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Moderate to Severe Bullying

Moderate to severe bullying falls to the right of mild bullying on the Johns Hopkins Continuum of Disruptive Behaviors at Work. Workplace bullying consists of recurrent and persistent negative actions toward one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment (Salin, 2003). Bullying becomes moderate to severe when the instances of abuse increase in frequency and personalization. There is no complete list of bullying behaviors, but the key is intent to harm or humiliate. Included in this level of behavior are stalking, domestic/intimate partner violence, and stated threats.  

Johns Hopkins has defined workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment of a person that may result in harm to one’s health and that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or interference that prevents work from getting done.

It is important to recognize these behaviors, and to say something if you see any of them so that they don’t escalate and cause a greater risk of harm to faculty, staff, students, and the community. Bullying behavior is likely to continue unless it is reported and interventions are put in place. Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System have adopted policies that call for zero tolerance of violent behavior, threats, bullying, and intimidation. Johns Hopkins will not permit employment-based retaliation against anyone who, in good faith, brings a complaint of workplace violence or who speaks as a witness in the investigation of a complaint of workplace violence. 

Specific Actions Associated with Moderate to Severe Bullying

A subcommittee of the Joint Risk Assessment Team developed a list of concerning behaviors as part of ongoing research on disruptive behaviors at work and early intervention and prevention of workplace violence. Examples of behavior that indicate severe bullying include: 

  • Gossip campaigns about a person’s character to other coworkers
  • Recruiting coworkers to further “attack” victim
  • Physical intimidation
  • Imposing impossible deadlines
  • Public humiliation or ostracism
  • Singling out an employee in condescending ways
  • Supervisor retaliation for employee reporting or seeking help
  • Falsely accusing someone of “errors” not actually made
  • Staring, glaring, or being nonverbally intimidating and showing clear signs of hostility
  • Harshly and constantly criticizing; having a different “standard” for the victim
  • Encouraging others to turn against the person being tormented
  • Yelling, screaming, or throwing tantrums in front of others to humiliate a person
  • Abusing the evaluation process by lying about the victim’s performance 

Awareness means understanding that behaviors left unchecked can escalate into violence.  If there is a behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t ignore it.  Take action well before the point at which violence might occur. If you or someone you know is concerned about any of these behaviors, contact your supervisor or academic advisor, human resources/labor relations, Security, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, or the Workplace Risk Assessment program manager at .