Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010


Case Study

New Laws Target Workplace Bullying

By Adam Cohen
There are some very important things they don’t tell you on career day. Chief among them is that there is a good chance that at some point during your working adult life you will have an abusive boss — the kind who uses his or her authority to torment subordinates. Bullying bosses scream, often with the goal of humiliating. They write up false evaluations to put good workers’ jobs at risk. Some are serial bullies, targeting one worker and, when he or she is gone, moving on to their next victim.

Bosses may abuse because they have impossibly high standards, are insecure or have not been properly socialized. But some simply enjoy it. Recent brain-scan research has shown that bullies are wired differently. When they see a victim in pain, it triggers parts of their brain associated with pleasure. (See 10 ways your job will change.)

Worker abuse is a widespread problem — in a 2007 Zogby poll, 37% of American adults said they had been bullied at work — and most of it is perfectly legal. Workers who are abused based on their membership in a protected class — race, nationality or religion, among others — can sue under civil rights laws. But the law generally does not protect against plain old viciousness.

That may be about to change. Workers’ rights advocates have been campaigning for years to get states to enact laws against workplace bullying, and in May they scored their biggest victory. The New York state senate passed a bill that would let workers sue for physical, psychological or economic harm due to abusive treatment on the job. If New York’s Healthy Workplace Bill becomes law, workers who can show that they were subjected to hostile conduct — including verbal abuse, threats or work sabotage — could be awarded lost wages, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages.

Not surprisingly, many employers oppose the bill. They argue that it would lead to frivolous lawsuits and put them at risk for nothing more than running a tight ship and expecting a lot from their workers. But supporters of the law point out that it is crafted to cover only the most offensive and deliberate abuse. The bill requires that wrongful conduct be done with “malice,” and in most cases that it has to be repeated. It also provides affirmative defenses for companies that investigate promptly and address the problem in good faith. (See “When Bullying Goes Criminal.”)

The New York state assembly is expected to take up the bill next year. At least 16 other states are considering similar bills, and some employment-law experts think antibullying legislation may have real momentum now.

Legislatures are not the only ones standing up to bullies. In 2008, the Indiana supreme court struck a blow against workplace bullying when it upheld a $325,000 verdict against a cardiovascular surgeon. A medical technician who operated a heart and lung machine during surgery accused the surgeon of charging at him with clenched fists, screaming and swearing. The formal legal claims were intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault, but the plaintiff argued it as a bullying case, and had an expert on workplace bullying testify at trial.

Ideally, employers should rein in abusive bosses on their own, but that rarely happens. Many bullies are close to powerful people in the organization and carefully target less powerful ones. When John Bolton was nominated to be ambassador to the U.N. by President George W. Bush, a former subordinate told the Senate that Bolton was a “serial abuser” and — in a phrase that has since entered the bullying lexicon — a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.” (See “How Not to Raise a Bully.”)

There are reasons workplace bullying may be getting worse now, including the bad economy. In good times, abused workers can simply walk out on a job if they are being mistreated. But with unemployment at around 9.5%, and five job seekers for every available job, many employees feel they have no choice but to stay put.

Another factor is the decline of organized labor. Unions were once a worker’s front-line defense against an abusive boss. If a supervisor was out of line, the shop steward would talk to him — on behalf of all of the workers. But union membership has fallen from 35% of the workforce in the 1950s to under 13% today, and some unions are less aggressive than they once were. (See what to do if you have a bad boss.)

That leaves litigation. There seems to be a strong constituency for laws allowing workers to sue over workplace abuse. The vote on the Healthy Workplace Bill was bipartisan and not close: New York state senators favored it 45 to 16.

If states enact laws of this kind and lawsuits begin to be filed, juries are far more likely to sympathize with the bullied worker than the bullying boss — and damages awards could be large. There is one easy way for employers to head all of this off: get more serious about rooting out abusive bosses before serious damage is done.

Cohen, a lawyer, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2005358,00.html#ixzz11RYkRH00


International Labor Organization’s World of Work Magazine

#68 – April 2010

Decent work for domestic workers

NEW YORK – According to the US census there are currently over two million people engaged in domestic service in the United States – a number that is probably a significant underestimate. Overworked, underpaid and, until fairly recently, isolated, domestic workers do not even have the right to organize, clinging to the coat tails of labour federations to see their few rights defended.

