June 6th, 2014

Puerto Rico acts on the Healthy Workplace Bill

If you are new to being bullied at work, you necessarily are consumed by righting the wrong and healing from the self-blame and shame that accompanies it. If you are reading this, you have discovered the WBI website that confirms you did nothing wrong, nor did you deserve the denigration, humiliation or ostracism.

You might have missed the fact that since 2001 we have spearheaded the effort in states to pass a law that would have given you a chance to threaten your employer with a lawsuit. Without the threat of a law, US employers are letting the perpetrators run with impunity. And that doesn’t even count bullying done on behalf of executives and senior managers.

The name of our legislation is the Healthy Workplace Bill. Volunteer Coordinators in 36 states have managed to get the bill introduced in 26 states and in 2 territories — the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The process is just beginning in the USVI, but progress is significant in PR.

Senator Rosanna Lopez Leon was the prime sponsor of S 501. The bill passed all committees, and both Camara (House) and Senado (Senate) floor votes. Reconciliation of the different versions was completed on June 3.

The bill addresses “acoso laboral” the special cases of harassment we define as workplace bullying and mobbing. The bill speaks about “the dignity of every human being, particularly in the area of employment.”

The bill awaits Gov. Padilla’s signature. Call his office to implore him to make the bill law.

If the bill becomes law, it will become the first U.S. jurisdiction (PR is technically a territory, not a state) to have enacted a complete version of the HWB that holds employers accountable for health-harming mistreatment.

Writing for the National Law Review on June 5, San Juan-based attorney Maralyssa Alvarez-Sanchez described provisions of S 501.

Bullying, called workplace harassment, is defined as

ill-intended, unwelcome, repetitive conduct, whether it be verbal, written or physical, on behalf of the employer, its supervisors or employees, distinct from the legitimate business interests of the company, that creates a hostile, intimidating, humiliating, and offensive atmosphere, impedes the healthy tenure of the employee in the workplace, that can bring scorn, belittle or professionally destroy the employee, and that threatens his/her constitutionally protected rights, including his/her dignity

An illustrative list of examples of prohibited actions is followed by behaviors that will not be considered illegal.

Employer responsibilities include:

• a mandate to adopt and implement policies to prevent, dissuade and avoid bullying

• investigations of allegations of policy violations

• required posting of the law for employees to see their rights

Employers will be vicariously responsible for misconduct by their supervisors unless they can prove they took immediate and appropriate remedial action the moment they “knew” of the harassment. Additionally, employers are responsible for the bullying of employees by non-employees if they knew about it and failed to take corrective action.

Complainants may not be retaliated against.

In order to file a lawsuit, employees must first pursue two other problem resolutions steps. First, all internal mechanisms to complain and resolve the situation must be attempted. If that is unsuccessful, complaints have to run through the Bureau of Alternate Dispute Resolution of the Judicial Branch, a government agency. If mediation is unsuccessful or not recommended, then legal action may be taken.

For private employers found liable for bullying, compensatory damages will be automatically doubled.

For individuals bullied by government employers, the only available remedies will be reinstatement, back pay, and injunctive relief.


If S 501 becomes Puerto Rican law, it will be the most significant step taken in the campaign to address workplace bullying in the U.S.


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This entry was posted on Friday, June 6th, 2014 at 10:26 am and is filed under Healthy Workplace Bill (U.S. campaign), Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, WBI in the News, Workplace Bullying Laws. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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