This period of quarantine has provided me an awakening — I must leave my abusive employer. I’ve been in this unhealthy relationship for over 3 years now and it’s taken its toll. It didn’t start off this way — at first it was new, exciting, and mutually beneficial. That has all changed now.
At the beginning of March, after being threatened with physical harm by a colleague — a pattern of bullying that has been going on at my workplace for years, I walked out of my job and drove to the hospital. Never before had it occurred to me to seek medical attention for a work problem, but the threats and intimidation had gone on for too long, and my anxiety had become unshakable this particular afternoon.
This wasn’t a new problem — it was well documented with frequent conversations by multiple employees with management and human resources — all having asked for help in dealing with two long time employees who regularly threatened and intimidated teammates.
When I first started my job, I was warned by a colleague there was a bullying problem involving two employees and given helpful instruction on how to avoid becoming a target. But it didn’t worry me — I had managed difficult work situations over the years and prided myself on conflict resolution. I couldn’t imagine that in 3 years’ time, I’d feel so defeated and trapped, unable to get help from management or human resources.
The afternoon my colleague threatened to “kill” me and before leaving for the hospital, I thought about reaching out to my manager (again), but then remembered an email she sent about this individual: “I will be working with her on becoming less of a bully and more of a mentor”. That had been two years ago, and nothing had changed.
Workplace bullying, also known as psychological abuse, is a widespread problem across the United States. In a study done by the University of Phoenix, Dr. Judy Blando found that 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying. As defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done”.
A number of physical and psychological disorders have been linked to workplace bullying including sleep problems, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, fibromyalgia, chronic neck problems, and diabetes. There are costs to employers as well: turnover, absenteeism, a toxic work culture and resulting low work performance, workers compensation and disability claims, as well as potential litigation and settlement costs.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are being abused at your workplace, your first step is to have a conversation with your manager and human resources representative to discuss the problem. Be sure to document all occurrences of verbal abuse, harassment, or threats, as well as the details of any meetings. If the abuse continues and you are unable to resolve the issue, you have a legal right to resign with a constructive dismissal. According to the law in the United states:
An employee may constructively resign from his or her work environment if the environment was so unusually adverse that a reasonable employee in his or her position would have felt compelled to resign and the employer either intended to force such resignation or had actual knowledge of the intolerable working conditions.
Normally, an employee who resigns is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, however, if a constructive discharge situation is the cause for the resignation, the employee should then be eligible.
If workplace abuse is affecting your physical or mental health, you should seek medical attention. If you are unable to return to work due to the severity of your health issues, ask your doctor for a note to provide your employer. If you have short-term disability benefits, you have the option of activating a short-term disability claim with your insurance provider, where you can continue to receive income compensation while treating your physical and mental health needs away from work.
Beyond this, options include finding new employment, and seeking legal counsel to help file a suit against your employer for harassment, discrimination, or intolerable working conditions.
While in quarantine, I have many of the same worries we all do: a virus killing thousands daily, the safety of my loved ones, the collapse of our economy, and the resulting decline of the job market. Yet, I am equally fearful of a return to my previous abusive work environment and a recurrence of debilitating anxiety as a result. As I wake up each morning, make my coffee and head to my living room desk, I am thankful for the peace and clarity quarantine has provided and am unwilling to go back to what was.
**Since writing this piece, I’ve happily separated from this employer.
**If you’ve found my article helpful in any way, please feel free to give it a clap below.