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Workplace Bullying: A Global Issue

October 24, 2011

By Erika C. Collins

The United States has had status-based harassment and discrimination laws in place for decades, well in advance of most other countries. Though the United States has taken several measures to protect those who are harassed in the workplace based on "protected categories," it has not introduced legislation to assist those who are "bullied" in the workplace, but do not have such a protected status on which to base a claim. Recent surveys indicate that a significant portion of U.S. workers may fall into this category; 35 percent of U.S. workers reported experiencing workplace bullying, the majority of which was same-gender harassment.

Currently, there is no state or federal law to fill this gap in coverage. The first anti-bullying piece of legislation, the "Healthy Workplace Bill" (HWB), was introduced in California in 2003. Since then, 21 other states, including New York, have proposed bills based on the HWB, though none have yet been enacted. The New York State Legislature, however, is considering such a bill. A bill establishing "a civil cause of action for employees who are subjected to an abusive work environment" provides a remedy for victims of harassment that is not based on a protected category and holds employers civilly liable for maintaining abusive work environments. If the bill is passed into law, New York will become the first state in the country to recognize a cause of action for workplace bullying, though several states have considered such legislation in the past.

Other countries have been more proactive in combating workplace bullying. In particular, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and Japan have introduced new legislation or have interpreted existing legislation to address bullying in the workplace. This article summarizes New York's proposed bill. It also analyzes workplace bullying laws in place in Sweden, the UK and France as examples of treatment of workplace bullying outside the United States. Finally, this article provides recommendations to multinational employers that are faced with complying with developing bullying laws.