By: Helios on November 5th, 2014

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Key Differences of Workplace Bullying Vs. Workplace Harassment

Employee Relations

It makes no difference if you pronounce it to-MAY-to or toe-MAH-toe. Whether it’s in a sauce or a salsa: a tomato is a tomato. Did you know that unwelcome action towards others in the workplace don’t use the same naming convention?

In recent months, abusive conduct, or bullying, has been in the spotlight thanks to changes in legislation in some states, namely California, that outlaw bullying. Lexis Nexis defines bullying as, “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests”.

The behaviors, while usually ongoing, do not necessarily have to be repeated. If the behavior is extreme enough, a single behavior can be considered bullying. Now, with that said, even the most junior HR professionals see this all sounds very familiar to another more familiar topic: harassment.

Key Differences Between Workplace Bullying Vs. Harassment

There are two key differences between workplace bullying and harassment:

  1. The first difference is the reason for the behavior. Workplace harassment of any kind targets individuals or groups based on their belonging to a protected class like gender, race, or ethnicity. For a workplace bully, who or what the person is may be arbitrary.
  2. Second, victims of harassment have an external agency that complaints can be raised to. Victims of bullying have just one place to turn: HR. Though there are not laws mandating bullying be illegal in every state, the behaviors can be toxic to a company and can ruin a culture built over decades. It is important that during an investigation of alleged behaviors perceived to be threatening or “harassing” in quality that the complainant is taken seriously.

If you are based or have offices in California, be sure to read up on the new requirements for training for all managers effective January 2015 and let Helios HR know how we can help you meet and exceed them.