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Workplace Bullying with Timothy Dimoff

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Workplace bullying and violence seldom happens in a vacuum but rather are led up to with warning signs and events. In this episode, I talk with Timothy Dimoff about workplace bullying and violence. Workplace bullying is usually not physical, but it is ongoing. We talk about steps you can take if you are a victim of workplace bullying and ways to prevent it from the very beginning. 

Timothy Dimoff is president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, a high-risk HR and security consulting and investigation firm. As a nationally recognized expert in high-risk security and human resources, he is a sought after consultant, speaker, media commentator, and expert witness. Timothy has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement, corporate security, and consulting. 

We talk about workplace bullying and violence and exactly what they are and the difference between the two. We specifically discuss what types of behaviors to look out for, things you can do to limit these behaviors, and how you can protect yourself from emotional and physical violence. Timothy shares steps you can take if you are a victim of workplace bullying or violence. 

Show Notes:

  • [00:48] – Timothy’s first career was 20 years in law enforcement at an Akron, Ohio police department, and then the federal task force. 
  • [02:04] – His career has been rewarding because he has been able to take everything he has been taught in both careers and apply it toward a positive. 
  • [02:34] – The low-level workplace bullying is intimidation. People go out of their way to embarrass, intimidate, or degrade someone to get themselves to a higher level, promotion, or even just look better. 
  • [03:21] – Higher-level workplace bullying is when somebody that really just has a higher level of anger or dislike for someone and they really want to go out of their way to damage them in some way. It could be physical, but a lot of times it is just mental or social. 
  • [04:05] – You need to watch out for someone setting up and presenting you as somebody that you’re not. 
  • [05:18] – Human nature is simple. Where you get your reaction is where you continue and the severity increases. Try and downplay anything that happens especially in the beginning stages. 
  • [06:50] – Bullying is defined by one major thing. It is an ongoing continuous off and on type of action. 
  • [07:39] – You should be logging what is going on with the date, time, what they said, and what they did. 
  • [09:47] – About a third of the accusations that happen they discover are false. 
  • [10:27] – It is very difficult for companies to investigate these types of cases internally by themselves. Using an outside company sets the tone that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. 
  • [12:49] – If the bullying goes unanswered by management it can turn into workplace violence. 
  • [14:50] – Sometimes employers terminate an employee and get some pretty strong messages of aggression or potential retaliation. Once you have any kind of termination and there is an indication of these things you need to put some precautionary measures in place. 
  • [17:02] – SACS has a threat response team that they deploy out to boost security, research the potential perpetrator, assess their level of anger and aggression, monitor them, and figure out how to track them and defuse them down. 
  • [18:32] – As a society, we are showing more aggression as an answer to disagreements. Many people think that it is a proper reaction and they have a right to respond that way. 
  • [19:23] – Sports, politics, and other types of events and debates can get very aggressive, mean, and attacking. 
  • [19:48] – Timothy’s number one suggestion for any employee that feels uncomfortable or unsafe is logging the instances. That gets more effective results than anything else they can do. 
  • [20:16] – What if it’s the owner of the company that is treating their employees this way?
  • [22:37] – If you are having problems with your direct supervisor then you take your complaints to the CFO, HR person, or another supervisor you respect and ask if they can help you. 
  • [23:12] – Bullying is not just between employee and employee. A supervisor has a distinct advantage to use their level against an employee in the wrong way. 
  • [24:05] – SACS Consulting works with both companies and individuals. Most companies call them to objectively find the truth. 
  • [26:37] -SACS Consulting will work with companies if they want to find and live with the truth. 

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

Tim, can you give me a little bit of background about yourself and what your company does?

My first career was 20 years in law enforcement. I worked for the Akron, Ohio Police Department, and then in the Federal Taskforce. Ironically, being involved in the police department for 20 years really prepared me for my second career. When I was in the department, I didn’t work patrol for more than a couple of years. I got into high-crime units, SWAT teams, dealing and confronting the high-level type of educated individuals, undercover narcotics, major cases, and all along I have a plethora of training.

Once I retired from the police and law enforcement field, I then got into a field in corporations dealing with a combination of human resource and security issues. All of a sudden, all these interesting topics came up in situations and challenges like an active shooter, workplace violence, bullying, harassment, discrimination, and internal problems. It really came down to people issues and people problems. We became a specialist not only in Ohio but nationally in any of these areas. Thus, 20 years later, we’re training and talking about it all over the country.

