We’ve covered bullying time and time again here at ATL. Usually we come down pretty hard on schools’, parents’, and legislators’ attempts to punish certain forms of alleged bullying among hormonally unbalanced teenagers. Because we prefer to allow kids (like this little guy) to grow up and be able to handle their own lives without constant parental interference.
The anti-bullying movement is moving into the employment law world, as several states consider adding bullying to the existing discrimination law canon. Is this a good idea? Let’s take a look at the details and possible consequences for schoolyard bullies who got taller but never grew up…
Corporate Counsel explains that New Jersey has legislation pending, while 21 other states have considered various bills over the past several years (funny that New Jersey is leading the charge, since Governor Chris Christie has been called out for bullying more than once.)
Even though no state statutes exist yet, some people already “piggyback” bullying onto other types of discrimination claims. If workplace bullying bills start passing you might see an uptick in claims, and employers would face more risk, yadda yadda, which no one likes. But as anyone who’s had a really awful job knows, the stupidest part of workplace bullying is it directly hurts everyone at the office. When a co-worker doesn’t get her stuff done because someone is f**king with her process or she’s too bummed out all the time to work efficiently, everyone else has to clean up the mess.
Even if you dislike a co-worker, what’s the point of stuff like this?
“We’ve received claims where an employee is laughed at, teased, poked at incessantly by other employees in the group, excluded from social interactions,” [Morrison & Foerster partner Sharon Parella] says. She often sees “an employee who is being really sabotaged at work, not being given help with assignments that he or she needs to be successful, or worse, being undermined so that his or her assignments are done poorly.”
I feel more OK with taking adults to task over this kind of nonsense because, well, adults should know better. And there are inherently different power relationships involved in playground scuffles and douchey water cooler talk. The rules are different, and the likely consequences potentially much larger in a workplace. Problems at school are awful, but it hopefully doesn’t affect a child’s ability to eat dinner. If an adult loses his job (or is forced to quit because he can’t freakin’ take it anymore), he can’t pay rent or feed his family.
According to [Workplace Bullying Institute], in its most severe forms, bullying can cause all sorts of stress-related health issues, including hypertension, autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. “Where bullying is prevalent in a workplace, invariably you see employees who have poor attendance,” says Parella, or “who are unfocused because they’re always either looking for another job or trying to deal with or respond to having been bullied.” She says that even if an employer is only concerned with retention and profitability, “it has been demonstrated repeatedly that a workplace filled with abusive conduct suffers in this regard.”
Point is, in a still-weak economic market where it’s not necessarily easy to bail on a bad job (assuming you can get one at all), it’s important to protect workers from hostile environments where Alec Baldwin can run around like a maniac restricting everyone’s coffee consumption for no reason.
Proposed Legislation Stands Up to Workplace Bullies [Corporate Counsel]