Help Wanted: steps to thwart bullying

Although most public education campaigns, such as this

Although most public education campaigns, such as this one in the Sioux City Journal, have been drawn to the crisis of bullying in the nation's schools, the business world is not immune to this kind of workplace conflict among co-workers. (Credit: AP)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen Carrie Mason-Draffen

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

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DEAR CARRIE: What steps can I take to stop a colleague from bullying me? When people disagree with her no matter how minor the issue, her attacks turn personal and degenerate into name-calling. I just casually mentioned that two colleagues felt left out of an event she organized, and she cursed at me. I made a decision about a matter, and she tried to undo it without even speaking to me. I have to deal with her from time to time, and I want to learn how to handle situations with her better. What do you suggest? -- Facing a Bully

DEAR FACING A BULLY: Unfortunately, you are facing what recent surveys show is a growing workplace problem. The abusive behavior is so widespread in schools that in 2011 New York State passed the Dignity for All Students Act, which requires public schools to establish policies and procedures to protect students from bullies. The law takes effect July 1.

I asked a local psychologist to weigh in on your question. First, he said, you have to accept that you aren't going to single-handedly change the bully's ways.

"There is no real good answer that will please this questioner, because there is nothing the questioner can do that will change the person who is being bossy," said Charles L. Sodikoff, a psychologist based in North Merrick.

But you can try to minimize contact with the difficult colleague.

"It is obvious that direct confrontation will not work," Sodikoff said. "The only thing that can be done is to find a way to not interact with that person, take steps to have her reprimanded or fired [keeping accurate records of events and incidents that show her bossiness] or have the questioner move on to a new job."

You should also avoid taking the attacks personally, no matter how painful they are.

"The only other response is to maintain self-esteem, let the cursing, etc. roll off his or her back, recognize it is not personal and that it is the bully's problem, not the questioner's," he said.

DEAR CARRIE: My daughter went on a job interview at a local day care center. The owner was interested in her and asked her to come in the next day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to teach the 3-year-olds. Then she had to return another day for a different age group. She worked for a total of two days, but the center did not hire her. Is she entitled to be paid for this time? -- No Payday

DEAR NO PAYDAY: Yes, they should pay her. "They should pay her because she worked for them," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the U.S. Labor Department's Long Island office, which is in Westbury.

Even if the day care labeled her stint as a tryout, she should be paid.

"They could call it a tryout," Miljoner said. "But they weren't just interviewing her; she did work."

The key issue here is what counts as hours worked. Certainly performing tasks at the request of the company constitutes work. And the statutory definition of hours worked is even broader and includes "to suffer or permit to work." So even if she had decided on her own to stay late to tidy up play areas and the day care center allowed it, she should be paid for that time, too.

Even waiting time would be considered hours worked if she had reported to work when the day care center asked her to but then required her to wait before taking charge of the children. That time would fall under the category of "engaged to wait," and hourly employees should be paid for it. For more information call the Labor Department at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.

For more on New York's anti-bullying statute go to bit.ly/I9etiW.

For more on what constitutes "hours worked" under federal law, go to 1.usa.gov/o3pznA.