Legislative Bullying by Boston Herald Editorial Staff, Monday, July 9, 2012
We knew there were some lawmakers on Beacon Hill who didn’t give a fig about the cost of doing business in this state, as year after year they pushed costly mandates like a paid sick leave bill that would drive down wages and other benefits while thwarting the creation of new jobs.
Thanks to the savvy of legislative leaders in this election year this session’s version of the leave bill was doomed to a study last week. But then we got wind of an even sillier piece of anti-business legislation. This one presumes to legislate a “healthy workplace” by outlawing bullying at work.
The bill — which won initial House approval in June and awaits further action before the July 31 end of formal sessions — vaguely defines abusive treatment (“employee acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find hostile,” etc.) and declares an employer liable for such abusive actions by its employees.
The bill empowers courts both to order a halt to the abusive treatment and — here’s where it’s gift-wrapped for trial lawyers — “order any other relief that is deemed appropriate.”
The bill helpfully spells “relief” as reinstatement, firing the offending employee, back pay, front pay, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Basically anything the court deems appropriate.
But why stop there? As long as lawmakers are getting into the business of human resources consulting why not an explicit demand that the victim of bullying or harassment get a promotion and a company car?
Abuse in the workplace can be a serious issue but one that is properly handled . . . in the workplace.
What we have here is a bill that renders the state the ultimate personnel department in charge of mediating private employee disputes.
We get that bullying is trending on Twitter these days but the push for this bill is yet another case of legislative overreach.
If you recognize that the Herald editors are using tired old canards with no imagination, you can write a comment about their position.
The naivete of the editors shows when they suggest that the personnel department (who says that anymore?) can handle the epidemic problem of workplace bullying, actually health-harming abusive conduct as defined in the HWB, without the state taking over. Two problems with this assertion. (1) If HR had been effective on-site, bullying would have been eliminated by now and not a problem. (2) Nowhere in the text of the bill does the state play a role — not to gather complaints, not to investigate, not to decide innocence or guilt, not to punish guilty employers.
Herald editors aren’t illiterate. By inserting quotes from the bill, they demonstrate they can read. However, they only read what they want and ignore the clear language such as the only path to justice for a bullied worker will be “private right of action.” That means paying out of pocket for expensive lawyers.