“Why is it taking so long to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill?”

It’s a question I hear from targets of workplace bullying who, very understandably, wonder when we’ll see direct legal protections against this form of abuse. I also hear it on occasion from journalists who may not be fully versed on the challenges of enacting new legislation.

Here’s my short answer: Enacting groundbreaking legislation requires time, patience, and sustained effort.

A fuller explanation

Okay, there’s more to it than that:

1. Workplace bullying legislation remains a very new idea in the U.S. — Those who are closely familiar with legislative advocacy will attest that new ideas often take time to percolate among our lawmakers. Only within the last decade or so has the term “workplace bullying” started to enter the mainstream of American employee relations. When we go into state legislatures across the country advocating for the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), we still encounter many elected officials who have never even heard of the term. This means we have a lot of educational work in front of us, and it can take years of building relationships within a legislature to make a successful case.

2. Most bills die in committee — Most legislatures operate in two-year sessions, and during that time, budget matters usually predominate their deliberations. This especially is the case now. Legislation such as the Healthy Workplace Bill must vie for attention with thousands of other proposed bills. Only a fraction of bills introduced in a given session of a legislature are enacted into law. It’s likely that in more active state legislatures, that figure is less than 10 percent. Most proposed legislation stalls in the original committee assigned to review it.

3. Our momentum is attracting powerful opposition — Now that the HWB has gained traction, it’s encountering opposition from employer-supported advocacy groups that, not too long ago, didn’t take it seriously. Generally speaking, corporate interests are not fond of the Healthy Workplace Bill, and they have money and power to oppose it. We saw that in 2010 when the HWB was passed by the New York State Senate, a development that caught a lot of people by surprise. Suddenly we saw the emergence of determined opposition to the HWB.

Staying the course

When I drafted the first version of the Healthy Workplace Bill a decade ago, the idea of U.S. workplace anti-bullying legislation was lightly regarded, to say the least. Since then I have watched this movement grow, gain support, and attract opposition. Indeed, what once was a pipe dream is now being seriously discussed in legislatures, law offices, and boardrooms across the country:

  • Versions of the HWB have been introduced in some 20 state legislatures since 2003, with most of the activity occurring within the past five or six years.
  • In 2010, the state senates of both New York and Illinois passed versions of the HWB. In 2012, the Massachusetts House of Representatives moved the HWB to “third reading,” which means we almost made it to a full floor vote.
  • Even management-side employment lawyers are starting to acknowledge the likelihood that the enactment of legal protections against workplace bullying is a matter of time. More are advising their clients to develop policies and procedures to cover bullying situations in anticipation of that becoming a reality.

In other words, we’re seeing momentum grow. And right now, HWB advocates are now gearing up for the 2013-14 legislative sessions, building on our work to date. We are optimistic about a breakthrough during this time. Stay tuned — and get involved if you’d like to see the HWB become law!

***

To become part of the campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here.

If you’re a fellow Bay Stater, go to the Massachusetts campaign website here.

8 responses

  1. Good post David! Additionally i am not certain legislators and law makers really understand the consequences of severe work place bullying. If one or a few of them or their family members were subjected to the fall out of work place bullying where they could see the effects first hand, i wonder if we might not have a different outcome? From a psychological standpoint the injuries sustained by this type of abuse are not always evident when meeting a target or talking to one. It is not like falling off a scaffold for example and you can see the cast and the limp and the facial disfigurement etc.
    The fallout of work place bullying, which brings on anxiety, depression, isolation, PTSD, derealizaton,depersonalization, panic, fear,a clear phobic perception of work, psychic numbing, poor sleep,nightmares, financial devastation, devastating effects on family and marriage. These are real symptoms and real effects of work place bullying. Until we can get the point across clearly, we are not likely to gain much more ground. Legislators i do not feel get the impact of what work place bullying does. A good movie or documentary that really shows what happens and show the impact might be a positive thing, to date i am not certain we have had one out there that hits home. Employers are likely to fight this bill because they fear losing control over employees. Many employers want the right to do and say what they want to employees, because they can then threaten them legally and in many ways hold them hostage by making them feel incompetent to go elsewhere and keep them there as a punching bag. This is what bullies do. It is abusive and destructful, and it is legal today, hopefully not forever!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mel, thank you for your ongoing interest and commitment. We’re definitely knocking on the door of getting this legislation enacted into law, and we need to keep educating our elected officials. Today we’re off to the Massachusetts State House to do just that. More steps forward…

  2. I was bullied and have been dealing with PTSD because of it for 4+ years. I am not happy with the HWB. I had to seek counseling because I couldn’t work for 2 years after my termination. How am I (or target) going to afford an attorney to sue the bully or company when not working??? Also, how is my (or the targets) one attorney going to stand up against a company that has 10 lawyers on their side??? One more thing, what is the statute of limitation to prosecute?

    • Karen, thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I don’t have the time right now to respond to all of your points in the detail they merit, but as a general reply:

      (1) The HWB has an express provision for attorney’s fees as part of an award, which will make it more attractive to lawyers willing to take cases on a contingency fee basis;

      (2) While I certainly agree that plaintiffs tend to be represented by smaller law firms and that defendant/employers tend to be represented by larger law firms, this is a built-in reality of the legal system, and no single piece of legislation can change that; and,

      (3) The statute of limitations for bring a HWB claim is one year from the last act of bullying, which is slightly longer than statutes of limitations for most employment discrimination statutes (typically 300 days).

      Best,
      David

  3. Hi David.

    First, I appreciate your dedication to stopping workplace bullying, and your efforts to get the HWB adopted.

    As I am writing a Literature Review for my Bachelor’s Degree in HR on workplace bullying, I have learned a tremendous amount about this serious problem in the workplace, including my personal experience as a target.

    One area I am hoping you can help me with is, I have researched and noted many good reasons why employers should support the HWB and the financial benefits of doing so, but I am finding little detail on what costs employers think they will incur if the HWB is adopted.

    I have read many statements of employers feeling that the HWB is bad for business and/or the costs of having the HWB will hurt their business.

    So my questions is: In a brief but detailed statement, can you tell me what the financial losses are that employers think will affect their business if the HWB is adopted?

    My goal is to show the corporate benefit of the HWB compared to the costs employers think they will incur because of the HWB.

    I greatly appreciate you time and expertise!!

    Karen

  4. Hi again David,

    In a separate response, I would greatly appreciate your attention to another question I have concerning workplace bullying.

    From my research, it has come to my attention that SHRM does not fully support the HWB, feeling it is not in the best interest of the employer. And may have underrated or overrated their 2012 Workplace Bully Survey findings to make it seem as though bullying is not that big of an issue.

    So my questions is: Again, in a brief but detailed statement, can you tell me why SHRM, as a supposed advocate for a positive and healthy workplace, is NOT fully supportive of the HWB?

    I greatly appreciate you time and expertise!!

    Karen

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