Grown Up Bullies: The Legal Remedies of Adult Bullying

Wicked ny (3) The Abusive Boss

Have you ever been physically ill at the mere thought of going to work? Have you ever had a job where cringed every time you were summoned by your boss not knowing whether you would find Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? Have you ever been so confused, angry and scared that you weren't sure what to do? Have you ever been on a never-ending roller coaster ride with an ever changing track? I have. And I know I'm not alone.

I compare my time in this position with an abusive relationship. Each day varied, and I never knew from hour to hour, day to day and week to week who I would encounter when I met with my boss? There were the good times when everything was great; I was doing a wonderful job; when I was a buddy; included in the inside jokes; the thoughtful birthday and holiday gifts, etc. Then there were the times that I was shunned, admonished, made to feel ignorant, stupid and abhorred. And during the in between times I ran around like a scared rabbit, just waiting for the ax to fall.

I bid my time, looking for another job; looking for a way out. I wrote my resignation letter and carried it with me for two months. An exit door finally appeared. I was free at last. Yet I wasn't. It took me almost a year to repair my confidence, to ease the self-doubt and to stop playing the conversations and scenarios over and over again in my head. After many years removed from that situation, I can still feel the panic when I think about it.

Adult Bullying

While still there, I learned that I was not the only employee to experience this with my boss. There had been a long line of us. I now recognize my former boss' erratic, irrational, mean-spirited pattern as good old-fashioned bullying. Yes, adults bully and get-bullied too. I know I'm not the only adult to have this experience with a superior at work, but it could also occur with a co-worker, a neighbor, or a "friend."

Adult bullying is not necessarily the scenario that one thinks of when the word "bullying" is mentioned, but it's certainly not a new concept. According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, sixty percent of people who bully as children grow up to bully. The terms more often used as adults and in the workplace are harassment or "hostile work environment." The classic example I think of when considering adult bullying is "Biff" from the movie Back to the Future. "Biff" bullies "McFly" as a teen and it continues into adulthood, at least before "Marty" goes back in history and changes the outcome.

The most common form of adult bullying occurs in the workplace. The Green Bay Press Gazette reports that adult bullying is devious, calculating and manipulative: a pat on the butt; a denied promotion or raise; vague negative comments that hint to causing stress and suspicion; a destructive campaign of whispers among the group; constant criticism; verbal harassment; and interruption.



The bullying or harassment can be physically, psychologically, socially and financially harmful. There is no question that bullying causes the person being bullied to suffer damages. These damages include substance abuse, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, insomnia and exhaustion, anxiety, headaches, depression, trouble concentrating and gastrointestinal disorders. These issues could result in loss of job for missing work, being unproductive at work, etc. Treatment for these damages can be costly and are principally borne by the person being bullied.


Civil Liability


It's rare that bullying constitutes a crime (although consider the exception of the Tyler Clementi case). It's more often a tort; a civil wrong for which a lawsuit can be brought. However, it's generally not that easy to successfully pursue such lawsuits. Bullying can be hard to document since many times it's done in private; bullying is often done by a superior and difficult to report for fear of losing one's job; and there aren't many viable legal avenues to pursue. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the preferred avenue for employees seeking relief for abusive treatment in the workplace has been the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. A person can sue the bully, individually, and if it's in the workplace, the employer can also be sued if it knows of the bad acts and takes no action to eliminate those acts or discipline the offending employee. Additionally, punitive damages can be sought for torts which are maliciously or oppressively perpetrated.


Small Steps

While the UK has been much more counteractive in dealing with adult bullies and bullying in the workplace, the U.S. has been slower to provide remedies for dealing with such persons. However, recently MA did pass legislation that will allow a person to file a Harassment Protection Order (HPO) against anyone, regardless of a relationship. This means that a person could potentially file an HPO against a bullying co-worker, neighbor, boss, etc.

Prior to this legislation, a person filing a restraining order had to have a relationship, such as spouse, roommate, family member or significant dating relationship, with the person whom filing against. This small step taken in MA does help those who are suffering at the hand of a bully. And in the wake of recent college student suicides committed in response to bullying and workplace retaliation attacks by a supposed bully victim, I suspect that more legislation will soon be introduced to protect those who are being bullied; to give those being bullied a way to stop it; and prevent it from happening to someone else.


The Scoop

Have you ever been bullied as an adult? How did it make you feel? Did you feel that you had a remedy to this problem or a person to go to about the bullying? Talk to me, Baby. On Wednesday, I will provide tips for handling adult bullying in ways other than filing a lawsuit. A lawsuit is not always the answer. Over and out…


You might also like:

We're Not Gonna Take It: Anti-Bullying Laws Leaving Kids Unprotected

Life's Little Moments: The Beginning of the End of a Marriage

"Choosing" Work over Baby: The Reality of Parental Leave in the United States


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