Fact sheet on adults with Asperger's syndrome and managing anger


Adults with either autism or Asperger's syndrome may encounter bullying if neurotypical people target their different style of social interaction.


Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, and even physical abuse. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because unlike the typical forms of schoolyard bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace therefore takes a wide variety of forms, from being rude or belligerent, to screaming or cursing, destruction of property or work product, social ostracism, and even physical assault. According to Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts[1] , researchers associated with the Project for Wellness and Work-Life workplace bullying is most often "a combination of tactics in which numerous types of hostile communication and behavior are used" (p. 152).


Gary and Ruth Namie define workplace bullying as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.".[2]. Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik[3] expands this definition, stating that workplace bullying is "persistent verbal and nonverbal aggression at work, that includes personal attacks, social ostracism, and a multitude of other painful messages and hostile interactions."


Workplace bullying is also referred to as mobbing, although mobbing can also mean any bullying by more than one person. Other psynonyms include "emotional abuse" at work, "social undermining, and general workplace abuse. According to Pamela Lutgin-Sandvik[4], the lack of unifying language to name the phenomenon of workplace bullying is a problem because without a unifying term or phrase, individuals have difficulty naming their experiences of abuse, and therefore have trouble pursuing justice against the bully. Unlike the term "sexual harassment," which named a specific problem and is now recognized in U.S. law (and many international laws), workplace bullying is still being established as a relevant social problem and is in need of a specific vernacular.



Statistics[5] from the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention show that one in three employees personally experiences bullying at some point in their working lives. At any given time, 1 out of every 10 employees is a target of workplace bullying. Nearly half of all American workers (49%) have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker.


Although socio-economic factors may play a role in the abuse, researchers from the Project for Wellness and Work-Life[1] suggest that "workplace bullying, by definition, is not explicitly connected to demographic markers such as sex and ethnicity" (p. 151). Because one out of ten employees experiences workplace bullying, the prevalence of this issue is cause for great concern, even as initial data about this issue are reviewed.


In terms of gender, the Workplace Bullying Institute (2007) states that women apear to be at greater risk of becoming a bullying target, as 57% of those who reported being targeting for abuse were women. Men are more likely to participate in aggressive bullying behavior (60%), however if the bully is a woman, her target is more likely to be a woman as well (71%).


Race also may play a role in the experience of workplace bullying. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (2007), "the comparison of combined bullying (current + ever bullied) prevalence percentages reveals the pattern from most to least: Hispanics (52.1%), African-Americans (46%), Whites (33.5%) and Asian-Americans (30.6%). The reported rates of witnessing bullying were African-Americans (21.1%), Hispanics (14%), Whites (10.8%), and Asian-Americans (8.5%). The percentages of those claiming to have neither experienced nor witnessed mistreatment were among Asian-Americans (57.3%), Whites (49.7%), Hispanics (32.2%) and African-Americans (23.4%)."


Health effects of bullying

According to Gary and Ruth Namie, as well as Tracy, et al.[6], workplace bullying can harm the health of the targets of bullying. Organizations are beginning to take note of workplace bullying because of the costs to the organization in terms of the health of their employees.


According to scholars at the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, "workplace bullying is linked to a host of physical, psychological, organizational, and social costs." Stress is the most predominant health affect associated with bullying in the workplace. Research indicates that workplace stress has significant negative effects that are correlated to poor mental health and poor physical health, resulting in an increase in the use of "sick days" or time off from work (Farrell & Geist-Martin, 2005).


In addition, co-workers who witness workplace bullying can also have negative effects, such as fear, stress, and emotional exhaustion[3]. Those who witness repetitive workplace abuse often choose to leave the place of employment where the abuse took place. Workplace bullying can also hinder the organizational dynamics such as group cohesion, peer communication, and overall performance.


