7 Center Dr. Suite 2
Monroe, NJ 08831
Workplace Bullying - A Crime
If Bill A-3590 is enacted, New Jersey will stand as legislative leader in the battle against bullying in the workplace. Titled the Healthy Workplace Act, Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein’s proposed bill #A-3590 will, in her words, “hopefully halt this unnecessary, abusive behavior which cripples companies and workers alike.” A summary of the bill can be viewed by visiting www.njleg.state.nj.us/2006/bills.
Ever since her anti-bullying bill was registered on October 28 of last year, Greenstein has been caught in the epicenter of a media and public furor that shows no sign of let up. “I was amazed,” says the Assemblywoman. “All of a sudden Fox News, CNBC, New Jersey stations and a host of national cable shows all wanted to discuss this issue. The letters poured in.”
This enormous public response, she feels, merely indicates the enormity of the problem. Greenstein first became aware of the issue through Judge Sue Pai Yang of the D.O.L’s Compensation Court. (see “No Place for Workplace Bullying” link) A little research showed Greenstein that 16 to 21 percent of American workers claim to have suffered mental or physical damage from bullying in the workplace.
“It is totally wrong to see this bill as antibusiness, or as in any way encouraging litigation against companies,” insists Greenstein. “There are a host of employer protections built in. We just want to stop the bullying on the job.”
* Bullying defined. For the purpose of the bill, bullying is defined as continued abuse, using the reasonable person standard. This means malicious conduct which the average, decent individual would find hostile or offensive. It could be a constant stream of verbal abuse, physical man-handling, or threats. Or it might be the sabotaging of another’s work.
The key here is that bullying virtually never consists of a single act, unless it’s outlandishly egregious. Nor can it it be related to normal business standards. Telling the poor grunt worker in the cubicle to “Get a move on, boy. Can’t you see we’ve got deadlines?” is not considered bullying, but standard workplace frenzy.
* Con vs Pro. Not all of the furor around Greenstein’s new bill has been positive. Many people point to the sexual harassment, anti-discrimination, and civil rights statues, and argue that these surely cover the problem. To them, Greenstein answers that bullying is not harassment of minority or generally unprotected types. Harassment is discriminatory behavior toward an individual because he is e.g. Muslim. Bullying is nondiscriminatory, with the target selected by opportunity alone. Thus a white male can be a victim of bullying abuse, and currently find no protection under federal or state law. Interestingly, workplace bullying has been found to be four times more prevalent than sexual harassment.
Likewise, civil rights and discrimination laws provide ample guarantee for hiring and firing practices. But they offer no protection of conditions for the employee on the job.
Still others complain that the bill will encourage excess litigation from greedy complainers who seek only to cash in at the company’s expense. Why can’t they just suck it up, and either bear with the job or quit and move on, they ask? According to Greenstein’s bill, the bar has been deliberately set high enough to keep frivolous suits out of already overcrowded courts. The claimant must show medical evidence of severe physical or psychological trauma. This means bruises, prolonged sleep disorders, or clinical depression. Those with general anxiety need not apply. Also, this symptom must be proven to be directly related to the bullying that has taken place on the job.
* Employer protections. Section 5. a. of the bill states that an employer who knowingly and willingly encourages or ignores bullying in his workplace may be fined up to $25,000. Yet Section 5. b. immediately follows up with a whole list of employer defenses. Abusive work environments are not deemed the employer’s fault if he takes almost any affirmative action. If the employer tried to get the victim to move to another department away from the bully and the victim refused; if managers warned and/or tried to counsel the bully; if the company has established anti-bullying programs for its staff; they may justly claim an affirmative defense.
The bully in the workplace holds much more power than the one in the school yard. He is typically a supervisor with his victims’ jobs in his grasp. Muster your courage, stand up against him, and you’ll likely find yourself fired, rather than with just a bloody nose. This bully breaks the tacit contract between all employers and employees that a conducive environment be provided in which the employee may fulfill his duties. Greenstein feels that it is time that both companies and individuals be protected from these destructive individuals.
Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D) has represented New Jersey’s 14th district (Middlesex/Mercer) since 2000. Currently assistant majority leader, she chairs the Judiciary committee and serves on the Health and Senior Services, and the Clean Elections committees.
Greenstein has sponsored bills establishing the office of state controller, reforming public employees benefits, establishing the New Jersey Taxes and Fiscal Policy Study Commission, and establishing an online marketplace for manufacturers using recycled products, and a bill to increase public libraries\'’ construction and expansion to $95 million.
Greenstein began her political Career in l995 serving on the Plainsboro Township Committee. She earned her bachelors for Vassar College, and masters from John Hopkins University, both in psychology. She took her law degree from J.D. Georgetown University Law Center.
Article Summary Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein has sponsored a new bill that would make bullying in the workplace illegal. Her hopes are that it will not only improve the work environment, but should markedly boost production for employers. Almost everyone is behind her - but not all.