Growing Push to Halt Workplace Bullying
by Sam Hananel, Associated Press, March 1, 2013
Article excerpts …
On-the-job bullying can take many forms, from a supervisor’s verbal abuse and threats to cruel comments or relentless teasing by a co-worker. And it could become the next major battleground in employment law as a growing number of states consider legislation that would let workers sue for harassment that causes physical or emotional harm.
“I believe this is the new claim that employers will deal with. This will replace sexual harassment,” said Sharon Parella, a management-side employment lawyer in New York. “People who oppose it say these laws will force people to be polite at work. But you can no longer go to work and act like a beast and get away with it.”
Some employers have put into place anti-bullying policies, but advocacy groups want to go even further. They have been urging states to give legal rights to workers who do not already fit into a protected class based on race, gender or national origin.
More than a dozen states — including New York and Massachusetts — have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and compel employers to prevent an “abusive work environment.”
Gary Namie, a social psychologist who co-founded the Bellingham, Wash.-based Workplace Bullying Institute in 1997, is among those leading the charge, along with labor unions and civil rights groups. He says the economic downturn has made bullying even worse and argues that passage of the laws would give employers more incentive to crack down on bad behavior in the workplace.
“People are trapped; they don’t have the same alternative jobs to jump to,” Namie said. “They are staying longer in these pressured, stress-filled, toxic work environments.”
Business groups have strongly opposed the measures, arguing they would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits.
“We would look at a bill like this as overreaching,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said the bill would punish an employer for acts of its employees that it may not be able to anticipate.
But Parella, the employment lawyer, thinks it’s only a matter of time before states begin passing these laws and bullying issues become a major factor in workplace litigation.
“Once it passes in a few states, there will be a chain reaction,” she said, noting that other countries such as England, Ireland and Sweden already have laws addressing workplace harassment.
In Massachusetts, the National Association of Government Employees Local 282 has been one the first unions in the country to include an anti-bullying clause in collective bargaining agreements.
“From a labor perspective, we want there to be remedies in place for corrections to be made, not to yell, scream, threaten or treat the person basically like a slave,” said Greg Sorozan, president of NAGE, which represents about 12,000 public employees.
The anti-bullying legislation mentioned in the article is called the Healthy Workplace Bill. You can help enact it in your state by helping our State Coordinators. At this national campaign website, click on your state and see what is happening this legislative session or in years before.
Greg Sorozan is also HWB State Coordinator in Massachusetts. See videos of him and Suffolk Law Professor David Yamada, the bill’s author, describing the legislation on the MA State Page at this website.