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editorial

Workplace bullying is real, but lawmakers must respond carefully

For some, the workplace is a battlefield. Bosses yell, colleagues threaten — all in the name of winning in the marketplace. But there is a meaningful difference between the normal strains of everyday work and the systematic targeting of colleagues for ridicule or abuse. The questions facing Massachusetts lawmakers are: Can that line between normal conflict and bullying be defined? And should the state set that definition by law, or let companies find it on their own? For now, it’s best to require companies to get a grip on the problem before imposing a legal cause of action.

Studies show that workplace bullying can do great damage to victims, just as high school bullying does. Close to one third of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work, while another 20 percent have witnessed it, according to a 2014 Zogby poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute. These situations may force targeted workers to choose between their emotional and economic well-being. In some cases, it’s easier to quit school than quit a job that pays the mortgage.

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