….doesn’t mean bullying behaviors in the workplace can’t get you into all kinds of trouble, legal and otherwise. Let’s take a look at the legal implications of bullying. Currently, there is no anti-bullying legislation, either at the federal or state level. However, many states are working hard to pass such laws. Whether or not they succeed, bullying behavior can implicate a whole host of employment laws. With just a little bit of imagination, it’s easy to see how.
Say a manager is engaging in bullying behavior towards a subordinate. The manager pushes the employee, locks her in the conference room, and spreads nasty rumors about her. Already, the employer could be looking at claims for assault and battery (or even an OSHA violation), false imprisonment, and defamation. As a result, the employee suffers migraines, depression, and an ulcer. Now the employer is facing FMLA, ADA and possibly workers compensation issues. The manager, frustrated that the employee is missing so much work to deal with her so-called medical issues, gives the employee a poor performance review and denies her a promotion. Thus, a potential retaliation claim is born. And so on and so forth.
Don’t take solace in the fact that there are no anti-bullying laws per se (and be aware this may change, in any event). Don’t allow bullying behavior in your workplace. Create and cultivate an environment where respectful behaviors are rewarded, and bullying is simply not an option. Not only will you avoid a potential legal landmine, you will be cultivating employee engagement – a tangible return on investment for respect in the workplace.