Workplace bullying and mobbing are forms of psychological harassment and psychological abuse that violate an employee’s inherent basic human right to dignity: severe or pervasive infliction of hostile and unethical words and/or actions, intentional or unintentional, direct or indirect, or omissions, directed in a targeted and/or systematic manner that creates a hostile work environment that is offensive and a reasonable person would find unsuitable to perform regular duties and tasks. A single severe incident of such behavior may also constitute psychological abuse.
The abuser playbook
There's a pattern to abuse at work. Here’s how it works:
- Workplace bullying typically begins when one employee, who is generally insecure and/or jealous, is threatened by the competence or demeanor of another employee. The bully targets an unsuspecting employee to minimize and/or eliminate the perceived threat the employee poses to them. Bullies use persistent psychological harassment to control the narrative. They try to convince the employee they are incompetent. They try to convince others the employee is incompetent.
In hostile work environments, when employees report psychologically abusive behavior to proper workplace authorities, those authorities ignore their complaints. Employers are not liable for psychologically harassing behavior, nor do many want to be. The employer misleads the unsuspecting employee is misled to believe they have a legitimate complaint process to remedy the problem.
- The employer/its representative employees fail to alter the employee's work environment. The employer/its representative employees don't remove the stressor.
The emboldened bully continues to harass and abuse the target without consequence or deterrent. The complaint process is unnecessarily prolonged.
- The unsuspecting employee voluntarily leaves, dies, or is fired, succumbing to the silent killer stress of the work environment. There is significant physical, mental, and emotional injury as well as severe economic harm. Game over. The bully wins. Her perceived competition is gone. The employer wins. Their perceived threat of liability is gone. The unsuspecting employee had done nothing to provoke either.
- Trauma upon trauma. When the employee realizes the institutional duplicity and complicity of tampering with their health and livelihood, forcing them off the payroll to avoid liability, trauma upon trauma occurs.
- Upon trauma. The employee further realizes there is no legal recourse for any of it.
Who’s picking up the tab for the long-term health care of millions of unemployed citizens and basic needs costs? You are: the taxpayer. And you have been for decades.
The solution: the Workplace Psychological Safety Act (Evan's Law)
Workplace psychological harassment and psychological abuse are issues of employee exploitation.
Employers are not explicitly liable for the psychological harm of their employees — nor do they want to be. At its root cause is avoidance of employer liability. The status quo, employers are negatively incentivized to address the issue even if they claim to value safe workplaces. Employers choose to avoid a perceived threat of liability over human well-being.
The Workplace Psychological Safety Act (WPSA) takes that choice away and provides a cause of action for employees who suffer from workplace psychological harassment and/or psychological abuse.
The WHY behind the bill:
- There is no current law that protects workers from workplace psychological harassment and/or psychological abuse. Unless you’re a member of a protected class (sex, race, age, etc.) under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — and can prove the abuse is from your protected class membership — you don’t have rights to psychological safety at work under law. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) law requires victims to not only prove the abuser’s intent but also to show severe emotional distress, a near impossible threshold to prove.
- Proving intent doesn’t work with anti-discrimination law — and it won’t work with mistreatment in general. Anti-discrimination law used to work when it focused on impact. The courts’ shift in the 1980s to a focus on intent has rendered anti-discrimination law nearly useless. It’s no secret it’s an epic failure. The WPSA does not require victims to prove their abuser’s intent, so it would strengthen protections for women and non-white workers who can prove discriminatory impact but not intent.
- Workplace psychological harassment and psychological abuse is an organizational problem, not an individual one. Courts treat anti-discrimination law, which psychological harassment and psychological abuse overlaps with, as an individual problem. But it’s a systemic problem often rooted in negative stereotypes and threats to power and control. The WPSA focuses on both individual recourse AND collective recourse to address the problem at the root: with employers. Employers control the work environment.
- Oftentimes, employers don’t enforce their own policies or practice what they preach around training — and even retaliate against those who report abuse. There is no law stating employers have to follow their own policies. Tennessee passed a bill incentivizing workplace anti-abuse policies, and California passed a training-only bill. Neither are effective. Policy and training laws don’t work. In addition, workers compensation laws don’t recognize hostile work environments or psychological injury. They are employer-controlled and require employees to waive their right to sue. Employers know there are loopholes in the law. The bill will fill those loopholes.
- Employers need accountability to make our workplaces psychologically safe. The WPSA creates an accountable incentive for employers to actually prevent and address workplace psychological harassment and psychological abuse. The WPSA requires employers to do what’s right — and requires the public reporting of attrition rates and law violations to get in front of the health and economic harm to targeted and victimized employees before it can occur.
- We can prevent harm of any kind. No law will eradicate an issue, but the goal is to prevent workplace psychological harassment and psychological abuse as much as possible. Prevention means not waiting until harm occurs (not just psychological or physical harm). Sexual harassment law acknowledges a hostile work environment is enough for legal recourse. The WPSA sets its baseline for a legal claim at a hostile work environment, consistent with sexual harassment law.
- A legal remedy must be affordable for all workers. Our legislators designed our pay-to-play legal system to favor those who can afford lawyers. We must do better. As with regulations for other harms, we must also put money toward this problem if we want to fix it. Making abuse illegal regardless of protected class status (giving more protections to members of protected classes) would lessen the EEOC and state agency backlogs and lessen the burden on the courts. The WPSA would ensure that everyone, especially our most vulnerable, low-wage workers, can access a remedy while still providing for a private action.
Why discrimination law is ineffective at protecting workers from bullying and mobbing
It’s no secret discrimination law is ineffective at protecting workers from mistreatment in the American workplace. Bullying and mobbing are forms of psychological harassment and psychological abuse that make our work environments unsafe. It’s time to fill the gap.
There is no denying mistreatment at work has a discriminatory impact. According to the 2016 EEOC Select Task Force for the Study of Workplace Harassment Report, “During the course of fiscal year 2015, EEOC received approximately 28,000 charges alleging harassment from employees working for private employers or state and local government employers.” Their findings:
- “…anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”
- “…70% of the respondents reported experiencing some form of verbal harassment and 45% reported experiencing exclusionary behaviors [in a survey regarding racial and ethnic harassment].”
- “35% of LGB-identified respondents who reported being ‘open’ at work reported having been harassed in the workplace.”
- “…20% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or unfair treatment at work because of their disability.”
- “…8% of respondents reported having been exposed to unwelcome comments about their age.” Source: https://www.eeoc.gov/select-task-force-study-harassment-workplace
If you are not in a protected class, you have even less protection in the American workplace when it comes to bullying and mobbing.
Workers deserve psychologically safe work environments.