If you have ever been bullied in the workplace, you know the damage it can cause: stress, feelings of shame and humiliation, loss of sleep and appetite, anxiety and depression, loss of productivity, and even poor health outcomes. You also know that combating bullying in the workplace is especially difficult when the bullying is not based on any “protected class,” such as race, religion, disability, etc.
If you have been bullied based on these protected classes, you may have a claim for discrimination or harassment. If you have been bullied for any other reason, such as your supervisor does not like you or plays “favorites,” it is more challenging.
California, Utah and Tennessee have limited anti-bullying laws in place. These laws require anti-bullying training or incentivize employers to have anti-bullying policies in place. However, none of these laws allow victims of workplace bullying to file lawsuits for bullying unless the abusive actions are based on protected classes.
Many states including New York are considering “Healthy Workplace” laws that would provide protections for victims and employer them to file lawsuits to recover damages for workplace bullying.
New York’s Healthy Workplace Bill
The proposed law would add bullying to the New York State Human Rights Law discrimination and harassment protections. In other words, victims of workplace bullying could file complaints even if the bullying was not based on a “protected class.”
The proposed law would make it unlawful to subject an employee to an “abusive work environment.” In order to be considered an “abusive work environment,” bullying or “abusive conduct” must be severe enough to cause physical or psychological harm and the employee must notify the employer about the bullying. “Abusive conduct” or bullying under the law is any action made by an employer or coworker against an employee that is hostile, offensive, and unrelated to the employer’s legitimate business interest.
The law would allow victims of workplace bullying to file lawsuits to recover compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, emotional distress, as well as punitive damages and attorneys fees. The emotional distress damages would be capped at $25,000 and no punitive damages available if there was an abusive work environment but no negative action such as constructive discharge, termination, demotion, or disciplinary action. “Constructive discharge” means abusive conduct that is so severe that it causes an employee to quit their job. In other words, the cap does not apply if you experienced workplace bullying plus a negative employment action including constructive discharge.
The law would have a one-year statute of limitations, meaning that a victim of workplace bullying would need to file a complaint within one year of the last bullying incident experienced.
For more information on states that are considering workplace anti-bullying laws, check out the Workplace Bullying Institute’s legislative campaign. If you live in one of these states, contact your state legislators and encourage them to vote YES to protect victims of workplace bullying.
If you have experienced workplace bullying and do not know what to do next, contact the attorneys at Pelton Graham. We can help you figure out whether you have a claim for discrimination or harassment and what to do next.