New Trend Emerging: Anti-"Bullying" Laws

Nobody likes a mean boss. Co-workers naturally do not always like everyone they work with. But a recent San Francisco Chronicle article features the possibility of anti-bullying legislation.
The website "" contains a growing list of states taking up "model" healthy workplace legislation.

Anti-bullying laws would mean that someone could claim a "hostile environment" without showing a linkage between the conduct and a protected criterion, such as race, sex, disability, religion, etc.

Rhetorical question alert: Think this could increase litigation? Think opportunistic workers will file suits against managers in retaliation for legitimate decision-making?

What does this mean? The case law currently includes many statements by courts to the effect of: "the law does not guarantee a Utopian workplace," that feuds between employees (unrelated to illegal discrimination) are not actionable, and that anti-discrimination laws are not "civility codes." Well, if anti-bully advocates have their way, all these dicta in judicial opinions will become obsolete.

The devil of course is in the details. Everyone understands that an abusive person in the workplace is not conducive to good morale, can result in higher turnover, and can make going to work unpleasant etc. (More rhetorical questions follow). But when does an "intense" manager or employee cross the line and become a "bully' subjecting the employer to financial liability? And who is going to decide this? A jury at a cost of tens or hundreds of thousands in legal fees? How will managers be able to manage poor performance, convey negative feedback, and even let off a little steam without the fear of legal liability? And then there's the backlash - Won't it be easier just to fire an at-will employee than let the worker build a "bullying" case?

Workers have arguments now and then. Supervisors are responsible for managing productivity, work performance, attendance, and other unpopular subjects which naturally cause hurt feelings. Should managers be legally required to be nice? Should managers hire people based on whether they are likely to be friendly? Incidentally, should an employee be injured by such conduct, there already is a remedy for physical or psychiatric through the workers' compensation laws.

So, let's hope that the advocates of anti-bullying legislation consider the various issues that anti-bullying legislation will raise, and set a relatively high standard for what is a "bully."