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Moderate to Severe Bullying

Moderate to severe bullying differs from mild bullying in that it reflects a dominant work style that consists of recurrent and persistent negative actions toward one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment (Salin, 2003). Bullying becomes moderate to severe when the instances of abuse increase in frequency and personalization; the key is intent to harm or humiliate.

Johns Hopkins has defined workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment of a person that may result in harm to one’s health and that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or interference that prevents work from getting done.

It is important to recognize these behaviors, and to say something if you see any of them so that they don’t escalate and cause a greater risk of harm to faculty, staff, students, and the community. Bullying behavior is likely to continue unless it is reported and interventions are put in place.

Specific Actions Associated with Moderate to Severe Bullying

Examples of behavior that indicate moderate to severe bullying include: 

  • Routine public responses that are dismissive (shun, shut down, ignore, or respond condescendingly)
  • Dismissive interpersonal communications (shut down a conversation and not allow the other person to communicate his/her perspective)
  • Ongoing misinformation (“forgetting” to share need-to-know information which makes the other person look foolish or humiliated by “not knowing”)
  • Sabotage and/or creating a situation of impossible demands whereby the other person is left out or will fail to meet expectations
  • Spreading rumor, half-truths or blatant lies about another; denying the behavior
  • Acting impatient in a way that treats the other as incompetent
  • Excluding specific people from social interactions that would typically be inclusive; appears intentional to others; recruit others to do the same
  • Publicly ridicule, insult, make jokes about person in his/her presence
  • Routinely blaming and criticizing
  • Intimidation by glaring, acting forceful, interrupting, shutting down another person (also includes contradictions and silent treatment)
  • Falsely accusing another of “errors” not actually made
  • Singling out another in condescending and unprofessional way
  • Yelling, screaming, or throwing tantrums in front of others to humiliate the person
  • Retaliation for the person reporting or asking for help
  • Little to no insight to treatment of others; not aware of how others experience bully’s interactions; no apologies for difficult interactions


The list of specific actions associated with moderate to severe bullying emerged from a study of case experiences triaged by the Risk Assessment Team. Informed by workplace bullying research, Safe at Hopkins examined, defined and cataloged precipitating behaviors to create an early intervention program anchored by the Johns Hopkins Continuum of Disruptive Behaviors at Work. Research indicates and our own experience suggests that responding to disruptive behaviors at work is early intervention and prevention of workplace violence.

Reported behaviors of moderate to severe bullying are responded to and handled in a manner that respects the privacy of all involved. If indicated, a thorough, systematic, and consistent evaluation may occur which results in findings, guidance and recommendations to management.

Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System have adopted policies that call for zero tolerance of violent behavior, threats, bullying, and intimidation. Johns Hopkins will not permit employment-based retaliation against anyone who, in good faith, brings a complaint of workplace violence or who speaks as a witness in the investigation of a complaint of workplace violence.