Bullying is most often associated with children and teens, but adults can be victims and perpetrators as well. Workplace bullying is more common than most people realize, and it can have devastating consequences.Those who suffer the most and are most likely to be victims are workers and children with disabilities. What these individuals should know is that they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is bullying?

Bullying is intentional, repeated intimidation and aggressive behavior targeted at one or more individuals. It may be physical or verbal and emotional. Bullying is threatening, damaging, and involves a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim. It isn’t difficult to identify bullying among children, but in the workplace, among adults it may be harder to admit to being a victim of this kind of harassment. The same definition, applies, though.

Disabled victims of bullying

It is a well-known fact that children with disabilities are at a greater risk of being bullied than their peers. Bullies often target people who are different, who they perceive as being different, or who they see as being potentially weak or unable to fight back. Adults with disabilities are also more vulnerable to bullying, for exactly the same reasons. Adult bullies are more likely to use verbal abuse and threats than to get physical with victims.

Bullying in the workplace

According to statistics, more than 27 percent of workers have reported experiencing abuse at work that could be considered bullying. The statistic is likely higher for disabled workers, but there have been no studies to determine that. Nearly three-quarters of workers say they are aware of bullying going on in the office or other work site. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between bullying at work and general hostile behavior. Some examples of what might be considered bullying are:

  • A coworker or employer shouting and verbally abusing one worker, singling that person out from the rest on more than one occasion.
  • When someone intentionally tries to embarrass a worker repeatedly.
  • Exclusion of one particular worker from events or intentionally ignoring that worker’s contributions to projects.
  • Making fun of a worker’s disability or harassing that worker for getting accommodations.

What makes these bullying activities are that they include some type of abuse or intentional aggression, that they are repeated, and that they target just one person. A boss who yells at everyone may not be the best boss, but that is not necessarily bullying behavior.

Consequences of bullying

Anyone who has been bullied is at risk for serious consequences, but for someone with a disability the repercussions can be more severe. A disability already puts an adult at risk for struggling with socializing, and with emotional and mental health. Being bullied increases the risk that a disabled worker will struggle with depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. Bullying can also have a negative impact on someone’s performance at work, even leading to missed days and missed pay.

What victims can do about workplace bullying

There are no laws against bullying in the workplace, but for adults with disabilities, being targeted by a work bully can constitute harassment, and that is illegal under the ADA. The first step should be to report bullying to a supervisor or to human resources. The victim should also keep a record of incidents of bullying, including the date and time, any witnesses, and what happened. If no one at work is willing to help, the next step is to contact the worker’s union, a lawyer, or a state department of civil or human rights.

Workplace bullying is damaging and should not be tolerated. Many companies have anti-bullying or harassment policies, and yet many disabled workers still suffer from this type of abuse. When each person who has been victimized stands up and demands action, bullying may start to decrease.