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How to handle bullying in the workplace

Q. I joined a company in Boston in late 2013. The culture is problematic. Our supervisor regularly demeans and ridicules employee mistakes. Instead of dealing with it privately, he reprimands employees in a public manner. He picks on a few of my quieter colleagues, who he knows won’t speak up for themselves. It is horrible to watch. Are there laws against bullying and harassment?

A. The subject of workplace bullying has garnered increasing attention in recent years. Employees who are the victims of bullying in the workplace have reported having feelings of shame, anxiety, and even more severe psychological or physical reactions. Reduced employee productivity and morale, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and even increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims can be linked to workplace bullying. Many states have proposed legislation that would prohibit bullying in the workplace and make both the employer and the bullying employees liable, but no state has passed such a law.

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I consulted Jeffrey Dretler, a partner in the Boston office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment firm. Dretler says antibullying legislation (House Bill 1766) is scheduled for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on June 25. He added that the website www.healthworkplacebill.org tracks the status of workplace bullying legislation across the country and can be a useful resource. Another good source for information is the Workplace Bullying Institute, www.workplacebullying.org.

Pending legislation does not help your current situation though. You could discuss the situation with your human resources department. Many companies have policies that prohibit bullying or harassment in the workplace. A company can discipline such behavior even if such behavior is not illegal. If you are a union member, contacting a union representative. Counseling could also be worthwhile.

Dretler adds that if bullying behavior is motivated by discrimination because of race, color, religion, age, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, it could violate state and federal laws.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.
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