When it comes to workplace bullying, it all depends . . .
It depends on the organization’s culture.
It depends on the organization’s past experience in dealing with bullying.
It depends on who’s doing what to whom.
It depends on each employee’s perception of who’s doing what to whom.
It depends on who’s witnessing what behavior and their interpretation of what they saw or heard.
It depends on the employer’s policy & procedures or lack thereof.
It depends on who the complainant told (if anyone) and whether that person will tell (or not tell) a consistent story.
It depends on where it happened: within the workplace or out (and where) and it depends on the state or the country
It depends on the alleged bully’s body language and personal style.
It depends on personnel records, prior problems, and performance evaluations.
It depends on the interpretation of severity and/or pervasiveness of what was alleged to have happened.
It depends on how many times it reportedly occurred.
It depends on how the organization responds (or fails to respond) to situations like this.
It depends on current and past relationships between/among the people involved.
It depends on different person’s tolerance levels, culture, values, and past experiences.
It depends on the accuser’s and the accused’s reputation.
It depends on the status of each of the persons involved.
It depends on whether the complainant came forward and if not, why not.
It depends on whether the organization should have known* and did not act.
It depends on whether anything was documented, how it was documented, and by whom.
It depends on how long each person has been with the organization.
It depends on whether any of the persons involved is closely allied with someone important or is important themselves.
It depends on the quality of the investigation and the investigators (if there are any.)
It depends on whether a settlement can be reached or the case is headed for court.
It depends on the lawyers, the judge, jury, the state, and the nation in which the case is tried.
It depends on all of this and much, much more.
Which means that easy answers are elusive and that enormous care must be taken to avoid making what could be costly organizational/individual mistakes like under or over-reacting—or not reacting all.
This is not to imply that there are no objective standards with regard to workplace bullying; there are. But as you know, situations are always open to interpretation.
That’s why, what may appears to be a completely objective and straightforward situation, is often quite different on closer observation. Or with a “dream team” of lawyers? Remember the OJ case?
Here are some examples. If you feel like considering how to respond to any of the following, begin with, “It depends” and you may find that what seems to be clear may not be clear at all:
Pierre, a Parisian, has a questionable screen saver; other employees say it’s cool with them.
John asked Nancy out for dinner twice and she never actually says “No.” She doesn’t want to go with him but she’s running out of excuses.
Sarah sends what she considers “funky” e-mails to her colleagues. So far no one has complained.
Tim, a high school teacher, stands too close to some of his female students when he checks their papers, but does not do this to others.
Harry is a great, affectionate “teddy bear” manager who hugs a lot and some of the “hugees” think he is charming.
Lucy is very funny, especially when she’s gossiping about her boss and other managers. She claims to know a lot about their sex lives.
Sam is having a fling with his administrative assistant; often it’s hard to find either one of
them.Some of the other assistants are getting pretty testy about the situation.
Charlie, a popular consultant, ranks every new female hire on a scale from 1 to 10; some individuals find him annoying; others think he’s generally accurate in his scores.
Laurie, a sales executive, does a dead-on imitation of Howard Stern and everyone seems to think it’s hilarious to watch a woman do a Howard Stern act.