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Or can you? I recently went to a screening of Bully. While I have seen the documentary before, it is one I recommend everyone watch more than once. The teen focused drama is s sober reminder of the ramifications cruel intentions have on targets.

Having said all that, it is time I come around full circle. I was having a discussion with a co-worker. As we reflected on a particular situation, it was stated that you can’t fire someone for being an asshole. While workplace targets are not protected by law, why aren’t more organizations putting anti-bully language into their HR polices? Smart companies know it is more cost effective to retain employees you already have, as opposed to having to fill empty positions vacated by trained, knowledgeable, high performers. Happy employees, who feel appreciated and empowered generate greater sales, create happier clients, and are more productive.

HR polices protect a lot of individuals from a lot of “stuff”. Sexual harassment, derogatory slurs, graffiti, dirty emails, and any other repeated behavior that may be considered discrimination of some sort based on an individual’s race, gender, age, sex, national origin, disability, or genetic information. If these acts create a hostile work environment the acts become illegal. Please note, I am not a HR specialist, nor a lawyer. The point is this: my employer must protect me from a hostile work environment if the discrimination against me is because I am a member of a protected class. However, they don’t need to protect me if a hostile work environment is created because of a workplace bully.

36% of people in the workplace are affected by bullies. However, when the hostile work environment is brought to the attention of higher ups, or often HR, the answer seems to be nothing can be done. Maybe some conflict resolution techniques will be thrown out. Perhaps feedback will be given to someone…somewhere. But for the most part polices aren’t in place to protect the targets of bullying. As a result absenteeism increases, healthcare costs go up, productivity goes down, and turnover happens. The last statement should make HR and manager hearts beat a bit faster. It should cause palms to sweat.. just a little.

So, leaving the whole “it’s the right thing to do” aside, why aren’t HR departments fighting to protect all employee’s from a hostile work environment, despite whether or not the law requires it? There is a real monetary reason for why organizations should have anti-bully policies in their employee handbook. To replace an employee, it can cost up to 150% of the departed’s salary. I won’t even talk about the cost in lost productivity and the potential of lawsuits. Yet we still can’t fire an assohole? If conscience isn’t reason enough to look at anti-bully policies the cost alone should make this a no brainer policy for every organization.