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Lawyers and the Office Bully

The Workplace Bullying Institute website warns attorneys who defend targets of workplace bullying:

• bullied clients present challenges because of their strong negative affect – they feel wronged, treated unjustly by both indifferent employers, inadequate laws and betrayed by their union, coworkers, HR, and senior management

• because of the stress-related health consequences…, they may actually be incapable of rendering good decisions and weighing options rationally

• if traumatized, clients will present themselves angrily and be unrealistically demanding.

How can targets be better prepared if they are seeking legal advice? In this second excerpt from the new book, MOBBED! A Survival Guide To Adult Bullying and Mobbing, Dr. Janice Harper offers advice and tips on what to expect…

Lawyers and Lawsuits (part 2)

1c992ca02d06f9055cb0919cf835b9ed…Bring with you any EEOC or internal reports you may have filed, any final investigative reports, and any employment contracts you have.  If there are some specific documents related to your case, such as a termination notice or a clear communication of discriminatory treatment (such as a memo declaring a new hiring policy that workers over forty will not be interviewed, or an email telling you if you hadn’t reported the discriminating treatment, you would have been promoted, but because you had, you will no longer be considered for the promotion).  If the attorney agrees to represent you, there will be plenty of opportunities to show him or her all your evidence, but for the initial meeting, keep the evidence focused and selective.

Be sure you know the key dates of all hiring, firing, and other decisions.  The attorney will want to know when deadlines and statutes of limitation are coming up, so have a clear timeline written down that shows when you were hired, when you were promoted, when adverse decisions were made, etc.

Be clear about what you want.  The attorney will evaluate whether or not you have a potential legal case, and will want to know what you want to do.  If you have no legal case or don’t want to go that route, an attorney may still be able to negotiate a respectable severance package for you.  If you do have a legal case, your attorney can help you decide whether or not you should file a claim with the EEOC, file a federal or civil lawsuit, or take other action.

Be wary of the lawyer who is chomping at the bit to file a lawsuit, who assures you that you’ll make a lot of money, or who guarantees you any particular outcome.  Nothing can be guaranteed but more conflict.

And do get a second and third opinion.  Doing so will give you a much better insight into whether or not the legal advice you are receiving is reasonable or not.  Do not go with the attorney who promises you the most.  Go with the attorney who advises you the most realistically.

Unless there is a statutory deadline looming to file a lawsuit, or you are preparing to leave your employment and want to negotiate a severance package, the best course of action is to have an attorney remain in the background.  Have your attorney advise you, help you file any internal or external claims, review communications or otherwise guide you, without appearing publicly.  That means do not have your attorney write a letter to your employer saying you are now under legal representation.  Do not have your attorney file any documents under his or her name.  Simply have your attorney advise you behind the scenes—which is what your employer’s lawyers are doing.

If the problem still persists, and you decide you want to file a lawsuit, be forewarned.  It’s going to be a whole lot harder on you than it is on them.  Your boss and coworkers will go about their lives pretty much uninterrupted except for the occasional testimony they might have to give or meeting about what to do about you.  But they won’t lie awake at night worried about how they’ll survive without a paycheck.  That’s your problem.

And your bosses and coworkers probably won’t have to turn over their medical records, their mental health records, be compelled to take mental health exams, and have all their former employers told what a problem they’ve been and asked about problems anyone’s had with them.  That’s all going to happen to you, but it’s not going to happen to them.

Your bosses and coworkers won’t have to explain to anybody about why they should be hired and why the problem with you ended so badly—you’re going to have to be looking for a job and interviewing and explaining about what went wrong, but they’re not.  They’re busy working.

And your bosses and coworkers probably won’t have forensic teams comb through their computers, review all their emails (including the deleted ones) and check out every website they ever visited.  That’s likely to happen to you, but not to them.

In other words, the lawsuit is your burden, not theirs.

And it’s not going to divide and conquer them, if that’s what you’re thinking.  It’s going to unite them.  They will unite against you, just as you find yourself isolated from those who once were your allies.

