Asking on behalf of a friend. We will call her Jane.

Jane finds herself as a target for the workplace bully. This bully has caused 2 other members of the team to quit prior to Jane's arrival.

1 prior member actually sought counseling and was prescribed medication as a result of this bully's actions. The prescribing doctor wrote a note to HR explicitly stating that the bully is the reason for this increase in medication.

So Jane turned to me about how to handle the situation. I suggested that she keep evidence of the abuse and present it to her boss. I feel that it is the boss's job to handle such workplace disputes.

However, Jane explains that her boss is ineffective when it comes to dealing with the bully, hence the 2 quitting members. Jane's boss, as well as HR, is aware of this bully's behavior, yet allows it to persist.

Jane is gathering evidence and has tried to talk to her boss about this issue. She is feeling ignored and asked me if it would be ok to elevate this issue up the chain bypassing her boss. This idea raises a red flag and I told her to talk to HR if the boss is ineffective.

If Jane's boss and HR fails her, is it advisable to break chain of command? What other options exists besides resignation?

  • 1
    Depending on jurisdiction, the apparently hostile working environment you describe might be of interest to higher company officers. Where is this question set? – AakashM Sep 29 '16 at 7:47
  • What sort of bullying? I've dealt with all sorts of bullies, there is different strategies depending on what they do. – Kilisi Sep 29 '16 at 10:40
  • It is a hospital setting. Jane's group is small and specialized, about 5 members. The bullying ranges from sending Jane to rooms without any reason to be there to shouting expletives during huddle meetings when Jane's subjects don't align with bully's preference. Bully and Jane are same employee level. Bully is able to send Jane to rooms because urgency is preferred for certain consultations. – D-Raz Sep 29 '16 at 16:23
  • Generally it's a bad idea to bypass your boss unless you are willing to bet your job on the outcome and have already spoken to your boss and given them every reasonable opportunity to address the problem themselves. (Because the first response you are going to get is "what did your immediate supervisor say when you brought this up?") – keshlam Sep 29 '16 at 16:56
  • If HR is ineffective why would you expect higher management to be effective? – Loren Pechtel Sep 30 '16 at 1:15

This is a tough situation - and, unfortunately, doesn't sound like it is going to get easier.

I would say absolutely that your friend has to bypass her boss - especially since HR seem to be ineffective, too.

However, there are some things to consider:

  • HR ineffectiveness could be an indicator of general management issues within the organisation, so escalating the issue is not necessarily going to help - but it is a step that still needs to be taken.

  • If escalating does create a positive outcome (the bully is dealt with), this will put strain in the relationship between your friend and her boss.

  • If escalating does not create an outcome - your friend should move away from the toxic environment.

So - in addition to escalation, I would get your friend to start looking for a new job, too. She doesn't have to move if things improve at her workplace, but it would be better than waiting for management to do (or not do) their thing and then start looking while continuing to work in such a toxic environment.

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  • This is spot on advice. I'd only add that workplace bullying is extremely common, and very difficult to legally prosecute. Unlike sexual harassment, for which most companies have a process for adjudicating complaints, bullying -- and it can be horrible -- is far more gray legally. It can be very difficult to prove a hostile work environment exists even if regular bullying is taking place and it's affecting employees' health and department productivity. – Diana Tortolini Sep 29 '16 at 2:52

Keep notes of the mistreatment you have faced, including dates, times, what was said, and who else was present. Also keep records of the effects the bullying has had on you, including absences, stress, and medical problems. These records will help your company investigate and take action to stop the problem. If you aren’t satisfied with your company’s response, your notes will also help you decide whether and how to take action against your company.

If your company doesn’t take your concerns seriously, talk to an attorney right away. If you are facing illegal harassment, you may have only a short time—possibly as few as 180 days—to file a complaint with a government agency. You must file such an administrative complaint before you can file a lawsuit, so missing this deadline will likely mean you have no legal recourse.


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She has to think (and believe!) that HR and her boss are not here to help her (ultimatly). They are here to help the company. Some will see helping you as helping the company (the good guys) and some... Less.

With this in mind, our dear Jane might reconsider her position and the overall situation.

What is the reason of the inaction of management? They could be multiple: from inexperience/incompetence to willingly letting things go.

It is a complexe situation, but in case of experience manager/HR, I will try to extrapolate the few information you gave us to make sense of the situation.

Let's say, the first team member quitting because of bullying didn't mention it to HR. and let's say the second one (with medication), didn't make too much fuzz about it and quit 'shortly' after HR got the information of the bullying. As far as they were concerned, the problem was localized to 2 people and one of them quit: problem solved.

Then Jane enters the dance and talk to her boss & HR about the problem. An experience manager will not act too hastly because he must be sure of the facts he has (maybe Jane had some professional/personal issue with the guy and she is starting a war?) ; And most of all, he should considere the impact of his actions.

Maybe her bully has a key role in the company and it's hard to replace him? Then, he will need time to find somebody else for the transition, he cannot risk one part of his team to fall apart even if one of his employee is suffering. Also, maybe he only received mild warning from Jane, and doesn't realize the distress it's causing her.

In any case, I would not advice going over the boss (if you think you had a bad time with your bully, try with a boss that is recentfull of a bad evaluation). I would ponder the situation, re-assert the problem with my boss. Maybe by asking to move to different project in which there will be less interaction with the bully? This will send a strong message: you like this company, you want to stay, but you cannot work with him, period. If the response is not what she expects, she might need to start looking for something outside.

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  • 1
    +1: Also maybe the bully was already placed on a PIP due to the complaint and this information can't be shared by boss or HR due to confidentiality. Best to continue to provide evidence to boss and HR and ask for solutions. – Myles Sep 29 '16 at 16:11

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