HR’s new function: Standing up to workplace bullies. What used to be considered a good idea may now become law.
And here’s the big problem: Someone is going to have to referee and figure out who’s a bully and who’s just a big pain in the butt who should be ignored. In short, you may have to play Civility Cop. That’s the assessment of attorneys who are looking at the proposed anti-bullying legislation, which in effect demands that employees play nice with one another.
Let’s look at the type of scenario that could pop up:
A white manager supervises a black employee. The white manager is a crusty type who criticizes the black employee in public, maybe even loudly uses insults like “stupid” and “lazy.” Under anti-discrimination laws, the black employee had no legal recourse — the law doesn’t demand that managers be civil to their employees.
But under proposed legislation, the employee could charge with manager with bullying — and charge the company with allowing it, unless you step in.
Your best bet: Start now to head off any bullying charges. For instance —
- Have policies in place that make it clear bullying behaviors will not be tolerated.
- If you have an employee handbook, emphasize in it that workers must treat each other with respect.
- Encourage employees who feel bullied to report the conduct, just as they would report charges of harassment or discrimination, and investigate those complaints seriously.
- If an investigation warrants it, take appropriate action.
Here are the states that are looking at anti-bullying legislation:
- New Jersey
- New York
And here’s sample legislation from New York.