More than one-third of workers — 54 million Americans — say they have experienced workplace bullying, according to a 2007 Zogby International poll commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute.
A workplace bully may shout, swear, call employees names, intimidate, humiliate, tarnish reputations, sabotage and destroy workplace relationships. And unless the victim is part of a protected class (defined by gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability) or covered by an employment contract, such behavior is legal.
"There is no law that says you can't be a bully," says Chris Young, an employment attorney with Peterson, Young, Putra, Fletcher in Seattle.
Psychologists Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of the Bellingham-based Workplace Bullying Institute, want harassed workers to have better options. They're pushing the "Healthy Workplace Bill," sponsored by Rep. Kelli Linville (D-Bellingham), which would give employees the right to sue their employer if their health or economic livelihood is harmed by an abusive workplace.
While the bill doesn't use the term "bully," Gary Namie defines it as "repeated nonphysical, health-impairing psychological mistreatment that falls outside discriminatory harassment."It's interesting that while we have laws which protect our children from being harassed and bullied while at school, there is nothing to prohibit teachers from similar treatment. How many of us, I wonder, are in unhealthy workplaces---ones which cause us to seek medical treatment or take as many "mental health days" as stress breaks as we can? (An article last summer suggested that 2 out of 3 workers had experienced a bully as a boss.) I've worked for one. And while I don't miss the boss's comments about how boring I am, seeing my work (and the work of others) presented as being entirely the boss's idea, knowing that I (or others) are purposefully being ignored by the boss, or suffering other forms of mistreatment...I do miss the job.
How many teachers, I wonder, would sue under such a bill? Discrimination suits require a lot of documentation which is often hard to come by. Bullying in the workplace could be just as difficult to prove. The article also mentions the potential to commit career suicide by suing for something like this. Will an HR department in another district let your file move through their process if they can Google you and find out about the suit? Unfortunately, doing what's right isn't always the same as what's popular. But if that one person isn't willing to stand up and be heard, how many others will continue to be hurt?