Wow, that’s an amazing background. Having gone from law enforcement all the way into training people on how to keep themselves safe at work.

Yeah. It’s been rewarding because we’ve been able to take everything that I’ve been taught in both careers, even in my family and upbringing, and apply it towards the positive. Our whole goal is to help companies and organizations change their culture to a more positive culture.

That’s great. Talking about workplace bullying, what are the types of workplace bullying that are commonly seen going from least intrusive to worst-case scenario?

What we call the low-level bullying is that simple intimidation. If somebody doesn’t like someone, someone is jealous of someone, someone wants somebody’s job, someone’s fighting another person for the next promotion—it’s that low level. What happens there is people go out of their way to embarrass, intimidate, or to degrade someone in order to get themselves to a higher level, promotion, better pay, or to stand out and look better in the eyes of other co-workers. It’s really selfish bullying of intimidation. That’s the low level.

The higher level is somebody that really just has a higher level of anger or dislike for someone. They really want to go out of their way to damage them in some way. It could be physically but a lot of times it’s just mental and social, to degrade them, and to get other people not to associate or like them. It’s like an accordion. It can be from A-Z, but it usually starts out on those low levels.

Starting with the low level, you’re talking about things like low-level intimidation, making the person feel bad, and trying to jockey for position. What are the other types of behavioral things that people should be watching out for?

I think what you have to look out there for is that someone is setting up and presenting you as somebody that you’re not. Don’t go to lunch with Sally because she said this and did that, or she wore that dress yesterday to intimidate all the other girls in the office. Planting those seeds of deception and negativity, trying to win more people over to like you and be on your side and fewer people on someone else’s, and to dislike somebody.

Got you. Are there things that the person who’s the victim of the intimidation can do? Are there certain behaviors that they are exhibiting that is attracting that attention? Are there things that they could do to limit what’s going on with that respect?

If I take you back to high school, remember in high school, when someone would pick on somebody and their reaction would be like, “Oh my gosh.” This and that. They would really get a rise out of them. Versus you made fun of somebody and they don’t really care. Human nature’s simple. Where you get your reaction is where you continue and where it increases. The first thing is to try to downplay anything that happens, especially at the beginning stages, because if they can get a rise or reaction out of you, you become more attractive for that bullying.

The first thing is to try not to react to it in any magnificent or larger way. In fact, if you can totally just disregard it, almost like I don’t really care and it doesn’t bother me, you’d be surprised how much of that they move on to a victim who will react. We see that all the time. Once again, that’s easier said than done.

Guys tend to blow that off easier and can deal with it versus a female who generally is more emotional. It doesn’t make either one better or worse, it’s just the human nature of it. We see that all the time where we see more prominence in female bullying than we do in male bullying because in male bullying, those are in different directions most times.

Got you. I assume at some point, there’s a transition from “Let me ignore this” to “Do I get HR involved? Do I get management involved? Do I go to that person’s manager? Do I go to my manager to say this is not okay?”

Where you go next isn’t starting to happen on a semi-regular basis. Remember, bullying is defined by one major thing: that it’s an ongoing, continuous, off-on type of action. That’s bullying.

It’s not like someone just had a bad day with this week in, week out?

Yeah. You see it on some sort of a semi-regular or regular basis, not a one-time thing. The other thing that sets bullying apart is it’s not physical. They’re not spitting on you. They’re not tripping you. They’re not punching you. They’re not bumping into you. They’re not threatening you. That takes it to workplace violence. It’s often on a continuous type of verbal or intimidation—that is really what bullying is about. If you get to that point, a couple of things: First, you should be logging what’s going on. Date, time, what they said, and what they did. If you can go to HR or your supervisor with a piece of paper and it lists six, eight, 10, 12 incidences in the last 1-4 weeks, you’re going to get a lot more reception from that supervisor because you have organized it. If you organized it, they’re going to interpret that as it really happened, it’s out of hand, and you’re giving them something to work with a lot easier than a ‘he said, she said’ type of dispute.

So, a significant portion of being able to work with HR on it is that documentation portion. Without that, it becomes a little more complicated?

