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Outlawing workplace bullying

June 1, 2012

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The United States does not have any laws or regulations addressing workplace bullying.

In its Field Safety and Health Manual, OSHA references bullying as a behavior “no employee will engage in” in chapter 10. In that chapter’s section on violence in the workplace, the manual includes threats of violence and intimidation as unprofessional behaviors that reduce the safety and health of employees in the workplace.

In an August 2010 paper on whether OSHA should create a workplace bullying standard, Susan Harthill, professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, argued that OSHA is unable to address workplace bullying through its General Duty Clause. She suggested that OSHA instead create a full workplace bullying standard and incorporate it into its existing regulatory scheme.

Justine S. Lisser, senior attorney-advisor for the Office of Communication & Legislative Affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said EEOC does not track claims of workplace bullying. It does, however, track “unlawful harassment,” which is a type of illegal discrimination that occurs against an employee with a protected status, such as race or disability status.

In response to the lack of laws dealing with bullying, Gary Namie, social psychologist and co-founder of the Bellingham, WA-based Workplace Bullying Institute, started the Healthy Workplace Campaign to encourage states to adopt the Healthy Workplace Bill. If passed, the bill would provide legal credence to employees who have suffered physical or emotional harm from long-term workplace bullying. The only way to currently claim workplace discrimination or harassment is to prove physical battery occurred or invoke a protected status, according to the Healthy Workplace Bill website. At press time, variations of the bill have been introduced in 21 states, but none have been signed into law.

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