Currently 44 states have bullying statutes that apply to schools, says Michael Kaufman. Kaufman is a partner with Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo in Woodbury, N.Y. “States are going to be addressing this’ in the workplace also,” he predicts. “It does look like there’s going to be a trend.”
When it comes to employer liability for bullying, the jury may is still be out. There are no state laws covering private employers, but that may just be a question of time. Currently, there are 13 bills active in 10 states: IL, MA, MD, NJ, NV, NY, UT, VT, WA, and WV. Suzanne Sclafane discusses this and more in her PropertyCasualty360.com article Do You Work With A Bullying Jerk?.
But just because laws don’t exist now, employers aren’t off the hook. There is nothing to prevent an employee from filing a complaint with a regulatory authority or filing a lawsuit. This is particular likely if an employee can establish some harm. Generally, an employer has protection under employers professional liability insurance and insurers would handle claims much the same way they would harassment claims.
Wise employers are taking steps to stamp out bullying regardless of the status of legislative initiatives. Even if it never winds up in court, the behavior is damaging and corrosive to overall employee morale and productivity. Sclafane has another article on What Employers Should Do About Workplace Bullying that frames the issue as “status-blind harassment.” She says, “Experts use the term “status-blind” or “equal-opportunity harassment” to distinguish workplace bullying from harassment targeted at classes of workers protected under federal and state statutes, such as Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin.”
She offers tips from experts on steps employers can take to reduce bully behaviors. These include establishing policies and expectations, as well as training managers to recognize and be responsive to bullying. She also suggests using behavioral surveys during the interview process. (We’d suggest adding a process to refer bullies to your EAP for counseling, too.)
It’s also important to audit a workplace to ensure that the prevailing work culture isn’t inadvertently fostering and reinforcing bullies. Kathleen Long, one of the experts interviewed in the article, says that that there are two root causes to workplace bullying:
“One is that person who is hired is a bully already.” The other is an environment that makes someone who might not normally bully fall prey to that kind of behavior. “Certain kinds of stresses put them in a situation where that comes up,” she says, noting that economic stresses, highly competitive environments, or organizations that evidence unfair treatment or favoritism may nurture bullies and victims.