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The Healthy Workplace Bill: Would you be in compliance?

by Gail Pursell Elliott

There is a growing movement to have legislation passed to address bullying and mobbing in the workplace. As I write this article,

there is a significant effort in Massachusetts to pass just such legislation, using social media to elicit support as well as more traditional means. Legislation also is currently being consid- ered in New Jersey. Although legislation has been proposed in twenty-three states over the past decade, none has passed to date. Several states’ Senates, among them New York and Illinois, did pass the bill but it stalled in their State Assemblies. This does not mean that the issue of workplace mobbing and bullying is going to go away, nor does it mean that the laws will never be passed. In fact, the issue is gaining more awareness, more press time and more support for change than ever before. A number of public employee unions such as Public Employees Federation, New York State United Teachers, Civil Service Employees Union, and Professional Staff Congress in New York, Service Employees International Union/National Association of Government Employees in Massachusetts are in favor of the bill. The National Associa- tion for the Advancement of Colored People and Business and Professional Women are among other organizations that are in favor of such legislation.

When we wrote the Mobbing book, released in 1999, few had ever heard of the term and bullying was generally thought of in terms of the school yard. However, when we described the process and explained the outcomes both for the individual and the organization human resources professionals to whom I presented the information were amazed. Their response was that they had watched this go on for years and did not understand what was happening or how to address it, but when presented with the syndrome it became easier to identify the players of the drama in their appropriate roles.

U. S. CENSUS OF FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES IN 2011 (Preliminary Results), published September 20, 2012

Violence and other injuries by persons or animals accounted for 780 fatalities or 17% of total fatal injuries in the workplace in 2011.

Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Others were disturbed to remember cases in which the wrong person had been terminated from employment. The Healthy Workplace Bill, authored by David C. Yamada, Professor of Law and Director, New Workplace Institute, Suffolk University Law School, Boston. J.D., New York Univer- sity School of Law, addresses bullying just as sexual harass- ment legislation addressed that form of inappropriate conduct decades ago. Although it took years for sexual harassment and discrimination laws to be passed, they were because they were needed just as this legislation is needed. It would be wonderful if we did not have to have any of these laws that prohibit human beings treating each other in these ways, but we do.

Regardless of the passing of a specific law addressing mobbing and bullying in the workplace, more employees are finding ways to take some form of legal action. Some of the legal areas include discrimination, slander, Intention Infliction of Emotional Distress and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since many organizations are expanding their policies or stating expectations of conduct in the employee manual, even without The Healthy Workplace Bill, some employees who believe that they have been wronged or that the organization is not following its own policies are suing for breach of contract.

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New Study Finds that Workplace Bullying is on the Rise

A new CareerBuilder survey found that the number of workers encountering bullies at the office is increasing. Some 35% of workers said they have felt bullied at work, up from 27% last year. Worse yet, 16% of these workers say they suffered health-related problems as a result of bullying, and another 17% said the bullying got so bad that they decided to quit their jobs to escape the situation. The survey, which included more than 3,800 workers nationwide, also found that nearly half of workers don’t confront their bullies, and the majority of bullying incidents on the job go unreported. The most common way workers reported being bullied was getting blamed for mistakes they didn’t make, followed by not being acknowledged, and, the use of double standards. Fifty-seven percent of workers who felt bullied and reported it to their Human Resources department said nothing was done – an area of concern for HR professionals everywhere, especially given the increased focus on legal liability. Manag- ers, executives and HR pros can (and should) jump in to make sure their workplace is not one of the organizations where this trend is going the wrong way.

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