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Bullying at Work: Is It Legal?

There are many Floridians who experience bullying at work, but many do not realize it or simply do not know what they can do about it. One of the most difficult aspects of workplace bullying is that, in most cases, the bullying behavior does not meet certain requirements to allow the victim to file a lawsuit under one of the laws that prohibits forms of harassment. In some situations, bullying might be a prohibited form of harassment under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). What is the difference between bullying and harassment, and where does crossover occur?

To better understand whether your bullying situation might allow you to file a workplace lawsuit, you should learn more about the tenets of bullying and the ways in which laws might provide you with grounds for filing a claim.

Learning More About Bullying At Your Place of Employment

What is workplace bullying? According to a fact sheet from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), psychology professionals define workplace bullying as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, [and] the job you once loved.” What does bullying at your place of employment look like? Generally speaking, bullying at work does not involve physical violence. Rather, it involves psychological and emotional abuse that can have lifelong consequences. Indeed, the WBI further clarifies that bullying typically involves mistreatment at work that is “severe enough to compromise a targeted worker’s health, jeopardize her or his job and career, and strain relationships with friends and family.”

The WBI goes on to provide some specific elements of abusive conduct at work:

  • Behavior aimed at a targeted individual that serves to threaten, humiliate, or intimate the target;

  • Behavior that interferes with the target’s ability to complete his or her work; and/or

  • Patterns of verbal abuse.

Bullying can take many different forms, and situations involving bullying can vary widely depending upon the specific individuals involved. How can you know if you are being bullied at work? The WBI provides a checklist to help individuals determine whether they may be the targets of workplace bullying. Some of the key items on that checklist include:

  • You feel nauseous or otherwise ill when you think about going into work.

  • Your family thinks you obsess about your job frustrations.

  • You have begun experiencing health problems linked to anxiety.

  • Your feel ashamed of your inability to control the behavior at work that is upsetting you.

  • You believe you might have done something to justify being targeted at work.

  • Your colleagues—even those not associated with the abusive conduct—have stopped socializing with you.

  • You constantly feel agitated at work.

Laws Surrounding Workplace Bullying

In some situations, workplace bullying does rise to the level of harassment. However, in order to file a lawsuit under one of the laws we mentioned previously, you must be a member of a protected group. According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), to file a workplace harassment claim, you will likely need to show that you have endured abusive conduct based on one of the following:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • National origin;
  • Age; or
  • Disability.

Currently, there are no laws in place specifically to prevent bullying. Workplace health and safety advocates, however, have developed the Healthy Workplace Bill, which aims to provide an avenue through which targets of bullying can file claims against the employees perpetrating the harms, as well as employers in certain situations. Furthermore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can process workplace bullying as a workplace hazard, as well, allowing for plaintiffs to file claims through this channel.

Until a law such as the Healthy Workplace Bill is passed, filing a claim based on workplace bullying can be complicated. An experienced West Palm Beach labor lawyer can help. Contact Scott Wagner and Associates, P.A. today for more information.

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Florida 561-653-0008 California 213-377-5200
* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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