Guest Blogger Sheila Scott, Director, Client Relations.
Although U.S. law does not require employers to have a policy and training that address workplace bullying, experts say that such policies are good business practice and help promote a culture of civility and respect in the workplace.
According to a survey sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2010, 35 percent of U.S. workers have experienced or witnessed bullying. The survey also found that 62 percent of bullies are men; 38 percent are women. Women make up 58 percent of the targets; men make up 42 percent.
Typically, workplace bullying cases are not covered under federal anti-discrimination law unless the target is a member of a protected class. The Workplace Bullying Institute, a research, training, support and advocacy organization, encourages states to pass The Healthy Workplace Bill, which “plugs the gaps in current state and federal civil rights protections,” according to The Healthy Workplace Campaign.
Right now, being a workplace bully is not against the law in the United States, unless:
The bullying behaviors happen to also be illegal discrimination or harassment based on sex, race, age, disability or the like;
The behavior meets the legal definition of assault; or
The behavior is so serious as to be intentional infliction of emotional distress not pre-empted by state workers’ compensation law.
A workplace bullying policy, which might be added to a larger anti-harassment policy, should define bullying, provide examples of bullying behavior and set forth a reporting procedure.
Some policy examples:
The Society for Human Resources Management offers guidance which includes a definition of bullying; a statement about the purpose of the policy; and examples of bullying behavior, such as using verbal or obscene gestures, spreading rumors and gossip regarding individuals, and manipulating the ability of someone to do their work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) anti-bullying policy is contained in the “Violence in the Workplace” chapter of the 278-page OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual. The policy sets forth the responsibilities of OSHA employees and managers in the context of workplace bullying.
Employers should look at bullying as a hazard to health and a potential form of illegal harassment. Thus, as a legal defense, they should be able to show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent bullying and offered avenues of redress that employees unreasonably failed to use.