The plight of domestic workers caring for the sick and the elderly is of particular concern. According to a recent report by the Alliance for Retired Americans, the American Association for People with Disabilities, and the labour federations AFL-CIO and “Change to Win”, roughly half of all home-care workers work full time year round. They are twice as likely as other workers to receive food stamps and to lack health insurance, while one in five lives below the poverty level.

According to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a leading labour organization, 90 per cent of home-care workers are female, and one in four heads a household with children. “These people are engaged in essential work that enables others to go out and make a living,” says Priscilla Gonzalez, director of Domestic Workers United (DWU) a grassroots organization based in New York, “and yet they are denied a living themselves.”

The last time US labour law was changed to expand coverage for domestic workers was in 1974 with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but employees providing “companionship services” to the aged and disabled were left out (“exempted” in the language of the document) – deemed too casual and informal for legal protection. Since 1974 the world has changed, and both the numbers of home-care workers and the services they provide have grown, but the law has failed to grow with them.

The last time the FLSA’s so-called domestic worker “exemption” was challenged was in 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled that home health-care workers were not eligible for the overtime and minimum wage protections extended to others. And the domestic worker exemption is but one of a list of similar exclusions. As already mentioned, domestic workers in the United States have no right to organize under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). They have no protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). They have no protection under civil rights laws.

… Last summer fifteen US senators sent an open letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, calling for the repeal of the exemption, and arguing in favour of a national minimum wage and the extension of federal overtime requirements to domestic workers. Solis, the daughter of an immigrant domestic worker herself, has been supportive of the idea of scrapping the exemption, referring to it as a “loophole” which should be closed.

How soon that will happen is anyone’s guess, but domestic workers may not have to wait for Congress to get round to changing the law because change may be coming state by state, starting in New York where a comprehensive Domestic Worker Bill of Rights looks set to pass in the State Senate in the coming month or so. If passed the legislation will grant housekeepers, nannies and caregivers the same rights that the majority of US labour enjoys, notably: time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours per week; one day off per 7-day calendar week; a limited number of paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days; advance notice of termination or severance pay in lieu of notice. The bill will also give domestic workers the ability to sue employers where these provisions are not met. The bill has been debated within the State legislature for more than six years, and has already passed in the State Assembly. The State Governor has pledged to sign legislation once it reaches his desk.

“It’s going to put domestic workers on an equal footing with everyone else,” says DWU’s Gonzalez, one of the activists who have been fighting for change for a number of years. “The new laws are also going to send a strong message to the work force about being recognized and protected under the law.” Some domestic workers are already getting the message.

“The Bill of Rights will put an end to decades and decades of exploitation,” says Patricia Francois, a nanny who spent six-and-a-half years looking after the daughter of a wealthy Manhattan couple until she was fired in December of 2008 after an altercation (Francois claims that her employer punched her in the face, a claim the employer disputes).

For Francois the importance of the bill goes beyond any specific rights it may include. “It will give us back our dignity and respect,” she says.

And the bill’s impact will not be limited to New York. Andrea Cristina Mercado, Lead Organizer of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a group of San Francisco/Oakland-based activists – says that as a result of the New York campaign, MUA has decided to push for a legislative Bill of Rights campaign in California. “This year we are going to be introducing a resolution in support of domestic workers at the State level and we are hoping that will help us build momentum for a legislative campaign in 2011,” she says. The last time groups like MUA tried to effect change in California was in January 2006 when they managed to get the so-called “Nanny Bill” introduced in the California Assembly.

The bill was passed by the Assembly and the Senate but was then vetoed by the Governor of California. This time Mercado believes things will be different: “In 2006 we were just focused on rights for overtime and fines for abusive employers,” she says. “This time, we will take an approach similar to the one used in New York and will be going for a comprehensive Bill of Rights, an inspiring platform that gets people stirred up.”

