What policy objectives should workplace bullying legislation advance?

With growing discussion about the enactment of workplace bullying legislation occurring both in the U.S. and in other nations, it is fitting to identify some of the broad objectives that any such law should be designed to further.

When I was drafting the Healthy Workplace Bill, I identified a cluster of public policy goals that should inform the substance of an anti-bullying law. These four figured most prominently:

Prevention

Prevention is the most important goal. The law should encourage employers to use preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of workplace bullying. These include developing and enforcing policies, educating employees, and supporting a workplace culture that values employee dignity. If bullying is prevented, then workers and employers alike will benefit, and all stakeholders are spared burdensome litigation.

Relief to targets

The legal system should provide a means of relief to targets who are subjected to severely abusive treatment. This should include monetary damages, mental health counseling, and, where applicable, reinstatement to the target’s original position.

Prompt and fair resolution

The law should encourage prompt resolution of bullying disputes, with procedures designed to be fair to all parties, and with strong protections against retaliation for workers who report instances of bullying.

Responsibility

Finally, bullies and employers who enable them should be held responsible for their actions. This will have a deterrent effect and further encourage the use of preventive measures to discourage bullying behavior.

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I believe this is a good starting place for considering the role of the law in responding to workplace bullying. These policy objectives have been well-received by commentators around the world, ranging from scholars in fields such as law and industrial psychology, to the World Health Organization (see below for link).

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For a free pdf copy of the World Health Organization’s publication Raising Awareness of Psychological Harassment at Work, go here.

My three major law review articles on workplace bullying and the law extensively discuss the public policy objectives and implications of workplace bullying legislation, including the Healthy Workplace Bill. They can be downloaded without charge by clicking the titles:

The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection– Georgetown Law Journal, 2000

Crafting a Legislative Response to Workplace Bullying– Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, 2004

Workplace Bullying and American Employment Law: A Ten-Year Progress Report and Assessment – Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 2010

One response

  1. Another significant policy objective to consider is recidivism prevention.

    Organizations may have ineffective policies and procedures in place to address the systemic dynamics of workplace abuse. Strict disciplinary measures may offer no more than a bandaid, quick fix. Cases involving bullying tend to be fact intensive and, therefore, deserve in-depth consideration when it comes to determining effective responses.

    I support a inter- (or multi-) disciplinary approach to, at the very least, consider the range of needs and interests of those (including the organization as a whole) involved in these types of situations. Terminating an abusive employee may amount to little more than allowing him/her to move on to the next target.

    Thanks.
    Debra

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