Workplace Bullying Laws

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 What Is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is a serious issue that involves repeated, health-harming mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees. It is characterized by actions such as verbal abuse, offensive conduct or behavior, and work sabotage that interferes with an individual’s work. This behavior can create a psychological power imbalance between the bully and the victim and lead to a toxic work environment.

What Are Some Statistics Associated with Workplace Bullying?

According to the 2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 30% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work; another 19% have witnessed it; 49% are affected by it; and 66% are aware that workplace bullying happens.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment, a term often heard in the context of workplace disputes and legal discussions, refers to a situation where an employee finds the workplace so fraught with unwanted and offensive behavior that it becomes difficult or impossible to perform their job effectively. This environment is not merely challenging or unpleasant but is marked by a pattern of behavior that is fundamentally hostile and unwelcoming.

Creating a hostile work environment can involve a variety of behaviors. These actions, whether done by a supervisor, a co-worker, or even a non-employee, such as a client, must be discriminatory in nature to fall under the legal definition. It’s not just about occasional rudeness or sporadic negative interactions; the behavior must be pervasive and consistent enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Discrimination against protected classes, such as race, gender, religion, or age, is often at the core of a hostile work environment. Harassment that targets these aspects of an individual’s identity can take many forms, including offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, name-calling, physical threats or assaults, intimidation, ridicule, mockery, insults, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.

When such conduct is aimed at an individual’s protected characteristics, it not only undermines their professional standing and mental well-being but also violates their legal rights.

However, not every unpleasant or challenging workplace situation constitutes a hostile work environment in the legal sense. The law does not protect against general unkindness or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious.

Instead, the behavior must be both objectively and subjectively offensive. This means that it must not only create an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive but it must also be perceived as hostile or abusive by the person who is experiencing it.

The impact of a hostile work environment can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates. Employees who find themselves in such toxic environments often experience significant stress, anxiety, and even depression. In severe cases, the continual stress and anxiety can lead to physical health issues.

When addressing a hostile work environment or workplace violence, it’s best for the affected employee to report the behavior to the employer, typically through the HR department. Employers are legally obligated to investigate and address complaints of harassment and to take appropriate action to stop the behavior and prevent it from recurring. Failure to do so can lead to legal liabilities for the employer.

In situations where internal resolutions are not effective or possible, or if the employer retaliates against the employee for reporting the harassment, seeking legal assistance becomes an important next step. In these cases, a workplace bullying lawyer can offer guidance and representation.

Is Bullying the Same as Harassment?

While there is an overlap between bullying and harassment, they are distinct concepts under the law and in workplace dynamics.

Harassment, as defined legally, often involves unwanted behavior that relates to a person’s protected characteristics, such as race, sex, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. This type of conduct is prohibited under various anti-discrimination laws. The key aspect of harassment is that it targets aspects of a person’s identity that are protected by law.

This behavior can manifest as verbal comments, physical actions, or visual displays, such as inappropriate pictures or symbols. Harassment creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive and can significantly impact the victim’s employment conditions.

Bullying, on the other hand, while it can be just as damaging as harassment, doesn’t necessarily revolve around protected characteristics. It can be described as repeated, inappropriate behavior directed at an employee or a group of employees, which creates a risk to their physical or mental health. Bullying might include actions such as verbal abuse, unjustified criticism, isolation, overwork, and exclusion.

Unlike harassment, bullying is not necessarily about who the person is but rather about the bully’s behavior towards the person. It can be more subtle and insidious, and because it often doesn’t fall under specific protected categories, it can be more challenging to legally address.

One of the difficulties in differentiating bullying from harassment is that the same action can sometimes be categorized as both, depending on its nature and context. For instance, repeated derogatory comments could be considered bullying due to their persistent nature, but if these comments are about a person’s race or gender, they would also constitute harassment.

The impacts of both bullying and harassment in the workplace can lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, reduced productivity, and high turnover rates. They can severely affect the mental and physical health of employees. Victims often experience stress, anxiety, depression, and a feeling of helplessness. These issues affect individual employees and the overall work environment, creating a toxic atmosphere that can spread throughout the organization.

It’s important for employers to address both bullying and harassment with equal seriousness. This involves implementing clear policies, training employees and managers, and creating a work culture that does not tolerate such behavior. When these issues arise, they should be dealt with promptly and effectively.

In cases where an employee is experiencing either bullying or harassment, it’s advisable to report the behavior to the HR department or a supervisor. Documentation of incidents can be crucial in these situations.

If the issue is not resolved internally or if it escalates, seeking advice from workplace bullying lawyers, also called lawyers for workplace harassment or lawyers for bullying at work, can be the next step. These legal professionals can offer guidance on the rights and options available and help navigate through the legalities of addressing such serious workplace issues.

What Are Some Examples of Bullying in the Workplace?

Examples of bullying in the workplace can vary widely but often include actions like verbal abuse, spreading rumors, deliberate isolation, excessive criticism, or undermining an employee’s work. Workplace bullying can also manifest in more subtle ways, such as constant negative feedback or withholding necessary information, which can sabotage an employee’s performance and career advancement.

Specific examples of bullying behaviors can include, but are not limited to:

  • Taunting
  • Name-calling
  • Teasing
  • Spreading false rumors
  • Intentionally embarrassing an individual in a public setting
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping
  • Damaging or taking another individual’s belongings
  • Sexual harassment
  • Making rude comments towards coworkers or employees
  • Making threats
  • Setting impossible deadlines
  • Taking credit for others’ work
  • Stealing work equipment

Workplace bullying can be done by a single person or a group of coworkers. The individual or group may make another individual or group their target. This can seriously affect the target individual’s work performance and mental health.

It can even have a negative effect on the ability of the organization to get business done. In addition, it can affect the way customers of the business perceive the business itself.

Are There Any Workplace Bullying Laws?

Currently, there is no specific federal law in the United States that addresses workplace bullying unless it crosses into harassment or discrimination. However, some states have enacted legislation aimed at preventing workplace bullying, and others are considering similar laws. These laws typically focus on creating a safe and respectful work environment and may provide remedies for employees who have been victims of bullying.

How Is Bullying Punished?

The punishment for workplace bullying can vary depending on the company’s policies and the legal framework in place. In some cases, HR departments may intervene with disciplinary actions against the bully, ranging from warnings to termination. In situations where bullying overlaps with harassment or discrimination, legal actions can be taken, and employers can face serious legal repercussions.

Are There Any Legal Remedies for Workplace Bullying?

Legal remedies for workplace bullying often depend on the specifics of the case and the laws of the state. If the bullying is linked to discrimination or harassment, an employee may have grounds for a lawsuit. Consulting with workplace bullying lawyers or a lawyer for bullying at work can help victims understand their rights and the potential legal pathways available to them.

Do I Need an Attorney For Workplace Bullying?

If you are experiencing bullying in the workplace and it’s impacting your work or mental health, or if it crosses into harassment or discrimination, it may be wise to consult an attorney. A workplace lawyer can provide guidance on how to document the bullying, navigate company policies, and, if necessary, pursue legal action.

If you’re considering this step, using a service like LegalMatch can connect you with experienced workplace lawyers who can assist you in addressing the bullying and seeking justice. Remember, no one should have to endure bullying in the workplace, and legal support can be a vital resource in addressing and resolving these challenging situations.

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