International Peace Day and the Workplace

English: Painting by children, International P...

English: Painting by children, International Peace Day 2009, Geneva. Français : Peinture par des enfants, Journée internationale de la Paix 2009, Genève. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Children dancing, International Peace...

English: Children dancing, International Peace Day 2009, Geneva. Français : Enfants dansant, Journée internationale de la Paix 2009, Genève. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

September 21, 2013: Today is International Peace Day.  One year ago, I posted my first blog–about trying to promote  world peace by stopping Equal Opportunity Bullies (EOBs) in the workplace.

One year later, I realize basically everything I do as a mostly plaintiff-side employment attorney relates to dealing with workplace bullying. Some of it is illegal, some of it is just plain dumb for an employer to tolerate–all of it is stressful and non-productive for its victims and often costly to the employer– in loss of morale, high turnover, employee health issues, absenteeism, work sabotage and even workplace violence.

Ultimately everyone – with the possible exception of the EOB,  suffers from unchecked workplace bullying.   Borrowing a phrase from the Chamber of Commerce, EOBullying is a “job-killer”.

I get so many calls from prospective clients suffering under an EOB at work who is making their lives miserable and costing the employer good will, good morale, productivity and ultimately money.  Yet judging from the calls I receive, employers in a significant number of workplaces fail to reign in EOBs. My callers are typically quite taken aback when I tell them that the law does not guarantee them a harassment free workplace unless they can show the harassment is directed at a particular protected status such as race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.   But by definition, EOBs are status-blind when it comes to heaping abuse–they bully everyone without regard to race, gender, national origin, marital status, religion or sexual orientation.  And so far, no state protects employees  from an EOB.

A few states actually have laws against school EOBS. New York’s anti-bullying legislation (Dignity for All Students Act or DASA)  applies to public school students and prohibits harassment by EOBs.  But once those New York students are employed, neither New York or any other state so far will protect them from EOBs who create a hostile work environment without regard to the protected group status of their victims.

The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), is a movement seeking to change this by passing status-blind anti-workplace bullying legislation throughout the U.S.   The HWB website claims that 37% of all workers in the U.S. suffer at jobs where EOBs harass them verbally, physically and/or by interfering or sabotaging their work. Professor David C. Yamada  is the recognized expert of workplace bullying and the author of the original HWB.  He has written extensively about workplace bullying.

The goal is for states to pass “status-blind” workplace harassment laws which would allow a plaintiff who suffers documented health-related harm to sue the bullying employee as well as the employer who knows or should know about the bully but fails to curb the bullying behavior.  The legislation typically caps emotional distress damages to make it more palatable to employers.  The hope is that having such legislation on the books will spur employers to take steps to stop EOBs before they are sued.

So far no states have passed a version of the law, but 23 states currently have introduced some form of the legislation.

California was the first state to introduce an anti-workplace bullying law in 2003, AB 1582.  The bill placed a cap of $25,000 on emotional distress damages not linked to a negative employment action( defined in the act) and gave the worker the option of seeking relief through the Worker’s Compensation process.    But the bill died in committee.

Yesterday I read a public employees’ labor agreement which actually protected union members from an EOB’s “arbitary” or “capricious” change of an assignment or “hostile attitude” which is not “justified or necessary” for the proper  supervision of the employee’s work.   I would love to know if anyone has successfully used this section against an EOB.

October 20th-26th is Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

In a future blog I will cover all the new employment laws our legislature passed and our governor signed this year.  It has been a busy year for them.

Maybe Sacramento will take up EOBs in 2014.  There is always hope.

Here’s to the long arc of history bending toward a more peaceful, less hostile workplace.

Happy Birthday to my blog and Happy International Peace Day!

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