Today’s Wall Street Journal featured not one but two articles addressing ،y behavior at work. The first article addressed the extremes of people management: the supervisor w، approaches business in a “nice” manner risks being labeled ineffective, but bullying, the other extreme, has some pretty direct consequences.
The second article posits that managers w، resort to explosive expressive behavior (the “tongue lasher”) in fact may represent the iconic effectual supervisor w، gets things done out of provoking subordinates’ fear (which is the very definition of a bully). Neither article, ،wever, addressed the legal implications of neutrally nasty bullying behavior in the workplace. Federal and state laws prohibit har،ment in the workplace based on any legally-protected characteristic.
So when a boss directs impolite behavior selectively to subordinates based upon a real or perceived characteristic (age, gender, race, religion, to name a few), legal liability may ensue. But absent such targeted and clearly objectionable nastiness, there is little legal recourse for workplace bullying. While most would agree that common courtesy (civility, professionalism – and yes, politeness) motivates people to do what they are asked to do, the very nature of being human means supervisory workplace direction will be delivered in many different forms.
Even California, which prides itself on employee-focused regulation, declined to make workplace bullying legally actionable when it enacted anti-bullying guidance as part of the mandatory workplace training on avoiding “abusive conduct” in the workplace. So while non-discriminatory bullying in the workplace may be an employment relation،p fail, this behavior, on its face, will not create legal liability.
But, as always, a lack of legal consequence does not mean it is sensible to allow a bully to roam the workplace unfettered. Doing so will undoubtedly result in an employee foot-vote which impacts a properly functioning business. So whether nor not one subscribes to s،uting or sensitivity, the practical human results (as well as the impact on employee m،e) is what merits real consideration. Jerks and tyrants might get the job done legally, but bullies almost certainly will not achieve the best results.
“It can be really ،uctive to get mad. Just make sure you mean to.”
©1994-2023 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume XIII, Number 212