And it is not just the approach to campaigning that has changed. The big difference between now and 2006 is that grass-roots domestic labour movements in the United States have become organized. Domestic workers may be banned from forming a union, but there is nothing to stop cooperatives and associations coming together to exchange information and develop strategy. And this is exactly what they have been doing, beginning in June of 2007 when a small group of domestic workers came together at a National Domestic Worker Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. On the last day of the gathering the participants took the decision to form a National Domestic Worker Alliance (NDWA) to give domestic workers a voice and to draw attention to their plight. “There were all these local campaigns and initiatives going on, but we wanted to create a coherent whole – and not to have to reinvent the wheel each time,” says NDWA lead organizer Jill Shenker.

The basic idea behind the NDWA was that domestic workers in one state could learn lessons from their counterparts in another; the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights is the first indication of how powerful that approach can be. “The California coalition has been inspired by what their sisters in New York have achieved,” says Shenker, reporting that a comprehensive bill called the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (CDWBR) has already been drawn up. The NDWA has also provided the participants with a sense of connection and of course empowerment. “We are not just about tinkering with the labour code,” says Shenker. “What we’re trying to do is build a social movement.”

… Founded by 13 organizations, the NDWA now comprises over 30, and it is only a matter of time before other states, notably Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington pick up the Bill of Rights idea. “We’re really excited about what’s coming down the pipeline,” says DWU’s Gonzalez. “Everyone is watching what is happening in Albany.” Soon they’ll be watching what happens in California.

Other Federal Laws


Some experts say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should take the lead on combating workplace bullying.*  There is overwhelming evidence that workplace bullying can lead to serious injury and even death.  In fact, a term has been coined for workers who are driven to suicide as a result of bullying – “bullycide.”  In several other countries, workplace bullying is considered a health and safety issues and is regulated by a federal agency like OSHA. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in May 2011 adopted a safety program for its own workers that includes a workplace anti-bully policy. The policy is contained in a 278-page document, the OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual,  which outlines safety practices for OSHA’s field offices. It was drafted in cooperation with the National Council of Field Labor Locals, a union that represents OSHA workers.

OSHA’s workplace bullying policy is significant because the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees … .” However, OSHA has not enforced that provision with respect to workplace bullying.

The stated purpose of the workplace bullying policy adopted by OSHA for its own workers,  contained in the manual’s “Violence in the Workplace” chapter. is: ”To provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.”

Here is the OSHA General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) SEC. 5:


(a) Each employer —

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees …

*See Susan Harthill. “The Need for a Revitalized Regulatory Scheme to Address Workplace Bullying in the United States: Harnessing the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.” University of Cincinnati Law Review 78.4 (2010): 1250-1306.


The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address workplace bullying per se but it can be used to combat certain types of abuse. The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.  The FLSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division  If one aspect of the bullying campaign is failure to pay proper wages or overtime, for example, the FLSA is one potential remedy.


The National Labor Relations Act  (NLRA) was passed in 1935 to protect the right of employees in the private sector to create labor unions, engage in collective bargaining and to take part in strikes. The act is also known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Sen. Robert F. Wagner.  The act is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board.

 Specifically, the National Labor Relations Board protects the rights of employees to engage in “protected concerted activity,”  which is when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment.  A single employee may also engage in protected concerted activity if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.

A few examples of protected concerted activities are:

  • Two or more employees addressing their employer about improving their pay.
  • Two or more employees discussing work-related issues beyond pay, such as safety concerns, with each other.
  • An employee speaking to an employer on behalf of one or more co-workers about improving workplace conditions.

Most employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA. However, the Act specifically excludes individuals who are employed by federal, state, or local governments, agricultural laborers, some close relatives of the employer, domestic servants in a home, independent contractors, employers subject to the Railway Labor Act, etc.


The Familiy and Medical Leave Act (FMLA offers potential help for employees who are suffering health effects from workplace abuse.  Administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, it  entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

-the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;

-the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;

-to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;

a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;

– any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or

Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin to the employee (military caregiver leave).