Yeah. Majority of the cases that my company, SACS Consulting, investigates are these kinds of internal cases all the time for companies. The first thing we ask is we want to do an interview with the victim. We ask them, “Did you log it?” I would tell you 80–90% of the time, no one logged anything. No one wrote anything down. 

If you remember quite a bit, then we say, “Go back, whatever you can remember, even the dates, you’re not exactly sure, if you can log at least what happened each month in the last six months or two months,” and we have them log it. Then, if they’re willing to log it, if they tell us even more, it confirms that it probably happened and is more serious.

It also gives you, HR, and it gives us as investigators a lot more stronger stance. Then, we can talk to other people in the business and say, “Did you know that this has happened about a week ago? Did you overhear this? Did you see this? Has this ever happened to you or others?” It gets us more organized. It really keeps it objective, because maybe that person made that stuff up, because they’re the ones that don’t like the other person, and it really didn’t happen.

I do want to say from the beginning, about a third of the accusations that happened, especially a sexual harassment case, other types of intimidation cases, and bullying, anywhere from a fourth to a third of them we discover are false.

Wow, that’s kind of scary. It almost flips it on its head in terms of having to watch both sides of it and not just assume that every accusation is true. I think all accusations need to be taken seriously, but you really have to figure out—bring somebody in from outside—to figure out what’s really going on.

Yeah. I think that’s extremely more difficult for a company to investigate those kinds of cases internally themselves. First off, the victim, the witnesses, the other potential employees, they really don’t want to reveal this information to an internal person they know that they’re going to continue to work for for many years.

Take sexual harassment—a female having to discuss what she feels is inappropriate to someone internally who’s going to be there for many years. An outsider, it’s more comfortable. The other thing it does is when an outside investigation comes in, it tells the victims, it tells the current employees, it tells the perpetrators this company is not going to allow this to continue or happen. It sets a tone for corrective behavior by many.

I assume it also brings in the fact that once you’re bringing in an outside company, this is going to be unbiased. We’re not sweeping it under the rug. We’re not having to worry about whether this manager likes this person who was complained about, so maybe it’s not going to be handled appropriately.

That’s exactly right. I’ll give you a very true example. When we convince companies to put those anonymous hotlines in, those 800 complaint lines that you can call into a company, and you want to report anything from theft to bullying to “Hey, this tool is broken.” When we put the hotlines in on the businesses, we see a minimum of 40-60%, but a minimum of 40% increase in information coming to the company. Plus, it’s anonymous.

Yeah. People would really want to be able to express what they’re feeling and what’s going on without that fear of retaliation or whose side is going to be taken.

They’re simply more comfortable, yes.

Earlier you talked about, potentially, as things escalating beyond just ‘he said, she said,’ making people feel bad, jockeying for position, more towards the actual workplace violence. Where do you see that escalation happening?

We see it happening usually when the bullying goes unanswered and unanswered by management. Management, first of all, should have anti-bullying, workplace violence, harassment, discrimination—all of those hot buttons—clearly explained in their employee manual, those that are unacceptable. They should clearly say that all those complaints will be objectively investigated. When they do happen, they should immediately do some form of investigation internally and externally.

Once again, a lot of companies haven’t done those nuts and bolts that they need to do. Whether they have it or not, it gets reported. It should be promptly investigated objectively.

Got you. Once it starts escalating, once it gets emotional to physical violence, what can people do to protect other employees, victims, and protect themselves from those situations getting that far? Is it a matter of reporting?

Yeah. Number one, you’ve got to report it. Number two, if they do report it, immediately, somebody or several people need to be suspended from work, stay at home, told not to come back, until they’ve done a thorough investigation. That doesn’t mean they can’t be paid. It doesn’t mean that they’re guilty. It means we can’t roll the dice and take chances. There’s nothing wrong with temporarily suspending someone from coming to the workplace due to the circumstances.

I assume if someone is in that situation and does get let go, there’s that threat of them coming back to the office and it’s no longer me and this particular individual. Maybe it still is that, but now there’s this aggression towards the office as a whole. What are the things that employees and companies can do to mitigate that risk?

What we’ve seen, and what you’re talking about, is we terminate an employee and we get some pretty clear, strong messages of aggression or potential retaliation. It isn’t just necessarily an active shooter. It can be other types of retaliation. They can come back and key a car. They can come back and slice tires. They can come back and meet someone in a parking lot and beat them up. They can come back with a gun or a baseball bat to the building. It’s everything from A-Z on the scale of aggressive behavior.