The litigation process opens up a whole new can of worms that turns mobbing into a legal lynch mob.  Once you file a lawsuit, your conflict with your employer becomes a public record which anyone can look at.  It also exposes you to the laws of discovery, which means they can and will ask for your medical and mental health records (if you claim personal injury or emotional stress), your past employment records, your computer hard drives (sometimes even your home computer hard drives), any employer-owned cell phones, past addresses (so they can interview former neighbors), and the names and contact numbers of everyone you have ever discussed your job or employer with.

Moreover, contrary to what most people think, lawsuits don’t usually lead to speedy settlements.  Once filed, they drag on.  If they do not lead to a rapid settlement when they are initially filed (and they usually don’t, because in most cases the employer is given the opportunity to settle before filing), then there are two times when they are most likely to settle: right after deposition—which may be one to two years after filing—or right before trial—which may be two to four years after filing.  And if you think those years will fly by, you’re wrong.  They might fly by for your employers and coworkers, but the attacks against you will persist day in and day out without let up and in public for as long as you are involved in a lawsuit.  And remember: their attorneys are paid hourly.  It’s in their best interest to drag it out for years.

The complexities, intricacies and consequences of a lawsuit against an employer are so great that I address them in a forthcoming ebook, What to Expect If You Sue Your Employer.  But for now, just understand that a lawsuit is best left for those who have no hope of recovering otherwise, who are unlikely to find other work, and who have exhausted every possible remedy.  For the most part, if you are under fifty, you’re probably better off not suing, no matter how illegal or cruel your employer’s actions.

Filing a lawsuit will not make you whole.  It will not bring you applause.  It will not bring you justice.  It will not vindicate you.  But it will expose you to incredible abuse, publicize your workplace problems for all the world to see, and it will go on for years—years in which you could be focusing on new work and growing in a new career.

If you must file a lawsuit, however, do so knowing what’s up ahead.  If you are being mobbed now, understand that a lawsuit will only make the mobbing much, much worse.  Run, don’t walk, from a potential lawsuit if there’s any chance of finding another job.  You may suffer a huge blow to your income, you may have to move, but you will recover much faster if you get out of a toxic workplace as fast as possible, and do not end up battling in the courts.  A lawyer may be able to help you negotiate an exit, however, so by all means consult with an employment attorney, but preferably toward a peaceable resolution.  But because your employer won’t give a damn about peace-making with you, understand that whatever that resolution may be, you’ll probably get screwed.  But better to get screwed than raped, and that’s what’s up ahead if you file a lawsuit…

17 Comments on “Lawyers and the Office Bully

  1. Some good points here but … Who are these attorneys who are chomping at the bit to file a workplace bullying lawsuit? I’m an attorney who works in this area and I don’t know of any. As anyone who has been in this situation knows, it’s not easy to find an attorney to represent workers in employment cases because federal courts and the law are biased against workers. Yet, I’ve seen many cases where the (well grounded) threat of legal action has achieved positive results. Pat Barnes

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    • I think the author was just using that phrase to caution targets to be careful but in actuality my attorney was actually “chomping at the bit” and when I said I didn’t want to sue he tried to shame me into suing my employer because it was my “duty” as a “citizen” blah blah. No contingency — it would be out of pocket. I’m grateful I didn’t take his advice.

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    • Thank you for your comment, and most good employment lawyers wisely caution their clients realistically. Nonetheless, many anti-bully advocates encourage litigation as if it is some kind of magic bullet that will put an end to bullying. Moreover, many workers do not necessarily turn to employment lawyers for advice, but to whatever attorney is close at hand–a friend, relative, acquaintance or the lawyer who has the biggest ad and specializes in everything. So my point is that workers should be cautious of the lawyer who does encourage litigation as a solution–particularly, as Beverly Peterson notes, the ones who aren’t interested in contingency fees.

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  2. I am working on my thesis entitled Work Place Bullying Among Child Welfare Professionals. I was a Supervising Children’s Social Worker at a Large County Child Protection Agency, forced to retire early due to workplace bullying. At the time, I had no knowledge of this phenomenon and I filed an Worker’s Compensation claim and sued the County for creating a hostile work environment. I am thankful for all the resources that address workplace bullying which has been around for decades. My goal is to advocate for changes in the law in the hopes that no one will have to experience bullying on the job. Thanks you for sharing. I know must find money to return to school to finish my thesis. I am a survivor and I am sure that I will find a way to complete it.

