From Work, Stress, and Health 2009: Is there a “business case” for workplace bullying legislation?

During one of today’s sessions at the 2009 Work, Stress, and Health conference, I presented a short paper titled Is There a “Business Case” for Workplace Bullying Legislation?  I offered four basic propositions:

1.  From an employer’s standpoint, there is a strong business case for taking workplace bullying seriously as an employment relations problem.  Mounting evidence indicates that workplace bullying results in reduced productivity and employee loyalty, increased absenteeism and related costs, increased attrition and related costs, and greater risk of employee lawsuits even in the absence of a workplace bullying law.

2.  From an employer’s standpoint, workplace bullying legislation creates undesirable liability exposure.  Enactment of bullying legislation would indeed increase employer costs for defending and preventing lawsuits.

3.  Nevertheless, absent significant liability exposure, few employers take workplace bullying seriously.  Few employers voluntarily provide enforceable protections against bullying to their employees.  In the 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute/Zogby public opinion survey on workplace bullying, respondents reported that when employers were made aware of alleged bullying behaviors, 62 percent either ignored the problem or made it worse.

In addition, recent history is rife with examples of how employers have been complicit in blatant, brazen worker mistreatment in the absence of liability exposure: Racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation for whistle blowing are but a few examples.

4.  Advocates for legal reform must build a civil rights case positing that workplace bullying is a malicious violation of human dignity that denies people a right to earn a living free of psychological abuse.  Workplace bullying threatens mental health, physical health, personal and family relationships, careers, and livelihoods.  No other such common and destructive form of worker mistreatment so escapes the protective reach of modern American employment law.

The Healthy Workplace Bill, model anti-bullying legislation that I authored, provides severely bullied employees with a legal claim for malicious harm. It also provides incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward workplace bullying and includes provisions that preclude or discourage frivolous litigation.

To get involved in efforts to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go to: http://workplacebullyinglaw.org/.

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