Workplace Intimidation: Is It Legal in Your Company?

March 25, 20212:05 pm518 views
Workplace Intimidation: Is It Legal in Your Company?
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When walking into the office pantry, you accidentally heard coworkers planning terrible things for the new manager. You eavesdropped on their conversation and listened to the end. Being loyal to the company, you’d like to report your coworkers to the HR department. However, these co-workers noticed you first because you made noise when trying to leave. They know your weakness, thus threatening to end your career if you report them to HR. Fear of losing your job, you could only seal your mouth. But the nightmare does not end here. The intimidation continues as they ask for your help to execute their horrible plan. 

The scenario sounds like a movie scene, but what if it happens in real life? 

What is workplace intimidation? 

Many individuals refer to workplace intimidation as workplace bullying. It is an act of violence in the form of physical threats or violence, verbal abuse or blackmailing to manipulate an organisation’s employee for some personal or professional benefit. 

While intimidation and bullying are alike, there are differences between both. Workplace intimidation is more to an act of frightening someone into doing something. It usually involves threats that make a person, who is subjected to intimidation, feel afraid. Intimidation is often associated with verbal abuse, condescension, manipulation, and sometimes physical harm. 

Meanwhile, workplace bullying is an act of domination of another through the use of force of threats. Thus, intimidation is often considered a way of bullying. Bullying can be verbal and physical and often viewed as a result of an imbalance of power between two individuals or else between two groups. 

See also: What You Should Know about Modern Slavery

Is workplace intimidation legal? 

Not all forms of workplace intimidation are illegal. Depending on the state’s and company’s policy, some forms of intimidation are impunity. Here are some common examples of workplace intimidation: 

  • Physical violence or threats
  • Yelling or screaming 
  • Hostile physical posturing 
  • Ridiculing or insulting someone in front of other people, such as customers or coworkers 
  • Intentionally assigning tasks outside one’s expertise 
  • Assigning errors or faults to other coworkers 
  • Taking credit for other’s works 
  • Sabotaging other’s works or setting someone up to fail 
  • Raising the bad for success or setting up different standards for the targeted individuals 
  • Interfering with one’s ability to work 

All of the above intimidations are harmful to employees and companies at all stages. But taking credit for other’s works are not subjected to criminal activity. Yelling, screaming, interfering with one’s ability to work, and some others might also be impunity to law and company’s policy. 

There are some circumstances when these intimidations cross the line into illegal, even criminal behaviours. Singapore Panel Code, Chapter XXII on Criminal Intimidation cited that: “Whoever threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of any one in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat, commits criminal intimidation.” Chapter XXII, article 504 – 507 also focuses on intimidation acts that might be subjected to imprisonment and fined. 

Here are some scenarios where intimidation becomes criminal acts: 

  • Physical assault is a crime. Depending on a specific language of your state’s criminal code, a workplace bully can be prosecuted for hitting, kicking, tripping, poking, or injuring others. Some countries also allow for criminal assaults charges based on offensive touching or verbal assault that causes an emotional injury. 
  • Sexual harassment is also intimidation or bullying that can send the prosecutor to termination or even jail. But minor, one-time occurrences might not be enough to create a cause of action. If the action occurs at frequent times, the victim can report to the Ministry of Labour or in federal court. 
  • Illegal workplace discrimination, including creating a hostile work environment based on one’s gender, race, nationality, religion, etc. might also be subjected to criminal activity under workplace discrimination. As more and more companies are aware of this issue, you can speak to the HR or employment attorney to discuss your option of filing a proper claim. 
What if intimidation is legal in your workplace and no action is taken? 

Even when the intimidation does not violate any of the criminal or state’s laws, you can do something to put a stop to workplace intimidation. Every Department of Labour encourages employers to establish clear anti-bullying policies that protect employee’s physical and mental health. 

In a situation where your workplace does not support anti-harassment policies or make the intimidation legal by any indirect means, you can sue your employer in a federal or state court stating a breach of contract claim. The argument is that your employer promised to protect you from workplace intimidation but failed to do so. This claim depends on the specific language of your employee handbook or company policy. Thus, whenever you want to make a complaint, meet your attorney to see if the company’s language applies to you and your situation. 

If your company does not have a written or formal anti-bullying policy, an employment lawyer might still be able to help. Informal negotiations on your behalf can remove the bully. Your company might also be subjected to the illegal practice of running a business when it does not comply with federal laws. Hence, speaking to your legal lawyer is always the first step to ensure the intimidation or any harmful practices stop in a company. 

See also: How to Create an Anti-Harassment Company Policy That Works