Many of those familiar with the challenges of legislative advocacy and the realities of the legislative process know that until a bill is actually enacted into law, progress is measured in terms that may not be evident to the general public, but that nonetheless constitute important, tangible steps forward. The history of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts illustrates this point by way of steady, painstaking, sometimes halting moves ahead.
Growing legislative support
Massachusetts first considered the HWB during the 2009-10 session, when a solitary state senator filed the bill. Support grew during the 2011-12 session, when 13 legislators sponsored or co-sponsored the HWB. The number of sponsors and co-sponsored tripled to 39 during the 2013-14 session. During the two most recent sessions, the HWB proceeded through the committee process to where it was moving toward a full floor vote in the state House of Representatives. The HWB has been re-filed for the 2015-16 session, and this time 58 senators and representatives have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors.
Greater public attention
In the midst of this growing support within the legislature, the HWB attracted greater attention from the local media, especially during the 2013-14 legislative session. Examples included a lengthy lead editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe, ultimately recommending a cautious approach to enacting workplace bullying legislation; a Globe feature article on HWB activists; and extended radio and television interview segments. The HWB has also attracted active support from labor and worker advocacy organizations, including SEIU/NAGE, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and the Boston Teachers Union. SEIU/NAGE has served as the point organization for building support within the State House, including tasking its veteran lobbyists to advocate for the bill among legislators and staff members.
At times, the little things reveal growing support for, and interest in, proposed legislation. For example, when MassCOSH, a major catalyst for workplace safety and health policy in Massachusetts, endorsed the Healthy Workplace Bill and invited advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill to be part of its annual legislative lobbying days, it sent a clear message that the HWB had become a presence within the State House and that workplace bullying was now part of the discussion on worker safety.
2015-16 legislative sponsors
Furthermore, when the initial list of sponsors and co-sponsors for the HWB for the 2015-16 session appeared short (fewer than ten) amidst considerable change in the composition of the legislature and the election of a new Governor, concerted efforts by the bill’s main sponsor, Representative Ellen Story, and key grassroots supporters resulted in 58 legislative sponsors and co-sponsors, a surprising increase of 19 from the previous session. The ability to build the sponsorship list in a short period of time confirmed that this is no longer a novelty bill.
As developments in Massachusetts and other states show, the overall movement in the United States is gravitating toward the enactment of workplace bullying legislation. In this sense, America is gradually catching up with many other nations that have enacted workplace anti-bullying laws, primarily during the past 15 years. Workplace bullying has not quite entered the mainstream of American employment law, but the potential for doing so is now very real.
Forthcoming law review essay
The commentary above was adapted from a draft of my forthcoming law review essay, “Workplace Bullying and the Law: U.S. Legislative Developments 2013-15,” to be published in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal. You may access a pdf of the draft, as well as copies of many of my other scholarly articles, without charge from my Social Science Research Network page.
Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates
To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.
For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here.
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