by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | July 01, 2016
While talk of bullying rightfully tends to focus on school-age children, the problem also finds its way into the workplace.

For bullying to occur, it must be repeated, enduring, escalating and persistent. In some cases, it turns up as sexual harassment, and the behavior can escalate to threats of personal harm. According to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 20 percent of the 1,000 respondents said they had been bullied on the job, 7 percent said they were actively being bullied and 21 percent said they had witnessed people being bullied at work.

Such behavior can be a problem at a board meeting, where a member or even a leader might be the guilty party. It also can occur at a convention, most often during a reception or any other time liquor is involved, or anywhere else adults gather.

What should a meeting professional do when notified that someone who will be in attendance is a bully to another attendee? Or what if there is a protection order issued by a court against an attendee, restraining them from being able to be within so many feet of the victim?  

Meeting professionals, both planners and suppliers, need to provide a "safe" event to the extent they can protect an individual, even absent a court order.

The bottom line in such situations is that meeting attendance is a privilege not a right. And this gives the host organization a great deal of latitude to address the problem. Whether there is an order of protection in place or if instances at the event warrant intervention, you can deny access to an offending attendee or impose special restrictions. However, you must have a policy and code of conduct in place outlining how such actions will be handled, to which all participants have access.

In one case, a woman had gotten a protective order against a former boyfriend. When she was preparing to attend an association event for which he had also signed up, she alerted the group. Registration was instructed not to allow him in and to refund his money on the spot; security personnel were given his picture in case he tried to get in. Luckily, the man never showed up.

The scenario becomes more serious when someone is physically aggressive or threatens violence on-site. This can pose harm not only to the victim, but to those who might be caught up in the effort to intervene. It's important to recognize the varying degrees of bullying -- which can range from verbal to physical to life-threatening -- and to approach the situation accordingly, with members of your security team on hand. Allow security or the police to separate the parties, and stay out of the way. n

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Email questions to him at [email protected]