Phrases which you may find useful for tackling bullying - modify as appropriate (no responsibility accepted!)
Updated 27 April 2005
"Stress is not the employee's inability to cope with excessive workloads and the unreasonable demands of incompetent and bullying managers; stress is a consequence of the employer's failure to provide a safe system of work as required by the UK Health & Safety at Work Act 1974."
The most important phrase is:
"Your criticisms and allegations are specious and lack substantive and quantifiable evidence. Your constant nit-picking and fault-finding prevents me from fulfilling my duties, constitutes repudiatory conduct, and is a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence."
"By the way s/he chooses to behave, s/he prevents myself and others from fulfilling our duties/undertaking our studies."
"By the way s/he chooses to behave, s/he brings her/himself, the staff, the department and the employer into disrepute."
"The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy; those who choose to use bullying behaviours are therefore revealing and admitting to their inadequacy"
"Bullying is a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence."
"Bullying causes injury to health and is a breach of the employer's duty of care."
"The repeated fabrication of allegations, constant denial and violation of boundaries leave me feeling as if I've been raped."
When you're subjected to repeated criticisms and allegations, you may find these helpful:
"Your criticisms are based on trivia; choosing to focus obsessively on trivia reveals unsound judgement and is one of the ways bullies identify and reveal themselves."
"Your criticisms and allegations are a projection of your own failings and shortcomings. I ask you not to project them on to me."
When responding to specious (plausibly deceptive) criticisms and allegations, under no circumstances be deceived into explaining, justifying, elaborating or apologising - each of these responses accords the criticism or allegation a validity which it does not have. Always put the onus on the bully to provide substantive and quantifiable evidence to justify his or her accusation.
If you've been subjected to fabricated or distorted criticisms or allegations or are
facing unwarranted disciplinary action you can respond in writing:
"On [date] you made the following criticism/allegation against me which you are now seeking to use as the basis for imposing a verbal/written warning: [Include details of allegation here]. I now ask you to provide me in writing within seven days with substantive and quantifiable evidence in support of your criticism/allegation."
When no written substantiation is provided, write again:
On [date] you [reiterate your previous letter]. I note that you have chosen to not substantiate your criticism/allegation as requested. I now ask you again to provide me in writing, within 48 hours, with substantive and quantifiable evidence in support of your criticism/allegation.
When no written reply is received, write again:
"On [date] you [reiterate both previous letters] I now ask you to withdraw your criticism/allegation and provide me with evidence in writing that you have done so. I remind you that making allegations and refusing to substantiate them in writing is a form of harassment. Such harassment prevents myself and others from fulfilling our contractual duties and legally binding obligations."
If you're subjected to this tactic again at a later date, include in your first letter
a reminder of the previous occasion (remember, it's the patterns of behaviour that reveal
"I note that you have chosen to make another trivial, specious and insubstantive criticism/allegation about me. I remind you of our correspondence of [date] when you were unable and unwilling to substantiate your criticism/allegation. I remind you that in my letter of [date] I pointed out that making unfounded, misrepresented or fabricated criticisms/allegations and refusing to substantiate them in writing is a form of harassment. I am advised that the UK Department of Trade and Industry recommend that the Protection from Harassment Act (1996) be used in such circumstances. Furthermore you are causing the employer to incur vicarious liability for your unacceptable behaviour."
Be alert to the criticism or allegation changing or being withdrawn as you challenge it. Note any changes and point them out in writing, asking for an explanation as to why they have changed in response to you asking for substantive evidence.
When held accountable (and thus in fear of having their inadequacy, incompetence, dysfunction and disordered behaviour exposed) bullies often respond with the "denial - counterattack - feigning victimhood" strategy. If the bully responds with false (and thus) malicious allegations about you, try this strategy: It's very effective, but when a bully responds like this you can draw attention to the behavioural response, eg
"Only serial bullies respond to being held accountable by using the strategy of denial / counterattack (retaliation) / feigning victimhood (tears, claiming to be the one being bullied). Therefore, the existence of this behavioural pattern is tantamount to an admission of bullying."
