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Physical Bullying in the Workplace: How to Protect Yourself

Physical Bullying in the Workplace: How to Protect Yourself

No one expects to be bullied at work, but it does happen. A 2019 survey found that nearly 94% of employees had experienced bullying at work. [1]

Given that bullying can have a significant negative impact on your physical and mental wellbeing it is important to understand what bullying and specifically, physical workplace bullying is.

In this article, we will look at examples of physical workplace bullying, the effects of this type of bullying behavior, and methods employees, managers, and human resources can use to combat the problem.

What Is Physical Bullying?

Physical bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone deliberately causes harm to another person. It can take many different forms, from hitting and kicking to shoving and spitting or damaging someone's property. Physical harassment can have serious consequences, both for the victim and the perpetrator.

Victims of physical bullying behavior may experience physical injuries, emotional distress, and social isolation. In extreme cases, it can even lead to suicide. Perpetrators of bullying conduct may also suffer from legal consequences and may be fired from a workplace or incarcerated.

Examples of Physical Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying can take many forms and sadly is not something left in the playground. Here we list some of the most common types of physical workplace bullying.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment means unwanted romantic or sexual attention towards an individual. It also involves making threats, such as dismissal, or promises, such as promotion, as a consequence of a victim agreeing or disagreeing with requests of sexual nature. Other sexual harassment examples include pressuring someone for sexual activity, remarks about a person's appearance, inappropriate physical contact, unwanted requests for dates or unwelcome gifts, e-mails, or calls.

A 2016 study found that more than half of all women polled have experienced some form of sexual harassment, that involved verbal abuse, sexual requests, and unwanted physical contact. [2] However, this prevalent crime isn't exclusive to women and anyone can be affected by it.

Sexual harassment and assault at work are serious problems that can have a negative impact on both individual employees and the company as a whole. Not only is it unsolicited and unwelcome, but it can also create a hostile work environment that makes it difficult for employees to do their jobs.

Physical assault

Physical assault is a common type of physical workplace bullying. It often starts as emotional harassment, such as constant criticism, withholding information, offensive remarks, or verbal abuse. Gradually it can lead to physical abuse, such as slapping, shoving, or health-harming mistreatment, such as being hit with a blunt object, stabbed, or shot. Although physical assault is often committed by someone outside an organization, it can also be committed by a co-worker or supervisor.

Victims of workplace violence may suffer physical injuries, psychological trauma, and lost wages. In extreme cases, workplace violence can even lead to death. Anyone can be a victim of workplace violence, but certain groups are at greater risk, for example, the taxicab industry which has nearly 60 times the national average for potential workplace violence.

Other occupations at risk include police, detectives, security guards, and gas station workers. A study found that retail sales workers were attacked 330,000 times each year, followed by police, with 234,200 officers victimized. [3]

Stealing or damaging property

Theft and damage of company property is a serious issue that can have significant consequences for both the individual and the business. Not only does it result in a loss of valuable assets, but it also undermines trust and morale. In some cases, it can even lead to legal action.

There are a number of reasons why someone might steal or damage company property. In some cases, it may be due to financial need or desperation. In others, it may be an act of revenge or spite. Whatever the motivation, it is important to remember that theft and damage are crimes. If you are caught, you could face prosecution and a prison sentence.

If you see someone stealing or damaging company property, the best thing to do is to report it to a manager or supervisor. Do not try to confront the individual yourself, as this could lead to violence or further damage. Instead, let the professionals handle the situation and take appropriate disciplinary action.

Effects of Physical Bullying in the Workplace

Impact on physical and mental health

When someone is physically bullied at work, it can lead to a great deal of stress. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including physical symptoms such as headaches, high blood pressure, stomachaches, and even chest pain. It can also lead to difficulty sleeping, feeling tense or on edge, panic attacks, and feeling as though one is in danger all the time. In severe cases, emotional and physical symptoms of stress can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The atmosphere of fear and intimidation

Physical workplace bullying is one of the most destructive forces, and it can create an atmosphere of fear that extends far beyond the immediate victim. Bystanders may feel compelled to stay silent for fear of becoming targets themselves, and this can silence dissent and creativity.

Moreover, employees may feel they have nowhere to turn if they are being bullied by their superiors. As a result, the atmosphere of an organization can suffer greatly when bullying is allowed to occur.

Productivity loss

There's no doubt that bullying can have a significant impact on productivity in the workplace. Employees who are constantly subjected to physical workplace bullying are more likely to experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

This can lead to absenteeism, increased errors, and a general decline in work quality. In fact, employees who experience institutional bullying are much more likely to take sick days than those who aren't bullied. And when they are at work, they are less engaged and productive.

Damaged Relationships

Institutional bullying can damage relationships between employees, and between employees and their managers. When workers feel physically threatened or intimidated by other employees, they may start to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in the workplace. This can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust.

Managers who witness or are aware of physical workplace bullying taking place may have a harder time trusting and respecting the employees involved. In addition, employees who are victims of physical harassment may start to feel that their managers are not doing enough to protect them, which can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction.

Increased financial costs

Workplace bullying can have a significant impact on an organization's bottom line. The Workplace Violence Research Institute found that workplace violence costs US businesses $36 billion a year. [4]

Employees who are bullied are more likely to take time off from work, and those who witness bullying are less productive. As a result, organizations may see increased costs associated with absenteeism and lost productivity. In addition, workplace bullying can create a hostile work environment that can lead to turnover. Consequently, workplace bullying can lead to significant financial costs for organizations.

