$4.7 Million Workplace Bullying Case; Do You Have a Policy? - In House
In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

$4.7 Million Workplace Bullying Case; Do You Have a Policy?

James Robinson might be the most expensive security guard in the world. The former employee of Pretty Girl clothing in Brooklyn, who previously pled guilty to assaulting his coworker, just cost his employer $4.7 million.

Why? Not only did Robinson punch his Yemeni-born coworker, Osama Saleh, in the face, fracturing his cheekbone, but he repeatedly verbally harassed Saleh before escalating to physical violence. Robinson allegedly repeatedly called him "bin Laden" and ranted about hating "dirty" Arabs. Supervisors, meanwhile, did nothing, despite Saleh's pleas, dismissing the conduct as banter, reports the New York Daily News.

Especially interesting was this tidbit: the store's owner testified that the harassment was neither inappropriate nor a violation of company policies. We're guessing he lacks both an anti-bullying policy and a workplace violence policy.

Anti-Bullying Policy

We've previously advised you to have a workplace violence policy, but what about an anti-bullying policy?

Obviously, no policy is a shield against liability -- dismissing harassment as mere banter can still result in your own massive verdict. But having one not only shows that your business takes harassment seriously, but it provides guidance for your staff when dealing with these types of situations.

How do you get started? The ABA has a model policy available [PDF] which provides examples of inappropriate conduct and sets forth procedures for reporting such conduct. A wee bit of customizing to reflect your own company's structure and human resources, and you should be all set.

State Laws Coming?

If you do draft a workplace anti-bullying policy, you'll want to watch out for state legislation. According to NPR, a handful of states, including New York (where Saleh was attacked) are considering state legislation to address the problem. Of course, it's a hard problem to address -- how do you ban being a jerk?

Nonetheless, legislation is a possibility, and employers who ignore such laws would be flirting with disaster -- or a $4.7 million verdict.

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