One of the most common types of lawsuits facing American employers is a discrimination lawsuit.
Workplace bullying and discrimination are closely intertwined and one might even say that bullying precipitates many discrimination lawsuits
Discrimination involves unfair treatment of an individual or group of individuals because of a distinguishing characteristic that is protected under state or federal law, such as sex, race, national origin, disability, religion, etc. But it also frequently also involves workplace bullying, which is the systematic and repeated harassment of an employee over a period of time.. One employee – often a supervisor – attempts to exercise improper power and control over another, often a subordinate.
Even people who despise women or minorities probably would tolerate them if they silently accept whatever abuse the bully chooses to inflict upon them, never outshine or demonstrate competence that threatens the bully and act with complete subservience at all times. Of course, that doesn’t always happens. Targets of discrimination often complain and demand to be treated with fairness. That’s when the workplace bullying begins in earnest. A bully cannot tolerate a target who refuses to aknowledge the bully’s “right” to exercise complete power and control over the target.
Employers never win when they are sued by workers. Among other things, employers have to spend money to defend themselves. It is estimated that it costs an employer $100,000 to defend even the weakest and least meritorious lawsuit, nevermind a strong case that may ultimately result in a settlement or a judgment for the plaintiff.
Last March, a physician’s assistant at a Sacramento hospital won a jury award of $168 million after alleging she was harassed by cardiac surgeons at the hospital. She filed 18 complaints with the Human Resources Department, which not only ignored her complaints but actually fired her! She speculates the hospital’s failure to address her complaints was because the cardiac surgeons are the highest revenue producers in the hospital. The jury award included $128 million in punitive damages.
Many industrialized countries have adopted health and safety laws and other kinds of legislation to protect workers from bullying and harassment, and to require employers to provide all employees with a workplace free from bullying and psychological harassment. But America has resisted efforts to protect workers here from bullying for more than a decade. Why?
Some unscrupulous employers use bullying strategically to get rid of good employees and to avoid legal obligations, such as paying worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits. Some unscrupulous employers use bullying to thwart unions and drive out workers who demand their rights under the law. In some cases, the worker actually has a technical right under some law to sue the employer but the reality is that few workers today can afford the legal process. And it’s biased in favor of employers anyway.
Finally, it is not inconceivable that there’s a lot of ignorance out there about how much workplace bullying costs American employers – literally billions of dollars a year- in unnecessary turnover, lost work and needless litigation.
The unscrupulous employers are probably a small minority of American employers. Most employers want to follow the law and be good citizens.
There is an easy and relatively inexpensive way for good employers to mimize the risk of a potentially catastrophic discrmination lawsuit . They should adopt and rigorously enforce a general anti-harassment anti-bullying policy that makes it clear that bullying will not be tolerated by anyone in the organization, including cardiac surgeons and the Chief Executive Officer. By the way, that’s also the right thing to do. Doesn’t every employee deserve to be treated with dignity and respect?
Those who are interested in reading more about this topic should read my new book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.