Healthy Workplace Bill reintroduced in Massachusetts legislature

I’m happy to share that here in Massachusetts, the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has been reintroduced in the new, 2023-24 session of the Massachusetts legislature. We are delighted that Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Bristol & Norfolk), a stalwart voice for workers, is again the lead sponsor.

The HWB permits targets of severe workplace bullying to seek damages in court and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively towards bullying behaviors at work.

Currently, the HWB (link here) is designated as Senate Docket No. 712 (SD.712). Later on, it will be given a bill number.

If you would like to see workplace bullying protections become a reality in Massachusetts, then please contact your state representative and state senator and urge them to co-sponsor the bill. If you do not know the name of your representative or senator, then you may click here to find out.

Changes in the newly-filed bill

The newly-filed HWB contains some modest changes that I have made in the template version of the bill, in response to ongoing conversations with employment lawyers and employee advocates. Most significantly, it removes a requirement of showing intent to cause harm or distress to the targeted employee. Instead, a plaintiff must show “intentional acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find abusive.” This remains consistent with an understanding that targeted, health-harming bullying — the abusive mistreatment that this bill seeks to address — is not due to accidental or unthinking behavior.

In addition, the new bill makes some minor changes to enable recovery of emotional distress damages even when the bullying has not culminated in a tangible employment decision, such as a termination or demotion.

Fair-minded legislation

That said, this version of the HWB still allows us to honestly represent to employers that this carefully-crafted bill does not legally micro-manage the workplace. Equally important, it does not set the bar to recovery so low that it can be easily misused by workplace bullies to sue their targets, or enable lawsuits and threats of lawsuits for lower-level incivilities or disagreements. Alternative proposals that are being touted by others would throw those doors wide open.

Indeed, in an era where voices from the extreme ends of the spectrum are sometimes the loudest, advocating for balanced, fair-minded solutions can be challenging. In this realm, doing nothing is not acceptable. In the U.S., workplace bullying continues to cause enormous harm to employees and employers alike, without any legal check. We need to address this void in our current employment laws. On the other hand, allowing lawsuits for everyday arguments, differences of opinion, and unwanted work assignments would create significant chaos in our workplaces.

It’s time for workplace bullying to become an unlawful employment practice. The Healthy Workplace Bill remains the best option toward that end.

2 responses

  1. Wonderful news. Thank you all for your continued tenacity and dedication, for so so many brutally beaten-down, over the years, and for those just beginning to experience its wrath. I, personally, am grateful.

    Warmest regards, always, Donetta DiZoglio Macauda 781-490-3688

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