Next steps in passing the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

We’re still waiting on a date for the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development hearing, which we hope will happen in July. We’ll let you know as soon as we have a hearing date, since we’re hoping to fill the room with advocates.

Then we’ll be into the next steps.

What you can do in the meantime

When the bill gets into the House, legislators will debate the pros and cons of the bill and consider unintended consequences. That’s where you come in. The goal is to educate your legislators on what this bill truly means – and what it doesn’t – so they can be armed with the facts when debating the bill. Here are some key ideas to educate your legislators on:

Employers need accountability. Opponents believe that employers simply need proper training to address workplace bullying. The facts say otherwise. The truth is that employers have had decades to address the psychological abuse of employees, and all too often they ignore the complaints or side with the aggressors. We need a law to encourage employers to stop bullying — and hold them accountable when they do nothing.

There will be a high threshold for recovery. The bill is not designed to encourage insubordinate workers to sue their employers. Sure, there may be a surge of litigation initially, but lawyers and their clients will understand that they have to prove that they were in fact bullied and that their health was harmed. Not an easy task. The bill is modeled after sexual harassment law and draws its definition of an abusive work environment from the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of a hostile work environment for sexual harassment. It requires the plaintiff to show that behavior was intended to cause distress or harm and that the behavior did cause physical and/or psychological harm.

Employers will still be able to properly manage their employees. The bill enters the picture only when the bullying behaviors have become severe and harmful. Employers can minimize their liability exposure by acting preventively and responsively toward bullying. Employers can still conduct evaluations and provide feedback positive AND negative — and direction to their employees. Sounds fair and reasonable, right?

The bill focuses on addressing the bullying behavior, not killing jobs. Many workplace bullying targets already lose jobs, choosing their health over daily suffering. The bill focuses on addressing the bullying behavior. The bill incentivizes preventive efforts for businesses, including small businesses that already suffer devastating productivity and morale losses when bullying occurs. The result? Healthy work environments and better productivity.

These ideas are the ones that we need legislators to understand before they debate the bill. So let your legislators know these facts today so we can pass this bill this session.

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