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Evil HR Lady is being eeeevil again.

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Workplace bullying bills

by Ted Frank on February 7, 2008

As a Tennessee appellate court noted in rejecting Joan Frye’s lawsuit against her hospital employer, “[T]he fact that a supervisor is mean, hard to get along with, overbearing, bellig­erent or otherwise hostile and abusive does not violate civil rights statutes.” Some legislators are trying to change that (excited in part by Suffolk Law Professor David Yamada’s theory of making “bullying” actionable). The ABA Journal is the latest to note the trend. (The article unfortunately repeats the false smear against my colleague John Bolton.) As we noted last May,

Enactments of this sort could result in a large new volume of litigation; the ample scope for differences of opinion about what constitutes hurtful sarcasm or a humiliating memo style could turn the courts into ongoing “superpersonnel departments” dispensing financial balm for injured feelings in the workplace.

Employment attorney Richard Block is more blunt in the ABA Journal: “You’re talking about a lifetime annuity of work for employment lawyers.” Bills are pending in thirteen states.

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Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer sees a resurfacing of this campaign, about whose merits he’s skeptical (Dec. 20). For the schools context, see Feb. 14-15, 2001. More: Point of Law, Apr. 18, 2005 (jury award in Indiana on the theory). More: Mar. 2, 2007.

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  • “Telling Employee He Is ‘Eligible’ For Bonus Not Enough to Create Contractual Obligation” [Chris Parkin/Daniel Schwartz; Connecticut appeals court]
  • Richard Epstein on Obama’s anti-LGBT-discrimination edict for federal contractors [Hoover "Defining Ideas"]
  • D.C. Circuit panel, Janice Rogers Brown writing, strikes down DC tour guide licensing scheme [Ilya Shapiro/Cato, WaPo, Orin Kerr]
  • “Why Progressives Shouldn’t Support Public Workers Unions” [Dmitri Mehlhorn/Daily Beast]
  • “James Sherk of Heritage on Members-Only Bargaining” [On Labor]
  • As discrimination law gradually swallows all else: “Rep. Keith Ellison wants to make union organizing a civil right” [MSNBC]
  • NY Senate committee gives approval to “workplace bullying” law. On thin constitutional ice? [Hans Bader/CEI, earlier]

From Britain: “Domestic abuse involving “emotional blackmail” – but no violence – could become a criminal offense carrying a heavy jail term under tough new measures published for the first time.” [David Barrett, Telegraph]:

“Critically, its [the draft's] definition of abuse includes “controlling or coercive behavior” which would “encompass but is not limited to physical, financial, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse”.

“Controlling behavior” would also lead to criminal charges, including when a partner makes another person “subordinate”, “exploits their resources” or “deprives them of the means needed for independence”.

The offense would apply to abuse committed against any spouse, partner or former partner, regardless of gender.

As Pamela Stubbart notes at the Daily Caller, when based on purely psychological and emotional interactions and states of dependence, concepts like “control” and “coercion” are at best highly subjective affairs, inviting unpredictable legal application as well as he-said-she-said legal battles in the wake of breakups or other relationship failures. The measure would also threaten criminal liability for some speech (e.g., emotionally hurtful insults not involving threats of violence) that would often be included in definitions of free speech. Meanwhile, a ban on exploiting partners’ resources or denying partners financial independence threatens to throw a shadow of criminal liability over many marital and romantic arrangements long deemed unproblematic, whether or not egalitarian.

Barrett in the Telegraph notes that while the cross-party group of Members of Parliament who are introducing the bill do not speak for the Cameron administration, they have a record of some success at getting their ideas on domestic violence enacted into legislation. Offenses will carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Related: periodic proposals in state legislatures and elsewhere to ban “workplace bullying” (more) raise some of the same issues, as do enactments (like “Grace’s Law” in Maryland) endeavoring to ban “cyber-bullying.”

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NLRB and labor law roundup

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2012

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We’ve reported before (here and here) on the campaign by activists to establish a cause of action arising from “workplace bullying”. Efforts to get the courts to create such a right have not fared well, but the National Law Journal reports growing interest around the state legislatures:

Connecticut, for example, wants to outlaw “threatening, intimidating or humiliating” conduct by a boss or co-worker and would ban repeated insults and epithets. The proposal doesn’t specify a penalty, but would only give workers the grounds to sue.

New York’s anti-bullying legislation targets malicious conduct by supervisors that hurts employees either physically or psychologically. Mental health harm could include humiliation, stress, loss of sleep, severe anxiety and depression. The bill also would punish retaliation of the complainant or anyone who helps the complainant.

As management lawyers warn, enactments of this sort could result in a large new volume of litigation; the ample scope for differences of opinion about what constitutes hurtful sarcasm or a humiliating memo style could turn the courts into ongoing “superpersonnel departments” dispensing financial balm for injured feelings in the workplace. (cross-posted from Point of Law).

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A group called the Workplace Bullying Institute says it’s preparing federal legislation that would ban the rather amorphously defined phenomenon of bullying at work. A possible obstacle: Capitol Hill itself is notorious as the stomping (and ranting and paperweight-throwing) grounds of some of the nation’s most vein-poppingly abusive bosses, such as Sen. — well, you’ll just have to follow the link if you want names (Helena Andrews, “Demanding or Downright Mean?”, The Politico, Mar. 1). For an earlier go-round, see Dec. 22, 2004.

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