The bully will whine and moan in a manner worthy of an Oscar, but hold your ground, eg
"Over the last xx months you have exhibited bullying behaviours toward me and now that I have held you accountable you are responding by making allegations about me which you know to be untrue. You must now provide substantive and quantifiable evidence to justify your allegations within 48 hours."
Pause and ignore any blustering. Then carry on...
"Making false allegations is a serious disciplinary offence. Failure to provide such evidence will result in your actions being deemed malicious and you may be guilty of the offence of harassment, as well as causing the employer to incur vicarious liability for your behaviour. Any attempt to fabricate evidence or threaten or coerce witnesses will be deemed a further serious disciplinary offence."
Let this sink in, smile sweetly at the bully and ignore any protestations. When the bully pauses from whingeing, add...
"I understand this is not the first time you have been accused of bullying. If you are unwise enough to continue your bullying behaviour or if you fabricate any further malicious allegations I shall have no hesitation in involving my solicitor. If you continue your bullying behaviour it will be necessary to mount an investigation into your behaviour, and any past offences of a similar nature, including the wrongdoings that accompany this type of case."
Expect the bully to go off sick with "stress" from this point on.
If you're off work suffering stress as a result of bullying it's important to let the employer know in writing that the injury to health you have sustained is caused by the behaviour of one or more members of staff. This letter will become crucial evidence for a personal injury / duty of care action later should that become necessary.
If you've suffered a psychiatric injury (eg stress) it's essential to have good medical evidence to support your injury to health. If you suffer a stress breakdown get medical evidence immediately. A stress breakdown, often wrongly called mental breakdown or nervous breakdown, is a lay term comprising either a short cessation of brain processing or a period of uncontrollable crying perhaps lasting several days, perhaps accompanied by panic attacks, trembling, loss of memory, reactive depression, suicidal thoughts and unusually high levels of hypervigilance resembling paranoia. It is a serious traumatic event but is not a sign of mental weakness. Quite the reverse.
If you've been off sick for a while and are being bullied by the employer into
"The injury to health which has caused me to take sickness absence was caused by the unacceptable aggressive and dysfunctional bullying behaviour of X. I am not the first employee whose health has been injured as a consequence of X's behaviour which constitutes a danger to the health and safety of employees with whom s/he comes into contact.
[If you know of previous cases - and it's worth doing some digging - you can insert here: I am advised that at least x employees working under X have been forced to take sick leave / take ill-health retirement / follow grievance / take legal action / attempted suicide / committed suicide. As such, X is a liability to the organisation and to shareholders / investors / taxpayers / donors.]
I look forward to returning to work as soon as possible and to that end I ask you to provide me with an assurance in writing that you will fulfil your legal obligation of duty of care under the UK Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) to provide both a safe place and a safe system of work."
It may be better if this comes from your union representative. If you're not in a union, and the relationship between you and the employer has broken down, the letter could come from your solicitor. If you are then further victimised for having written this letter and reporting the behaviour of X as a danger to health and safety of employees with whom s/he comes into contact, you may be able to use the clause on victimisation on grounds of health and safety under the UK Employment Rights Act (which applies from day 2 of employment).
You may also wish to include a sentence pointing out the need to undertake a risk assessment, eg "It is well known that stress levels with [the organisation] have reached exceptional levels [include some figures here, eg with x number of staff off sick with stress]. As part of your duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act I remind you that you are required to undertake a risk assessment on the levels of stress within the workplace".
Throughout proceedings, avoid "victim" language. Instead of saying "illness", say "injury to health". Instead of saying "mental illness", say "psychiatric injury". Instead of "mental breakdown" or "nervous breakdown" say "stress breakdown". Instead of "I couldn't do my job" say "the bully's behaviour prevented me from fulfilling my duties". Instead of "anger", say "passion". Instead of "obsessed", say "focused". Instead of the word "victim", use "target". The word "victim" allows bullies and their supporters, apologists and deniers to tap into and stimulate other people's prejudices and preconceived notions about "victimhood".
To defend yourself verbally, respond with
"I'm sorry you choose to think/act/feel/behave/perceive me like that".
Alter the verb as appropriate. Repeat as necessary.
To defend yourself against being shouted at, especially in front of others, respond as calmly as you can with
"Thank you for sharing your views with us".
Or smile politely and say
"Will you shout that one past me again please?"
