Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves real or perceived power imbalance. It often happens among school-aged children but it can also continue into adulthood and into the workplace. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is repeated mistreatment and a form of abusive conduct. It can include verbal abuse, work sabotage, or other conduct that is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. In a recent study (PDF), the Workplace Bullying Institute found that more than 2/3rds of Americans are aware that bullying happens in the workplace, with 27% of Americans actually experiencing abusive conduct at work. People with disabilities may be the target of bullying, including abusive language directed at their disability, retaliation for requesting or receiving accommodations, and “outing” or being forced to reveal a hidden disability.
In her research on work-life balance and workplace wellness, NIDILRR researcher LaWanda Cook, PhD, asked workers with disabilities whether they experienced any harassment or discrimination at work. About 27% of the study respondents reported that they experienced some harassment or discrimination and, in their open-ended responses, many of these participants used the term “bullying” to describe their experience. In her webinar, Workplace Bullying, Harassment, and Disability (see the Employment section in the Northeast ADA Regional Center Webinar archives), she said respondents gave several examples such as “…being yelled at by supervisors and coworkers, often in front of other employees. Insensitivity around accommodation needs was a very frequent concern. Coworkers and supervisors discrediting their work, being denied professional development or promotional opportunities, being excluded from information sharing at work, being excluded from workplace or after-work socializing.” Disclosure was a significant issue as well: “One of the things that came up that I think is unique to people with disabilities is forced disclosure and confidentiality breech. There were some instances where people described situations in which they felt like they were really put on the spot where they had to say, had to actually share I have a disability, when they weren’t planning to do that.”
Dr. Cook’s research is showing that workplace bullying and harassment present serious barriers to healthy and productive workplaces for people with disabilities. Addressing these barriers are key to creating an inclusive workforce. To learn more about addressing workplace bullying, check out these resources from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere:
- In addition to Dr. Cook’s webinar, catch Wendy S. Gower’s webinar on Building Trust and Openness: The Human Side of Disability in the Workplace. Both are available the Northeast ADA Center webinar archive.
- The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Pathways to Positive Futures offers advice for young people entering the workforce on if, when, and how to disclose a mental illness to an employer (PDF).
- The RRTC on Learning and Working During the Transition to Adulthood Voice 4 Hope group put together a collection of resources on bullying. Voices 4 Hope is developed and maintained by and for young people with mental health challenges.
- Know your rights as an employee with a disability by getting in touch with the nearest ADA National Network Center: 800/949-4232.
- The Texas Commission on Developmental Disabilities has an excellent article to help you identify workplace bullying and understand your rights to an intimidation-free workplace.
- The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth also offers an excellent brief on workplace bullying.
Dive further into the research with these deep searches in our REHABDATA database:
- NIDILRR research on employment and bullying, intimidation, or harassment.
- US and international research in workplace bullying, harassment, or intimidation.