How anti-workplace bullying legislation will work


Why we need a law
Existing laws are insufficient to protect bullying targets. Harassment law protects only those individuals who can prove that the mistreatment is due to their protected class membership, such as sex, race, or age. Existing tort (personal injury) law is also insufficient to protect bullying targets. Research shows that most targets of severe workplace bullying are unable to recover (or even to get to trial).

House Bill 1771, the Healthy Workplace Bill, protects all employees from abusive mistreatment on an equal opportunity basis, filling a huge gap in the law. The bill has three primary goals:

  1. Prevent bullying
  2. Encourage prompt and fair employer responses to reports of bullying
  3. Compensate targets of severe, health-harming bullying.

Good employers can minimize their liability and, as a result, have a healthier, more loyal, more productive workforce.

What will happen once we pass the bill
After an initial surge of litigation, the number of claims will moderate considerably once lawyers, their clients, and the courts recognize the high threshold for recovery (including intent to cause distress and resulting physical and/or psychological harm). The bill 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 also requires the plaintiff to show that the behavior:

  1. Was intended to cause distress or harm
  2. Did cause physical and/or psychological harm.

Much like sexual harassment, workplace bullying will be difficult to prove and require adequate documentation. But also like with sexual harassment law, workers will better understand acceptable conduct at work and be held accountable since all too often, employers ignore reports of abuse or side with aggressors.

The changed expectations will change our work cultures.

What will NOT happen once we pass the bill

  • Anti-workplace bullying legislation will NOT hurt small businesses. Small businesses suffer devastating productivity and morale losses when bullying occurs. In fact, with fewer people on the payroll, small businesses experiencing workplace bullying have less flexibility than larger ones to move around employees and make personnel changes. The bill will incentivize preventive efforts for small businesses.
  • Anti-workplace bullying legislation will NOT take away the ability of employers to manage their workers. The bill enters the picture only when the bullying behaviors have become severe and harmful. It provides legal incentives for employers to sharply minimize their liability exposure by acting preventively and responsively toward bullying, and it reserves the right of employers to conduct evaluations and provide feedback and direction to their employees.

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