not communicating with them or delegating work to them.
  • Teasing employees about their dress, accent, or other personal characteristics.
  • Retaliating or punishing an employee for minor issues.
  • Hindering an employee from changing departments or getting a promotion.
  • Forcing an employee to hire or utilize a service that is a personal friend or relative of the manager. The higher the person is in the organization (with more authority) the more often these situations can occur – this may happen over and over again if not addressed.
  • Threatening the employee for not releasing confidential information. True story – executives trying to force confidential information out of HR because of their position within the organization.

You may have seen many of these examples in isolation, but if you are frequently seeing any of these behaviors or you are receiving a number of these complaints you need to address the problem immediately.

How do you address this behavior? If you have had several complaints about a single employee or manager who exhibits any of the above behaviors it is best to address it before there is a legal issue on your hands. Start by sitting down with the employee, observing the employee in meetings, and/or talking with his/her manager. You may want to think about starting a formal investigation if the issue seems to be getting worse or is severe.

Think about putting the employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (Plan) or assign he/she a coach to address his/her management style or work ethic. Be careful here to warn the issue-employee that no retaliatory behavior will be tolerated and that his is a serious issue.

Think about a cultural assessment or team building sessions to open lines of communication and improve the productivity and overall health of the team or department.  

Also, it is important to remind employees about your harassment policy. You may need to update your policy to include all forms of unlawful harassment. Think about hosting a training session around creating a respectful workplace.

If you need help with any of these aspects, PIPs, coaching, cultural assessments, customized training, investigations, and creating a respectful workplace, BlueFire HR can always help – this is our expertise!!!

Stephanie H. Nelson, MBA, CHHR, CPC, & Certified PREP Administrator

BlueFire HR Consulting




Great article on scheduling….

Great article on scheduling…. http://ow.ly/DXFD30jkQgp

Announcing BlueFire HR’s NEW Employee Outplacement Services

by Aisling Byrne, Senior HR Consultant

BlueFire HR is pleased to announce that we are now offering Outplacement services for our clients.

Many companies are faced with making employee cuts, downsizing or outsourcing an internal function. Outplacement can provide employees with specialized career support to assist in moving to new employment smoother and faster.

Employees affected by layoffs or downsizing can feel abandoned or lost in the process and are unsure of what to do next. Outplacement services can be a lifeline extended to employees to guide them through finding a new position. BlueFire HR is here to help you with transition planning and implementation and we offer these services for affected employees:

  • Resume and cover letter development and writing
  • Career assessments and coaching
  • Interview scheduling and preparation
  • Professional networking and community help
  • Career guidance sessions and coaching
  • Matching skills with area employers
  • Access to career-retraining and education
  • Employee benefit information and support.

For more information, please contact us at hr@bluefirehr.com, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Anti-Harassment Training

BlueFire HR is now offering Train-the-Trainer classes on Anti-Harassment Training.

This offering includes:

  • Manager Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • Staff Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • A train-the-trainer session on how to conduct these sessions
  • On Call HR Mentor to talk to for up to one year
  • Ability to brand your sessions the way you want
  • All materials are yours to keep and use year over year.

BlueFire HR can help! From investigations, trainings, and/or a confidential hotline. We want you to be doing everything you can to create a respectful workplace.

Sign-up for BlueFire HR’s Monthly Membership and get a confidential employee hotline included.

For more information, please contact us at hr@bluefirehr.com, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Anti-Harassment training is no longer an afterthought – it’s become an absolute must do!

By, Aisling Byrne, Senior HR Consultant at BlueFire HR

Claims of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in the workplace can be found in every industry including small and large corporations in law, education, non-profits and the financial sector. Never happened at your company? Don’t assume it’s not happening just because someone hasn’t complained (yet)!

Failing to prevent an issue—or overlooking or ignoring an existing problem—can have serious consequences. If the victim files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the company will be the subject of an investigation and a possible lawsuit by the EEOC on behalf of the victim.

How you handle a complaint—or even a whisper—of sexual harassment can have a significant impact by sending a message that unacceptable behavior is in fact acceptable.

Here are best practices and next steps to follow:

Develop, implement and practice a good anti-harassment policy. If you don’t have a policy, get one. If you have one, make sure your employees know about it. Include examples of unacceptable conduct and the consequences.

Train and educate your employees. Provide all of your employees with harassment training (not just managers) and ensure they are aware of what constitutes harassment and what options they have available to them.

Provide more than one option to file a complaint. Companies should have two or more unrelated ways that employees can complain about harassment, discrimination or retaliation. For example, if your policy states to go to your manager but that person is the harasser, your policy is ineffective. Make a confidential hotline available to your employees.

Investigate the conduct. Even if you do not have an official complaint, but merely whisperings in the office—or outside the office at an event or on social media—do not hesitate to properly investigate.

Take action if needed. Even if the person is one of your best performers or in the C-suite, sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the harasser.

Be preventive and proactive now not after a complaint is made. The costs of dealing with sexual harassment – such as litigation, destroyed reputation, loss of customers, clients or investors, inability to attract and retain talent, loss of competitive advantage and sustainability or a decline in morale – is far greater than making the investment in your culture.

BlueFire HR can help! From investigations, trainings, and/or a confidential hotline. We want you to be doing everything you can to create a respectful workplace.

Sign-up for BlueFire HR’s Monthly Membership and get a confidential employee hotline included.

BlueFire HR is now offering Train-the-Trainer classes on Anti-Harassment Training.

This offering includes:

  • Manager Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • Staff Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • A train-the-trainer session on how to conduct these sessions
  • On Call HR Mentor to talk to for up to one year
  • Ability to brand your sessions the way you want
  • All materials are yours to keep and use year over year.

For more information, please contact us at mailto:hr@bluefirehr.com, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

California Regulatory Updates for 2018 – Don’t get caught unaware!!

Governor Brown recently signed into law six new statutory obligations that take effect on January 1, 2018. Several new regulations require action in updating your job application, new hire materials, leave of absence policies and your Employee Handbook. Contact us – BlueFire HR is here to help you check this off your Holiday To-Do List today!

Ban on Salary Inquiries

Employers can no longer ask job applicants about their current or prior earnings. Employers must also provide the pay scale for a position upon an applicant’s request.

Parental Leave for Small Employers  The California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”)  provides 12 weeks of child bonding parental leave to employees at companies with 50 or more employees. However, California Senate Bill 63 (, the “New Parent Leave Act,” extends CFRA rights to employees at small businesses working at locations with at least 20 employees within a 75 mile radius within the first year following a child’s birth, adoption or placement into foster care.

“Ban The Box”-Conviction History of Applicants

Employers with at least five employees won’t be allowed to consider a job applicant’s criminal history until a conditional employment offer is made. If an employer denies employment based on an applicant’s criminal history, the employer must follow certain steps before making a final decision.

Harassment Training on Gender Identity, Expression & Sexual Orientation

This regulation requires gender identity and sexual orientation harassment training. Sexual harassment training is already required for employers with 50 or more employees. That must soon include training on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation harassment. Employers will also need to post a transgender rights notice in the workplace.

Immigration Worker Protection Act (AB 450)

Employers will be required to demand warrants and subpoenas from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents before any enforcement activities and will need to provide certain notices to employees and their union representatives.

Expansion of the Labor Commissioner’s Authority For Retaliation Claims

The new regulation will provide the California Labor Commissioner greater authority to investigate and assure compliance with anti-retaliation laws.

For assistance on all these matters and to ensure your training and employee handbooks meet standards contact BlueFire HR today at hr@bluefirehr.com


Aisling Byrne

Senior HR Consultant

BlueFire HR