Help! My Boss Is Giving Me PTSD! Am I Imagining This?


Behavior that is abusive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate in the workplace is most appropriately described as bullying. Unfortunately, it is not specifically prohibited by laws.
Bullying, most commonly referred to as a “disruptive behavior” in the healthcare industry, can take many forms. Bullying can be conduct which is demeaning, berating or threatening and can include unfair criticism, snide remarks or even a refusal to communicate when communication is necessary. Our clients know it when they feel it. It can be very stressful and demoralizing, leading to lack of productivity, anxiety and depression. Understanding that this type of conduct is real, not imaginary, is the first step in addressing the problem. 


Studies show that bullying in the workplace has many effects. In healthcare, it is well known that bullying and disruptive behavior are the leading causes of medical errors and contribute to poor patient satisfaction as well as to preventable adverse outcomes. For all industries, bullying leads to higher employee turnover, lower job satisfaction and poor performance. Aside from being a risk to patient safety, the greatest impact is that which is felt by those employees subjected to the bullying. Bullying can lead to stress, anxiety, panic attacks and other health problems. Bullying is linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These impacts are real and cannot be dismissed as only affecting those who are weak or do not have “thick skin”.


Employees subjected to bullying should speak up. This can be to the person engaged in the bullying if the employee feels comfortable – and safe – but in all cases to the employer. Bullied employees should make accurate notes of the behavior reflecting what was done/said as well as when and where it occurred. This is particularly important when the bullying is a part of a known pattern of behavior that is not being addressed by the employer. The employee should also note the emotional and physical impact of the bullying. Larger workplaces often offer confidential counseling assistance through their employee assistance programs (EAP). 


What, besides the impact on patient safety or poor work performance, are the risks to employers?  All states have “workers’ compensation” statutes. Workers’ compensation statutes provide a framework for employees to receive compensation for workplace injuries. More and more, those state agencies charged with adjudicating workers’ compensation claims are considering employment-related PTSD and other emotional disorders to be workplace injuries. This has a financial impact on employers by increasing workers’ compensation insurance rates and, in case of employee absences from work, lower productivity. Some states are in the process of considering anti-bullying legislation which could subject employers to liability beyond the limited reach of workers’ compensation.


By now, all employers should be aware of the legal ramifications of not taking steps to eliminate harassment in the workplace. As discussed in previous newsletters, state and federal laws prohibit harassment based upon membership in “protected classes” such as gender, race, color, national origin and religion.

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