Bullying and personality disorders

Robert Hare and Paul Babiak discuss psychopathy and workplace bullying thus[7]:


“Bullies react aggressively in response to provocation or perceived insults or slights. It is unclear whether their acts of bullying give them pleasure or are just the most effective way they have learned to get what they want from others. Similar to manipulators, however, psychopathic bullies do not feel remorse, guilt or empathy. They lack insight into their own behaviour, and seem unwilling or unable to moderate it, even when it is to their own advantage. Not being able to understand the harm they do to themselves (let alone their victims), psychopathic bullies are particularly dangerous.”

“Of course, not all bullies are psychopathic, though this may be of little concern to their victims. Bullies come in many psychological and physical sizes and shapes. In many cases, “garden variety” bullies have deep seated psychological problems, including feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and difficulty in relating to others. Some may simply have learned at an early stage that their size, strength, or verbal talent was the only effective tool they had for social behaviour. Some of these individuals may be context-specific bullies, behaving badly at work but more or less normally in other contexts. But the psychopathic bully is what he is: a callous, vindictive, controlling individual with little or no empathy or concern for the rights and feelings of the victim, no matter what the context.”


Workplace bullying and the law


Each state has its own legislation.In Queensland there is no law against workplace bullying although anti-discrimination and stalking laws could be used to prosecute if appropriate.In Victoria, legislation comes from Worksafe Victoria. if bullying endangers a worker's health causing stress or any other physical harm, a corporation can be found liable for not providing a safe place for their employees to work.[8]



The Canadian Province of Quebec introduced legislation addressing workplace bullying on 1 June 2004. In its Act representing Labour Standards "psychological harassment" is prohibited. The Commission des normes du travail is the organization responsible for the application of this act.[9]


Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act 1979, "all employers must take every precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. This includes protecting them against the risk of workplace violence "[10]. The Act requires establishment of Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees for larger employers.


Under the act, workplace violence is defined as "...the attempted or actual exercise of any intentional physical force that causes or may cause physical injury to a worker. It also includes any threats which give a worker reasonable grounds to believe he or she is at risk of physical injury"[11][10]. Currently, as the Act is written, the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act does not specifically cover the issue of psychological harassment [10].


On Dec 13, 2007 MPP Andrea Horwath introduced for first reading a new Bill, Bill-29, to make an amendment to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. This Bill-29 is proposing "to protect workers from harassment and violence in the workplace" and will include protection from psychological abuse and bullying behaviors in the workplace in Ontario. [12]


The Canadian Province of Saskatchewan made workplace bullying illegal in 2007 by passing The Occupational Health and Safety (Harassment Prevention) Amendment Act, 2007. The act broadened the definition of harassment, as defined in the The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993, to include psychological harassment.[13]



In Ireland, there is a Code of Practice for employers and employees on the prevention and resolution of bullying at work.[14] The Code notes the provision in the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005 requiring employers to manage work activities to prevent improper conduct or behaviour at work. The Code of Practice provides both employer and employee with the means and the machinery to identify and to stamp out bullying in the workplace in a way which benefits all sides.



Workplace bullying in Sweden is covered by the Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work, which defines victimisation as "...recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community."[15]


The act places the onus on employers to plan and organise work so as to prevent victimisation and to make it clear to employees that victimisation is not acceptable. The employer is also responsible for the early detection of signs of victimisation, prompt counter measures to deal with victimisation and making support available to employees who have been targeted.


United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, although bullying is not specifically mentioned in workplace legislation, there are means to obtain legal redress for bullying. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997[16] is a recent addition to the more traditional approaches using employment-only legislation. Notable cases include Majrowski v Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust wherein it was held that an employer is vicariously liable for one employee's harassment of another, and Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd, where a bullied worker was awarded over £800,000 in damages. In the latter case, at paragraph 99, the judge Mr Justice Owen said:


"...I am satisfied that the behaviour amounted to a deliberate and concerted campaign of bullying within the ordinary meaning of that term."
Bullying behaviour breaches other UK laws. An implied term of every employment contract in the UK is that parties to the contract have a (legal) duty of trust and confidence to each other. Bullying, or an employer tolerating bullying, typically breaches that contractual term. Such a breach creates circumstances entitling an employee to terminate his or her contract of employment without notice, which can lead to a finding by an Employment Tribunal of unfair dismissal, colloquially called constructive dismissal. An employee bullied in response to asserting a statutory right can be compensated for the detriment under Part V of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and if dismissed, Part X of the same Act provides that the dismissal is automatically unfair. Where a person is bullied on grounds of sex, race or disability et al, it is outlawed under anti-discrimination laws.


