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Bullied worker has resources for dealing with boss

Contemptuous comments, whether behind a worker's back or

Contemptuous comments, whether behind a worker's back or to his face, constitute bullying. Photo Credit: iStock

DEAR CARRIE: A 21-year-old male relative is being harassed at his part-time job by his new boss. The young man has worked in this union job for close to five years, with all of his previous managers praising his work. The new boss, however, taunts him daily, saying such nasty things as "You are worthless." Can he record these transactions? He is not the only employee being humiliated. Should he go to the union?


DEAR MEAN MANAGER: On its surface, this sounds like a classic case of workplace bullying. And believe it or not, neither New York State nor the nation has laws outlawing bullying in the workplace. Still, your relative may have plenty of options for stopping his manager's inappropriate behavior.

I spoke with a career coach and a lawyer who shed some light on the problem and offered some solutions.

The contemptuous comments directed at your relative are some of the worst examples of classic overt bullying, said Glory Borgeson, a Chicago-area career coach and the author of "Not All Bullies Yell and Throw Things: How to Survive a Subtle Workplace Bully."

Other overt tactics, Borgeson said, include using ridicule or sarcasm to put down a worker. Covert forms include telling that person his or her work is inferior but withholding information that would allow the person to improve, and creating a work situation that makes it difficult for the person to succeed.

Whatever the case, he should start documenting the inappropriate remarks now, Borgeson said.

"On a Word document, keep the file on a flash drive, not on your work computer," she said.

And, yes, he should enlist the help of his union.

"When he meets with a union rep," she said, "he should bring with him (1) copies of the performance reviews from his previous managers that document their praise for his work and (2) documentation of the bullying from the current boss."

And he should also encourage other targeted co-workers to do likewise, she said.

As for recording the tense encounters, the young man can legally do so in New York without telling the boss.

"Save these files and back them up," she said.

On a legal and policy note, your relative could find relief under state and federal anti-discrimination statutes or the company handbook.

For example, if the young man and other employees are being harassed because of such things as their race, religion or disability, they might be covered by anti-discrimination laws and could file a complaint under those statutes or could go through a company internal grievance process, said employment attorney Sheree Donath, who works in the Uniondale office of the law firm Cory J. Rosenbaum.

If such a scenario doesn't apply to your relative, then the next step would be for him to check the company handbook or union contract for anti-bullying provisions, Donath said.

If the company handbook doesn't address bullying, a section on workplace violence, might, Donath said.

"While bullying is not generally physical, but more psychological in nature, there may be language in the employer's workplace violence policy that can be extended to include your relative's circumstance," Donath said.

If all else fails, the young man should still consider raising the issue with management and the union, she said.

But most of all, she said he should act quickly "to halt the effects of his new boss and to end the psychological hold the new boss has over him."

Go to for more on the definition of workplace bullying.

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