Workplace bullying laws are “just a matter of time,” says New York Law Journal

Legal protections against bullying at work are “just a matter of time,” says an article in the Jan. 21 edition of the New York Law Journal (link here), the newspaper of the New York legal profession.

The NYLJ feature by Jason Habinsky and Christine M. Fitzgerald, attorneys at the law firm of Hughes, Hubbard, and Reed, states:

For years the law has been stacked against an employee claiming that he or she was abused or bullied by a co-worker. Generally, the law offers no protection to such a victim as long as the alleged bully can show that his or her actions were not motivated by the victim’s status as a member of a protected class. . . . However, with bullying becoming front-page news across the nation, it is just a matter of time before the law adapts. Since 2003, 17 states have considered legislation designed to protect employees from workplace bullying.

Another sign

In a December article assessing the state of the anti-bullying movement, I suggested that legislative successes and media coverage surrounding the Healthy Workplace Bill during 2010 signaled a breakthrough in terms of wider public support for legal protections against bullying at work.

Now, as advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill gear up across the country for the next round of state legislative sessions, the article highlights the growing attention being given to workplace bullying by lawyers and policy makes and the emerging consensus that enactment of workplace bullying laws is coming sooner than later.

Balanced tone

It is noteworthy that the authors of the piece are lawyers at a large New York City law firm that represents mostly large businesses — the very entities that could be sued by abused employees. And yet, if you read their article, you’ll see that while they express some of the common concerns about enacting legal protections against bullying, they are not foaming at the mouth at the possibility. That’s a stark contrast to other pieces written by management-side lawyers who have virulently criticized the idea of any anti-bullying legislation.

4 responses

  1. I really appreciate the people who work so hard to make things better. And we do have to keep trying. It’s just that all the laws on the books haven’t stopped all of the old ways of discriminating: race, gender, age, etc.

    You just can’t legislate character.

    • Enactment of legal protections is only part of the equation. I agree — laws against discrimination haven’t stopped discrimination, laws against murder don’t stop people from killing others — and laws against bullying won’t stop bullying. But anti-bullying laws would give targets something more than they currently have, which is not much.

  2. Programs in schools is an excellent comment. There is, however, such a disconnect (usually) between the school system and parenting. We need schools and parents to unite in their efforts to teach our children how to treat others, how to take care of themselves, how to take personal responsibility, etc.

    But we all have such different values. Bullying is taught at home (by example) and/or no one who observes someone bullying or being bullied shares that information with the parent/s.

    It still is very heartening that the subject comes up so much in conversation these days.

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