We’ll Talk About Bullying Till ’50

This may come as news to lots of people in the work force, but occupational safety and health laws obligate employers to provide a safe work environment. The catch is, the law does not provide for a safe work environment free from abusive conduct by employees.

But now legislators are about the change all that with a proposal, Senate Bill 2487, SD1, relating to workplace practices.

The proposal is bolstered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which recognizes general harassment, including workplace bullying, as a form of workplace violence. Its definition of workplace bullying is any repeated intimidation, slandering, social isolation or humiliation by one or more persons against another.

The specific purpose of this act is to protect employees from an abusive work environment and provide remedies when they are victims of abusive conduct by another employee. It is clearly stated that “abusive conduct” is conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. If a reasonable person finds the verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, insults and epithets intimidating or humiliating, even the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance or a defamatory evaluation, it can easily be considered a form of abusive conduct.

If passed, this bill would mean any employee, state or county, and the political subdivisions and agencies, would have protection from and remedies to anyone convicted of abusive conduct against a public employee. Any abusive conduct would constituent a workplace safety and health violation, a work injury for which workers compensation benefits may be paid as provided by law. There is a statue of limitations for action under the bill, where action would be commenced no later than three years after the last act that constitutes the alleged violation.

The remedies also are very clear. They include any relief that is deemed appropriate, including but not limited to reinstatement, removal of the offending party from the complainant’s work environment, back pay, front pay, medical expenses and attorney’s fees including costs or fees of any nature and reasonable attorney’s fees to be paid by the defendant.

If the bill becomes law, the effective date would be July 1, 2050 to ensure further discussion, we’re told.

That certainly should give those who manage public employees time to educate their departments on the potential abusive conduct that abounds in the public sector. There are probably thousands of potential cases of employees in the public sector who have experienced the kind of abusive conduct by supervisors or fellow public employees but afraid to complain.

Currently, there seems to be a feeling that bullying in the workplace, schools and on playgrounds needs to be addressed. Some legislators believe that this measure will provide a safer work environment and better work productivity and efficiency. Not surprisingly, the bill was sent forward without any “nay” votes. It will probably survive a few amendments along the way, but will become law someday and finally give state human resources managers an administrative tool they badly need to protect public employees. For more information, go to capitol.hawaii.gov.