Written by attorney Lori Ann Strobl

Status Blind Harassment Laws

STATUS BLIND HARASSMENT LAWS:The Healthy Workplace Bill from inception to current legislation.

In 2001 the campaign to garner support for anti bullying laws in multiple states thanks to a Suffolk University Professor of Law, David Yamada. Mr. Yamada wrote several papers on workplace bullying and drafted the text of the Healthy Workplace Bill first introduced in California in 2003. Since the first draft of the bill was introduced, 20 other states have introduced similar legislation. Currently, 16 bills are active in 11 states.

The United States is the last of the western democratic nations to introduce legislation to prohibit workplace bullying. The following countries have forms of anti bullying laws to prevent or correct harassment in the workplace: Sweden, Britain, France, Ireland, Australia and Canada.

The premise of the bill is to provide legal recourse for employees who do not fall into the current protected classes under Title VII, namely: race, religion, sex, age, nationality. According to the official website for the Healthy Workplace Bill, the following points describe the need for such legislation and what the bill can do for employers and employees:

What the HWB Does for Employers

  • Precisely defines an “abusive work environment" — it is a high standard for misconduct
  • Requires proof of health harm by licensed health or mental health professionals
  • Protects conscientious employers from vicarious liability risk when internal correction and prevention mechanisms are in effect
  • Gives employers the reason to terminate or sanction offenders
  • Requires plaintiffs to use private attorneys
  • Plugs the gaps in current state and federal civil rights protections
  • What the HWB Does for Workers
  • Provides an avenue for legal redress for health harming cruelty at work
  • Allows you to sue the bully as an individual
  • Holds the employer accountable
  • Seeks restoration of lost wages and benefits
  • Compels employers to prevent and correct future instances

What the HWB Does Not Do

  • Involve state agencies to enforce any provisions of the law
  • Incur costs for adopting states
  • Require plaintiffs to be members of protected status groups (it is “status-blind")
  • Use the term “workplace bullying"
  • No state has enacted the bill as of yet, but its supporters are optimistic that it will be signed into law in the not so distant future.

As with any rule, there are exceptions.

Please seek professional assistance with any questions or specific situations.

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