How to Prevent Physical Bullying in the Workplace

While workplace bullying can be difficult to address, there are some steps you can take to prevent it:

  • Have a zero-tolerance policy for any type of workplace violence. This means that any employees who engage in physical workplace bullying will face disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
  • Encourage open communication among employees, so that anyone who feels like they're being bullied can speak up without fear of retaliation.
  • Provide training for all employees on what constitutes workplace bullying and how to report it.
  • Provide an Employee Assistance Program for victims of physical bullying.

How to Deal with Physical Bullying in the Workplace

No one deserves to be a victim of workplace bullying. If you are experiencing harassment you can take these steps below to protect yourself and help tackle workplace bullies:

  • Keep a detailed diary of the bullying incidents (dates, times, places, what was done or said, and who was present).
  • Keep documents that contradict the bully’s accusations, such as timesheets, and audit reports. Documents can be kept for yourself but it would be beneficial to make use of work documents like the incident log book.
  • Expect the bully to deny and even misconstrue your accusations; have a witness during meetings with the person.
  • Report the behavior to an appropriate and safe person.
  • Find support from trusted people at work, outside of work, and at home.

How to Report Physical Bullying in the Workplace

If you witness bullying or experience it yourself in the workplace, it is important to report it immediately. A report can be made to trigger the responsibility of your employer to conduct an investigation and take appropriate action. By speaking up, you can help to create a safe and respectful workplace for everyone.

If you observe physical workplace bullying, it is important to report it immediately:

  • Identify the behavior as bullying. Physical workplace bullying includes any unwanted physical contact, such as hitting, kicking, spitting, or hair-pulling. If you are unsure whether the behavior constitutes bullying, err on the side of caution and assume that it does.
  • Once you have determined that bullying is taking place, report it to your supervisor or another authority figure. Ideally, this should be done in person so that you can provide as much detail as possible.
  • If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable doing so, you can also report the incident by email or over the phone. Be sure to include as many specifics as possible, such as the names of those involved, dates and times of incidents, and any witnesses who may have seen what happened.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Physical Bullying a Crime?

Physical bullying behavior, such as aggravated assault or sexual harassment, includes unwanted touching or physical contact. It is important to note that physical workplace bullying does not necessarily involve violence or the threat of violence; even minor forms of physical contact can constitute assault if they are unwanted.

There are a variety of ways in which physical bullying behavior can occur, and the severity of the crime varies depending on the circumstances. In some cases, it may be considered a misdemeanor offense, while in others it may be classified as a felony. Penalties for physical harassment can range from a fine to imprisonment.

Can You Sue for Physical Bullying?

If you have been physically bullied, you may be wondering if you can sue for damages. The answer depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injuries you have suffered and the state in which you live.

If you have been physically harmed by another person's intentional actions, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. In order to succeed in such a case, you will need to prove that the other person acted negligently or intentionally caused you harm.

In some cases, it may also be necessary to show that the defendant knew or should have known that their actions could result in physical harm to another person.

If you are considering suing for physical bullying behavior, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options.

How Often Does Physical Bullying Occur in the Workplace?

According to National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 2 million workplace assaults and threats of violence occur annually in the US. Assault was the most common type of workplace violence - an average of 1.5 million assaults per year occur in organizations. [5]

What's important to note, is that not all physical bullying behavior occurs between employees, supervisors, and coworkers, some of it also comes from customers or partners. In addition, it is difficult to have accurate physical harassment statistics as not all employees report violence in the workplace to their employers.

According to the above-mentioned survey, these were the reported workplace violence incidents:

  • 396,000 aggravated assaults
  • 51,000 rapes and sexual assaults
  • 84,000 robberies
  • 1,000 homicides.

How to Stand Up to Physical Bullying?

No one deserves to be the victim of workplace bullying, but it can be hard to know how to stand up to a bully when you're in the middle of it. If you feel comfortable doing so, you should try to stand up to the bully directly. This may not always be possible or advisable, but it can be effective if done correctly:

  • Stay calm and collected. Don't let the bully see that they're getting to you.
  • Be assertive and confident in your claims. Bullies often back down when confronted with a confident individual.
  • Don't stoop to their level. Responding to violence or threats will only make the situation worse.

How to Stand Up to Physical Bullying as a Bystander?

While it's essential for victims of abusive conduct to speak up, it's also crucial for bystanders to take action. Standing up to a bully can be difficult, but there are some simple steps you can take to make a difference:

  • Stay calm. It's important not to overreact, as this may escalate the situation. Instead, try to defuse the situation by speaking calmly and assertively. For example, you could say something like, "Hey, that's not cool. Leave him alone."
  • If the bully doesn't back down, the next step is to get help from management or the human resources department. It's important to have someone in your corner who can diffuse the situation and help support the victim.
  • Finally, it's essential to check in with the victim after the incident. Let them know that you're there for them and offer any help or resources they might need.


1 Robinson, 2019.

2 Trades Union Congress, 2016. Still just a bit of banter? Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016.

3 U.S. Department of Justice, 2022. Indicators of Workplace Violence, 2019.

4 Workplace Violence Research Institute.

5 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

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