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Stopping the Silent Epidemic: Workplace Bullying in IL

GRAPHIC: An estimated 27 percent of Americans are victims of workplace bullying, according to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute. Graphic courtesy of WBI.
GRAPHIC: An estimated 27 percent of Americans are victims of workplace bullying, according to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute. Graphic courtesy of WBI.
October 8, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - While bullying is typically considered a school-yard problem, there are millions of American adults who say they've been victims of bullying on the job. According to a 2014 national survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 27 percent of workers report being bullied by a co-worker or boss.

WBI director Dr. Gary Namie says these victims face threats, humiliation, work sabotage and verbal abuse. He calls it a "silent epidemic" that typically occurs behind closed doors.

"In adulthood, the bullies target people who pose a threat to them," says Namie. "So, based on envy, jealousy and attributes that they don't possess, like technical skill and being well liked, people are targeted."

Illinois' Senate Bill 2943, introduced early this year by Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, would require employers to establish a workplace bullying policy. Namie says it's a good step, but doesn't think the bill goes far enough because it doesn't hold employers liable in bullying cases. The bill is currently in the Labor and Commerce Committee. An estimated 65 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying.

October is Bullying Prevention Month, and Namie hopes it raises awareness about the effects of bullying on victims. He says it can traumatize a person, and even result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the workplace, he says victims often struggle to get employers to take their case seriously, that's why employer accountability is an important part of anti-bullying legislation.

"All the advice is, 'Well, you need to confront your bully.' Well, if you could've, you would've, and confrontation by a bully target is ineffective," says Namie. "Not because they're ineffective people, but because the power of the employer is behind the bully, not the target."

Namie's organization has introduced a "Healthy Workplace Bill" in 26 states, including Illinois, but it has not passed in full form. Namie says it defines an abusive work environment and provides protections, both for employees and employers.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL