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.