Workplace Bullying Laws

Workplace bullying laws have been established in order to help reduce the number of incidents frequently occurring across the nation. It often consists of comments that belittle, teasing, name-calling, yelling, and sometimes even threatening with physical harm or some kind of discipline, and it often continues without efforts to stop it.

Oftentimes, if the bully is a manager, employees may be afraid to speak out against it. Those who do complain about it may be surprised that it may not be illegal.

Bullying can become severe enough that it affects the health of an employee, becomes a threat to their job or career, and may create a strain in relationships between friends and family.

When an employee is bullied, it is a highly focused effort to engage in a systematic campaign to interpersonally destroy the employee. It has no value as far as the work is concerned. It is based on the bully’s own agenda and usually prevents the necessary work from being accomplished. While bullying starts from one person, he or she will usually get others to help, which makes that individual feel even more isolated.

Bullying another employee is one of many forms where an abusive relationship can trap a person with a good heart into a trap that results in a cycle of emotional devastation.

(FAQ) Am I being Bullied?

An employee who is being bullied is harassed and feels miserable. Their work will often be sabotaged, prevented, or even stolen.

More than one-third of the workforce claims to have experienced some form of bullying. Efforts have been made to prevent bullying at school, and this has led many adults to see that they also are being bullied. One reason is that people often cannot tell the difference between bullying and just being a jerk.

(FAQ) How is bullying different from harassment?

Bullying will often look just like harassment. It actually is harassment, and this can be defined as annoying, systematic, and ongoing actions that often include threats and demands that are both unwanted and unwelcome. This creates a hostile situation.  While working, harassment often takes on a meaning of sexual misconduct and an environment that is hostile.

Members of a protected group (such as gender, religion, race, etc.) may claim harassment if they are harassed by someone who is not a member of a group that has the protected status. There are seven groups that are protected in the United States. There are 11 groups in Canada.

Only a lawyer can provide you with advice about a harassment issue. Harassment can only occur if you are a member of a protected group and the harasser is not. After the complaint is made, the HR department may start procedures. In as many as 80 percent of harassment cases, bullying is legal. Illegal harassment that is classified as discriminatory only takes place in 20 percent of cases. As much as 61 percent of cases occur to members of the same gender. Women will often go after other women in as many as 80 percent of the cases, which is not illegal unless it involves race, religion, or some other protected group.

(FAQ) Is it normal for my health to be falling apart?

It is not unusual for a person’s health to be affected by harassment. Oftentimes, action can only occur when someone’s health is being affected. Most people who become targeted will try to “tough it out.” Unfortunately, this never stops the bullying.

The stress you are experiencing is not going to stop until you get separated from the bully and his or her friends. Research in the neuroscience field indicates that ongoing stress can produce physiological and structural changes to the brain. These changes result in changes in:

  • Emotional
  • Behavioral
  • Perceptual
  • Cognitive changes

Even the feeling that you may be stuck and you cannot do anything about it may be because of these changes.

When the stress gets eliminated, or at least reduced, many of the changes will return to normal, or at least to a new normal. This will enable you to be able to feel and think again. The important thing is to stop the stress. Time by itself will not make the situation better.

(FAQ) I feel so lost, what should I do?

Realize that if you are being bullied, that you are not the only one. It is quite likely that others in your company are also being bullied. If you isolate yourself, it will make you feel worse, and the effects of stress will be increased. Remember that rational people do not add to their own stress. Do not fall for the lie of the bully that you deserve to be intimidated, humiliated, or abused. Victims of bullies did not ask for it.

(FAQ) Why Me? I'm the most skilled person there.

Sometimes, those with the most skills, or who are the smartest in a company, become the target of a bully. This often occurs because the bully somehow perceives you to be a threat to them, possibly because they have not completely developed morally, as other people.

Bullies may have certain skills. Among them are their ability to manipulate other people and playing political sabotage while at work.

The movement of Workplace Bullying is more about providing help to the victims of bullying rather than trying to reform bullies.

(FAQ) My co-workers have turned their backs on me, what should I do?

Our importance as a human is partly defined by our co-workers who exert an influence on us. When they turn against you and sooner or later abandon you, it can be devastating. The longer a bully is allowed to continue, the more people that will choose to take the bully’s side because they do not want to become the next victim.

(FAQ) Why doesn't my union help?

Unions are known to have a history of helping employees, but when it comes to bullying, there is a mixed pattern. Like most organizations, the people in power at the highest levels do not necessarily have the same perspectives as those of the members. You can be certain that if the Board members do not feel sympathy for its members who are bullied, that nothing is going to happen. Many unions simply ignore it.

(FAQ) When I reported it to my employer, things got worse. Why?

When you presented the problem to the employer, they simply defended the bully by circling the wagons. You were branded as being the troublemaker because you exposed the truth about someone who may be incompetent or an illegality. In about 72 percent of cases, the bully is one of the managers. A few of them are co-workers, a vendor, or possibly a customer. If it is a manager, realize that you threatened to make someone accountable who is loved by the top management.

Oftentimes, a bully gets hired because they have aggressive tendencies, which make them look ambitious, or, they may simply be following orders.

(FAQ) My employer is making me get workers comp, what do I do?

If you claim that you were psychologically injured by being bullied, the employer (HR) may give you two choices:

  • File for workers' compensation (WC)
  • Take some medical leave time (FMLA)

Unfortunately, you will lose by choosing either option.

