How To Pass Laws To Stop Workplace Bullying

For over a decade the Workplace Bullying Institute and their volunteer advocacy arm, the Healthy Workplace Campaign, have been lobbying state legislators to pass their Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) as written. None have passed. Criticism of the language or limitations of the HWB has always been met by supporters with resistance and the argument that the (copyrighted) HWB was meant as a foot in the door and a way to “prod” employers to do the right thing; the proverbial carrot on a stick. What to do? Research repeatedly shows that it’s not uncommon for grassroots efforts to change leadership or shift and embrace new approaches in order to evolve with the times and ensure success. True to form, a new leaderless grassroots movement has come up that embraces a variety of legislative approaches to preventing workplace bullying. Pima County in Arizona and Hennepin in Minnesota passed laws to protect their public employees from abuse. Ridgefield, NJ declared their whole town Bully Free with NJ’s first public ordinance against workplace bullying. Finally a sleeping giant has woken up and followed suit. This year Unions successfully pushed three bills onto the Governors’ desks of Tennessee, New Hampshire and California. Two have been signed into law and only one was vetoed. So, while these new laws that are being enacted may not do all that you wish, they sure have been successful and are definitely opening the door and prodding employers. Why are they successful? Most of these new bills focus on something that the HWB doesn’t include; required policies and trainings. On September 9th Governor Jerry Brown signed law that broadens existing Sexual Harassment regulations requiring any employer with 50 or more employees to include “abusive conduct” in their training. As part of the National Workplace Bullying Coalition (NWBC), we helped support Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in her now successful effort. Shouldn’t every state have that? It’s time for all of us working to prevent abrasive workplaces to respect our differences and come together to support change. Here’s what the latest law says:

(b)  An employer shall also include prevention of abusive conduct as a
component of the training and education specified in subdivision (a).
(c)  The state shall incorporate the training required by subdivision (a)
into the 80 hours of training provided to all new supervisory employees
pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 19995.4, using existing resources.
(d)  Notwithstanding subdivisions (j) and (k) of Section 12940, a claim
that the training and education required by this section did not reach a
particular individual or individuals shall not in and of itself result in the
liability of any employer to any present or former employee or applicant in
any action alleging sexual harassment. Conversely, an employer’s
compliance with this section does not insulate the employer from liability
for sexual harassment of any current or former employee or applicant.
(e)  If an employer violates this section, the department may seek an order
requiring the employer to comply with these requirements.
(f)  The training and education required by this section is intended to
establish a minimum threshold and should not discourage or relieve any
employer from providing for longer, more frequent, or more elaborate
training and education regarding workplace harassment or other forms of
unlawful discrimination in order to meet its obligations to take all reasonable
steps necessary to prevent and correct harassment and discrimination.
(g)  (1)  For purposes of this section only, “employer” means any person
regularly employing 50 or more persons or regularly receiving the services
of 50 or more persons providing services pursuant to a contract, or any
person acting as an agent of an employer, directly or indirectly, the state,
or any political or civil subdivision of the state, and cities.
(2)  For purposes of this section, “abusive conduct” means conduct of an
employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable
person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s
legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction
of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets,
verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening,
intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of
a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive
conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.

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