Once you have any kind of termination and there is an indication of aggression, retaliation of any sort, or potential that it could happen, we really need to move into another level. That level is you need to put some precautionary things in place, such as contacting outside sources including police and other security.

My company, SACS Consulting, we specialize in responding to what we call terminated employee threats. Just to show you what level we’re at today, 10 years ago, SACS Consulting would get maybe three or four, maybe five, calls a year that said, “Hey, we’re going to terminate an employee, or we just did. This guy is a ticking time bomb, got a lot of aggression, said a lot of crazy things, threatened, etc.” We got, once again, 3-5 of those a year, 10 years ago. 

We are averaging, in Ohio, seven of those phone calls per month. Per month. Now, our companies outside of Ohio. Add another five to that, we’re in that 10, 12, to 13 per month to the point where I have a team of responsible, very highly trained individuals, that do nothing but terminate an employee’s threats on a constant basis. They are a threat response team that we employ and deploy out. 

We have to go to these locations, boost the security to a significant detailed background on the potential perpetrator. Assess their level of anger and aggression, monitor them, and then, we’ve got to figure out how we defuse them down. We track and defuse them down. Sometimes, we have to confront them. Sometimes, we get them anger management help. Sometimes, we get them other types of things. We’ve got to, somehow, defuse the situation. That is common today compared to what it was 10 years ago.

Do you think that’s more of the ‘see something, say something,’ being more of a common practice that people are now taking the threats more seriously? Or do you think there’s actually more threats happening now?

I think, once again, with the Internet, with the change in society in general, that we are promoting a society where if you have anger, if you’re mad at somebody, we don’t really promote calmly dealing with it. We really promote scream, yell, and confront. We’re seeing it in sports. We’re seeing it in politics. We’re seeing it in events. We’re seeing it on TV, videos, and shows. We’re just showing more aggression as an answer to a disagreement. 

I really think we really converted a lot of people thinking that’s a proper reaction. I have the right to react that way. I have the freedom of the first amendment. I can say whatever I want, etc. We’re glorifying it with our media. 

I think we’ve really done a bad job of promoting it in the wrong way. I think people are feeling okay or more comfortable doing it, or tough, that’s the way I felt. I see it every day. I see examples of it every day. I think it’s a sad commentary on the direction that we’re going in society, in general. Like I said, don’t think it’s just in the workplace. We’re showing it off every day. Once again, I’m going to say sports, politics, and other types of events and debates that go on. It can get very aggressive, mean, and an attacking type of nature.

What is the one best tip that you would have for an employee who feels uncomfortable at work or unsafe at their workplace?

My number one suggestion, to any employee that feels uncomfortable or unsafe, which will help get more results, better results, and get the ball rolling faster and quicker, is logging the incidences or instances. Writing it down takes time when it happens. That gets more effective results than anything else they can do.

Got you. I was thinking through this. What if it’s the owner of the company that is treating their employees this way? What options do the employees have in that situation other than maybe, “I’m just out of here. I don’t want to deal with this”?

Ironically, I get asked that question, “What do you do if it’s the boss?” Once again, I’m going to say, log it. Make details of it. Then, you can take it to somebody else in the business who can confront that individual or you can take it to an attorney outside the company. Have him send a letter: “I’m representing a client unnamed at this time. This is the general feeling of things that are happening with multiple people there.” Most likely, it happens to one and to many. “I want to make you aware of it because you are on the fence of a very significant type of lawsuit in litigation. We think, first, you need to know, as the owner, that your conduct is not acceptable.”

Sometimes, that straightens up an owner because you talk about litigation. Sometimes, it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then that individual has a stronger case if it continues, they log it, and they can leave. Then, they can press the legal issues. They left because of it. They gave them an opportunity and he or she did not change.

I guess the key is don’t be confrontational with the person in that sense. Don’t be the person who escalates it.

That’s right. Don’t be part of the fire. Don’t be the log on the fire.

Yeah, that would be a bad scenario. I assume you actually do see that happening very frequently, unfortunately.

We see the boss situation happening. I won’t say that it is anywhere near a majority at all, but we do see some cases of that. We do see cases where, maybe not the President of the company, but it’s your immediate supervisor.

