Just a Lawyer in Lincoln's Hometown

October 6, 2010

Workplace bullying – it stinks & there oughta be a law!

Filed under: Employment Law — Chuck @ 8:06 pm
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Workplace bullying, its endemic, its destructive, and its rarely actionable. It Stinks!

I do not claim to be one of the many fine attorneys, and others, that have studied this workplace disaster in detail. But I do have people call, all the time, about problems caused by workplace bullying. Unfortunately there is rarely anything I or other attorneys can do about it. The law does not, generally, give employees the right to have a good workplace. Nor does it require coworkers to treat each other with respect, manners, or even common decency. As long as the employer allows it, most coworkers can treat each other as complete jerks.

Bullying, however, is another step beyond. Most workplace bullying that I have had contact with through my clients is more directed. Usually toward somebody perceived by the perpetrator as being vulnerable. The perpetrator will start a campaign of petty actions designed to hurt the victim psychically, rarely physically, until the victim falls apart or leaves. The bully then moves on to another victim. There are several other “forms” of bullying, but this serial form seems to be the most common.

No single act seems too harmful, and often requires a great deal of explanation before an outsider – like me, or a judge or a jury – can understand the act and the resulting harm That is one reason it is so difficult to address legally.

If the perpetrator goes too far, acting in a manner clearly beyond reason there may be a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. But too often the acts are too petty to be, effectively, prosecuted as intentional infliction of emotional distress. Unless the bully is motivated by the victim’s protected class status (race, age, sex, etc.) there is almost never something that can be done.

Several states have introduced bills to address this problem. Illinois did so in 2009. but it failed to win approval. To my understanding no anti-workplace bullying legislation has passed anywhere. Its disappointing and wrong. There oughta be a law!

Chuck from Watson Law, LLC


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