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What to Do If You Are Bullied at Work

A recent survey says 1 in 3 people has been tormented on the job. Here's what you can do to protect yourself

2. Document it

Write down what's happening — time, dates and locations. This journal should detail specific volatile behavior and give an explanation of what started it and your recommendations for how it would be better handled the next time, says Schofield: "A grievance list alone won't be enough." Keep your log stored in a safe place such as a home computer rather than a work computer.

3. Talk to the bully

If and only if you feel confident and physically secure, have a one-on-one talk with the bully. Be positive and do your best to be polite. Calmly explain that it's not OK to treat you this way. It's possible the person is unaware that what he or she is doing is upsetting you and will apologize and back off. You'll need some backbone here. But it's not in your job description to accept rude behavior or irrational work demands.

4. Take your complaint to a higher power

Bullies can be tenacious and unreasonable, so you may need to call in the big guns. Your first line of defense is to talk to your manager, assuming he or she is not the culprit. But you may have to go to HR.

Many employers are well aware that workplace bullying can put a damper on morale and raise employee turnover. Both of these repercussions can increase costs and nick profits — something near and dear to an organization's heart.

Little wonder that though bullying isn't illegal, the SHRM survey found that 43 percent of employers had some kind of policy against it and 13 percent were planning to institute one. It's usually tucked into an employee handbook or code of conduct. Many workplaces have mandatory classes that teach employees how to recognize harassment. Employers typically respond to provable bullying allegations with actions like reassignment or obligatory anger management training. Suspension or firing is a last resort.

If you take your complaint to your boss or HR, frame it as something constructive, not whining. Yes, it's an emotional grievance. But you must make an objective case about the cost of bullying to the organization. Appeal to bottom-line issues — turnover, absenteeism and litigation. Have your documentation pulled together. Describe what's been happening in precise detail and explain how the situation is taking a toll on your ability to do your work.

"Avoid locking yourself into the good guy vs. bad guy trap," says Schofield. "Remember there are always multiple viewpoints … Focus on the potential solution more than the existing problem."

If you've concluded that you're being bullied, targeted for schedule changes or harassed by a boss or coworkers after you hit a key age milestone, or if you notice that other older workers are also targeted, you should report it to your employer's human resources department right away, says Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer and author of Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Issues Before You Quit, Get Axed, or Sue the Bastards.

Next page: Have a back-up plan in your front pocket. »

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