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The Third Degree

©2018 Gail Pursell Elliott


The impact of Mobbing on the individual is correlated to burns, as in first, second, and third degree.  Third degree mobbing includes the most damaging results of all, where the target is unable or unlikely to be rehabilitated due to the severity of the abuse. This may include the extremes of suicide, homicide, or both.

One of our Mobbing book interview partners shared that after being placed on administrative leave, the Human Resources director called and during the conversation remarked, “You know, someone in your position might consider suicide.”  Fortunately, our partner didn’t pursue that idea but did share that the exchange caused enough anger to fantasize about getting a weapon and blowing the director away. Fantasies are one thing, reality is another.

Several months ago, during a meeting of about 100 employees some of whom were complaining about work conditions, an administrator is alleged to have said, ““If it’s that bad, you can leave. You can leave or go kill yourself.” The news report also quoted the following, “The room erupted in emotion,” said an employee who didn’t want to be identified. “People were crying. People were yelling at him. One, we just lost a deputy because of suicide. Two, I don’t think he understands the gravity of the situation. We’re not here for the money, we’re here because we love what we do.”

Whistle blowers are among those targeted by mobbing and bullying orchestrated by the organization. Sometimes the concern of someone becoming a whistle blower is enough.  This could be someone who has overheard a conversation or asks a question that might expose indiscretions or fraud.  Having worked with individuals targeted for just such reasons, I can tell you that the consequences of being a threat in some way can be both serious and far reaching.

Most of us don’t expect to be thrown into a cloak-and-dagger story when we go to work unless that’s the nature of the business.  Even when dealing with sensitive or confidential information, most of us expect not to be thwarted, coerced, or undermined by our company or peers. Unfortunately, this does happen to some individuals and when it does they are taken by surprise. In fact, initially there is a disbelief that this could really be happening at all, let alone to them.

In a recently reported case involving Workers’ Compensation, the judge in the case found evidence “clear and convincing” that (the target) suffered from “mental derangement” that her employer inflicted on her, leading to her suicide. Medical notes referred to in the judge’s order say: “… was very stressed and felt trapped … could not sleep, waking every hour, and this had been going on for the last six months. M. felt hopeless, overwhelmed and worthless.  Had thoughts about work and how she was not going to be able to get out of this problem.”   The individual had discovered financial fraud perpetrated by her boss and another staff person, tried to report it with no results. Then the individual was placed in a position by her boss to suggest that she was responsible should the situation be discovered. A real set-up and scapegoating. The individual committed suicide the day before returning to work after an extended medical leave.

Sometimes organizations will try to avoid responsibility by asserting that the employee had pre-existing mental health issues.  However, in another recent Workers’ Compensation decision, the court acknowledged the pre-existing condition but went on to state that there was sufficient information to attribute his mental health issues and death to his employment.  “experienced interpersonal incidents that were excessive and unusual in comparison to pressures and tensions experienced in normal employment.” “most recent mental health issues will be considered first as an aggravation of his pre-existing condition and then an acceleration that led to his taking his life.”

Third degree mobbing does not have to result in this extreme outcome, in fact more often it does not. The other extreme is homicide, when someone fulfills the fantasy of our interview partner. It is worth noting that many of these perpetrators shoot themselves as well. Without enough backstory, many of the news reports of workplace shootings that might be attributed to mobbing or bullying go unanswered or are not explored. Regardless, without some sort of recourse, desperate people indeed do desperate things. While legislation lags in enacting healthy workplace bills to include emotionally healthy workplaces, organizations themselves can take the lead in stepping up cultural awareness within their own.


Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years’ experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Her Food for Thought articles are read by people around the world.   Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.  Contact Gail at innovations-training.com

Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace is now available as an E-book.  Download your copy today at http://www.mobbing-usa.com. “Since coauthoring Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace I have continued to write about mobbing and bullying in both workplaces and schools. My coauthors and I were not the first to address mobbing and bullying on an international basis, but we were the first to present the concept of mobbing in the United States. Since our book was published in 1999, many others have jumped on the bandwagon with their own work and that is a good thing. The more people who become aware of this form of mental and emotional abuse and endeavor to educate and intercept it, the better. There is a long way to go but progress in such a worthwhile area is gratifying and I am grateful to be a part of it.”  Gail Pursell Elliott, The Dignity and Respect Lady, website:    innovations-training.com






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