Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

DEAR CARRIE: I work part time in an elementary school. For more than two years I have endured a principal who screams at me when I make a mistake. Last week, she yelled at me for not following orders and wrote me up. She has also bullied other staff members. After the last situation I finally had enough of the verbal abuse. So I sent emails to the superintendent and school board president explaining what has been going on. Since my job is nonunion, I didn't give my name for fear of retribution. This is an uncomfortable situation for me and other staff members. Any advice you may have would be appreciated. -- Bullied at Work

DEAR BULLIED: Your situation raises a number of questions, said Rita Maniscalco, a Huntington-based career, life and business coach. The first is whether this is a true case of bullying.

"Or is the principal failing to use appropriate tact, professionalism and discipline skills when an employee, repeatedly, doesn't follow directions?" Maniscalco asks. "If the latter is the case, some professional coaching around these skills might help."

The Bellingham, Washington-based Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as abusive conduct that threatens, humiliates, intimidates or sabotages. It is easy to see why being scolded by a tactless authority figure could feel like bullying.

So the second question is whether you have proof that establishes a pattern of abuse at the hands of a bully.

"Did the employee keep a written record of the times she felt she was being bullied?" Maniscalco asked. "It is important to record every incident, so that if and when you decide to make a report, you have documentation."

Her last question is whether you can count on your colleagues to back up your story.

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"Are the other bullying victims willing to come forward to corroborate the story?" she asked. "If more than one employee has been the victim of bullying by this individual, and is willing to come forward, it makes for a stronger case."

If you come up short on those forms of proof, Maniscalco has another suggestion:

"If all else fails, a video of the principal in action would provide proof of the behavior and help the superintendent decide on appropriate next steps," Maniscalco said.

Resorting to an anonymous complaint is a weak tactic for dealing with the problem, she said. "Sending an anonymous email is not the same as filing an official complaint," Maniscalco said. "She must find the courage to come forward."

And she said that your fear of retaliation if you used your name might be overblown because a complaint with a victim's name may help to rein in the bully.

"It would be unwise for the bully to take any retaliatory action once an official complaint has been filed," she said.

Maniscalco also pointed out that your anonymity might not be as well guarded as you think since email is easily traceable.

Going forward, if you suspect you are being bullied, you should report the incidents soon after they happen. Two years is much too long too wait.

"It is important to report bullying in a timely manner," she said. "Everyone can have one or two bad days, but by the third incident, it's time to make a report."

For more on what constitutes bullying, go to bit.ly/libully.

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Call Carrie Mason-Draffen with workplace questions at 631-843-2791, or email her at carrie.mason-draffen@ newsday.com. Your name and number won't be published. Not all questions can be answered; some may be edited for length and clarity.