Corporate interests attack Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

Powerful, well-funded corporate and business interests are contacting Massachusetts state legislators and generating letter-writing campaigns to voice their opposition to the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (filed as House No. 2310 in the 2011-12 session).

In some ways, this is a good sign. It means that the HWB is being taken seriously.

Nevertheless, as author of the underlying language of the HWB, I’ve examined their claims and found them wanting. Here are my responses:

1. Claim: Existing harassment law is sufficient to protect bullying targets.

Reality: This is untrue.  Harassment law protects only those individuals who can prove that the mistreatment is due to their protected class membership, such as sex, race, or age.

The HWB protects all employees from abusive mistreatment on an equal opportunity basis, filling a huge gap in the law.

2. Claim: Existing tort (personal injury) law is sufficient to protect bullying targets.

Reality: This is untrue.  In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court has held that under exclusivity provision of the state’s workers’ compensation law, workers may not sue their employers for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) and many other tort actions.  Even if this bar was removed, my extensive analysis of IIED claims brought against employers in other states shows that most targets of standard-brand, severe workplace bullying are unable to recover (or even to get to trial).

3. Claim: The Healthy Workplace Bill will open floodgates of litigation.

Reality: Of course there will be lawsuits under the HWB; it would not be doing its job if workers did not bring claims under it.  However, after an initial surge of litigation, the number of claims will moderate considerably once lawyers, their clients, and the courts recognize the high threshold for recovery (including intent to cause distress and resulting physical and/or psychological harm).

The HWB has three primary goals: (1) preventing bullying; (2) encouraging prompt and fair employer responses to reports of bullying; and (3) providing compensation to targets of severe, health-harming bullying. Good employers can minimize their liability and, in the process, have a healthier, more loyal, more productive workforce as a result.

4. Claim: The Healthy Workplace Bill will hurt small businesses.

Reality: Small businesses also suffer devastating productivity and morale losses when bullying occurs. In fact, with fewer people on the payroll, small businesses experiencing workplace bullying have less flexibility than larger ones to move around employees and make personnel changes. The HWB will incentivize preventive efforts for these businesses.

5. Claim: We should give employers a chance to address bullying voluntarily first.

Reality: Workplace bullying is not new to the American workplace, even if the label is relatively recent.  Employers have had decades to address the psychological abuse of employees, and all too often they ignore the complaints or side with the aggressors.  Now it is clear that the law should enter the picture to encourage them to stop this form of interpersonal abuse.

6. Claim: The Healthy Workplace Bill takes away the ability of employers to manage their workforce.

Reality: This is untrue.  The HWB enters the picture only when the bullying behaviors have become severe and harmful. It provides legal incentives for employers to sharply minimize their liability exposure by acting preventively and responsively toward bullying, and it reserves the right of employers to conduct evaluations and provide feedback and direction to their employees.


For more information:

Blog post: The Healthy Workplace Bill: What’s it all about?

For the new blog of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, go here.

9 responses

  1. It’s beyond amazing the level of hypocrisy that exists in the American workplace.

    “The Healthy Workplace Bill will open floodgates of litigation.” Let’s see…there has to be a “flood” of employee rights violations for there to be a “floodgate”.

    “We should give employers a chance to address bullying voluntarily first.” Wow…this approach really works doesn’t it? Just ask the average employee that files a complaint with the employers internal EEO office(r)

    This approach of self policing is like beelzubub to discipline satan ;0)

    • Yancy, there doesn’t have to be a “flood” of employee rights violations for there to be a “floodgate”, there merely needs to be the “perception of rights being violated” to open those floodgates. Your stance that all suits are justified (ie: not frivolous) is naive.

      • So the majority must suffer because of the few. The same argument is used to make it harder to get food at a Foodbank, because there are a few “gamers” (people who are always playing the angles – they exist everywhere, on the bread line and in the Boardroom). This is a variation of the ‘domino theory’ – If you let one go, then all of the others will follow. Yes some frivolous suites will be filed, but do not block all the valid suites jsut to stop the few.

  2. “give employers a chance to address bullying voluntarily first” – CLEARLY this has not happened! Many efforts to “address” bullying have involved further abusing the targets by employers. “takes away the ability of employers to manage” – what they really were meaning to say here was “takes away the ability of employers to bully.”

  3. This is a great blog. If you are an Australian reading this then here is a chance to have your say if you or someone you know was bullied. The Federal Parliament has asked a Parliamentary Standing Committee to hold an inquiry into workplace bullying. Make suggestions or just tell your story. You can make a submission without fear that someone can sue you. In making a submission you are protected by Parliamentary Privilege so you are immune from legal action. If you still work where the bullying is taking place and are worried about reprisals then you can make a confidential submission. For all the information you need follow the links on the following link:

  4. As a dedicated employee of the agency I currently work for during the past eleven years, I have been a target of vicious workplace bullying for the past six plus years. I have, also, been one of the more vocal employees by identifying the mistreatment, attempting to seek help for it, and finding that after years of effort doing so, my efforts to seek help, fall on deaf ears, so to speak.

    Even though more and more corporations are coming forward in opposition to this new bill, presenting the rationale that the current laws and policies are sufficient, that rationale is simply not true.

    When I started going through the appropriate channels requesting appropriate support with the issues that I had, which were well-documented through inappropriate e-mails sent to me, unprofessional and verbally aggressive behavior directed at me in front of other employees, as well as the executive director, I did not receive the help I needed. Instead, the bullying became even more fierce and unrelenting.

    I still work in the same toxic environment simply because I need my job. I have a teenage daughter at home and she needs stability. Out employment sector is so unstable, at this time.

    However, without the passage of this bill countless employees will continue to be exposed to bullying’s harmful effects. I notice that my attendance suffers, as I take off more days than I need to due to the stressful side effects on my well-being. My daughter takes off more days from school then she would otherwise need to because her mother comes home so stressed, at times, that she is not able to be present for her daughter’s needs.

    My daughter and I have talked about this issue in therapy, I have contacted a couple of attorneys, as well. At this point in time, there is not a concrete specific solution to this situation.

    I truly do believe that school yard bullies grow up to be workplace bullies unless there is a change of heart and/or a protocol set up to monitor the issues. My direct supervisor, the bully, has had innumerable opportunities to correct herself, and her supervisor the executive director, has had innumerable opportunities to require that she be exposed to the training needed to correct her unprofessional, shaming, overtly caustic targeting of certain employees to inaccurate statements about their job performances and character.

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