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Does workplace bullying constitute sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2021 | Employment Law

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees of an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or in some combination of the above.”

WBI’s 2021 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey reveals the following sobering statistics:

  • Workplace bullying affects 76.3 million American workers.
  • Over 30% of workers report having experienced bullying at work (up 57% from WBI’s 2017 survey).
  • Remote workers report an even higher incidence – 43.2% – of bullying victimization, mostly during virtual meetings.
  • Bullying targets have a 67% chance of losing their jobs.
  • Men represent the majority of bullies (67%) and a slight majority (51%) of its targets.
  • Women target women twice as often as they target men.

In addition, and perhaps not surprisingly, 65% of workplace bullies are bosses.

Types of workplace bullying

At its core, workplace bullying represents the bully’s attempt to control you at work. He or she may do this by means of constantly criticizing you personally, such as for your appearance, your work, your attitude, etc. Backstabbing is another favorite bullying tactic. The bully pretends to be your friend but takes every opportunity to undermine you.

Experts agree that workplace bullying amounts to the following:

  • Psychological harassment
  • Psychological violence
  • Emotional abuse

Bullying versus sexual harassment

Unfortunately, most workplace bullying does not rise to the level of sexual harassment because 61.3% of the incidents are same-gender, i.e., male on male or female on female. Title VII sexual harassment suits require that the perpetrator discriminates against you on the basis of your gender alone. This generally implies opposite-sex actions. Nevertheless, if your boss or coworker has created a hostile work environment with his or her bullying, you may have an actionable case.