What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Suck It Up? SUCK IT UP??? What AM I, a Vacuum Cleaner?

Three years ago, when I was working in the corporate office of a chain-store jeweler, I was the target of a workplace bully. L. would single out employees in her department that she felt were vulnerable -- and make their lives so miserable, they thought they'd drawn a card in some sick version of Monopoly:

Go to Hell. Go Directly to Hell. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

L. would: falsely accuse her Target-of-the-Month of mistakes she (for it was almost always a she) hadn't made; dismiss her thoughts and feelings; alternate between the "silent treatment" and harshly criticizing her; start destructive gossip about her; encourage others in the department to turn against her; use confidential information about the target to humiliate her in public; make unrealistic demands on her (i.e., impossible demands, excessive workload); and sabotage her work, either by failing to give her the information she needed to do the job, or by tampering with papers on her desk.

Usually, the targets would quit. For a long time, Hell had a revolving door. But for a long time -- ten years -- I was one of the employees L. liked. Bright, fast learner, reliable. I never thought what happened to those four or five other women would happen to me.

Until 2005 when two things happened: 1. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer; and 2. I had a (prolonged and very severe) depressive episode that began that fall.

Then L. started in on me. She accused me of playing hooky from work, even when I came straight back from the doctor's office with a doctor's note! She told everyone in the department I had bipolar illness--which normally I wouldn't have minded, except she was using my medical information as an excuse for people not to believe me. When I asked her what was going on, what the problem was, she told me I was being paranoid and oversensitive. I didn't say anything to upper management at the time -- because, after all, who was going to believe a crazy girl?

And when I wanted to take a few days of the medical leave I had saved up (out of three months!) so I could get my meds adjusted, she discouraged me from doing that. Even for a second trip to the doctor. She actually yelled at me to do my job and talked with a couple of my co-workers right outside my cubicle in a VERY loud voice about me, saying I should just suck it up!

Suck it up? Suck it up??? What am I, a vacuum cleaner?

To make a long story short, that depressive episode lasted a lot longer and was a lot more severe than it might've been if I'd been allowed to take the time off sooner. By the time L. got klonked on the head with a clue-by-four that yes, my work performance was declining because I really was ill, it was too late. I'd been marginally functioning for three or four months by then.

When I finally did get the medical leave I needed, it was March of 2006, and I used up two months of sick leave.

Even after that, I was still having trouble. My concentration was improving, but not anywhere near as good as it had been before. And my short-term memory was almost nonexistent. Meanwhile, the nasty gossip in loud voices right outside my cubicle continued. I know I wasn't hallucinating -- because a temp pulled me aside the day before I was fired and told me he'd heard it too. And he felt bad for me! (Of course, he was let go for doing that.)

Because I'd gone to the doctor so late, and my brain was still reeling from that seven or eight month episode, I was no longer able to do my job to L.'s standards. And I thought the company owed me something for my trouble. I knew I had severance pay and unemployment benefits coming if they fired me. So I let them.

When L. left the company a couple of months later, they found some interesting papers in her office...ones she'd stolen off my desk and other people's desks, then claimed she couldn't find!

Fast forward to now... I still have problems with concentration sometimes, but my memory problems -- which I never had before the Great Depression of '05-06 -- are severe enough that I need to keep written logs of every task, every project, every phone call.

There is justice in this world. Though in my case it was two-and-a-half years coming...

I work in HR now. Yesterday I finished writing a policy at my current job that reads, in part:

"...harassment and bullying in the workplace, whether based upon an employee's membership in a protected class or not, will not be tolerated under any circumstances."

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