Sexual Harassment or Workplace Bullying

Presented by:

Paul Aiken

Sexual Harassment or Workplace Bullying

Have you ever been the target of sexual harassment or workplace bullying?  Chances are at least one in three that you either have been or will be at some point during your working life.

Sexual Harassment or Workplace Bullying

Abusive behavior at work, commonly referred to as “bullying”, can take various forms leading up but not limited to sexual harassment. It includes verbal abuse such as demeaning and humiliating comments, insults, obscenities, and racial or ethnic slurs.  It can also be physical or verbal threats, or sabotaging or undermining another’s work performance.  To be considered “bullying”, the behavior must be of such frequency and severity that a reasonable person would find it abusive.  Single acts, unless they are extreme and outrageous, will normally not constitute abuse.  The law firm of Aiken and Aiken P.C., in Hyannis has been handling sexual abuse and harassment cases for almost 40 years. If you need guidance, a confidential and complimentary consultation is the first step. An attorney can help you determine safe options.

Medical conditions associated with abusive work environments range from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to physical ailments such as high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks and impaired immune systems.

There are adverse consequences for employers also.  These include high rates of absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased employee turnover.  Employers who fail to address issues of workplace bullying may also be subjected to elevated costs through increased workers’ compensation and short/long term disability claims, higher health insurance premiums and the possibility of having to defend lawsuits.

Despite the widespread and profound effects of workplace bullying on both employees and employers here is a void in the existing law to address it. In 2000, Professor David Yamada at Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA, sought to remedy this problem by drafting model legislation entitled the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).  In Massachusetts, this is known as HB (House Bill) 1766, and it is waiting to be called for a vote.  As of February 5, 2015, 58 legislators signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, nearly 1/3 of the entire Massachusetts legislature.

If HB 1766 were to be passed in Massachusetts, it would provide employees who have been bullied at work remedies beyond typical damage awards for lost pay, medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress and punitive damages.   Under this law, a court would be empowered to order the offending party to cease the abusive conduct, reinstate an employee who had been terminated or left the employment due to the abuse, and order the removal of the bully.  Lawsuits could be filed against the employer, a supervisor or a co-employee.

However, there are protections for employers under this law.   HB 1766 shields employers, in certain circumstances, who promptly exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct abusive environments. It also creates a duty on the part of the targeted employee to take advantage of programs and opportunities created by the employer to address workplace bullying.  Furthermore, there are limitations on the award of emotional distress and punitive damages.An employer will also be protected under the law should a complaint be the result of a negative employment action such as a termination, demotion, disciplinary action, reduction in force, unfavorable reassignment, or failure to promote after the employee received a justifiably poor performance evaluation, if any of these actions were reasonably taken by the employer due to the employee’s poor performance or misconduct or the employer’s economic necessity.??

If employers and abusers faced potential liability for their actions, would this act as a deterrent to workplace bullying?  One would have to assume so.    According to the statistics, workplace bullying is an epidemic in this country, is it time for a cure?

For further information on HB 1766 please see the following:


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