What legal action can be taken against a bully in the workplace?

what legal action can be taken against a bully in the workplace?

What legal action can be taken against a bully in the workplace?

Workplace bullying is a pervasive issue that can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. While not all forms of workplace bullying may violate specific laws, there are legal actions that can be taken against a bully in the workplace in the United States. This comprehensive guide explores the legal avenues available to victims of workplace bullying, the role of federal and state laws, and the steps individuals can take to address this problem within the boundaries of the law.

Understanding Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is characterized by repeated, intentional, and harmful behavior directed at an employee or group of employees. These behaviors can manifest in various forms, including verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion, or the spreading of malicious rumors. Workplace bullying creates a hostile and toxic environment that can have profound effects on the mental and physical well-being of employees. It can also lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high employee turnover rates.

Federal Laws Addressing Workplace Bullying

In the United States, there is currently no federal law that specifically addresses workplace bullying. However, several existing laws can indirectly apply to situations involving workplace bullying:

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. While it does not explicitly mention workplace bullying, it can be invoked in cases where bullying is motivated by any of these protected characteristics. For example, if an employee is targeted with derogatory comments or mistreatment because of their race or gender, Title VII may come into play.

What legal action can be taken against a bully in the workplace?

What legal action can be taken against a bully in the workplace?

2. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. If workplace bullying is related to an employee’s disability, it may constitute a violation of the ADA.

3. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against employees who are 40 years of age or older. If bullying is based on an employee’s age and creates a hostile work environment, it could be considered a violation of the ADEA.

4. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA provides eligible employees with the right to take unpaid leave for certain family or medical reasons. Retaliation or bullying against an employee for exercising their FMLA rights can lead to legal action.

5. Whistleblower Protection Laws

If workplace bullying is a response to an employee reporting illegal or unethical behavior within the organization, the employee may be protected under federal whistleblower laws.

It’s important to note that while these federal laws provide protection against various forms of workplace discrimination, they do not explicitly address workplace bullying as a standalone issue. Therefore, victims of workplace bullying often turn to state laws and legal remedies for recourse.

State Laws on Workplace Bullying

Several states in the USA have taken steps to address workplace bullying through legislation. These state-specific laws vary in scope and approach, but they generally aim to create a safer and healthier work environment. Some states have implemented measures that require employers to take specific actions against workplace bullying, such as adopting anti-bullying policies or providing training to employees and supervisors.

State laws related to workplace bullying can differ significantly, so it’s essential for employees to understand the laws applicable in their state and their specific rights and responsibilities. The following are examples of states with specific laws or regulations related to workplace bullying:

1. California

California has some of the most comprehensive workplace anti-bullying laws in the country. The state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits workplace harassment, which includes bullying based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, and more. California also requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of training on prevention of abusive conduct (bullying) to supervisors every two years.

2. New York

New York City, in particular, has taken steps to address workplace bullying. The New York City Human Rights Law explicitly prohibits discrimination and harassment, which encompasses bullying based on protected characteristics. Employers in the city are required to distribute written anti-harassment policies and provide annual training to employees.

3. Massachusetts

Massachusetts has introduced legislation that would require employers to develop and implement anti-bullying policies. While this legislation has not yet become law, it reflects the growing recognition of the need to address workplace bullying.

4. Washington

Washington state has laws that prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment, including bullying based on protected characteristics. The state also requires employers to adopt anti-harassment policies and provide related training to employees.

Legal Actions Available to Victims of Workplace Bullying

Victims of workplace bullying may pursue various legal actions to address their situation. The appropriate course of action depends on the specific circumstances and the applicable federal or state laws. Here are some potential legal avenues:

1. Internal Complaints

Employees experiencing workplace bullying should consider reporting the issue to their HR department or a higher-level manager within the organization. Many employers have internal policies and procedures for addressing workplace harassment and discrimination. These policies often include investigation processes and may result in disciplinary actions against the bully.

2. EEOC Complaint

If the bullying involves discrimination based on a protected characteristic covered by federal law (e.g., race, sex, religion), victims can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigates and may take legal action on behalf of the victim.

3. State Human Rights Agencies

In states with their own anti-discrimination laws, victims can file complaints with state human rights agencies, which have jurisdiction over discrimination claims within the state.

4. Civil Lawsuit

In some cases, victims of workplace bullying may choose to pursue a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or the employer. While federal law may not explicitly address workplace bullying, a lawsuit may be possible if the bullying leads to tangible economic harm or if it falls under other legal categories such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

5. Workers’ Compensation

If the workplace bullying results in physical or psychological injuries, the victim may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation provides financial support for medical treatment and lost wages resulting from work-related injuries or illnesses.

6. Union Grievance

If the victim is a union member, they can contact their union representative to discuss filing a grievance against the employer for failing to address the bullying issue.

7. Seek Legal Advice

Victims of workplace bullying should consult with an employment attorney to discuss their specific situation and explore their legal options. An attorney can provide guidance on the most appropriate course of action based on federal, state, and local laws.

Protecting Yourself Against Workplace Bullying

Preventing workplace bullying and protecting oneself against it require a combination of legal awareness, proactive measures, and self-advocacy:

1. Familiarize Yourself with Laws

Employees should take the time to understand their rights under federal, state, and local laws. This knowledge can empower individuals to recognize when workplace bullying crosses legal boundaries.

2. Document Incidents

Keep a detailed record of any incidents of bullying, including dates, times, locations, individuals involved, and descriptions of what transpired. This documentation can be valuable when reporting the issue or pursuing legal action.

3. Report Bullying

If you experience workplace bullying, report it to your HR department or follow your organization’s established reporting procedures. Be sure to keep copies of any written reports or correspondence related to the issue.