If you've been bullied at your job, you're not alone. A 2012 summary of two decades of bullying research found that 95 percent of all employees during a five-year period witnessed bullying in their workplaces. Typical workplace bullying behaviors include: verbal insults, personal jokes, excessive workloads, withholding crucial information, harsh criticism of one's work, social ostracism, threats and aggressive actions. The good news is that some state legislatures are considering passing anti-bullying laws protecting workers.
Unlike Canada, Australia and nine European countries, the United States does not have any national workplace anti-bullying statutes as of 2013. The U.S. federal and state employment discrimination laws typically only apply if you are being bullied specifically because of your gender, race, disability, ethnicity, religion or membership in some other protected group. For example, a white female employee being bullied by a white female boss might receive no protection under the federal anti-discrimination laws unless she is being bullied because of her disability or religion. Federal and state workplace violence laws apply primarily to threats of violence and actual physical attacks, leaving out nonviolent workplace bullying.
The Healthy Workplace Bill
As of 2013, the only existing U.S. anti-bullying statutes are those enacted by state and local lawmakers to protect schoolchildren. An anti-bullying organization, the Healthy Workplace Campaign, is currently leading efforts to introduce bills in Congress and the state legislatures that would protect employees from workplace bullying. The Healthy Workplace Campaign has privately provided state legislators with a sample workplace anti-bullying law, the "Healthy Workplace Bill." Some state legislatures have posted proposed workplace anti-bullying laws on their websites for public review, which appear to be based on the original Healthy Workplace Bill.
Examples of draft workplace anti-bullying laws include the 2011 New York Senate Bill No. S4289, the 2012 New Jersey Senate Bill No. 333, and the 2013 Massachusetts House Bill No.1766. While each bill has somewhat different language, they all contain a section outlining the negative effects that workplace bullying has on employees' health, including causing depressions, gastrointestinal illnesses and cardiovascular disease. The bills then discuss the economic damage caused by bullying, such as higher employee turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in workers' compensation claims. Additional sections in the bills provide legal definitions of terms such as "abusive work environment," and make employers legally responsible for bullying in their organizations. The last sections in the bills allow employees to sue employers who have permitted bullying.
Between 2003 and 2013, 25 state legislatures reviewed workplace anti-bullying bills, but as of 2013, none of these bills have been enacted into law. If you are concerned about bullying in your workplace, you can contact your state legislature and urge passage of a workplace anti-bullying law. You can ask your employer to include anti-bullying language within your organization's workplace violence policy. You can also suggest inclusion of anti-bullying policies within your organization's employee handbooks. You may educate your co-workers on workplace bullying by providing them with resource material on the subject.
- Science Direct: Aggression and Violent Behavior: 20 Years of Workplace Bullying Research
- The Healthy Workplace Campaign: Healthy Workplace Bill: 25 States Since 2003 Have Introduced the HWB -- No Laws Yet Enacted -- 11 States with 16 Bills Active
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Dealing with Workplace Violence -- A Guide for Agency Planners -- Case Study 16 -- Disruptive Behavior
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Policies and Laws
- The Isosceles Group: Workplace Bullying: A Global Health and Safety Issue
- The Healthy Workplace Campaign: FAQ
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts: House Bill No. 1766
- State of New Jersey: Senate Bill No. 333
- State of New York: Senate Bill No. S4289
- Washington State Department of Labor and Industries: Workplace Bullying
- Cornell University HR Review: Workplace Violence: Why Every State Must Adopt a Comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Law
- Workplace Bullying Institute: The WBI Definition of Workplace Bullying
- University of Louisville: Workplace Bullying
- Society for Human Resource Management: Workplace Bullying Laws on the Horizon?
- State University of New York at Buffalo: Political Skill and the Job Performance of Bullies
- The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel: The Case For Getting Aggressive With Workplace Bullies
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration: Workplace Bullying for Employees
- Workplace Bullying Institute: The WBI Website Instant Poll D -- Impact of Workplace Bullying on Individuals' Health
- Medsurg Nursing: Workplace Bullying in Nursing: A ProblemThat Can’t Be Ignored
- Workplace Bullying Institute: Workplace Bullying for Unions
Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology, a master's degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.