Bullying in the workplace isn’t illegal, unless it’s bullying because of some protected characteristic (sex, race, etc.). Yet, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it should be condoned.
According to Today’s General Counsel (citing the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 US Workplace Bullying Survey [pdf]), an astounding 72 percent of employees report that their employers have not done anything to curb bullying in the workplace.
The quickest way to ensure that generalized workplace bullying becomes illegal is for employers to continue to ignore it. If employees continue to report that they are being bullied, and that their employers are not doing anything to stop it, legislatures will step in and pass anti-bullying laws.
So, what should you do? Treat bullying like it’s illegal. Create a workplace culture in which bullying is not permitted to occur.
- Include bullying in your anti-harassment or other workplace conduct policies.
- Train your employees about how you don't allow bullying, and what to do (i.e., how to report) incidents of bullying.
- When an employee complains about bullying, don’t ignore it, investigate it.
- After the investigation, implement corrective actions, commensurate with the severity of the conduct, to reasonably insure that it does not reoccur.
You might think it’s OK to ignore bullying in your workplace because there is no law against it, but legislatures won’t. They will fill the void with laws that you will not like (and, if the Workplace Bullying Institute’s survey is anywhere close to accurate, 72 percent is a big void). Do right by your employees. Do not give legislatures any reason to pass over-reaching laws that will hamper your ability to manage your employees.
Heed these words, which I wrote all the way back in 2011:
Businesses need to have the discretion to manage their workforces. Anti-bullying laws will eviscerate that discretion. Just because generalized bullying is not illegal does not mean that employers lack incentive to act preventively and responsively. To the contrary, the marketplace creates the incentive to treat employees well. Bad bosses beget revolving-door workforces, doomed to failure. Good bosses create loyalty and retain good employees, which breeds success. Imposing liability merely for being subjected to a bad boss sets a dangerous precedent that will eliminate the “at will” from all employment relationships.
Or, to put it in simpler terms, do the right thing, or the government will eventually make you.