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    • I’m so glad that you were able to use Worker’s Comp. Targets of bullying are often misinformed by well-meaning advocates to think that there are no resources. For some, like yourself, there are.Thank you so much for posting.

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  3. Dr. Harper,
    Can I as you a question. And,to the WBI. Why do you have an “institute” if everything I ever read,is “to run in the other direction,get a different job,etc” Isn’t it the point,of these blogs,and the WBI,to be there,for people.to help FIGHT this awful crime of mobbing? Everything,every single thing I read,states “run in the other direction,get out,blah blah blah” That’s like having a human rights activist organization,and playing ping pong all day,while repeating over and over “you have no rights,you have no rights” I am so let down,sad,confused by what all these blogs state. I read 1 book,out of 10 mobbing/workplace harassment books,that informed me of the ugly side,made me want to fight and stand up for what is right,and made me feel at ease. Thrown Under The Bus,or something like that. Please,stop telling us to run in the other direction if you are going to have a sight,or an organization,thats supposed to be about advocating. I mean no disrespect by this,and I apologize if I come off as so…Some of us cant run…..we cannot just quit our jobs…I don’t know about you all,but I am not a trust funder…So,we advocare for ourselves,we get retaliated against…exactly,where do these blogs and the WBI come into play here?

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    • We can’t speak for the WBI (Workplace Bullying Institute) since we are not in any way affiliated with them. You’re right that the message that many groups like that tell people to run the minute they feel they have come across bullying. This blog is focused on helping to bring out alternative voices and to help targets of abuse understand what is happening and that there may be ways to cope and adjust. There are also, however, some cases in which there is no recourse. The book reviewed in this article gives lots of tips and advice for coping and learning to understand what is happening. Personally I have been advocating for many years now, making films to put a human face on the target as well as the bully and writing articles that bring new voices and information to light. Can’t speak for any other organizations.

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    • I understand your concerns; I had them myself when I found myself a single mother, 50 years old, in a tenure-track job–running was not an option. That said, had I left when the writing was on the wall and not engaged in the battle once it was clear that the mobbing was in full force, I would have suffered a huge set back, but I would have a career. By not leaving, I suffered far, far more attacks than had I left, and my career was completely destroyed. Moreover, by having to sue, I found myself virtually unemployable once the case was settled, even though it was settled in my favor.

      I am not alone in this experience. In almost all mobbing cases I have encountered, not leaving was the kiss of death. If you can control it in an early stage, staying may be possible; but if not, and the mobbing is in full force with the support of management, leaving may be a huge blow, but it won’t be a mortal one.

      I discuss exactly why, and provide suggestions for controlling it in the early stages, in my book.

      Finally, please, do not confuse me with WBI. I have nothing to do with that organization.

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  4. I get confused on these sights. Sorry about the WBI. I feel my mobbing,WAS A MORTAL BLOW. It changed the course of my entire life…or lack of life…in the early stages?….it sounds like “how to get through chemotherapy,in the early stages of treatment” NO THANKS! What good is that? I feel people do not need self help books on “having a knife stuck in you..with a smile” They need help with this mobbing stuff…people commit suicide,they lose everything,they get sick,etc…..something besides a self-help book needs to be done. Period.

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    • This summer I was honored to present my documentary to a group of HR & Ombuds professionals who are looking for ways to change their understanding and approach to mobbing & bullying. I will be bringing my documentary to a public forum this December to Arizona for a similar discussion this time with a general public. I wouldn’t rule out survival guides like Harper’s because many of DO find them useful and helpful especially in the early stages. When I was struggling with the dilemma of whether or not to sue I wish there had been an honest, frank and informational book like that available. Thanks so much for posting!

