New York's Healthy Workplace Bill Addresses Bullying as Harassment
Author: discrimination lawyer Alena Shautsova
Bullying has been a hot button in the news for some time, often providing detailed descriptions of the devastation that school children experience when they are victims of bullying. A particular bullying incident involving a Massachusetts high school student, Phoebe Prince, led to national media headlines when she committed suicide in 2010. Bullying can also occur in the workplace, and the New York legislature has been considering a bill to address bullying as workplace harassment.
The name of the bill is the Healthy Workplace Bill. Research underlying the bill revealed that between 16 to 21% of employees directly experience health endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment. This type of behavior is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment. The bill also states that such abusive behavior has detrimental effects on employees, such as:
- Feelings of shame and humiliation
- Sleep loss
- Severe anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Reduced immunity to infection
- Stress-related gastro-intestinal disorders
- Pathophysiologic changes increasing risk of cardiovascular diseases
This harassment also adversely affects employers by causing:
- Reduced employee productivity and morale
- Higher turnover and absenteeism rates
- Significant increases in medical and workers' comp claims
Currently, anti-discrimination laws do not protect against bullying because such laws only apply to discrimination against protected classes based on color, race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc.
What does the bill consider abusive behavior?
The bill defines abusive conduct as conduct with malice, taken against an employee by an employer or another workplace employee. It is behavior 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.
New York employment attorneys wait to see if the legislature will pass the bill. If it does, it will create a new definition for a hostile work environment in New York.
If you suffer from workplace discrimination, discuss your situation with a New York employment lawyer and find out how to protect your rights.