Is There Currently a U.S. Law Against Workplace Bullying?

No. The United States is last among the industrialized western democracies. The U.S. completely ignores workplace bullying in its vast collection of laws.

Is There a Law In My State?

No. No state has an anti-bullying law for the workplace. Remember, there is a big difference between having a bill or bills introduced (potential laws), compared to laws that have been passed by both houses in the state legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Why Not a Federal Law?

There are no plans at this time to create a federal law to address workplace bullying. Federal laws are more complicated. A major advantage of the HWB, as written, is that no state will be required to spend money to enforce it. Federal laws require governmental enforcement, and hence, government costs. However, negotiations are underway to hold an informational Congressional hearing on the topic to raise awareness among congressional legislators.

Isn't Bullying Already Covered Under Federal Employment Discrimination Laws?

In only 20% of cases do anti-discrimination laws actually apply. This is the hardest thing to understand.

In order to claim sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or hostile work environment, the recipient of the mistreatment must be a member of a protected status group (based on gender, race, disability, ethnicity, religion, etc.).

For example, if you are a white female being bullied by a white female or a man of color being bullied by another man of color you are not protected.

Does Workplace Bullying Fall Under Current Workplace Violence Protections?

Technically, bullying is a form of violence -- certainly verbal, but non-physical. One of our preferred synonyms for workplace bullying is "psychological violence."

However, violence policies and laws always focus on the acts and threats of physical violence -- striking someone (battery), or threatening someone so that they fear being physically hurt (assault). The one exception is the inclusion of verbal abuse in violence policies.

So bullying that is verbal, but not physical, is completely legal.

Is Workplace Bullying Related to Sensitivity Training?

Not really. Sensitivity training is given to employees by large companies to make clear how workers are expected to behave in ways that do not violate state and federal discrimination laws, which cost employers millions in lawsuits and settlements. But, the basis is that harassment is illegal under special circumstances. Bullying is not illegal. There is no need for training until the employer agrees to create and enforce an anti-bullying policy.

Conflict Resolution Techniques and Ethics Rules Should Be Adequate to Deal Internally with Bullying at Work.

Bullying looks like two people in conflict, but appearances are deceiving. These are not two people with equal power who simply hold different positions on intellectual topics that can be resolved by meeting halfway. Bullying is violence unilaterally instigated by one side against the targeted person who is unable to respond with equal force. We do not mediate violence. Mediation does not work in bullying situations (and all experts agree, see Namie & Namie, 2009, in Consulting Psychology Journal).

Similarly ineffective are corporate ethical principles. If ethics rules had been enforced, as are policies mandated by law, the dehumanization of workers would not have happened. Sadly, statements of vision, mission, values, ethics, and conflict-free work zones are not taken seriously by organizational leaders.

Isn't the Bully Just a Jerk?

People are very confused about the difference between bullying and just being a jerk or having a bad day. I even had a legislative assistant say to me that the law will go nowhere because you can't make it illegal to be an asshole. True.

But our HWB allows for action only when mistreatment is so severe that it impairs a worker's health. This makes the perpetrator more than a harmless, laughable jerk. Those health-harming bullies are walking occupational health hazards.

Will a New Law Result In a Flood of Frivolous Lawsuits?

It is true that currently bullied workers have no legal right to threaten to file a lawsuit.

Employers have complete control over what happens between workers on-site. When the first state does pass the HWB, for the first time, there will be opportunities to file lawsuits. However, the hurdle to sue any employer or identified perpetrator is very high. The injured person (the plaintiff) has to find and pay for an attorney on his or her own. Attorneys won't take weak cases because they are thrown out of court (called summary judgment).

Would cases be "frivolous"? No. That's employers and their lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce, trying to smear honest workers. The bill turned law will require evidence of serious health harm, or a pattern of negative employment decisions against the individual. No bullying case is trivial when a person suffers cardiovascular disease or some other stress-related health complication that prevents them from being a productive worker.

Will There Be Lawsuits at All?

Probably, yes. According to the National US Statistics (the 2007 WBI-Zogby Survey), only 3% of bullied workers ever file a lawsuit now, though 20% of them could make a legitimate discrimination claim.

People do not connect workplace bullying as being the cause of many other social problems.

Bullying at work is but one of the many forms of abusive relationships that trap unsuspecting, good-hearted people resulting in a cycle of emotional devastation.

Lessons from Other Forms of Abuse

Domestic violence is more similar to bullying than any other societal problem. The interaction between batterer and battered spouse typifies what bullied targets endure -- terrifying violence, threats, periods of reprieve, do-nothing witnesses, and societal indifference. Abuse can traumatize people. That's why in many severe cases of bullying, the person suffers PTSD (30% of women targets have posttraumatic stress). American society took decades to criminalize domestic violence.

Similarly child abuse is taboo. Even schoolyard bullying is no longer considered a routine rite of passage for kids. Bullying is a form of psychological violence that is shared by victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and school bullying. America reveres aggression in most forms. Further, it tends to blame victims for their fate, which no rational person would ever invite into their lives.

Why Can't We All See the Bill?

The HWB is advanced only by State Coordinators authorized by the Healthy Workplace Campaign. It is a matter of quality control. We speak nationally with a single voice, tailored to local lawmakers. Coordinators are educated and prepared to mobilize Citizen Lobbyists and to approach lawmakers with the best arguments for adopting the legislation.

We don't want individuals with different (often very personal) motives attempting to represent thousands or millions of their fellow state residents without the expertise Coordinators bring to the task. Coordinators give lawmakers the same text written by Suffolk University Law Professor, David Yamada, but lawmakers do make changes as they wish. Further, bills are revised (amended) in committees. Once bills are introduced, they can be found at the public legislatures' websites for review.

If you are interested in getting legislation passed in your state please consider becoming a State Coordinator.