New Hampshire veto of workplace bullying bill highlights need for Healthy Workplace Bill approach

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan has vetoed legislation (House Bill 591) that would have provided protections against workplace bullying for state employees. In a veto message explaining the reasons for her decision, Gov. Hassan outlined her concerns about the legislation’s overly broad coverage, suggesting that if it became law, relatively minor interpersonal slights and everyday workplace interactions could easily be labeled as illegal employment practices.

Most significantly, Gov. Hassan criticized the bill’s definition of “abusive conduct” (i.e., workplace bullying):

Among its most onerous provisions, this legislation defines “abusive conduct” in a broad and unworkable manner based on an individual employee’s subjective perception, not on an unbiased objective standard. While I know it was not the intent of its sponsors, this bill, as written, may make the most routine workplace interactions – and the human give-and-take they entail – potential causes of action.

I share many of the Governor’s core concerns. At first glance the New Hampshire bill contains a lot of language similar to the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), model anti-bullying legislation I drafted that has served as a template for workplace anti-bullying bills filed across the country. However, the NH bill is substantially different in its structure, substantive provisions, and operation from the HWB in ways that could create a torrent of unnecessary litigation.

Gov. Hassan’s main concern highlights a key distinction between the vetoed New Hampshire bill and the full Healthy Workplace Bill: Under the HWB, in order to establish a legally actionable “abusive work environment,” the employee must show that the “reasonable person” would perceive it to be abusive. In other words, the “unbiased objective standard” (in Gov. Hassan’s words) missing from the New Hampshire bill is a core piece of the Healthy Workplace Bill.

The definition of an “abusive work environment” in the template version of the Healthy Workplace Bill draws heavily from the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of hostile work environment for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The HWB has been crafted to be compatible with other workplace protections and to incentivize preventive and responsive employer behaviors toward workplace bullying.

I know there is disappointment and disagreement over this matter in the state capital. While I firmly believe that the HWB approach is the better legislative option, I also tip my hat to the Granite State for now being among the leaders in weighing how to protect workers from this form of interpersonal abuse.

***

For the latest version of the Healthy Workplace Bill and an explanation of its key provisions, as well as discussion and analysis of other legal and policy developments concerning workplace bullying, see my 2013 article, “Emerging American Legal Responses to Workplace Bullying,” in the Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review (link to pdf here).

3 responses

  1. After ‘winning’ my case in Massachusetts late last year, I moved [back] to NH (I was born, raised, and educated here, but jobs out of college in the early 80’s and in NH were scarce). I have been following NH’s attempt at passing a Healthy Workplace Bill and am disappointed in the Governor’s response; moreso I guess the Bill’s narrative as well. She had valid points, but to say that such a Bill would effectively hurt, or reduce the State’s economic growth I find to be reaching. I understand that this is a litigious world – sad but true – but I believe all anyone wants is a to go to work and go home with a feeling of pride and accomplishment, without all the extraneous B*S*. It is my hope that the writers of this Bill will be more exacting in their next draft and include the entire workforce of New Hampshire.

  2. Pingback: Minding the Workplace The New Workplace Institute Blog, hosted by David Yamada | bullying in the workplace

  3. Hello, Laurie
    It is almost a year later, and to my knowledge I do not believe that an attempt to redraft this bill was made. I do not know if any US state has successfully passed such a bill. Unfortunately, as you know, the House and Senate in NH are not as Union or employee friendly as was the situation when the original bill crossed Maggie Hassan’s desk. It is unfortunate that the writers of the bill didn’t take swift action to address her concerns and resubmit another bill. I am a public school educator and Union Representative in the town where I live in NH. I am politically connected to local politicians and several of my state reps. I am hoping to revive this when I have time over the summer through collaborating with the politicians I know. Please let me know if you are interested in collaborating and give me a way to contact you. Many thanks,

    Sylvie

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