Puerto Rico enacts workplace anti-bullying law

(courtesy of 4vector.c0m)

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has enacted a workplace anti-bullying law that allows employees to file a legal claim for in response to severe bullying and abuse. The National Law Review, an online legal news site maintained by in-house corporate attorneys, broke the story about the new law (link here):

In an unprecedented move and without taking into consideration the mass opposition from the private sector, on August 7, 2020, the Governor of Puerto Rico signed into law House Bill 306 to prohibit workplace bullying. This law goes into effect immediately.

Under the new law, employees in the public and private sector have a cause of action for conduct the law classifies as workplace bullying. Aggrieved employees would be entitled to remedies greater than those under local anti-discrimination statutes.

In addition, government and private sector employers, among others, must adopt policies and protocols advising employees about their rights under this new law. Employers must prohibit all forms of harassment and bullying in the workplace and provide mechanisms to address and investigate internal allegations. Unlike other employment law claims, an employee needs to exhaust both internal remedies with the company and external remedies with the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bureau of the Judiciary through a mediation process as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit in court.

Puerto Rico is the first American jurisdiction to adopt a comprehensive workplace anti-bullying law. The law bears some resemblances to the template Healthy Workplace Bill currently pending in a number of U.S. states, but adds additional provisions unique to Puerto Rican employment and labor law. Similar to the HWB, it requires that the totality of the circumstances be considered in determining whether or not a legally actionable workplace bullying is present. It also requires a showing of malicious intent, a high standard of proof that had been included in earlier versions of the HWB.

In 2014, the Governor of Puerto Rico vetoed a workplace bullying bill after it had been passed by the legislature.

I’ll be taking a closer look at the new law in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, this is an enormously positive development for the workplace anti-bullying movement. While many American states have been deliberating upon the Healthy Workplace Bill and similar proposals for years, Puerto Rico has stepped up and proclaimed that severe workplace bullying is now an unlawful employment practice.

***

Adapted from a previous blog post, here is a brief timeline of major developments in the path toward enacting workplace anti-bullying laws in the U.S.:

  • 2000 – Basic parameters for the eventual drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) are set out in David C. Yamada, The Phenomenon of “Workplace Bullying” and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection,” Georgetown Law Journal (2000).
  • 2002 – I draft and begin circulating early iterations of the HWB.
  • 2003-04 – California becomes the first state to consider the HWB.
  • 2003-present – Over 30 state and territorial legislatures have considered versions of the HWB.
  • Early 2000s – Various states consider bills designed to create study commissions and climate surveys about workplace bullying.
  • 2010 — New York State Senate passes HWB.
  • 2010 – Illinois State Senate passes a version of the HWB applying to public sector workers only.
  • 2010s – Several Employee Practices Liability Insurance policies start to cover liability for bullying-related claims.
  • 2011-12 – Massachusetts House of Representatives moves the HWB to a stage known as “third reading,” making it eligible for a floor vote in the House of Representatives.
  • 2012 – Prompted by the HWB grassroots advocacy movement, more than 100 U.S. local governmental entities issue proclamations endorsing “Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week.”
  • 2013 – Fulton County, Georgia county government (covering Greater Atlanta) adopts a workplace bullying ordinance covering public workers, using the operative definition from the HWB, and permitting discipline or termination of offending employees.
  • 2014 – California enacts legislation that requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide supervisory training and education about workplace bullying, using the operative definition from the HWB.
  • 2014 – The governors of New Hampshire and Puerto Rico veto what they consider to be problematic workplace bullying legislation.
  • 2015 – Utah enacts legislation requiring state agencies to train supervisors and employees about workplace bullying prevention, using the operative definition from the HWB.
  • 2019 – Building on a 2014 law covering state and local public employers, Tennessee enacts an odd statute that immunizes employers from bullying-related legal claims if they have adopted a model anti-bullying policy.
  • 2019-20 — Massachusetts HWB attracts 109 co-sponsors, out of 200 elected state legislators.
  • 2019-20 – Rhode Island State Senate passes the HWB.

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