In 1890, the Harvard Law Review published a seminal article by attorneys Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis — “The Right to Privacy” — asserting that American law must recognize a right to privacy grounded in tort (personal injury) law. Paying primary attention to the growing ability of the press and modern communications technologies to delve into and make public the personal lives of private citizens, they reasoned that invasions of privacy now subjected individuals to “mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.” Accordingly, “(t)houghts, emotions, and sensations demanded legal recognition,” which should be in the form of “the right to be let alone.”
The right to be let alone. In 1890, attorneys Warren and Brandeis weren’t thinking about the workplace when they invoked that phrase. However, their words capture a big piece of what should constitute the experience of work. This includes freedom from disabling bullying and mobbing.
While we’ve seen strides in the evolution of privacy laws since the publication of “The Right of Privacy,” countless numbers of workers who are subjected to severe bullying at work do not enjoy a right to be let alone. This is among the many reasons why I will continue to engage in public education work concerning the need for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill and similar legal protections.
This post was adapted from my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law” (University of Richmond Law Review).