To handle sarcasm, use
"I'm sorry you choose to use sarcasm."
To fend off someone trying to manipulate you with guilt, use, with a slight smile,
"You're not trying to make me feel guilty, are you?
When dealing with bullying - and especially when talking or writing to management, personnel etc - avoid detail, which has the effect of turning people off and against you. Focus on the contractual, legal and financial aspects. When writing, avoid emotion, shock, horror, outrage, indignation, sensationalism, pleading, begging, acrimony, moaning and groaning, whingeing and whining, self-deprecation and apology. Also avoid the use of exclamation marks, quotation marks, unnecessary capital letters, bold, italic and multiple-coloured text which irritate the reader and stimulate a sense of disbelief, incredulity and scepticism which discredit what you are saying and which foster the belief that you may be neurotic or hysterical. Forget flowery language, vagueness, attempted references to literature and anything which is alarmist or self-evident; omit everything which is not 100% relevant. This includes verbosity (using too many words when fewer will do in order to get your point across) and tautology (repeating yourself, saying the same thing more than once). Remove anything that smacks of a confessional. Don't grovel and don't appease. Keep things as brief, succinct and professional as possible - preferably one page. Imagine how it will sound and how it will make you appear when read out in court, even if you've no intention of going down the legal route. Two pages is the maximum - a letter which is longer than two pages will not be read. If you have tables, reports etc which you feel you must include, make then appendices which can be referred to rather than read. Always make written communications as short as possible.
Targets of abuse have a vast amount of information but those listening often don't have the capacity (or interest or will) to comprehend it. The instinct for a target who meets with disbelief is to provide more evidence in the form of detail, however, the person listening increasingly puts up barriers to this deluge of personalised information. The more detail, the greater the disbelief and denial. The more disbelief and denial, the greater the urge to provide more evidence (detail). More detail creates greater disbelief and denial, and so on ad infinitum. Keep your communications short and succinct otherwise you will be perceived as not being a credible witness.
The bully deliberately encourages the employee and employer to engage in conflict in order to distract attention away from him/herself and to prevent others pooling negative information about him or her. See http://psychiatry.medscape.com/22596.rhtml (you'll need to register but it's worth it) and encourage your employer to read this too.
There are three types of etiquette: social etiquette, business etiquette, and legal etiquette. The next term in this series is nuclear war. Keep that in mind. The etiquettes overlap but are not the same. Do not use social etiquette for business and legal situations, especially when there is conflict in the air. For example, in social etiquette one is taught "it is better to give than to receive" and "thou shalt labour and ask for no reward". In business and legal situations, especially where there's bullying, these are a disaster. Use the business equivalent "never give anything away without obtaining anything something in return" and the legal equivalent "take everything and give nothing" as appropriate. These are morally acceptable behaviours under the circumstances which have been brought about by the bully.
Assert your rights at all times. Don't ask for permission, eg "Can I ask to see my records?" or "Can I see my records?" but instead assume you have the right (you usually do), eg "I'd like to see my records." Asking for permission to ask gives the bully (and HR and management) the opportunity to say no - which they always will.
If you're dealing with a serial bully, a bit of digging into the bully's past, including home life and childhood, might produce some unsavoury facts that the bully - and maybe the employer - do not want repeated in court. Under normal circumstances this might be considered unethical, but the circumstances - which have been chosen by and are driven by the bully - are not normal. You are in a position which is not of your choosing, not of your making, and not under your control. The bully has chosen to behave in a manner which has brought you into the arena of legal etiquette.
The bullying that you see or experience is almost always the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing. In most cases there is a can of worms behind the case which explains the bully's, and the employer's, increasing paranoia as you start, perhaps unwittingly, to open that can. Dig as deep as you can. This is legal etiquette. You are looking for patterns of behaviour. The worms may include:
A serial bully and money never go together. Scrutinise any source or fund of money in which the bully has an interest or responsibility.
If your adversary is a serial bully with a history of bullying (including compulsive lying etc), you might insist that s/he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation by a psychiatrist experienced in administering the Hare Psychopathy Check List - Revised (PCL-R). Expect the aggressive response which is characteristic of an individual with psychopathic personality.
