Bullying is most often associated with the school playground or the Internet but has become a big problem in the workplace as well. Workplace bullying is an act of verbal abuse, aggression or intimidation against a coworker (most often a subordinate) without regard to the victim’s protected class. In other words, bullying is separate from sexual harassment or discrimination (although members of a protected class still may be victims of bullying).
Bullying is not illegal, per se, but it still poses risks to your organization in the form of diminished productivity, lowered workplace morale and employee’s mental and physical health issues. If you don’t already have a policy in place to prevent bullying, you should consider putting one in right away. Severe bullying has been linked to stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Bullied employees often times leave their jobs to escape abusive behaviors from co-workers or supervisors. Below is a discussion of the definition of workplace bullying and what you can do to help prevent it in your organization.
What is Workplace Bullying? Bullying is repeated mistreatment of others. Sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation. Not surprisingly, the majority of workplace bullies are supervisors or those in positions of authority over other employees, i.e. top-down bullying. Employees reported experiencing this type of bullying at 56 percent.
While there are no state or federal laws prohibiting workplace bullying, workers who are members of a protected class (i.e. women, racial minorities) may have recourse under state and local anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws. That is not to say that acts of bullying are inherently acts of harassment or discrimination but they often overlap.
Since 2003, 29 states and two U.S. territories have introduced legislation to prohibit bullying in the workplace but none have been signed into law.
A Massachusetts workplace bullying bill introduced in 2009 and making its way through the legislature, cited statistics claiming that between 37 and 59 percent of employees in the state experience workplace bullying. The Massachusetts bill and similar legislation in other states are written in a way that the states themselves would not be involved in such cases. In other words, claimants would be responsible for hiring private attorneys to bring suit against their alleged bullies.
Is there a Right to Privacy at Work?
Privacy is a right that is highly valued in American society. Even though people may have more limited privacy in the workplace, there are still certain privacy rights employees have at work. With the advancement of technology, it has become easier for employers to monitor their employees. While employees may not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when sending personal messages from their employer-provided email accounts, there are limits to how much an employer can pry into the lives of its employees. Generally, the law allows employers to monitor their employees while they are on the job and within reason.
Most businesses have an Internet and email policy in place that employees must abide by. Such policies are helpful in spelling out exactly what the company considers appropriate Internet and email usage. The most important thing to remember when writing and implementing such a policy is to be clear – it doesn’t help you or your employees to have policies that are vague and open to interpretation. It’s also important that you make sure your employees understand the policy, and it’s a good idea to have them sign a copy of the policy as well. Typically Internet and email policies are meant to both keep your company secure and to limit the amount of time that employees waste at work. Make sure you let your employees know that work computers are the property of the company, as are the contents of the computer.
Employees should expect their Internet use and company emails monitored by their employer. Employers are generally allowed to keep track of the Internet websites employees visit on their work computers. Employers can also install software that limits access to certain websites that they don’t want their employees visiting.
Employers may also monitor their employees’ emails, although the employer’s rights are not as broad as monitoring Internet usage. It’s important to remember that if you tell your employees that their emails will be confidential or private, you will not be allowed to read their emails. Generally, if the employer has a legitimate justification for monitoring an employee’s email, courts will side with the employer.
The most protected form of communication for employees are phone calls. Generally, most states allow employers to monitor employees’ phone calls with customers, mainly for quality assurance. Although not a requirement in most states, it’s good practice to let customers know that their phone conversation is being recorded. While employers are allowed to monitor phone calls with customers, they are not generally allowed to monitor personal calls.
Workplace Bullying Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with workplace bullying, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506