How To Partner With HR To Prevent Workplace Bullying

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It’s crucial for human resources and management staff to work together to protect their organization against workplace bullying!

Here’s why.

A nurse manager has been dealing with high turnover and poor retention because of one toxic person. This person, otherwise known as the queen bully, has been wrecking havoc on the unit for decades but her toxic behavior has never been addressed because she is so clinically competent. Finally, the manager has had enough and decides to terminate the queen bully but when she contacts human resources, she hits a brick wall.

“Well, did you counsel this person?”

“What have you done to help this person change her behavior?”

“I’m not sure you’ve documented enough to warrant termination.”

“Did you cross all of your Ts and dot your Is?”

On and on…

Unfortunately, this story repeats itself every day. Front line managers, who have been using silence as a strategy when dealing with problem employees, finally decide to DO something about it, but don’t get the support they need from HR.  In 2014, Xpert HR, a human resource firm, reported that only 2% of individuals who reported bullying to their HR department were satisfied with the results.




The problem is two-fold:

#1 – many front line managers view HR as the last resort to get the help they need to discipline or terminate an employee for disruptive behavior.  But in many cases, they haven’t built a case that warrants corrective action.  I know because I was one of them. I used to be a unit manager on a large medical unit and identified a few toxic employees whom needed to change their behavior or leave the organization. Unfortunately, I realized that NOTHING was documented in their employee files by the previous managers, so when I finally asked HR for help, I got the run around. I was told repeatedly that I didn’t have enough “ammunition” and therefore, couldn’t take any action.  They wanted more.  It took me 14 months to finally terminate 2 of my toxic employees. But by then, I felt so beat up that I quit my job.

It shouldn’t be this way.

Almost every time I host a workshop for leaders on the topic of bullying, a manager will approach me at the end and say, “That’s it! I’m going to go back to work and FIRE my bully!” Whoa Whoa. Unfortunately, you can’t fire someone just because you finally realize he/she is toxic and needs to leave.

I’ve talked with many HR representatives who share examples of situations where a manager wants to terminate an employee because of bullying behavior. The manager may even present HR with documentation BUT the documentation is so vague (no dates, no details, etc.) that the organization would be putting itself at risk if they allowed the termination.

#2 – HR departments are so risk averse that they keep really toxic people who should have been terminated decades ago! It’s so frustrating when this happens. However, I once talked with a Director in the Human Resource Department who was a lot more willing to terminate employees for bad behavior. Her response? “That’s why we have a legal department and pay them well. Their job is to mitigate our risk when we terminate employees.” Love it!  HR representatives need to STOP putting the burden of proof on the manager and START helping, supporting, and advising managers how to USE policy and process to address problem employees.


It’s important to understand the role human resource departments play with regards to bad employee behavior and the lens that they view all cases through.  Their primary role is to protect the organization from any potential liability AND protect employee rights.  With every case, they determine the risk versus the benefits of keeping or losing an employee.

  • Schedule a meeting with your director/boss and someone from Human Resources.
  • Provide them with as much documentation as possible about this person’s behavior and how their behavior impacts patient safety, quality, or satisfaction; and/or how he/she creates a toxic work environment. Include any data you have about turnover, employee complaints, or observations.
  • Let your human resource representative know that you intend to terminate this employee and ASK for his/her support.




It’s important to understand that the role of a front line manager is to create an environment where employees work collaboratively as a team to provide high quality, safe, and effective care for patients. If a toxic employee is on the team, patients and everyone else suffers. Managers need your help, not your criticism.

  • Build a relationship with your front line managers so that they feel more comfortable seeking help from you BEFORE they want to terminate someone. Provide counsel and view yourself as an advisor.
  • Attend management meetings and educate leaders on the following:
    • Policies related to workplace bullying/incivility. Believe it or not, many managers DO NOT know what policies are in place to address bad behavior.
    • The process for reporting disruptive behaviors.
    • How to properly document incidents of disruptive behaviors.
  • Be open minded and stop putting up brick walls!! I know it’s easier to terminate someone for poor clinical performance or time and attendance issues but behavior is equally as important!!


[easy-tweet tweet=”It’s important to understand that the role of a front line manager is to create an environment where employees work collaboratively!”]


When you think about it, shouldn’t nursing leadership and human resources be on the same team and have the same goals? Instead of seeing each other as formidable adversaries, see each other as partners in creating a professional, supportive, and nurturing environment for employees and the patients they serve.

Thanks so much for reading.

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to create a professional workforce by eliminating bullying and incivility.

If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

Contact Renee today at to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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