Bills to Address Bullying by Bosses

Bullying by bosses leads some workers to commit acts of violence, and causes stress-related health problems in many more workers. Massachusetts is poised to become the first state in the nation to pass a law against workplace bullying. Vermont is likely to pass similar legislation next year. Legislation in New Hampshire is stalled.

“I have heard from so many constituents who want us to address this problem,” Katherine Clark told the Valley Post. She is a Massachusetts state senator from the Boston suburb of Melrose. “Especially in a down economy, people don’t want to leave a job because of workplace bullying.” Clark said July 31 is the deadline for the legislature to enact the law, which is known as bill H.2310 “An Act addressing workplace bullying," this year.

Clark and Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst are the bill’s sponsors. The bill is likely to pass this year, Clark said. She urged people who support the bill to contact their state legislators. Contact info is at www.MAlegislature.gov.

Greg Sorozan is president of a local of the SEIU union that represents thousands of workers in Massachusetts. He told the Valley Post he supports the bill. “This is like the sexual harassment laws that were enacted in the 1980s and early 1990s. They have been very effective,” he said.

Sorozan urged people who support the bill to sign a petition at:

http://mahealthyworkplace.com/support/howtosupport.html

Vermont state senator Anthony Pollina lives in Middlesex, near Montpelier. He told the Valley Post that the legislature will probably vote on a workplace bullying bill, which he supports, early next year. “Workplace bullying is a serious problem,” he said.

Vermont state senator Bill Doyle of Montpelier said he supports the bill. It’s likely to become law next year, he said.

Information about bills intended to prevent workplace bullying in Vermont and New Hampshire is at this web site, which is run by a national group that supports the legislation:

www.HealthyWorkplaceBill.org/states.php

Comments

This law needs to be amended to protect the worker

Helena Worthen posted several of the problems with the bill and there are more. Someone wishing to find relief under this bill has to prove Malice as well -- which is a bar far higher than sexual harassment or civil rights protections currently in place. I'm surprised that the author of this article never mentioned any of these limitations.

Doubts about HW Bill

Hi -

This doesn't look all that great to me. Why is this better than having a union in the workplace, so that a worker would have an on-the-spot representative who could speak out on their behalf without fear of retaliation by the employer? In this bill, the plaintiff has to go get a private lawyer and ALSO get proof of health harm from a doctor or health professional. The lawyer is going to ask for $$ up front. And by the time there is health damage clear enough for a doc to sign off on it, the target/victim is going to have irreparable harm done and it will have been going on for months, if not years.

Another existing tool is worker comp laws. Stress causes work-related injuries (that's what this bullying law appears to acknowledge, right?) so the stress impact of being bullied (headaches, rashes, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, depression, etc) can be taken care of under workers comp. But these cases are hard to prove even under workers' comp laws. Also, they involve a doctor, too, so there's the time delay of waiting until there is a measurable health impact, by which time the worker is in serious trouble.

Furthermore, bullying is often some kind of sudden behavior, and the best response is for some witness to step up and put a stop to it right then and there, or better yet, for the whole group of witnesses to stand up and stop it. But this happens best when people have a union and therefore legal protection for "concerted activity", plus some training in their rights and some solidarity so they don't hesitate to object to abusive behavior. If the bullying is long-term and pervasive, all the more reason to form a union or at least get together and engage in some collective response.

So this idea, of a separate law to control bullying, looks like someone is grandstanding to me. Also, it would be fussy, expensive, hard to enforce and result in delays and make people postpone reacting to bullying until they can show a doctor that they're really suffering health impacts. Instead, why not just promote and strengthen our labor laws?

Some union contracts have extensive "civil rights" clauses that cover this stuff anyway. Steelworker contracts have "respect and dignity" clauses. You can grieve them if they're violated. You don't have to hire a lawyer or go outside the workplace to get things straightened out, that way. You can negotiate things like this.

By the way, "Hostile environment" was the result of court cases under the law, but it wasn't actually in the law.

-Helena Worthen
helenaworthen@gmail.com
phone: 510-828-2745
I live in Berkeley, CA most of the year but in Jamaica, Vermont as much as possible in the summer.

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