This year, legislatures in at least 11 states, from New York to Washington, are considering legislation to prohibit bullying in the workplace.
This proposed legislation is in response to a surge of complaints about bullies at work, from office settings to construction sites. More than one-third (35%) of employees report being bullied at work and another 15% have witnessed this behavior, according to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.
The proposed legislation aims to stop workplace bullying and to compensate victims of such acts when employers fail to take appropriate action. This legislation would provide employees with new rights and new claims against employers, including damages for lost wages, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress, and, possibly, punitive damages.
As with civil rights claims, the value of the damages will vary on a case-by-case basis. But they could be comparable to discrimination damages.
Workplace bullying defined
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industry defines workplace bullying as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees) which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).”
Workplace bullying must be distinguished from isolated acts by a co-worker and from tough or demanding supervisors who are respectful but demand high performance. Examples of bullying can include:
Workplace bullying differs from harassment because harassment is due to the targeted employee’s protected class—whether race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or other protected status. Any employee, regardless of protected status, can be the target of workplace bullying.
Even without the risk of lawsuits under the proposed law, failure to address workplace bullying causes increased absenteeism, loss of valuable employees, loss of productivity, increases in health-care costs, and more lawsuits for a hostile work environment based on a protected status, such as race or gender.
Currently, most employers lack adequate policies and practices to address bullying. Now is the time to combat workplace bullying—before legislation is passed exposing your credit union to the hottest new trend in employment litigation.
Credit unions should:
As schools and educators have learned, investing time and effort to promote a healthy social climate will help eliminate bullying behavior at your credit union.
KELLY TILDEN is a shareholder at Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Ore.