  • California passed a general anti-harassment law in 2014, AB 1825, that went into effect on January 1, 2015. It requires that supervisors in all firms with 50 or more employees receive training in “abusive conduct.” This requirement was added to an existing law requiring employers to provide two hours of sexual harassment training  to supervisors within the first six months of the employee’s assumption of a supervisory role. The new law defines “abusive conduct” as:

  . . . conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.  [It] may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.”

Malice is conduct that is “intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

The new law states that a “single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe or egregious.”

  • Tennessee approved a “Healthy Workplace Act” in 2014 that is designed to curb verbal abuse at work by making public-sector employers immune to bullying-related lawsuits if they adopt a policy that complies with the law. The law applies only to public-sector employers, and administrators aren’t required to follow guidelines. If they do, however  they receive immunity from potential lawsuits.
  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 216 into law in 2014 to mandate Abusive Conduct training for public sector The law requires state agencies to train supervisors and employees about how to prevent abusive conduct. The law takes effect July 1, 2015. Utah is the second state to pass a training-only law to begin to address abusive conduct in the workplace.

Every state has laws that protect employees from unlawful discrimination. These laws may be more expansive than similar federal laws, encompassing more employers and additional classes of victims.  They may offer protection that is  not available under federal law. For example, the U.S. Congress has yet to adopt legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but almost half of the states and the District of Columbia have adopted such laws.  Thus, a victim of harassment based on sexual orientation may be able to file a lawsuit in state court that would not be possible in federal court.  State  discrimination laws may offer a wider range of damages, especially with claims related to age discrimination.  Many attorneys prefer to bring suit in state courts to avoid federal courts, which tend to be hostile to employment law claims.  You should check the laws in your state.

Are you being bullied?

Note: The irony of workplace bullying is that the “victim” may be an excellent employee who is well liked, works hard, and demonstrates creativity and initiative. Bullying is often motivated by the bully’s insecurity, fear and jealousy. You may be targeted because the bully perceives you to be a threat. Employers take note – Good employees  quit or are fired while bullies – who do not act in the company’s s best interests – remain to wreak more havoc.  Also, co-workers who witness bullying are more likely to quit if the employer tolerates the abuse  –  PGB

Are you being bullied?

Here’s a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire developed by researchers from the State University of New York in New Paltz and Wayne State University that identifies often subtle bullying behaviors.

Take the quiz to find out if you’re a victim of bullying. Occasional insults don’t count. Bullying occurs when the behavior has occurred consistently during the past six months.

In the past six months have you regularly:

  • Been glared at in a hostile manner?
  • Been excluded from work-related social gatherings?
  • Had others storm out of the work area when you entered?
  • Had others consistently arrive late for meetings that you called?
  • Been given the “silent treatment”?
  • Not been given the praise for which you felt entitled?
  • Been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner?
  • Had others refuse your requests for assistance?
  • Had others fail to deny false rumors about you?
  • Been given little or no feedback about your performance?
  • Had others delay action on matters that were important to you?
  • Been yelled at or shouted at in a hostile manner?
  • Been subjected to negative comments about your intelligence or competence?
  • Had others consistently fail to return your telephone calls or respond to your memos or e-mail?
  • Had your contributions ignored by others?
  • Had someone interfere with your work activities?
  • Been subjected to mean pranks?
  • Been lied to?
  • Had others fail to give you information that you really needed?
  • Been denied a raise or promotion without being given a valid reason?
  • Been subjected to derogatory name calling?
  • Been the target of rumors or gossip?
  • Shown little empathy or sympathy when you were having a tough time?
  • Had co-workers fail to defend your plans or ideas to others?
  • Been given unreasonable workloads or deadlines — more than others?
  • Had others destroy or needlessly take resources that you needed to do your job?
  • Been accused of deliberately making an error?
  • Been subjected to temper tantrums when disagreeing with someone?
  • Been prevented from expressing yourself (for example, interrupted when speaking)?
  • Had attempts made to turn other employees against you?
  • Had someone flaunt his or her status or treat you in a condescending manner?
  • Had someone else take credit for your work or ideas?
  • Been reprimanded or “put down” in front of others?

