November 25th, 2013
Cobb: Workplace Bullying: USA Versus Much of the World
By Ellen Pinkos Cobb, Isoceles Group, Nov. 18, 2013
With alleged harassment on the Miami Dolphins football team, there is increased discussion of workplace bullying. It’s about time. The United States lags behind many countries in this area.
As a start: think about sexual harassment. It’s not done. And yet, it was done, flagrantly, constantly, with a wink and a nod, until not that long ago. It still happens, but less, and public perception has changed. In the United States, workplace bullying has been found to be four times more prevalent than sexual harassment.
A 2010 Zogby International survey of adult Americans (commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute) showed that 35% reported personally being bullied at work. Of the respondents, 64% supported having laws to protect workers from “malicious, health-harming abusive conduct” committed by bosses and co-workers.
Despite these findings, an employee can still be a target of bullying in the workplace in the US and have no legal recourse. State and federal laws do not cover acts of harassment unless based on characteristics covered by law, such as race, religion, gender, or disability. Numerous states have introduced anti-bullying legislation drafted by Suffolk Law School Professor David Yamada. None have been enacted. Yet.
The US would do well to look around the world. Numerous countries have legislation to protect workers from bullying. Canada, Australia, and nine European countries have enacted anti-bullying laws, including Sweden, France, and Denmark, and Serbia. As of January 1, 2014, an Australian worker who believes he or she has been bullied may apply to the Fair Work Commission for an investigation and if cause is found, have an order issued to the employer to stop the bullying.
Costs to workplaces in which bullying is allowed to occur include loss of skill and experience when a worker leaves due to being bullied, lowered employee morale, medical and insurance costs, and harm to a company’s reputation. Research has shown that workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand.
Under workplace health and safety laws, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment for employees. This requirement is often interpreted to require ensuring persons in the workplace are both mentally and physically safe at work and increasingly interpreted to require a workplace free from bullying.
It is time for public perception on workplace bullying to change. Maybe, with attention focused on the complexities of the Dolphins situation, it will.
Ellen Pinkos Cobb, Esq.is Senior Regulatory & Legal Analyst for the The Isosceles Group.
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