Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is aggressive behavior that repeats itself or has a high likelihood of doing so. It also always has a power imbalance, which may be physical and/or social. Mostly, we think of this happening to our children and teenagers, rather than as adults. However, it can be just as serious in adulthood as in childhood, and often manifests in the workplace. Since we spend so many hours of our day at work, this can be deeply debilitating, and affect more than just the victim of the bullying. In fact, it can affect your business.

Workplace bullying, unfortunately, is not illegal. The following behaviors are still offenses worthy of termination depending on your business, but cannot be held to legal action:

  • Teasing
  • Pranks
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Intimidation
  • Interference with work (i.e. sabotage, refusal to cooperate with target)

It does, however, become illegal when it becomes assault, threat of physical violence, stalking, or harassment. Laws prevent workplace harassment based on characteristics like race, nationality, gender, religion, age, and disability. In the workplace, these are deeply serious issues, so it’s important to stop bullying before it gets this far.

Emotional Bullying

Among adults and especially women, this is the most common form of bullying. It leads to hostility in the workplace and may make employees dread coming in. Plus, this can affect how work gets done within a team or even at all.

Emotional or social bullying includes:

  • Exclusion
  • Refusal to help
  • Silent treatment
  • Badmouthing

These behaviors can stop progress in the office, or create bad relationships with brand new employees. In a work environment, emotional bullying can be more terrible than managers might think. It’s this kind of bullying that can severely impact someone’s performance, or even cause them to leave.

Physical Bullying

While this is not as common, physical bullying does take place. It may be subtle and easy to pass off as an accident (slamming someone with a door, or tripping them), or deliberate like stalking or unwanted touching. Adults may lean toward the former, being more aware than children that there is a line between bullying and assault. However, if an employee continues to have accidents, it’s time to investigate. It could be bullying, and not just clumsiness.

How it Affects You

Depending on the issues, you may be inclined to let the incidents pass or to do only the minimum. It can be difficult to police adults and their behavior. However, if you can take control of the situation, do so! According to Entrepreneur, 20% of respondents in an emotional bullying survey said that dealing with bullies cost them seven or more hours per week. Seven hours a week can total thousands of dollars per employee per year. And it’s not usually just one person; bullies disrupt at least 5 people, and more if they are a manager.

Your business and your franchisees’ businesses depend on handling bad behavior, regardless of other work performance. Establish from the start rules regarding workplace bullying, and let all offenders know the next step if they repeat their behavior.


While franchisors won’t be able to and shouldn’t monitor the behavior of all employees, you can make it clear what the standards in your company are. From your corporate level, you can provide the guidelines on how to combat bullying in the workplace. Keep your company healthy from the start: root out bullying before it can grow and poison your business.