When most of us think of worker’s compensation, we think of injuries from accidents at work: Falling off a ladder, slipping on ice, getting hurt when equipment malfunctions. However, injuries don’t have to be physical to be painful and debilitating. Psychological injuries, such as those sustained as a result of workplace bullying, can lead to lost productivity, time away from work, and reduced overall quality of life as much as a physical injury. For that reason, workplace bullying is becoming a leading cause for worker’s compensation claims — claims that injured employees are successfully filing.
Workplace Bullying: What It Is and How It Affects Workers
Workplace bullying is, in many ways, no different from any other type of bullying. The most basic definition of workplace bullying is ongoing, repeated mistreatment of one employee by another that harms the victim’s health and well-being. More specifically, workplace bullying takes the form of verbal abuse, threatening behavior, sabotage, and gossip or rumor spreading, and it’s a serious problem. In the U.K. alone, almost half of the workforce has experienced bullying in some form, either as a victim or as a witness, and studies suggest that bullying leads to 18.9 million lost workdays per year, which contributes to a loss of £18.9 million annually or as much as 10 percent of overall profits for an individual company.
Of course, while workplace bullying affects the corporate bottom line, it has an even bigger effect on the victim, and to some extent, the witnesses. Victims of bullying report experiencing depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and feelings of shame or guilt because of being bullied.
Workplace bullying also increases stress, which is proven to contribute to or worsen certain physical ailments including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, asthma, gastrointestinal disease, and neurological impairments. Studies have also shown that those who experience chronic and severe stress also tend to have immunodeficiency, which increase the likelihood of infections.
In short, workplace bullying can cause or contribute to significant physical and psychological injuries — the same injuries that are covered by worker’s compensation insurance.
Bullying and Worker’s Compensation
Worker’s compensation claims are rarely simple. Paperwork, physician statements, and evaluations often hold up cases that appear cut-and-dry. The latest personal injury news reports are often filled with tales of employees who have what appear to be textbook cases of worker’s compensation claims who spend months or even years fighting insurers before being compensated.
In the case of workplace bullying, the road is often long. Worker’s compensation claims often hinge upon an injured worker’s ability to prove that their employer could have prevented the injury. In the case of a bullying claim, the victim must prove that not only were they injured by bullying, but also that the employer didn’t prevent it.
In today’s business climate, workplace bullying is a major issue and many employers spend a great deal of time and money educating employees about bullying and how to stop it. However, building awareness doesn’t always work; there will always be employees who set out to intimidate or harm others despite attending training sessions. Even if a business claims a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying, it can still happen, and their reaction often determines whether a victim can successfully file a worker’s compensation claim. If an employee makes a claim, but his or her employer can prove that it provided training, reprimanded the offender, and made steps to improve the environment, then a victim might not have a successful case.
That being said, no training program will make a difference if employers do not respond to claims of bullying. If you can prove that you have been bullied and suffered from it, and that your employer did nothing, you will have an easier time filing a worker’s compensation claim.
To that end, if you are experiencing workplace bullying, experts recommend taking the following steps:
- Document the abuse. Keeping track of incidents, including the date, time, the nature of the incident, and any witnesses. Keep any emails or voice mails that bolster your claims as well.
- See a doctor. Worker’s compensation claims often hinge upon proving that your injuries were caused at work and not preexisting or caused by other activities. If you are experiencing physical or psychological symptoms, see your doctor and be honest about what’s happening at work. It’s hard to dispute what is recorded in your medical record.
- Involve HR or management in the issue. While talking to someone close to the bully can backfire, human resources or a manager can take steps to stop to problem; at the very least, if they fail to act, there’s a greater likelihood of a successful case.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue, and one that can permanently affect your career and well-being. If you are being bullied, don’t let it make you sick. Take action — and if necessary, make a claim for compensation.