Workers' compensation claims do not pay while you are not working, and it is your employer who acts as the judge and jury. After a phony “investigation,” which includes a psychological exam conducted by one of the employer’s choice psychologists, the claim will get denied. This leaves you with no pay. FMLA gets you unpaid leave. A better option is to get put on short-term disability. Have your doctor or counselor initiate the process. This process will start from the premise that you are off work due to job stress. It will give you a couple of weeks. Employers often fire people on disability, but it will allow you to continue the process later, and it may give you a reason for legal recourse.

(FAQ) I was forced out of my job, and now I can't get unemployment, what can I do?

If you quit the job, it will disqualify you from getting unemployment. You might try to get the employer to say you were laid off – which is common today. You can appeal the denial of Unemployment Insurance (UI)  benefits on the basis that you had been “constructively discharged.” Like any other reasonable person, you needed to leave work because of the bully and the management that supported him. Some employers play the game promising that if you leave that they will give you UI, but after you are gone, they deny the benefits.

(FAQ) How can my employer get away without doing anything?

When your employer does nothing about it, consider yourself lucky. Many employers retaliate when it is reported. Employers must follow state and federal laws, or they risk lawsuits. Canada has enacted laws against bullying. Generally, only when there are clear laws and policies will employers actually act.

(FAQ) Will There Be Lawsuits at All?

In the United States, bullying is not illegal anywhere. Legislation against bullying called The Healthy Workplace Bill has been initiated in about 30 states and two territories. The truth is that only legal professionals can provide you with advice about bullying. In cases where a lawsuit takes place, the abused often find that they are re-traumatized by the employer’s lawyers, and many cases are dropped because of this. There will also be a lot of personal hatred leveled against you, and your privacy will not exist anymore.

(FAQ) Do you have the names of any attorneys who understand bullying?

Because there are no specific laws in place in the U.S., there are no lawyers who have become experts to defend the abused. This means that finding a lawyer with experience will be difficult. The best lawyer you could get is one who has already defended against your employer and knows their weak points.

(FAQ) How can I prevent this from happening at my next job?

You can prevent it from happening at your next job by getting your health restored and creating personal work boundaries that are healthy, as described in the book called The Bully At Work. The healing process can be rather long. You can avoid a repeat by screening the employer at the next job.

When Is Bullying Illegal?

So far, no state has any existing anti-bullying laws, although 11 states have some pending. In cases where a protected group is involved, it is illegal. If this is the situation, you may only have up to 180 days to file a claim. In situations where there is actual violence, improper touching, stalking, etc., there are laws against these things in every state.

If You Are Facing Workplace Bullying

If you are experiencing bullying, file a complaint with the HR department in your company. A smart employer knows that bullying will lower morale, reduce productivity, and not provide any benefit to the company.

It is important that you keep a record of the various bullying incidents. Write down the date, what kind of treatment you were given, words that were said to you, and others who were present. Also, keep track of how those actions affected you. Did it cause you stress, lead to an absence from work, produce medical problems, etc.

Why Not a Federal Law?

At the present time, there are no laws at the federal level, and no plans to create one. There are some negotiations taking place to hold a Congressional hearing to inform legislators of the topic on Workplace Bullying.

Does Workplace Bullying Fall Under Current Workplace Violence Protections?

Bullying is considered to be a type of violence – “psychological violence.” The fact of verbal abuse in violence policies, makes bullying legal, because physical violence may not be a part of it.

When a company offers sensitivity training, they are teaching the employees how to behave without violating federal and state laws of discrimination. The bottom line is that they teach that discrimination is illegal – but bullying is not. Because of this, the training against bullying is of little value unless an employer is willing to enforce it.

Conflict Resolution Techniques and Ethics Rules

Bullying is not between two people of equal power who have a difference of opinion. It is one-sided violence against someone who does not respond with equal force. In those situations, mediation has been proven not to work, as well as having ethics rules put in place. If those rules were enforced, then the problems would never have happened.

Lessons from Other Forms of Abuse

The closest form of a similar type of violence to bullying is domestic violence. The interaction is similar to what a bullied victim endures. In more severe cases, the battered person suffers from PTSD (in 30 percent of the women). America has taken years to recognize the abuse against women and children.

Healthy Workplace Campaign

Strong legislation is now in existence to create laws against bullying. The organization behind it is called The Healthy Workplace Campaign (HWC), and it was started by Law Professor David Yamada, from the Suffolk University. The organization says that there are now about 100 different versions of this Bill that have been introduced to various state houses and senates.

In order to be prepared for the passing of these bills, employers should begin preparing policies to deal with bullying in the workplace. Training also needs to be prepared.

Why Can't We All See the Bill?

The Healthy Workplace Bill is being promoted only by special authorized State Coordinators in order to present a unified front and message. They are trained on how to approach lawmakers.

The original bill was written by Professor David Yamada. Each bill will likely be partially edited in each state to suit their needs. After the bill has been introduced, a copy of it will appear on the legislator’s website for review.

Recommendations for Employers

A training course has been created by Seyfarth Shaw. His program is entitled Seyfarth Shaw At Work, and it complies with California’s new training requirement.

When presenting training to employees, it is doubtful that just sending out an email and directing them to a Power Point presentation will be enough. An interactive training session offering real examples will likely be more effective.

Employers also need to prepare a policy as to how they will deal with cases when they crop up. It is also important to help make employees feel like they can make complaints without problems when necessary.

If you need help in understanding the new laws dealing with bullying, or how to set up policies concerning bullying the workplace, or The Healthy Workplace Bill, you can post your legal need on the UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel only uses lawyers who have graduated in the top 5 percent of the top law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law, and who also have an average of at least 14 years of legal experience. Many of them have worked with or on behalf of such companies as Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.