A number of states are considering legislation that would allow workers to sue for on-the-job harassment and bullying that causes physical or emotional harm. Some employers have already instituted anti-bullying policies, but advocacy groups want a more comprehensive response to what has been a problem on the rise since the economic downturn began. More than a dozen states have considered legislation to combat on-the-job bullying in the past year.
Bullying and harassment often come in the form of verbal abuse, including shouting, swearing and name-calling, as well as maliciously spreading rumors and lies about co-workers or employees in person or on social media such as Facebook. Slightly more than half of companies surveyed had some form of anti-bullying policy and potential responses include suspension, termination, reassignment or anger management training. Companies that have policies in place say that bullying can sap morale, increase employee turnover and harm the bottom line.
The Associated Press reported on this development:
"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."
National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local 282 in Massachusetts was one of the first unions to include anti-bullying clauses in collective bargaining agreements. Such clauses prohibit harassment, abusive or bullying language and put in place grievance procedures to deal with such claims.
"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 some 12,000 public employees.
David Wehde, who writes the "Dear David" workplace advice column for Working America, AFL-CIO's community affiliate, answers questions about workplace bullying frequently:
Workplace bullying is one of the most common categories of questions that people submit to "Dear David," and we hear examples of it from our members way too often. For far too many people, it's like being trapped in an abusive relationship; you can't leave your job because you depend on it for a living, but you are hesitant to stand up to your boss from fear of retaliation. It's an untenable situation.
But workplace bullying doesn't always come from the boss. We also hear from people who suffer under co-workers who create a hostile work environment. It's easy to understand how this gets even more complicated when those co-workers are a "pet" or relative of the boss. Ultimately, the boss needs to take responsibility for creating a safe work environment for everyone, and that should include protection against workplace bullying. From anyone.
Even if anti-bullying policies exist at the workplace or if eventually legislation that deals with the issues is passed, it will be just as important for people to stand up and stand together. No one should feel like they should have to go it alone.