Bullying in our schools has been a hot-button topic for the last few years. In 2010, New Jersey passed more comprehensive legislation to attempt to deal with what has apparently become chronic among our children. In passing new legislation, the State legislature cited a 2009 study by the United States Departments of Justice and Education, which found that 32% of students aged 12 to 18 were bullied the previous year. Unfortunately, bullying does not end in middle school or when we no longer play in the school yard. Some studies estimate that 40% of adult workers experience some form of bullying in the workplace. Recently, bullying hit the headlines with the Miami Dolphins. The problem is just like when kids deal with it, do you report it or suffer in silence? Will there be an adverse job action taken if it is reported? What if it is the boss doing the bullying and not just another coworker?
Bullying falls under the general heading of workplace violence, with intimidation, threats, verbal harassment including offensive language and gestures, shouting, throwing objects, punching walls and slamming doors, making unfounded statements and spreading office gossip are some examples. All of these scenarios can lead to an unproductive employee, increase stress and decrease overall workplace productivity. There are no specifically named workplace bullying laws, but employees do have protections from a hostile work environment, harassment and discrimination claims and also possible retaliation suits. It is important for the employer to take a zero tolerance approach on this issue and provide for a workplace culture that does not permit bullying in the workplace to flourish. Supervisory personnel need to be trained and make assessments to observe the problem and respond before a situation escalates to one where a lawyer is called. Being proactive will not only make for a better and more productive workplace but will keep lawsuits at a minimum.
– Darrell M. Felsenstein, Esq.