Once again, logging it, talking to somebody outside that immediate supervisor—a different supervisor. Let’s just say it’s your direct supervisor. You take your complaint to the CFO, to the HR person, to another supervisor you respect and say, “Can you help me with this?” Yeah, we do see that. I want to say bullying happens between employee and employee, and it happens between employee against management and manager against employee. It’s all the different relationships that take place.

Yeah. It’s interesting because it’s not just downward focus. You really have to look at them from different directions.

A lot of people think bullying is just from employee to employee. That’s not true. A supervisor has a distinct advantage to use their level of supervision or their level of management against an employee in the wrong way.

Yeah. That threat of, “I control your job. I control your employment,” therefore they have a little bit more leverage and they, unfortunately, choose to exercise that in a negative way.

Yeah. We see that truly with a supervisor-employee situation like in sexual harassment and intimidation. We see leveraging the fact that they’re their boss in a lot of sexual harassment cases. Once again, I’d say this is human nature. Human nature in a wrong way. 

That’s very unfortunate.

Yes, it is.

Do you represent companies or companies and individuals?

We’ve worked on both sides of the fence. A lot of times, we get a lot of companies calling us with, not so much to defend the company, but really our calls most of the time are companies saying, “We got this complaint from this individual. We don’t know what the truth is. We’re calling you to objectively find the truth.”

Most companies call us to find out the truth. Once we give them the truth, most of the companies in fact, many or almost all of them, will take appropriate actions. It’s just that they’re caught off guard. They don’t know about it. They didn’t have a clue. Sometimes, they do. It’s amazing. A lot of times, these complaints are totally fresh to this company. 

Most companies want to know the truth.

They call us and say, “We want the truth. If our manager’s guilty, we want to know. If this person’s guilty in the warehouse, we want to know. If this partner is guilty, we want to know.” I still respect the fact that most of our calls come in for seeking the truth. I’m really glad that still is the majority of cases.

Yeah. I really like that people are wanting the truth as opposed to, “I want to stick it to somebody,” or “I want them gone. We’re just looking for a way to make it happen.” As opposed to the truth is important.

Yeah. I testified for what I call victims who are employees being represented by attorneys. That attorney calls me and says, “I got a client. She’s female. She’s claiming sexual harassment and bullying. Tim, I want you to conduct an investigation and see if her accusations are true.”

Once again, it doesn’t matter which side. What we’re looking for is someone that wants the truth. If we get a call from an attorney that says, “My client is saying she was harassed and bullied. I believe her, this and that. I want you to get in there and dig it. Find and see the ammunition you can.” I’m going to say, “I’m the wrong guy. My company’s wrong. I want to tell you we want to work for you, we want to find out, but we want to find out the truth. That means your client could be lying. Sir, let me remind you. Somewhere around 1/4 or 1/3 of the accusations are lies. They’re fabricated. They’re looking for a lawsuit, a payoff. There’s jealousies.” I said, “I could go on. For you, if you want us to work for you and you want to hire us, tell me that you’ll live with the truth. We’ll go find out.”

Now, we may come back with a plethora of information to your benefit. What happens if we find a lot of information and it’s not to your benefit? Do you want to know that? If they don’t say yes, we don’t take that investigation because all I’m going to do is have someone hire me and give them something they want. Then, try to get paid, try to argue with them that this and that. Besides that, from a moral and ethical…our company, myself, we’re not paid to swing a case. We’re paid to find the truth.

That’s great. If people want to reach out to you and your company, how can they get ahold of you?

They can do a couple of things. They can go on the almighty Internet and google SACS Consulting. Tim Dimoff. Just remember Tim and Dim off the lights. Tim Dimoff. You google either one of those and you’ll get a load of information about the company, about myself, about our expertise. We have a web page, sacsconsulting.com. There’s a national speaker site, timothydimoff.com. Lots out there. Just click on us and we’ll help.

I always tell everybody, you can call me with any question. You can email me with any question or debate. I never charge for that initial information or discussion. Give me a phone call, give me an email, I’ll be glad to talk to you, and give you a sense of direction. I think everybody, in the beginning, needs to ask some initial questions. They’re just looking for some primary information. I like to supply that. Our company’s very good at it. We’re very objective. We’d love to engage people in conversation.

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