News & Events

Workplace violence and abuse prevention task force develops a fact sheet on bullying

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
June 2006 Edition

By Evelyn Bain, M Ed, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director/Coordinator, Health & Safety

MNA members of the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by Rosemary O’Brien and Noreen Hogan, have worked to develop the following fact sheet with information and impressions gleaned from their readings and their participation in related educational programs.

We know that, in the future, bullying will be the focus of much more attention as the psychological trauma to the victim and horror of events involving retaliation become better understood.

To quote a line from the fact sheet, “As with any event of workplace violence it is important to listen to the victim, encourage reporting and develop a response plan and, most of all, be kind and available when the victim needs to talk.”
A copy of this fact sheet is available on the MNA’s Web site at

How to recognize and respond to bullying at work

Bullying is a form of abuse and harassment. The bully at work could be your co-worker, manager, supervisor, doctor, patient and/or their families.
Examples of bullying include:

  • Verbal and physical threats (often behind closed doors)
  • Unfair use of discipline
  • Blocking promotions or requests for time off
  • Excessive supervision
  • Undermining responsibility or being set up to fail
  • Spreading malicious rumors
  • Physical isolation from co-workers
  • Verbal abuse such as swearing; racial or sexual slurs; angry intimidating words; verbal humiliation; and/or demeaning comments made in public or private

Don’t ignore the behavior
Tell others you trust and ask for help to develop a plan to address the bullying. Suggested responses include:

  • Keep a diary with dates, incidents, behaviors and comments
  • Ask people you trust for help: co-workers, union representatives, your manager, human resource personnel, the worker ombudsman if available
  • Address the situation by speaking to the bully
  • Let it be known that the behavior is unacceptable
  • For additional direction and emotional support contact an available Employee Assistance Program through your employer or through your personal health insurance company
  • Learn all you can about workplace bullying one very useful resources is

Fact Sheet prepared by the MNA workplace violence and abuse prevention task force in cooperation with Chris King RN student, Regis College

How bullies pick their targets
Research shows that bullies find their targets systematically. That system follows the dynamics of power and control, i.e. the need to exert power over someone they believe they can control.

Bullies often believe themselves empowered due to size, gender or societal or work related authority. Research identifies the frequent roles of big/small, male/female, doctor/ nurse, supervisor/worker as frequent bully/target dynamics.

It is important for the person who is the target of the bully, whether at work, at home or on the street, to understand the dynamic that is at work in their situation as they attempt to work through and eliminate this abuse.

Co-worker response
As with any event of workplace violence it is important to listen to the victim, encourage reporting, develop a response plan and most of all, be kind and available when the victim needs to talk.

Employer response

Currently bullying in and of itself does not reach to the level of a legal punishable offense. Your employer’s sexual harassment and workplace violence prevention policies may apply in some situations.

Additional resources

  • The Bully at Work, Gary Namie, Ruth Namie, April 2000.
  • Power Freaks, David L. Weiner, Robert E. Lefton, September 2002.
  • Your Boss is Not Your Mother, Debra Mandel, PhD, March 2006.