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Workplace bullying a serious problem

Connecticut, like other states and the federal government, does not have a law that specifically prohibits workplace bullying. The United States is alone among western democracies by not having this type of legal prohibition. Healthy Workplace legislation has been introduced in several states to fight this problem.

Workplace bullying has been defined as repeated and health-harming mistreatment of other individuals, known as targets, in the form of verbal abuse, work interference or sabotage which prevents employees from doing their work. It also includes any threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior. This bullying has impacted 37 percent of all Americans who did not invite this conduct.

Over two-thirds of behavior that is considered bullying is legal and still takes place. Almost half of all American workers have been targets or witnessed this behavior. It is reported that 72 percent of bullies outrank the individuals that they mistreated.

Workplace violence laws only address violent acts and threats of violence. Plaintiffs in civil rights cases must be a member of a protected class based on race, sex, disability, ethnicity or religion. A 2007 WBI-Zogby Survey reported that, only three percent of targets file a lawsuit even though 20 percent of these victims have a valid discrimination claim.

In severe cases, bullying has caused stress-related health issues such as hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Bullying can cause disruption to a target's job and entire career. Employers suffer harm and disruption because the least skilled employees often attack the most talented workers.

Healthy Workplace bills defines an abusive work environment, requires proof of harm by medical or mental health professionals, protects employers from risk of liability when it has appropriate procedures addressing this issue, provides grounds for terminating or sanctioning employees, makes plaintiffs use private attorneys and fills loopholes in current civil rights legal protections. The bill would provide workers with legal redress for health-harming bullying behavior, allow lawsuits against alleged perpetrators, reinstates lost wages and benefits and makes employers correct the problem.

Legal assistance may help injured workers determine whether they are entitled to medical expenses and other compensation for this behavior or other hazards. Employees who are involved in a workers' compensation claim should seek prompt legal advice to assure that their rights are protected.

Source: The Healthy Workplace Campaign, "Healthy Workplace Bill," Retrieved Jan. 4, 2015

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Law Offices of James L. O'Rourke

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