Wronged at Work!

STATE LAW IGNORES WORKPLACE BULLYING

By David Graulich, Esq.

Plaintiff’s Lawyer Says Employees Need Legal Remedies

As an attorney specializing in workplace law, there’s one type of phone call that leaves me distressed and frustrated. These calls come from the victims of workplace bullying.

The relentless stream of cruel comments, hostile actions and vicious teasing extracts a physical and mental toll on the target.

Sometimes an entire department will collaborate to make the target’s life miserable. The situation is even worse when the bully has management responsibilities.

The reason these calls make me sad is that there is very little I can do to help. California workplace law does not recognize workplace bullying as a cause of action.

Although victims can complain to their company’s Human Resources department, there internal approaches usually don’t produce relief. A company can turn a blind eye to bullying and still remain compliant with the employment laws of California.

The situation changes if bullying crosses the line into harassment or discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, national origin, religion or sexual orientation. These actions violate California’s employment laws. However, workplace bullies often know how to perpetrate their verbal and nonverbal acts of abuse without triggering the grounds for legal action.

California has taken a small step towards providing a legal remedy to this problem. In September 2014, Gov. Brown signed Assembly Bill 2053, which mandates that certain California employers provide workforce bullying training in addition to already-required sexual harassment training and education. The hope is that training will increase awareness of, and sensitivity to, the scale of the problem.

More is needed. Yet employers understandably worry that anti-bullying laws would open floodgates to nuisance litigation.

However, the law of sexual harassment demonstrates how the process can work to everyone’s benefit. Courts have interpreted sexual harassment actions to refine the focus of the law on authentic instances of misconduct. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1993 decision, defined sexual harassment as “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment.”

For employers who are losing productivity from bullied, demoralized and intimidated employees, anti-bullying laws would result in gains in workplace efficiency.

California has often led the nation in introducing enlightened labor and employment laws. I hope California will soon act again to thwart pernicious on-the-job bullying. Until then, the suffering will continue unabated for those who are targets of this abuse.

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David Graulich, Esq. is an employment lawyer who represents people who have been wronged at work. He helps clients with problems such as discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. David welcomes questions and comments about Wronged at Work! Contact him at David@wrongedatwork.com or (916)966-9600. Disclaimer: This column is not intended, and should not be construed, as an offer of legal advice. Consult a qualified licensed attorney for counsel on a specific legal problem.

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