Remember the bullies' Achilles Heels:
compulsive need to bully: the bully has to have a target onto whom to displace aggression - s/he can't survive without a current "victim" - past behaviour is characterised by always having a target - find and highlight this
obsession: once the bullying has started they can't let go - they can't stop, even if they wanted to
obliviousness: they can't or won't see their own behaviour or its effects on others, they can't see or understand the patterns which betray their behaviour
mimicry: has its limitations, especially in attempts at empathy and humour - eg irony usually provokes an aggressive response
arrogance: the bully has always got away with it and fully expects to continue getting away with it
patterns of behaviour: it's the patterns which reveal intent (see below)
predictable response: when called to account, the bully often resorts to the denial-counterattack-feigning victimhood (turning on the tears, claiming to be "devastated", going off sick with stress, etc) tactic to avoid answering the question - normal, mature, adult, professional people do not do this
cowardice: whilst the bully is on top, the bullying continues unabated; when you suddenly turn round and hit the bully with disciplinary or legal action and the threat of public exposure, the bully immediately runs whingeing to authority, and sometimes runs away
paranoid fear of exposure: more than anything else, the bully fears public exposure which enables those s/he has deceived to be able to see through the deception
Is bullying deliberate? The bully will claim not, but bullying
is deliberate if there is evidence of :
* Premeditation or planning
* Any attempt to deceive
* Any attempt at manipulation
* Any attempt at evasion of accountability
* The bully has free choice over their behaviour
* The behaviour is repeated over a period of time (the pattern reveals intent)
* The bully applies what they've learnt from bullying in the past to better evade accountability and sanction
Feigning victimhood: this is how serial bullies - and most psychopaths and antisocials - get away with their behaviour for so long. Their act of feigning victimhood is so polished that everyone is fooled. For suggestions on how to handle this see the answer on my FAQ page.
Good folk have a strong forgiving streak within them and it is this that the bully
exploits. It's another example of the bully using guilt to manipulate people through their
emotions. If this happens to you, you may be able to turn the situation to your advantage
"Mature, adult, professional people do not respond to being held to account by feigning victimhood and using guilt to manipulate people through their emotions. Such behaviour is characteristic of bullying, is only exhibited by weak inadequate people and is thus tantamount to an admission of guilt."
You, or rather your legal representative, might like to underline this with:
"X has been using bullying behaviours since [date] and I recommend that s/he be required to undergo a battery of tests including the MMPI and the Hare PCL-R to determine his/her fitness to be in the classroom with children / caring for vulnerable patients / in charge of employees and to rule out any personality disorders."
When your bully objects, round off by addressing your employer with:
"Since [date] X has been choosing to behave in a manner which causes you, the employer, to incur vicarious liability for his/her behaviour. S/he is also choosing to now behave in a manner which creates conflict between you and I, another act of manipulation and a classic bullying behaviour by which bullies reveal themselves."
If the employer continues to side with the bully, then
"X's bullying behaviour constitutes repudiatory conduct which is a breach of contract. If you choose to side with the bully and refuse to hold him/her accountable you are choosing to accept and admit your vicarious liability for his/her repudiatory conduct."
To give credence to your claims of psychopathic personality refer your employer to the articles listed at the bottom of the serial bully page.
The bully underestimates your inner strength and moral courage - both of which s/he lacks.
Expect your work colleagues to desert you or gang up on you - click here to see why.
Recognise your own Achilles Heels: naivety, guilt, dependency, approval seeking, deference to authority, and willingness to share. Learn to identify them and get them under control. Stick to legal etiquette. If you're still wondering, "Why me?", click here.
In rare cases, the employer will get as far as "investigating" the claim of bullying. Mostly, the subsequent verdict is "no evidence". When this happens, write to the employer asking for details, in writing, of the experience and training that the investigator has undertaken in bullying investigation techniques. The answer is usually "none". It's a good question to ask at tribunal if matters get that far. You might feel it appropriate to point out in writing at the appropriate moment that an investigation by a member of the personnel department is a breach of natural justice because personnel cannot be both judge and jury. It was personnel's responsibility to recruit the bully in the first place and they are not going to admit to having made a mistake in their selection process, for admitting to a mistake is tantamount to admitting liability.
