Published 3 July 2020, The Daily Tribune

One thing is clear, “bullying” as a concept owes it origin in schools — environments where children, by and large, have yet to fully comprehend what is right and what is wrong. However, it is equally apparent that bullying has the capability of transcending student life and manifesting in adulthood, particularly in the workplace. True, it is uncommon to hear the word “bullying” used in discussing one’s grievances with co-workers, colleagues and superiors. After all, not many people would proudly admit to being victims of bullying, much less being bullies themselves. Yet, despite the namelessness of these occurrences, it cannot be denied that this serious, albeit overlooked, problem persists in places beyond playgrounds and classrooms.

In House Bill (HB) 815 (proposed as the Anti-Office Bullying Act of 2016), bullying in the workplace, also referred to as “office bullying,” is broadly defined as: (A)ny severe or repeated use by one or more employees of a written, verbal or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at an employer, co-employee, or any person with whom he/she has professional relations or dealings that has the effect of actually causing or placing the latter in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to his property.

HB 815 also enumerates various acts that qualify as office bullying. These include physical abuse, intentional sabotage, slanderous statements, gossiping, foul language, name-calling, cyber-bullying, stealing credit and intimidation. The very nature of these acts is not only harmful to the victim, but also detrimental to the peace which is necessitated by an environment that seeks to provide the best quality of work expected from employees.

Office bullying is commonly overlooked because of how systematic it has become — certain power dynamics allow for bullying to be done furtively, in a methodical and institutionalized manner.

This is not to say, however, that employers simply condone this behavior. It just goes to show how these types of things happen normally behind closed doors, or are done through veiled messages, and that victims are usually shamed or threatened to keep silent on the matter.

Having said that, it is unfortunate that a law dealing with such a behavior has yet to be enacted. Although there is a law to address bullying in educational institutions, such as RA 10627, or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, Congress has yet to pass its counterpart in workplaces. There have been attempts to address the lack of legislation on office bullying (the aforementioned House Bill 815 and Senate Bill 1217, proposed to be known as the Anti-Office Bullying Act of 2019), but so far, nothing has come out of these. To be sure, these two bills essentially seek the same thing: passing a law to uphold every working Filipino’s dignity and to guarantee that there is respect of human rights in all work environments. Aside from defining what “office bullying” is and which acts fall under such definition, both bills discuss specific mechanisms to address office bullying, its reportorial requirements, and sanctions for non-compliance.

For instance, the bills mandate that if offices and businesses were found to be non-compliant, the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission are tasked to prescribe the appropriate sanctions on any administrative office or officer, human relations office or officer, or any person or office holding a comparable role.

Although the filing of the aforementioned bills is a step in the right direction, much is still needed to be done. Currently, both bills are still pending in the committee level of both houses of Congress. It is, thus, the people’s right and duty to push lawmakers to address this existing concern. Passing a law to direct all offices, whether private or public, to implement policies against bullying would fulfill every Filipino workingman’s right to respect and dignity, as mandated by the Constitution. The absence of an enabling law though should not deter executives, employers and employees from doing what they can, given their respective positions and obligations in the workplace. A law is not necessary for offices to begin curbing acts of bullying or harassment and penalizing violators. Appropriate channels can be created and managed in order to fairly air out grievances which employees may have with each other. Employers may organize activities to strengthen bonds and promote closeness among their workers. Nonetheless, whichever course of action is taken, it is necessary to approach these concerns pro-actively, through both the appropriate preventive and punitive measures. After all, the workingmen should find it much easier to deal with each other, knowing fully well that they are mature, fully developed adults, and no longer just children frolicking in the playground.

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