If your company’s work environment is a reminiscent of a trip back to middle school, it may be time to update your policies and take a stand against “workplace bullying.”
Although conventional wisdom has been that rude and intimidating conduct between co-workers and even by supervisors falls outside the arena of legal liability for employers, recent court decisions have taken a closer look at workplace bullying as a component of more traditional claims like assault. An August 4 article by Cari Tuna in the Wall Street Journal notes that the Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld a $325,000 jury verdict awarded to a medical technician who was bullied by his supervisor, a cardiovascular surgeon. According to the allegations in that case, a pattern of verbal abuse culminated in a confrontation where the accused bully walked toward his victim with clenched fists while yelling at him. The jury found that conduct threatening enough to fall within the definition of assault, a finding the higher court upheld because it viewed that incident in the context of the pattern of bullying.
An earlier article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope (3/25/08) reported that a surprising 37% of all workers surveyed by a national research firm admitted they had been the victim of workplace bullying.
Several state legislatures are reviewing “anti-bullying” legislation. Although none has been passed into law to date, companies may want to take a proactive stand against conduct that researchers have identified as a leading cause of workplace stress, loss of productivity and high turnover, by adding a ban on nondiscriminatory bullying to their HR policies.