Steps to take if you are being bullied:

  • In the early stages, consider telling the bully that his/her behavior is not acceptable and firmly ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or co-worker  to be with you when you approach the person.  This may not be helpful if the bully is a sociopath who lacks empathy.  It could even backfire, causing an escalation of the bullying.  It’s a judgment call.
  • It is very important to keep a factual journal or diary and record each instance of bullying.  The record should include:

o The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.

o The names of witnesses.

o The outcome of the event.

Here’s a possible example of a journal entry:  11/21/10: Bob came down the corridor at approximately 10 a.m.  He grabbed my arm, pulled me into an unattended office and shouted, “Get that ***** project on my desk by lunchtime.” He  then walked out without giving me a chance to reply. I felt humiliated, pressured, disrespected, and emotionally distressed.  John Doe witnessed the incident; I talked to John later that afternoon. John said he was shocked by Bob’s  actions, which he called “violent” and “uncalled for.”

Keep your notes in a safe place – not at the workplace.

  • RETAIN copies of  letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.
  • RESPOND to criticisms or allegations in writing, and ask the bully to respond in writing.
  • KEEP all memos and correspondence related to your work if the quality of your work is challenged.
  • It may be necessary to file a complaint. It may be advisable to first consult with an employment lawyer in your community. Most employees work  in an “at will” employment state, which means they  can be fired for any reason except an unlawful reason (such as race or age discrimination).  It is important to know your rights so you have a realistic assessment of your options.
  • If you COMPLAIN,  follow the process outlined in your employee or workplace policy manual. Complain to the individual who is identified as handling harassment complaints.   The courts will interpret this as providing proper notice to your employer of the harassment and bullying.  If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management.  It is usually advisable to make sure that your complaint clearly  states the problem; this is not the time to sugar coat the issue or to worry about being the squeaky wheel.  If feel you are being bullied because of race discrimination, provide the evidence upon which you base your belief to your employer.  Down the road, the account you provide in your complaint my be important in a retaliation or wrongful termination lawsuit.

Sadly, the Human Resources officer may not be an objective or neutral arbiter.  He or she may perceive their role as acting as an agent for management.  Management  may view your abuser as more valuable to the organization than you.  It is important to provide management with as detailed a record as possible about what is occurring so the employer can see the pattern of abuse.  A single instance may be dismissed as  trivial.   One would hope that management would recognize that  the bully is having a negative impact in the workplace or is creating needless legal liability.  But be aware that most targets of bullying are forced to  quit or are fired. Some experts advise targets to immediately start looking for another job.



If you retaliate, you could appear to be a perpetrator.  This may  confuse the manager who is  responding to your complaint.  Also, an estimated 70 percent of bullies are bosses and in these cases the power dynamics do not favor the target .

Abusive bosses  may simply be clueless, insecure and poorly trained.  However, an abusive boss may a  narcissist or sociopath. without empathy. Their actions may be very  deliberate. They could be skilled at manipulating management and co-workers.   To the bully, it’s the equivalent of a chess game.  But  you may feel a range of  strong emotions, including fear and anger.  Bullies often try to manipulate their targets into making an impulsive and unwise move.  As best you can, stay detached and focused. Don’t give the bully more ammunition than he or she already possesses.

* Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney with expertise in both domestic violence and employment law.


Articles about employment discrimination, workplace abuse, workplace bullying and other forms of workplace violence.



  • Every state has laws that protect employees from unlawful discrimination. These laws may be more expansive than similar federal laws, encompassing more employers and additional classes of victims.  Or they may offer protection not available under federal law. For example, the U.S. Congress has yet to adopt legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but almost half of the states and the District of Columbia have adopted such laws.  Thus, a victim of harassment based on sexual orientation may be able to file a lawsuit in state court that would not be possible in federal court. Check the laws in your state.


  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Generally, the distress must be very severe.
  • Defamation.
  • Assault and/or battery.
  • False imprisonment.
  • Tortuous interference with the employment contract or business relationships.
  • Failure of an employer to exercise reasonable care with respect to the hiring, supervision and retention of your abuser.



