What Employers Should Know About Workplace Bullying
Apr 5, 2018 | Written by: | Share
While New Jersey has extremely extensive laws protecting employees in the workplace, it has yet to pass legislation that would protect employees against workplace bullying. Bullying is generally defined as unwelcome behavior that occurs over a period of time and is meant to harm someone or make them feel powerless. Conduct can include (1) verbal bullying such as, teasing, threatening, name-calling or (2) social bullying, which would include leaving someone out of a meeting purposely or other acts of isolation from workplace activities.
Under most circumstances, these behaviors do not constitute unlawful harassment in the State of New Jersey. Additionally, there is no Federal Law that addresses bullying when the basis for the action is not tied to a protected category, such as race, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital status, etc. Clearly, if bullying in the workplace can be linked to one of these ‘protected categories’, then the conduct is actionable under state and federal laws, and an employee will have recourse.
In the absence of Federal legislation prohibiting generic workplace bullying, many states have considered legislation that would provide severely bullied employees with a claim for damages if they can prove that they suffered mental and physical harm as a result of the bullying. Indeed, 29 states have introduced workplace anti-bullying legislation and a few states, Massachusetts being an example, prohibit abusive conduct against employees regardless of whether the conduct is tied to a protected category.
The lack of legislation in New Jersey does not prevent employers from taking action to protect employees against workplace bullying. An employer’s policies can be more protective of employees than the law under the current climate. For instance, employers can easily conduct workplace civility training along with anti-harassment training, which could reduce the likelihood that bullying may occur in the workplace. Furthermore, employee handbooks should implement clear and straightforward procedures so that employees know that general bullying is prohibited in the workplace and will result in disciplinary action if it is discovered. Also, workplace employee handbooks should set forth straightforward procedures so that employees know how to report incidents, and those procedures should include multiple reporting channels and a means to maintain confidentiality throughout an internal investigation.
Leslie A. Parikh, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC. She practices primarily in the areas of employment law, civil rights litigation, municipal law, insurance defense, and the representation of public entities in both State and Federal Court. Contact Ms. Parikh at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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