The Connecticut General Assembly enacted legislation to address student bullying in the school setting. Now some states have turned their attention to bullying in the workplace. The new statutes, if enacted, would create a new cause of action for employment discrimination—bullying.
Since 2003, 21 states have proposed legislation to rein in workplace bullying. Many states have been working off of a model act (the Healthy Workplace Bill) authored by Suffolk University Law School professor David Yamada. The bill defines workplace bullying as the “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done.”
According to a 2010 study, 35% of U.S. workers claim to have been bullied at work. Absent a statutory cause of action, victims have claimed that employers have breached the terms of an employee handbook that requires employees to act professionally. Such arguments are a stretch and a bullied employee would be much better served by a clearly stated statutory claim.
Anticipating adoption of the proposed legislation, many companies are incorporating anti-bullying training into in-house sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training. There is a huge collateral benefit to ridding the workplace of bullies—they are extremely detrimental to employee morale and productivity. As with other anti-discrimination statutes, an employer can avoid vicarious liability by instituting and enforcing a reasonable bullying prevention and protection policy. In addition, a successful claimant must show demonstrable harm as a result of workplace bullying or an adverse employment action for reporting such activity. Hurt feelings are not enough.
Reportedly, New York and Massachusetts are on the verge of passing anti-bullying statutes. Connecticut has yet to weigh in on the issue.
The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our offices at 203-221-3100.