There is no federal law per se that prohibits workplace abuse but there are many laws that may capture some of the behaviors that are used by the abuser. For example, an abuser who systematically harasses a person of color  may be  vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of race.  What follows are federal laws that may be relevant in a case of workplace abuse:


Most workplace bullying falls outside the parameters of federal discrimination laws. However, workplace abuse may be the result of illegal discrimination and, if so, you may be able to file a lawsuit seeking damages from your employer.

Federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, genetic information, pregnancy, race/color, religion and sex. These laws generally cover employees, applicants for employment, former employees and applicants to, and participants in, training and apprenticeship programs. An employer may include private sector and state and government entities, depending on the law.

These laws also make it illegal to retaliate against a person who has complained about an equal employment opportunity violation, or participated in filing a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the applicable statute.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces most of these laws (Go to: www.eeoc.gov).

Here is a list of major federal laws relating to employment discrimination:


  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It is also illegal to harass a person because of that person’s race, color, national origin or sex. Harassment goes beyond simple teasing or an offhand comment; it generally must be severe and frequent, creating an hostile or offensive work environment or resulting in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted). The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.


  • Title VII was amended by The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which makes it illegal to discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.


  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform the same work in the same workplace. The jobs must be substantially equal and all forms of compensation are covered, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, etc. The EPA protects both men and women.
  • Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) also prohibits compensation discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. Unlike the EPA, there is no requirement that the jobs be substantially equal.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 establishes that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation regardless of when the discrimination began.


  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) makes it illegal to discrimination against people who are 40 years of age or older on the basis of age.


  • Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitation of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the federal government.


  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which took force on November 21, 2009, makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder or condition of an individual’s family members.


  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission promulgated guidelines (Sec. 1604.11) pursuant to the adoption of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that make sexual harassment illegal. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:  made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual, or; such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. With respect to fellow employees, an employer is responsible for acts of sexual harassment in the workplace where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) know or should have known of the conduct, unless it can show that it took immediate appropriate corrective action.


  • Claims of discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin are covered both by Title IX and by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).
  • The IRCA states that employers cannot discriminate because of national origin against U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and authorized aliens. Also, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of citizenship status against U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and the following classes of aliens with work authorization: permanent residents, temporary residents (that is, individuals who have gone through the legalization program), refugees, and asylees. For example, citizenship verification must be obtained from all employees, not just “ethnic” looking employees.The IRCA is implemented by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of the Special Counsel for Immigratoin Related Unfair Employment Practices.
  • Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. It bars discrimination against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. This law is administered by the EEOC.


The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.  The FLSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division


Specific federal laws that govern collective bargaining, including:

The National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935 to protect the right of employees in the private sector to create labor unions, engage in collective bargaining and to take part in strikes. The act is also known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Sen. Robert F. Wagner. The Act does not apply to workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal, state or local government workers, independent contractors and some close relatives of individual employers. The act is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board



Power and Control

One can see similarities between domestic violence and workplace abuse by looking at a tool developed by domestic violence advocates in Duluth, Minnesota, 30 years ago to illustrate the tactics used by domestic violence abusers, the Power and Control Wheel (see below).  By substituting the workplace for the home, one can see the application of this tool in the context of workplace abuse:

  • Instead of male privilege, abusive bosses exert “supervisory” privilege.
  • The abusive boss alone feels entitled to define the boss/employer relationship, whether or not it bears any similarity to the victim’s job description.
  • The abusive boss emotionally abuses the victim, putting him/her down, calling him/her names, etc.
  • The abusive boss uses intimidation, coercion or threats, including unfair threats of demotion or dismissal.
  • The abusive boss uses economic tools to abuse the victim by meting out rewards and punishment as he or she pleases, without regard to merit or actual job performance.
  • When the abuse is pointed out, the abusive boss makes light of it,  minimizes it, or accuses the victim of being overly sensitive.
  • The abusive boss may send out a signal that encourages others to abuse an employee, a phenomenon that has been called “mobbing.”
  • The abusive boss may isolate the employee by making it clear the employee is “unsafe” to be around because he/she is viewed as a pariah by management.

Here’s my primitive adaptation of the Power and Control Wheel for workplace abuse/bullying situations, followed by the original Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel:



Here’s the original Duluth model: