New York’s Healthy Workplace Bill (2010)

This bill was approved by the New York State Senate on May 12, 2010 by a vote of 45 to 16, with one abstention. It failed to gain passage in the House.  See the general blog entry about the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) to read an analysis of the problems with the HWB.  It’s needs work! PGB

S1823B: Establishes a civil cause of action for employees who are subjected to an abusive work environment

S1823B Summary Establishes a civil cause of action for employees who are subjected to an abusive work environment.

TITLE OF BILL : An act to amend the labor law, in relation to establishing a private cause of action for an abusive work environment

PURPOSE : To establish a civil cause of action for employees who are subject to an abusive work environment.

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS : Clearly states the definitions of abusive conduct; abusive work environment; conduct; constructive discharge; employee; employer; malice; negative employment decision; physical harm; and psychological harm.

Section 3 defines Unlawful Employment Practice

Section 4 defines Employer Liability

Section 5 defines Defenses

Section 6 defines Retaliation

Section 7 defines Relief generally Employer liability

Section 8 defines Procedures Private right of action Time limitations

Section 9 defines Effect on Collective Bargaining Agreements

Section 10 defines Effect on other state laws other state laws Worker’s compensation and election remedies

JUSTIFICATION : The social and economic well-being of the state is dependent upon healthy and productive employees. Surveys and studies have documented that between 16 to 21 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment, and that this behavior is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone. Surveys and studies have also documented that abusive work environments can have serious effects on targeted employees, including feelings of shame and humiliation, stress, loss of sleep, severe anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, reduced immunity to infection, stress related gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, pathophysiologic changes that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other such effects. This legislation will provide legal redress for employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically. It will also provide legal incentives for employers to prevent and respond to mistreatment of employees at work.
S1823B Text

S T A T E O F N E W Y O R K
1823–B
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND ASSEM BLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. The labor law is amended by adding a new article 20-D to read as follows:
ARTICLE 20-D ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT SECTION 760. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND INTENT. 761. DEFINITIONS. 762. ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT. 763. EMPLOYER LIABILITY. 764. DEFENSES. 765. RETALIATION. 766. REMEDIES. 767. ENFORCEMENT. 768. EFFECT ON COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS. 769. EFFECT OF OTHER LAWS.

S 760. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND INTENT. THE LEGISLATURE HEREBY FINDS THAT THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC WELL-BEING OF THE STATE IS DEPENDENT UPON HEALTHY AND PRODUCTIVE EMPLOYEES. SURVEYS AND STUDIES HAVE DOCUMENTED THAT BETWEEN SIXTEEN AND TWENTY-ONE PERCENT OF EMPLOYEES DIRECTLY EXPE RIENCE HEALTH ENDANGERING WORKPLACE BULLYING, ABUSE AND HARASSMENT. SUCH BEHAVIOR IS FOUR TIMES MORE PREVALENT THAN SEXUAL HARASSMENT. THESE EXPLANATION–Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets [ ] is old law to be omitted. LBD00743-04-0
S. 1823–B 2 SURVEYS AND STUDIES HAVE FURTHER FOUND THAT ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENTS CAN HAVE SERIOUS EFFECTS ON THE TARGETED EMPLOYEES, INCLUDING FEELINGS OF SHAME AND HUMILIATION, STRESS, LOSS OF SLEEP, SEVERE ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, REDUCED IMMUNITY TO INFECTION, STRESS-RELATED GASTROINTESTINAL DISORDERS, HYPERTENSION, AND PATHOPHYSIOLOGIC CHANGES THAT INCREASE THE RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES. FURTHERMORE, THE LEGISLATURE FINDS THAT ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENTS CAN HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR EMPLOYERS, INCLUDING REDUCED EMPLOYEE PRODUCTIVITY AND MORALE, HIGHER TURNOVER AND ABSENTEEISM RATES, AND SIGNIFICANT INCREASES IN MEDICAL AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIMS. THE LEGISLATURE HEREBY FINDS THAT UNLESS MISTREATED EMPLOYEES HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO ABUSIVE TREATMENT IN THE WORKPLACE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN OR AGE, SUCH EMPLOYEES ARE UNLIKELY TO HAVE LEGAL RECOURSE TO REDRESS SUCH TREATMENT. THE LEGISLATURE HEREBY DECLARES THAT LEGAL PROTECTION FROM ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENTS SHOULD NOT BE LIMITED TO BEHAVIOR GROUNDED IN A PROTECTED CLASS STATUS AS REQUIRED BY EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION STAT UTES. EXISTING WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PROVISIONS AND COMMON LAW TORT LAW ARE INADEQUATE TO DISCOURAGE SUCH ABUSIVE CONDUCT AND PROVIDE ADEQUATE REDRESS TO EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE BEEN HARMED BY ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENTS. THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE SHALL BE TO PROVIDE LEGAL REDRESS FOR EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE BEEN HARMED PSYCHOLOGICALLY, PHYSICALLY OR ECONOM ICALLY BY BEING DELIBERATELY SUBJECTED TO ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENTS; AND TO PROVIDE LEGAL INCENTIVES FOR EMPLOYERS TO PREVENT AND RESPOND TO MISTREATMENT OF EMPLOYEES AT WORK.

S 761. DEFINITIONS. AS USED IN THIS ARTICLE, THE FOLLOWING TERMS SHALL HAVE THE FOLLOWING MEANINGS:
1. “ABUSIVE CONDUCT” MEANS CONDUCT, WITH MALICE, TAKEN AGAINST AN EMPLOYEE BY AN EMPLOYER OR ANOTHER EMPLOYEE IN THE WORKPLACE, THAT A REASONABLE PERSON WOULD FIND TO BE HOSTILE, OFFENSIVE AND UNRELATED TO THE EMPLOYER’S LEGITIMATE BUSINESS INTERESTS. IN CONSIDERING WHETHER SUCH CONDUCT IS OCCURRING, THE TRIER OF FACT SHOULD WEIGH THE SEVERITY, NATURE AND FREQUENCY OF THE CONDUCT. ABUSIVE CONDUCT SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO, 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 HUMILI ATING; OR THE GRATUITOUS SABOTAGE OR UNDERMINING OF AN EMPLOYEE’S WORK PERFORMANCE. A SINGLE ACT SHALL NOT CONSTITUTE ABUSIVE CONDUCT, UNLESS THE TRIER OF FACT FINDS SUCH ACT TO BE ESPECIALLY SEVERE OR EGREGIOUS. 2. “ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT” MEANS A WORKPLACE IN WHICH AN EMPLOYEE IS SUBJECTED TO ABUSIVE CONDUCT THAT IS SO SEVERE THAT IT CAUSES PHYS ICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM TO SUCH EMPLOYEE, AND WHERE SUCH EMPLOYEE PROVIDES NOTICE TO THE EMPLOYER THAT SUCH EMPLOYEE HAS BEEN SUBJECTED TO ABUSIVE CONDUCT AND SUCH EMPLOYER AFTER RECEIVING NOTICE THEREOF, FAILS TO ELIMINATE THE ABUSIVE CONDUCT. 3. “CONDUCT” MEANS ALL FORMS OF BEHAVIOR, INCLUDING ACTS AND OMISSIONS TO ACT. 4. “CONSTRUCTIVE DISCHARGE” MEANS ABUSIVE CONDUCT AGAINST AN EMPLOYEE THAT CAUSES SUCH EMPLOYEE TO RESIGN FROM HIS OR HER EMPLOYMENT. 5. “MALICE” MEANS THE INTENT TO CAUSE ANOTHER PERSON TO SUFFER PSYCHO LOGICAL, PHYSICAL OR ECONOMIC HARM, WITHOUT LEGITIMATE CAUSE OR JUSTI FICATION. MALICE MAY BE INFERRED FROM THE PRESENCE OF FACTORS SUCH AS OUTWARD EXPRESSIONS OF HOSTILITY, HARMFUL CONDUCT INCONSISTENT WITH AN EMPLOYER’S LEGITIMATE BUSINESS INTERESTS, A CONTINUATION OF HARMFUL AND ILLEGITIMATE CONDUCT AFTER A COMPLAINANT REQUESTS THAT IT CEASE OR S. 1823–B 3 DISPLAYS OUTWARD SIGNS OF EMOTIONAL OR PHYSICAL DISTRESS IN THE FACE OF THE CONDUCT, OR ATTEMPTS TO EXPLOIT THE COMPLAINANT’S KNOWN PSYCHOLOG ICAL OR PHYSICAL VULNERABILITY. 6. “NEGATIVE EMPLOYMENT DECISION” MEANS A TERMINATION, CONSTRUCTIVE DISCHARGE, DEMOTION, UNFAVORABLE REASSIGNMENT, REFUSAL TO PROMOTE OR DISCIPLINARY ACTION. 7. “PHYSICAL HARM” MEANS THE MATERIAL IMPAIRMENT OF A PERSON’S PHYS ICAL HEALTH OR BODILY INTEGRITY, AS DOCUMENTED BY A COMPETENT PHYSICIAN OR SUPPORTED BY COMPETENT EXPERT EVIDENCE AT TRIAL. 8. “PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM” MEANS THE MATERIAL IMPAIRMENT OF A PERSON’S MENTAL HEALTH, AS DOCUMENTED BY A COMPETENT PHYSICIAN OR SUPPORTED BY COMPETENT EXPERT EVIDENCE AT TRIAL.

S 762. ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT. IT SHALL BE UNLAWFUL TO SUBJECT AN EMPLOYEE TO AN ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT.

S 763. EMPLOYER LIABILITY. AN EMPLOYER SHALL BE CIVILLY LIABLE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF AN ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT WITHIN ANY WORKPLACE UNDER ITS CONTROL.

S 764. DEFENSES. 1. IT SHALL BE AN AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE TO A CAUSE OF ACTION FOR ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT, THAT THE EMPLOYER EXERCISED REASON ABLE CARE TO PREVENT AND PROMPTLY CORRECT THE ABUSIVE CONDUCT WHICH IS THE BASIS OF SUCH CAUSE OF ACTION AND THE PLAINTIFF UNREASONABLY FAILED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE APPROPRIATE PREVENTIVE OR CORRECTIVE OPPORTU NITIES PROVIDED BY SUCH EMPLOYER. SUCH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE SHALL NOT BE AVAILABLE TO AN EMPLOYER WHEN THE ABUSIVE CONDUCT CULMINATES IN A NEGA TIVE EMPLOYMENT DECISION WITH REGARD TO THE PLAINTIFF. 2. IT SHALL BE AN AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE TO A CAUSE OF ACTION FOR ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT, THAT THE EMPLOYER MADE A NEGATIVE EMPLOYMENT DECISION WITH REGARD TO THE PLAINTIFF WHICH IS CONSISTENT WITH SUCH EMPLOYER’S LEGITIMATE BUSINESS INTERESTS, SUCH AS TERMINATION OR DEMOTION BASED ON THE PLAINTIFF’S POOR PERFORMANCE OR THE COMPLAINT IS BASED PRIMARILY UPON THE EMPLOYER’S REASONABLE INVESTIGATION OF POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS, ILLEGAL OR UNETHICAL ACTIVITY.

S 765. RETALIATION. ANY RETALIATORY ACTION AGAINST ANY EMPLOYEE ALLEG ING A VIOLATION OF THIS ARTICLE SHALL BE DEEMED TO BE A RETALIATORY PERSONNEL ACTION AS PROHIBITED BY SECTION SEVEN HUNDRED FORTY OF THIS CHAPTER.

S 766. REMEDIES. 1. WHERE A DEFENDANT HAS BEEN FOUND TO HAVE ENGAGED IN ABUSIVE CONDUCT, OR CAUSED OR MAINTAINED AN ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT, THE COURT MAY ENJOIN SUCH DEFENDANT FROM ENGAGING IN SUCH ILLEGAL ACTIV ITY AND MAY ORDER ANY OTHER RELIEF THAT IS APPROPRIATE INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, REINSTATEMENT, REMOVAL OF THE OFFENDING PARTY FROM THE PLAINTIFF’S WORK ENVIRONMENT, REIMBURSEMENT FOR LOST WAGES, MEDICAL EXPENSES, COMPENSATION FOR EMOTIONAL DISTRESS, PUNITIVE DAMAGES AND ATTORNEY FEES. 2. WHERE AN EMPLOYER HAS BEEN FOUND TO HAVE CAUSED OR MAINTAINED AN ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT DID NOT RESULT IN A NEGATIVE EMPLOYMENT DECISION, SUCH EMPLOYER’S LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES FOR EMOTIONAL DISTRESS SHALL NOT EXCEED TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS AND SHALL HAVE NO LIABIL ITY FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES. THE PROVISIONS OF THIS SUBDIVISION SHALL NOT APPLY TO ANY EMPLOYEE WHO ENGAGES IN ABUSIVE CONDUCT.

S 767. ENFORCEMENT. 1. THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ARTICLE ARE ENFORCEABLE BY MEANS OF A CIVIL CAUSE OF ACTION COMMENCED BY AN INJURED EMPLOYEE. 2. NOTWITHSTANDING THE PROVISIONS OF THE CIVIL PRACTICE LAW AND RULES, AN ACTION TO ENFORCE THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ARTICLE SHALL BE COMMENCED WITHIN ONE YEAR OF THE LAST ABUSIVE CONDUCT WHICH IS THE BASIS OF THE ALLEGATION OF ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT. S. 1823–B 4

S 768. EFFECT ON COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS. THIS ARTICLE SHALL NOT PREVENT, INTERFERE, EXEMPT OR SUPERSEDE ANY CURRENT PROVISIONS OF AN EMPLOYEE’S EXISTING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT WHICH PROVIDES GREATER RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS THAN PRESCRIBED IN THIS ARTICLE NOR SHALL THIS ARTICLE PREVENT ANY NEW PROVISIONS OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT WHICH PROVIDE GREATER RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS FROM BEING IMPLE MENTED AND APPLICABLE TO SUCH EMPLOYEE WITHIN SUCH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT. WHERE THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT PROVIDES GREATER RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS THAN PRESCRIBED IN THIS ARTICLE, THE RECOGNIZED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGENT MAY OPT TO ACCEPT OR REJECT TO BE COVERED BY THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ARTICLE.

S 769. EFFECT OF OTHER LAWS. 1. NO PROVISION OF THIS ARTICLE SHALL BE DEEMED TO EXEMPT ANY PERSON OR ENTITY FROM ANY LIABILITY, DUTY OR PENAL TY PROVIDED BY ANY OTHER STATE LAW, RULE OR REGULATION. 2. THE REMEDIES OF THIS ARTICLE SHALL BE GRANTED IN ADDITION TO ANY COMPENSATION AVAILABLE PURSUANT TO THE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW; PROVIDED, HOWEVER, THAT NO PERSON WHO HAS COLLECTED WORKERS’ COMPEN SATION BENEFITS FOR CONDITIONS ARISING OUT OF AN ABUSIVE WORK ENVIRON MENT, SHALL BE AUTHORIZED TO COMMENCE A CAUSE OF ACTION PURSUANT TO THIS ARTICLE FOR THE SAME SUCH CONDITIONS.

S 2. This act shall take effect immediately, and shall apply to abusive conduct occurring on or after such date.

TOP 10 REASONS FOR BEING TARGETED

1. I remained independent, refused to be controlled. (70%)

2. My competence and reputation were threatening. (67%)

3. The Bully’s personality. (59%)

4. My being liked by co-workers and customers (47%)

5. In retaliation for my reporting unethical or illegal conduct, whistleblowing. (38%)

6. I was focused solely on work and ignored the politics. 36%)

7. Bully had personal problems. (35%)

8. I am nonconfrontative and easily overrun by others. (33%)

9. I was at a time of personal medical or life vulnerability or changes. (30%)

10. I could not afford to leave the job and the bully knew it. (30%)

* From Workplace Bullying Institute (2003)(non-scientific survey of 1,000 volunteer respondents who visited WBI’s web site).

TIME MAG: NEW LAWS TARGET WORKPLACE BULLYING

Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010


TIME MAGAZINE

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

Other Federal Laws

OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 1970

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:

Duties

(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.

WAGE AND HOUR LAWS

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

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.

FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

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).

The Healthy Workplace Bill (2010)

This is  the  2010 version of the Healthy Workplace Bill,, drafted by  David C. Yamada, Professor, Suffolk University Law School, and supported by the Workplace Bullying Institute.  This proposal was sharply criticized by international scholars and others as being far less protective of worker rights than legislation in other industrialized countries. The bill has been improved since 2010 but still is problematic.  In any case, after more than a decade, it appears unlikely that a state-by-state approach is a viable option to the problem of workplace bullying. This blog supports a federal national approach, recognizing that workers who may need the most protection live in so-called “pro business” states that  will never adopt a workplace anti-bully protections. Also, workplace bullying is an important health and safety issue for workers and the United States lags behind other industrialized countries in addressing the problem.  Workers need help now! PGB

 ———————————————————————————————-

THE HEALTHY WORKPLACE BILL

By David C. Yamada, Professor, Suffolk University Law School

Section 1 – Preamble

(a) Findings

The Legislature finds that:

(1) The social and economic well-being of the State is dependent upon healthy and productive employees;

(2) Between 37 and 59 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment, and this mistreatment is approximately four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone;

(3) Workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment can inflict serious harm upon targeted employees, including feelings of shame and humiliation, severe anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, impaired immune systems, hypertension, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

(4) Abusive work environments can have serious consequences for employers, including reduced employee productivity and morale, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims;

(5) If mistreated employees who have been subjected to abusive treatment at work cannot establish that the behavior was motivated by race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or age, they are unlikely to be protected by the law against such mistreatment;

(6) Legal protection from abusive work environments should not be limited to behavior grounded in protected class status as that provided for under employment discrimination statutes;

and,

(7) Existing workers’ compensation plans and common-law tort actions are inadequate to discourage this behavior or to provide adequate relief to employees who have been harmed by abusive work environments.

(b) Purpose

It is the purpose of this Chapter:

(1) To provide legal relief for employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically, by being deliberately subjected to abusive work environments;  (2) To provide legal incentive for employers to prevent and respond to abusive mistreatment of employees at work.

Section 2 – Definitions

(a) Abusive work environment. An abusive work environment exists when the defendant, acting with malice, subjects an employee to abusive conduct so severe that it causes tangible harm to the employee.

(1) Abusive conduct. Abusive conduct is conduct, including acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find hostile, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the defendant’s conduct. Abusive conduct may include, but is not limited to: repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets; verbal or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature; the sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance; or attempts to exploit a employee’s known psychological or physical vulnerability. A single act normally will not constitute abusive conduct, but an especially severe and egregious act may meet this standard.

(2) Malice. Malice is defined as the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another.

(b) Tangible harm. Tangible harm is defined as psychological harm or physical harm.

(1) Psychological harm. Psychological harm is the material impairment of a person’s mental health, as established by competent evidence.

(2) Physical harm. Physical harm is the material impairment of a person’s physical health or bodily integrity, as established by competent evidence.

(c) Adverse employment action. An adverse employment action includes, but is not limited to, a termination, demotion, unfavorable reassignment, failure to promote, disciplinary action, or reduction in compensation.

(d) Constructive discharge. A constructive discharge shall be considered a termination, and, therefore, an adverse employment action within the meaning of this Chapter. A constructive discharge exists where: (1) the employee reasonably believed he or she was subjected to abusive conduct; (2) the employee resigned because of that abusive conduct; and, (3) prior to resigning, the  employee brought to the employer’s attention the existence of the abusive conduct and the employer failed to take reasonable steps to correct the situation.

Section 3 – Unlawful Employment Practices

(a) Abusive Work Environment. It shall be an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter to subject an employee to an abusive work environment as defined by this Chapter.

(b) Retaliation. It shall be an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter to retaliate inany manner against an employee who has opposed any unlawful employment practice under this Chapter, or who has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation or proceeding under this Chapter, including, but not limited to, internal complaints and proceedings, arbitration and mediation proceedings, and legal actions.

Section 4 – Employer Liability and Defense

(a) An employer shall be vicariously liable for an unlawful employment practice, as defined by this Chapter, committed by its employee.

(b) Where the alleged unlawful employment practice does not include an adverse employment action, it shall be an affirmative defense for an employer only that:

(1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any actionable behavior; and,

(2) the complainant employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

Section 5 – Employee Liability and Defense

(a) An employee may be individually liable for an unlawful employment practice as defined by this Chapter.

(b) It shall be an affirmative defense for an employee only that the employee committed an unlawful employment practice as defined in this Chapter at the direction of the employer, under threat of an adverse employment action.

Section 6 – Affirmative Defenses

It shall be an affirmative defense that:

(a) The complaint is based on an adverse employment action reasonably made for poor performance, misconduct, or economic necessity;

(b) The complaint is based on a reasonable performance evaluation; or,

(c) The complaint is based on a defendant’s reasonable investigation about potentially illegal or unethical activity.

Section 7 – Relief

(a) Relief generally. Where a defendant has been found to have committed an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter, the court may enjoin the defendant from engaging in the unlawful employment practice and may order any other relief that is deemed appropriate, including, but not limited to, reinstatement, removal of the offending party from the complainant’s work environment, back pay, front pay, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

(b) Employer liability. Where an employer has been found to have committed an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter that did not culminate in an adverse employment action, its liability for damages for emotional distress shall not exceed $25,000, and it shall not be subject to punitive damages. This provision does not apply to individually named employee defendants.

Section 8 – Procedures

(a) Private right of action. This Chapter shall be enforced solely by a private right of action.

(b) Time limitations. An action commenced under this Chapter must be commenced no later than one year after the last act that constitutes the alleged unlawful employment practice.

Section 9 – Effect on Other Legal Relationships

The remedies provided for in this Chapter shall be in addition to any remedies provided under any other law, and nothing in this Chapter shall relieve any person from any liability, duty, penalty or punishment provided by any other law, except that if an employee receives workers’ compensation for medical costs for the same injury or illness pursuant to both this Chapter and the workers’ compensation law, or compensation under both this Chapter and that law in cash payments for the same period of time not working as a result of the compensable injury or illness or the unlawful employment practice, the payments of workers’ compensation shall be reimbursed from compensation paid under this Chapter.