What may begin as typical office banter can sometimes have serious future effects in the event of escalation. At first blush, a coworker’s comments are a mere annoyance that can be brushed aside with an eye roll or dismissed by walking away. However, all too often in modern workplaces, annoying comments turn into ugly insults and sometimes lead to abusive language and/or behavior. What many workers do not realize is that once the actions of a coworker become offensive, they may be considered bullying under the law. Bullying is unlawful in many states and surprisingly to some, injuries resulting from bullying are often covered under state workers’ compensation laws.
What is bullying?
Bullying can take many forms, and is not limited to the overt examples that we often see during our childhood. Any type of conduct that is abusive can be considered bullying, including verbal or physical threats or abuse, intimidation, sabotage, withholding resources, and deliberate humiliation. This last category is often difficult for workers to distinguish from typical collegiate banter, and it can have very serious consequences on victims. What many workers also do not realize is that workplace bullies will often use a combination of tactics to deliberately cause harm to a colleague. For example, a workplace bully may privately call his or her victim by an offensive nickname, and then state that “it was just a joke,” or outright deny the incident if the victim attempts to publicly call attention to it.
Effects of bullying
Workplace bullying can have both physical and mental impacts on victims, and can even exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions. Some physical impairments that have been linked to the stress levels caused by bullying include increased blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. Mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety have also been linked to bullying. These impairments can often lead to increased absences or lower job performance on the part of the victim. Further, what many workers with pre-existing conditions may not realize is that an aggravation of their condition due to a coworker’s actions can mean that they will not be liable for the additional medical costs of obtaining treatment. This is because when workplace bullying takes a physical and mental toll on workers, the issue may be considered a compensable injury under workers’ compensation statutes.
In Illinois, workers’ compensation covers any “injury, disablement or death arising out of and in the course of” employment. Just as a worker would report an injury due to a more traditional accident at work, so too should an employee report injuries caused by an office bully. Once an employee is put on notice that a bully is harming a coworker, the employer then has a duty to address the harm, just as it would address any other dangerous hazard in the workplace.
If you or someone you know is experiencing workplace bullying, contact the Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C. in Waukegan today to talk about your options. Do not let the bully win by staying silent; with over 20 years of experience protecting injured workers, our office can help.