Mistreatment in the Workplace


For decades, Congress has passed laws aimed at offering employment protections. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. 

Other laws ensure employment protections, too. It is unlawful, for instance, to discriminate based on one’s pregnancy status or their disability. It is also impermissible to retaliate against those who file discrimination charges. 

These laws might lead you to think that employment discrimination and mistreatment are things of the past. Sadly, though, that is the not the case. Instead, employees file tens of thousands of complaints each year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and this represents just the tip of the iceberg. 

Indeed, Lindsay Dhanani, of Ohio University, and her colleagues recently illustrated how mistreatment has a broad reach. Certainly, it affects the perpetrator and the target. But, bad behavior can impact people who observe it or even hear about it, too. We can think of these impacts as third-party outcomes. 

Dhanani and colleagues showed that third-party outcomes can vary widely. For some observers, they might experience strain or poor psychological health. For others, moral outrage might follow, as well as the desire to seek justice. 

In some cases, seeing or hearing about abuse in the workplace might negatively impact people’s connection to the organization. Their performance might suffer, or they might feel less satisfied or committed.

Of course, there are factors that might impact these outcomes, including the type of mistreatment, the third party’s experience with mistreatment, and their relationship with the parties directly involved, among others. 

A key takeaway from this reesearch is the recognition that mistreatment and abuse have far-reaching consequences. All the more reason, therefore, to end such behaviors at work.