California Workplace Bullying Unfortunately Not Illegal

Judging from popular culture, you would think that Americans love workplace bullies. They garner everything from respect (“The Devil Wears Prada”) to guffaws (“The Office”).thisway

However, when it comes to real life, our California employment lawyers know that workplace bullying is no laughing matter. Studies have shown that victims of workplace bullying suffer from psychological and even physical health problems. This negatively affects not only the worker, but workplace morality and productivity.

Bullying at work can be generally identified as involving:

  • Name-calling;
  • Shouting;
  • Belittling, particularly in front of colleagues;
  • Excessive monitoring;
  • Constant criticism or nit-picking over trivial matters;
  • Deliberately overloading someone with work;
  • Purposely undermining a person’s efforts to succeed;
  • Excluding someone from normal workplace conversations or activities.

Unfortunately, workplace bullying alone is not grounds enough to sue – at least not yet anyway. There are some grassroots efforts afoot to change that. Dozens of states have attempted to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill that would ban workplace bullying. However, so far, none have been successful. The only anti-bullying legislation that has passed has pertained solely to minors in an educational setting.

Many people think that harassment or the establishment of a hostile work environment is illegal. They are – but only when they are accompanied by some element of discrimination.

That is, if the bullying is a form of retaliation for your engaging in some protected activity (ie., reporting sexual harassment or racial discrimination), then you probably have a case. However, if your boss is simply a jerk because he doesn’t like you because your personalities clash, you may find it much tougher to file successful litigation.

Federal and state civil rights laws hold that harassment is only illegal when it singles out members of a protected class or if its purpose or effect is to negatively impact workers of the class. Protected classes include gender, race, religion, national origin, age, disability, military membership or veteran status. It has also been interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to include one’s sexual orientation, transgender status, marital status, criminal record, political affiliation, prior psychiatric treatment, personal appearance or citizenship status.

So if the bullying you are enduring is because of your belonging to or association with one of these protected statuses, then you have a case.

Of course, there are always nuances of the law, so before you assume you have no options, it’s best to consult with an experienced employment attorney who can weigh your individual circumstances.

If your situation doesn’t qualify for legal action, that doesn’t mean you can’t take action. Consider the following:

  • Evaluate the situation objectively. Is this person nasty to everyone, or just you? If there is any chance to simply ignore it, you may want to try that first.
  • If the action does indeed rise to the level of bullying, stand up for yourself. Refusing to be an easy target may help to get them to back off. Remain polite and professional in doing so. Keep it simple and to-the-point. Saying something like, “Your tone is not appropriate” can sometimes be enough to cause that person to self-reflect and change their behavior.
  • Get in the habit of documenting the situation. Keep a detailed log of your interactions, which could help you in the future if things get uglier.
  • Involve your superiors. There may only be so much you personally can do to limit this person’s behaviors. Companies have a vested interest in limiting aggressiveness at work. Make sure they know.
  • Consider moving on. Of course, this is a last resort for many people. Understand that the long-term consequences of bullying to your physical and emotional health may not be worth the stress. Know when it’s time to start looking for another job.

Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Bullying behavior alone not grounds for harassment lawsuit, July 17, 2013, By Mark Pestronk, Travel Weekly

More Blog Entries:

California Temporary Workers’ Rights, Part 2, July 19, 2013, Costa Mesa Employment Lawyer Blog

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