Kim Jong-Un in the Workplace

Kim Jong-Un in the Workplace

There is no question that South Korea is currently being bullied, but it is reacting in a responsible way, as much as one can act when the bully is threatening to unleash a "sea of fire." Its response is triggering more bullying and it goes with bullies. Bullies in the workplace are unfortunately not an unknown phenomena, and a number of employees can relate to South Korea because they have to confront their own Kim Jong-un on a daily basis.

Workplace bullying may be one of the last frontiers in the workplace which is not regulated by either state or federal law.  At the present time, there is no state law which addresses bullying in the workplace. At a recent meeting this month of the Employee Rights and Responsibilities Committee of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment, a panel addressed the issue and that the strategies that plaintiffs may want to try. The panel's papers are well worth reviewing for those with access to the ABA website.

Unless the bullying can be tied to the victim's protected class status(race, sex, age etc.) as the motivation for the bullying, federal civil rights laws do not protect employees from the workplace bully.  Bullying is a cousin of workplace harassment; the difference is that the bully is an equal opportunity harasser not motivated by a particular discriminatory animus.

It falls to the employer to prohibit and to take action when a bully is identified in the workplace. General statements about civility and respect may be too vague to pass scrutiny by the NLRB in its ongoing review of corporate policies which may directly or indirectly inhibit  protected, concerted activity. An employer should state it will not tolerate bullying and give examples of what it is referring to as improper conduct. An employer also has to set up a procedure similar to a harassment procedure for the reporting and handling of claims in a fair and impartial manner. The lessons learned from inadequate procedures to address harassment and especially sexual harassment should be applied. It is important to recognize that bullying may escalate into workplace violence and therefore must be addressed in a timely manner.

Preventing workplace violence has fostered a zero tolerance mentality. So too should workplace bullying.

For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.

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