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Workplace Bullying, Harassment Laws Coming Soon?

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on May 11, 2009 3:42 PM

The topic of bullying sees no shortage of press coverage, whether the site of bullying be the schoolyard or the Internet. However, one phenomenon that has not been as widely addressed has been that of workplace bullying. First off, there's probably a number of people wondering just what that might be. There is apparently no single formal definition for workplace bullying, but it can probably be fairly described as the repeated use of aggressive or unreasonable behavior (which can include verbal, physical, and psychological forms) against a co-worker.

Whatever definition someone chooses to apply, however, the fact is that workplace bullying is a real problem which may now start being addressed by the law. Massachusetts is reportedly considering a bill targeting workplace bullying. The title of the bill is a pretty good description for what it would do, "[a]n Act addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment, without regard to protected class status." That last part, in regular English, means that this bill would deal with those areas that aren't already covered by existing laws, with the most obvious example being laws prohibiting sexual harassment.

An astonishing statistic highlighted by the Massachusetts bill was just how common workplace "bullying" has become. The introduction to the legislation noted that "[b]etween 37 and 59 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment, and this mistreatment is approximately four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone." The bill went on to describe the significant health-related consequences on the affected workers, but also pointed out that employers also face "reduced employee productivity and morale, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in medical and workers' compensation claims."

The bottom line is that if the statistics are accurate, workplace bullying is likely to be a major problem country-wide, as there's probably not much of a reason to believe that Massachusetts is a state more prone to workplace bullying than anywhere else. It certainly shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that other states such as Illinois and New York may be taking steps to address the issue in the near future, as well. We'll keep you posted on further legal developments on workplace bullying, and will follow up with an in depth look at how the Massachusetts law, if enacted, would deal with the issue. For now, check out the links below for more information on the Massachusetts bill, and related, laws on workplace bullying and harassment.

Note 5/13/2009: Edits to the post were made to clarify that the Massachusetts Bill has not yet been enacted into law.

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