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    • Mobbing is indeed a mortal blow, but I’m confident that for whatever its flaws, there is valuable information in my book that can prevent that brutal blow from becoming a mortal one. I share your sentiment, “They need help with this mobbing stuff,” and by trying to explain why and how it happens, and how to help prevent the aggression from escalating–and show ways to cope emotionally when it does–that fewer people will get sick, lose everything or commit suicide. I lost everything–except my family and my determination to heal and restore meaning to my life. I really urge you to read the book and listen to what I have to say. You certainly don’t have to agree with any of it, but if you listen, you may find some value in the techniques I suggest for coping with the anger and emotional flooding that is a natural response to mobbing. The anger and anguish are normal and understandable responses, but ultimately, they destroy us if we don’t find ways to recover. Moving past the anger does not mean the mobbing was okay; it means we will not let the mobbing destroy us.

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  5. My job is over….There is nothing I can learn from reading a “how to” book at this point. I did the research while suffering mobbing…I tried every approach that was suggested from all these workplace bullying sights..in addition to that,I had to educate my employer about multiple sclerosis…and I am a nurse…I am sorry…,but nothing will ever,ever,ever stop these evil sociopaths from targeting their prey. They have a bottom line. They changed the entire course of my life….And frankly,I would never suggest anyone,learn…how to tolerate mobbing. It cannot be done. Can waterboarding be tolerated? Can we learn skills on “how to” tolerate water boarding? No. Same with mobbing. So…I say we move on from the HOW TO’S into the WHAT NEXT phase of this topic.

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    • Thank you for posting again. I’m so sorry this has been your experience but all of the research shows that only 4% of the population falls into the category of psychopath and that would include both employers and colleagues who are on the same power level as you. The vast majority of abrasive behavior in the workplace – thank goodness – is either unintended, systemic, or considered a viable management technique. Sexual harassment was pandemic when I first entered the workforce but the majority of these men were not “evil” they were instead completely clueless of the fact that they were doing anything wrong. It took a law to force men to recognize and prevent the devastating impact of their behavior. As the daughters of CEO’s entered the workforce these same CEO’s recognized the need for institutional change. Does sexual harassment still exist? Of course. Do self help guides help those going through it? It depends on the situation. Those of us who have had the extreme misfortune to work for a member of the 4%, myself included, know that there is little you can do to protect yourself and your CV. We end up with devastated psyches and financial ruin scrambling to find a way to move on. That said – I think it only confuses the issue to say that all employers fall within that category and it actually thwarts the type of change we need to take place from within organizations. To me, no worker should ever work in an abusive or hostile workplace. If you have MS you fall within the disability protections, if they are not adequate then it would be useful to reach out and fight to have those laws strengthened.

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    • I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve had to endure, but please understand that there is nothing in my book that suggests anyone tolerate mobbing. I have received countless comments from people who have not read the book, but presume they already know it will be of no use. The book is about how to survive it–including controlling the emotional flooding and intrusive thoughts that cause mobbing targets to relive the experience as if it were still happening. I remain baffled by how many people have been deeply wounded, but show no interest in healing their wounds. Healing your wounds does not mean what happened to you is okay. It means you will not allow those who so severely damaged you to succeed in destroying you. It is your life, not theirs, and it is up to you what you do to restore peace, joy and meaning to the years you have left. I’ve provided several chapters that help targets gain the tools and insights they need to do just that.

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    • bullyinworkplace…I went to the eeoc,while I was still employed…I spoke with them,I never checked the box for them to perform an investigation,yet they informed my employer? When I called the eeoc….asking why they did that…I got the run around,and than they were actually excited when I told them I was suffering retaliation d/t them contacting my employer. It took the national ms society,to contact an attorney,who in turn,investigated and found out the eeoc was not supposed to contact my employer….I pulled out. I have a great case…failure to accommodate,disability discrimination,etc however….what does one do,when they are literally down to their last 300 bucks,have ongoing md appts for a chronic illness,with copays,last January,I was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer,which is also ongoing and unpredicatable. Im in a nightmare. I could not afford attorney at this point,let alone set out to attempt to change the laws. Id love to. But I am out of my 401k,my savings,cobra is 700 a month,plus living. Im in a nightmare I tell ya. And yes,I believe they are psycopaths. I didn’t at first,but I do now. And as far as I am concerned…they are criminals,yet they sleep better than I do at night,they have zero financial worry’s,ooooooooooooof,I cant even talk about it anymore!

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