Remember that naivety is the greatest enemy. Decide if your adversary is a serial bully, and if so, remember that you are dealing with a sociopath. Read carefully the page at workbully/serial.htm and associated pages on personality disorders. Normal rules of social etiquette do not apply. You are now into legal etiquette and lawyer-speak.
A bully cannot act as judge and jury; this is a breach of natural justice. The bully must not be involved in the investigation process or in the processing and adjudication of grievance action.
One verbal defence for pulling the rug from under the bully's feet is, when abused, say in you best headmistress voice, "Let me stop you right there. You are over the line and I will not be spoken to in that manner by you or anyone else." Then turn around and walk away calmly but purposefully.
Bullies are extremely vindictive and will bear grudges for years. To pre-empt the bully's attempts to undermine you once you stand up to them or expose them, a statement along these lines might be appropriate: "Be advised that you are subject to the laws of slander, libel and defamation of character. Any attempt to unduly influence or prejudice others or retaliate against me directly or indirectly for asserting my right not to be bullied or for reporting your behaviour will be viewed with the utmost seriousness." If you're in the USA, you might like to add the words, "as in Zimmerman." [See action/zimmer.htm] If you believe the bully is bad-mouthing you over the phone to a prospective employer, click here.
When held accountable for their behaviour, serial bullies will often retaliate with a string of counterclaims. When this happens, these phrases may be appropriate:
"The insubstantive nature of this allegation is characteristic of a serial bully who has been held accountable and who is now retaliating in order to evade accountability"
"This is a false allegation which constitutes retaliation of the kind one sees when a serial bully feigns victimhood to evade accountability"
"This is a distortion of the kind that serial bullies employ in order to evade accountability."
"This allegation is false and therefore vindictive and malicious. Making false and malicious allegations is a serious disciplinary offence"
It is a key identifying feature of a person with a personality disorder or psychopathic personality that, when called to account, they will accuse the person who is unmasking them of being the one with the personality disorder or psychopathic personality from which they (the bully) suffer. If this happens, quote this first sentence and add, "Do not project your own personality disorder onto me. This is a tactic used only by bullies, therefore if you choose to do this you are admitting, by example, that you have a personality disorder."
Legal action is difficult as the law is weak. Solicitors and barristers mostly don't know how to conduct a bullying case and the complexity and lack of case law puts them off. The way to proceed, should you choose legal action, is to include in your case all the dirt you can find - see above for what you are likely to find - then the employer is likely to want an out-of-court settlement to avoid bad publicity and to prevent other employees, past and present, starting similar legal action.
If you decide to go down the employment tribunal route - and many people are left with no choice but to consider this route - you need to have a good grasp of the law of unfair and constructive dismissal. UK case law on unfair and constructive dismissal is covered in chapter 14 of Bully in sight.
If you believe your Human Resources professionals have acted negligently or abusively you may be able to make a complaint to their professional body. In the UK this is the CIPD, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Beware that this organisation has many fine words but is likely to be less than fine when it comes to taking action against members for failing to deal with bullying cases. Nevertheless, it may be worth creating waves to raise the level of awareness of this issue. Regardless of outcome, those who come after you can quote your complaint as precedent.
General advice on action to tackle bullying: action/action.htm
The complete guide to resigning: http://www.i-resign.com/uk/resigning/
Template resignation letters: http://www.i-resign.com/uk/letters/letters.asp
These pages at Bully OnLine are unreferenced:
Informing the employer that bullying is causing you prolonged negative stress: action/inform.htm
Winning your disability case: action/disability.htm
Time limits for bringing a personal injury case: action/timelim.htm
Guidance on preparing for an employment tribunal: action/tribunal.htm
Dealing with a bad reference: action/referenc.htm
Dealing with a gagging clause: action/gagclaus.htm
Beware of people calling themselves lawyers, advocates and consultants: action/lawyer.htm
How administrators are trained to deflect accountability: "The goal of the Delphi technique is to lead a targeted group of people to a predetermined outcome, while giving the illusion of taking public input and under the pretext of being accountable to the public.": http://www.iror.org/delphi.asp
Webmaster, Bully OnLine at Bully Online
Moderator, BullyOnline action forum
Author, Bully in sight: how to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying
Co-author, Bullycide: death at playtime