Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying has been defined as repeated mistreatment of a worker or manager by one or more workers or managers. Workplace bullying made be threatening, humiliating, or intimidating conduct. It can be sabotaging someone’s work. It can be verbal abuse. About one in four Americans have experience abusive conduct at work.

 There is not law specifically against bullying. However, some forms of bullying may be unlawful. Read on to find tools to deal with workplace bullies.  


A.   Anti-Harassment Protection Order

It is unlawful in Washington to knowingly engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses them and which serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. RCW 10.14.020. This course of conduct must cause actual and reasonable substantial emotion distress. RCW 10.14.020. This legal claim is brought directly against the bully, not the employer by filing a petition. If the court agrees with the victim, it can order the bully to not contact the victim and to stay a certain distance away from the victim’s residence and workplace.

 Need assistance in obtaining an anti-harassment protection order? Contact Pechtel Law.


B.   Tort of Outrage

It is illegal in Washington for someone to intentionally or recklessly cause severe emotional distress to another person by extreme and outrageous conduct. Grimsby v. Samson, 85 Wn.2d 52, 60 (1975). This claim only applies when “the conduct was so outrageous and so extreme that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency, is atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Grimsby v. Samson, 85 Wn.2d 52, 59-60 (1975). For example, a woman being called the C-word in her workplace or a person of color being called the N-word in his or her workplace may be sufficiently extreme to meet this standard. Robel v. Roundup Corp., 148 Wn.2d 35 (2002). The resulting emotional distress must be severe—it must be so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. Woodward v. Steele, 32 Wn.App. 152, 154-55 (1982). A victim may be bring this claim directly against the bully. In some cases, the employer may also be sued. If the victim is successful, a court may award the victim money for her emotional distress, medical bills, and other damages.

Do you think your managers or co-workers are intentionally causing you emotional distress? Contact Pechtel Law.


C.  Discriminatory Harassment

It is illegal to harass a co-worker because of the co-worker’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, citizenship-status, religion, creed, age, disability, marital status, veteran status and military status. RCW § 46.60.180; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2; 8 U.S.C. § 1324b; 42 U.S.C. § 12112; 29 U.S.C. § 623; 38 U.S.C. § 4311. These are referred to as “protected classes.” A harassment claim generally requires several things. First, there must have been language or conduct concerning the worker’s protected class or that occurred because of the worker’s protected class. Second, the worker must have felt the language was unwelcome. Third, the language or conduct must be so severe and pervasive that it changes the conditions of the worker’s employment. Fourth, an owner or manager participated in the language or conduct or should have known about the language or conduct, but failed to stop it. This claim can be brought against the harasser and the employer. Possible remedies include a court order directing the employer to stop the harassment and money damages.

Suffering from discriminatory harassment? Contact Pechtel Law.


D.  Retaliatory Harassment

It is illegal to harass a co-worker because the co-worker opposed unlawful discrimination. RCW 49.60.210; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3; 42 U.S.C. § 12203; 29 U.S.C. § 623. To prove a claim of retaliatory harassment, the victim must prove that she opposed what she reasonably believed to be harassment. Second, that there was language or conduct concerning the opposition to discrimination or because of the opposition to discrimination. Third, that it was undesirable and offensive and not invited by the victim. Fourth, that it was so severe or pervasive that it change the conditions of the victim’s employment. Lastly, that an owner or manager participate in the conduct or language, or that an owner or manager knew about the conduct or language and did not stop it from continuing.  This claim can be brought against the harasser and the employer. Possible remedies include a court order directing the employer to stop the harassment and money damages.


Suffering from retaliatory harassment? Contact Pechtel Law.


E.   Specific Promises of Specific Treatment from Employer

If an employer makes specific promises to its workers in specific situations, and those promises create an atmosphere of job security and fair treatment, and that atmosphere causes the workers to not seek other employment, than the worker can hold the employer to the promise. Thompson v. St. Regis Paper Co., 102 Wn.2d 219, 230 (1984). If an employer has an anti-bulling policy, it can be found in several different places: an employee handbook is a good place to start looking. Supervisors (who aren’t the bully) or the human resource department may also be able to find an anti-bullying policy. This claim can be brought against the employer. The remedy is most likely money damages. A less likely remedy would be “specific performance” where a judge requires the employer to follow its anti-bullying policy.

Is your employer not following through on their promises to protect you from bullying? Contact Pechtel Law.


F.   Petitioning the Employer to Adopt an Anti-Bullying Policy

What if an employer hasn’t made specific promises of specific treatment? Most workers have the right to work together to advance their mutual interests. 29 U.S.C. § 157. Their efforts must be “concerted” meaning that some workers’ efforts were authorized by other workers. For example, a single worker who is trying to initiate group action or where the worker brings a group complaint to management. The activity must also be “protected” which means that it concerns the workers’ interests as workers. If a worker’s employer does not have an anti-bullying policy, the worker can ask his or co-workers if they want their employer to adopt such a policy. It is best to get their authorization in writing. The worker may want to print out a page that says something like “We the undersigned desire [Employer’s Name] to adopt the attached Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy,” then attach the written policy, and leave room on the page for co-workers to sign it. An example policy can be found here. If an employer retaliates against a worker for taking concerted, protected activity, then the worker may file a charge with the NLRB.

Need assistance to organizing a petition? Contact Pechtel Law.