Your staff physician is picking on you, but is that vexatious behaviour?

In order to take appropriate steps, it’s important to understand what constitutes vexatious behaviour and a damaging workplace. Here’s a scenario:

 Today in the OR, my staff physician, Dr Mannerless, made another one of her usual comments to me! There we were, a fellow resident and I, just completing the procedure. Dr Mannerless asked me to do the suturing. I’d barely done two sutures when she said to me: “Look, you’re taking a long time, even the clinical clerks can do a better job than you.” She told me that in front of the other resident doctor, staff physicians, and nursing staff. It was so insulting! I can’t work with that staff physician any longer, she’s always doing that! “Come on, don’t be a baby, pull properly!” or “Oh, not that rookie again, have to do everything for her.” A disparaging word every time I work with Dr Mannerless, just to put me off balance.

Denigrating remarks: vexatious conduct or not?

Vexatious conduct is defined as “conduct that is humiliating or abusive for the person who suffers it, that hurts them in their self-esteem and cause (sic) them substantial distress. It is a behaviour that exceeds what a reasonable person considers appropriate at work.”* Such conduct leads to consequences that infringe upon the dignity or psychological or physical integrity of the individual against whom these remarks are made, and to creating a damaging workplace for that individual. 

What is a damaging workplace?

By damaging is meant a harmful, detrimental, bad or unhealthy workplace. Human dignity is violated when a person is marginalized, ignored, or devalued.

To be able to talk of psychological harassment, the vexatious conduct has to be repetitive in nature, except in the case of extreme behaviour, such as physical violence or sexual misconduct. In such cases, a single event may constitute harassment.

Even when it happens only once, vexatious conduct is unacceptable

When vexatious conduct occurs only once (except in the case of extreme behaviour, as just mentioned), one can’t talk of psychological harassment. The fact remains, though, that vexatious behaviour has a detrimental impact on the person experiencing it, and steps have to be taken to stop it.

In our example with Dr Mannerless, as the comments are made repeatedly, we’re now in the realm of psychological harassment. In this case, the resident doctor is entitled to take formal measures to put a stop to this behaviour.

In light of what you’ve just read, do you feel you’re the victim of psychological harassment? 




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