Workplace bullying can be found in offices across America, but few laws regulate or protect workers from such verbal abuse or mistreatment. Workplace bullying is defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment…in one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse, threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior/actions, work interference, sabotage which prevents work from getting done”.
Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws protect workers if they belong to a specific protected class based on race, gender, national origin, age, and other characteristics. However, if you cannot establish that workplace bullying is based on one the protected classes covered by laws against discrimination, Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws will not prove useful. This leaves other majority groups virtually unprotected from workplace bullying.
Why has the U.S. not enacted a federal workplace bullying law? There are many objections to bullying regulations. First, it is hard to classify certain actions as bullying, as American workers are regularly subject to criticism and high demands. Second, the context of bullying varies from industry to industry. For example, a resident at a hospital may be subject to more pressure and intensity than other occupations because of the nature of the work.
There is an effective method to determine workplace bullying in the court system, but the terms of the system are susceptible to the interpretations of the court. The Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claim provides the groundwork to prove that certain workplace bullying may be intentional and causes extreme emotional distress. The plaintiff must prove four elements of IIED in order to win in court:
- Intentional or Reckless Conduct
- Extreme and Outrageous conduct
- The actions of the wrongdoer caused the plaintiff emotional distress
- Emotional distress must be severe
The second element of the IIED claim is the most difficult to prove. Many cases of workplace bullying do not fall under this category, because harassment or verbal abuse is not often considered as outrageous. If it is determined that the conduct is outrageous, it must also be proven that severe emotional distress was the result. The plaintiff must also establish that emotional distress is so vast they suffered a compensable injury.
If you feel that you have suffered emotional distress based upon bullying in the workplace, consult an attorney to discuss a potential suit. Although many cases are not severe enough for court, an attorney may provide advice based upon your circumstances and conditions.