Fortune/CNN Money’s article by Jonathon A. Segal, “Hard to Define: Even Harder To Ban,” clearly recognizes the severity and devastating impact of workplace bullying on the American worker and their employers. It’s been over ten years and 25 states since the first version of the Healthy Workplace Bill was introduced and still no takers. Segal sees a message in this #fail.
So why are workplace anti-bullying bills failing, even in states that tend to pass laws that protect employees, such as California, Maryland, and Connecticut? Perhaps it is because the definition of bullying can be incredibly subjective. How do we write what one might argue is really a code of civility? We all can agree that screaming at an employee is wrong. But what is the difference between screaming and raising one’s voice? Sometimes it is nothing more than perception.
Segal is the Partner & Managing Principal for the Duane Morris Institute which conducts training workshops for HR Professionals, Senior Managers and other employer representatives. So, his article should just be dismissed by proponents of the bill as an attack coming from the ‘dark side,’ right? Not really. It would be better to recognize that Segal represents a major law firm that is warning the business community that workplace bullying is real, it’s damaging to all involved and it should not be tolerated. Where we disagree is whether a law is needed to make that happen — and what remains to be seen for all of us is what form that law will take. As this blog has said many times, and it certainly bears repeating, it’s time to gather all of the players at the table to find viable solutions — and there are multiple options both short & long term. If you think that can’t be done take a look outside of the USA. They held public forums all over Australia before crafting a law that just went into effect. British Columbia recently added workplace bullying to Workers Compensation language and other areas use Workplace Violence legislation.
…even if bullying is lawful, that does not mean employers should tolerate it. Employers should address examples of unacceptable bullying in supervisory training and include employees’ treatment of colleagues (particularly subordinates) in their performance evaluations. In the end, though, some problems are best left as business, not legal, matters.