By Renee Mielnicki, Esq.
Workplace bullying refers to yelling, name calling, insults or similar verbal abuse directed at an employee by a co-worker or supervisor in the workplace. According to recent surveys and studies, bullying at work is on the rise. Unfortunately, unless an employee falls into a federally protected class, such as race, color, religion, sex, age or disability, the employee has little legal recourse against the bully or the employer.
Bullying in the workplace can have negative consequences for both employees and employers if left unresolved. Studies have shown that employees who have been bullied at work experience health issues such as high blood pressure, anxiety, mental anguish and depression. From an employer’s perspective, it can reduce morale in the workplace, effect retention rates, increase worker’s compensation claims and reduce the overall productivity of the company.
Currently, Pennsylvania is the 25th state to introduce the Healthy Workplace Act since 2003. This Bill would provide an employee who does not fall into one of the above-mentioned federally protected classes with grounds for legal action when subjected to harassment in the workplace. If passed, some of the remedies would include reinstatement to the job for the victim, removal of the abuser from the workplace, lost pay, medical expenses, pain and suffering and attorney’s fees.
Critics of the law say that defining actionable conduct would be not only difficult but it would closely cross with jobs with high demands and pressures. In addition, those opposed to the law also argue it would lead to frivolous lawsuits. Despite its criticisms, studies have confirmed this remains a real issue for both employees and employers.
As of today, no state has enacted the Healthy Workplace Act. Despite the absence of law in this area, employers should implement a Workplace Bullying policy. Even though there is no law making bullying at work illegal, a policy against it in the workplace will assist employers with overall productivity. When drafting a policy against bullying in the workplace, clearly define the type of conduct that is prohibited. Examples would be discrediting work despite evidence that it is satisfactory, yelling or screaming at an employee in front of others, demeaning comments about a person’s appearance, spreading rumors about a person, harsh and constant criticism of a person’s work and singling out and isolating a person from other co-workers. Using as many specific examples of prohibited conduct will put employees on notice as to what conduct is prohibited. The policy should also state that failure to follow it will lead to discipline up to and including termination from employment.
If you would like help drafting a policy for your company, or for help with any other HR issues, please contact us by calling 724-864-8745 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.