It was argued, following the obiter comments of Lord Hoffman in Johnson v. Unisys in March 2001,[17][18] that claims could be made before an Employment Tribunal for injury to feelings arising from unfair dismissal. It was re-established that this was not what the law provided, in Dunnachie v Kingston upon Hull City Council, July 2004 [19] wherein the Lords confirmed that the position established in Norton Tool v Tewson in 1972, that compensation for unfair dismissal was limited to financial loss alone. Unfair dismissal compensation is subject to a statutory cap set at £60600 from Feb 2006. Discriminatory dismissal continues to attract compensation for injury to feelings and financial loss, and there is no statutory cap.


United States

In the United States, comprehensive workplace bullying legislation has yet to be passed by the federal government or by any U.S. state government, but since 2003, many state legislatures have considered bills.[20] As of October 2007, 13 U.S. states have proposed legislation; these are:[21]


New Jersey (2007)
Washington (2007, 2005)
New York (2006)
Vermont (2007)
Oregon (2007, 2005)
Montana (2007)
Connecticut (2007)
Hawaii (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)
Oklahoma (2007, 2004)
Kansas (2006)
Missouri (2006)
Massachusetts (2005)
California (2003)
These workplace bullying bills have typically allowed employees to sue their employers for creating an "abusive work environment," and most have been supported by the notion that laws against workplace bullying are necessary to protect public health.


Although most U.S. states operate under the 19th Century doctrine of at-will employment (which, in theory, allows an employer to fire an employee for any reason or no reason), American workers have gained significant legal leverage through discrimination and harassment laws, workplace safety laws, union-protection laws. etc., such that it would be illegal under federal and the laws of most states to fire employees for a whole host of reasons. These employment laws typically forbid retaliation for good faith complaints or exercising legal rights, such as organizing a union. Discrimination and harassment laws enable employees to sue for creating a "hostile work environment," which can include bullying, but the bullying/hostility must be tied in some way to a characteristic protected under the discrimination/harassment law, such as race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc.



1 Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and AlbertsNightmares, Demons and Slaves, Exploring the Painful Metaphors of Workplace Bullying, 2006
2 Namie, Gary and Ruth Workplace Bullying Institute Brochure
3 Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela Take This Job and . . . : Quitting and Other Forms of Resistance to Workplace Bullying
4 Lutgin-Sandvik, Pamela, The Communicative Cycle of Employee Emotional Abuse, 2003
5 Bully Busters Workplace Bullying Defined
6Namie, Gary and Ruth The WBI 2003 Report on Abusive Workplaces
7 Hare, Robert and Babiak, Paul, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work Harper Collins, 2006
8 Worksafe, Victorian Workcover Authority
9 Commission des normes du travail
10 Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act 1979 Ministry of Labor, Ontario, Canada
11 Workplace Violence Ministry of Labor, Ontario, Canada
12 Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Canada
13 The Occupational Health and Safety (Harassment Prevention) Amendment Act, 2007 in Saskatchewan
14 Republic of Ireland - 2007 Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work
15 Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work AFS 1993:17 Official English translation
16 Protection from Harassment Act 1997
17 Judgments - Johnson (A.P.) v. Unisys Limited, Uk Parliament - Publications
18 Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2001 IRLR 279 House of Lords], Case Summaries, Equal Opportunities Commission, UK
19 Dunnachie v Kingston upon Hull City Council 2004
20 Said, Caroline (2007-01-21). Bullying bosses could be busted: Movement against worst workplace abusers gains momentum with proposed laws. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2007-10-19.
21 Workplace Bullying Institute


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Adults with either autism or Asperger's syndrome may encounter bullying if neurotypical people target their different style of social interaction.