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Bullying in the workplace: Can employees take legal action?

Over the years, the New Jersey and federal governments have supported movements against bullying in schools. This is a critical move, as bullying can be a serious issue for many school-age kids.

However, the issue of bullying does not automatically stop when we graduate from high school or even college. In fact, instances of workplace bullying are on the rise.

Recent reports state that the rate of workplace bullying is higher than expected.

EHS Today reports that bullying in the workplace is much more common than many might imagine. According to a recent survey:

  • 90% of workers state they experienced bullying at work;
  • 51% state they were bullied by a manager or supervisor; and
  • 39% state that a co-worker bullied them.

This bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Verbal threats;
  • Intimidation;
  • Harassment or criticism due to sex, race, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or other characteristics;
  • Sabotage or interference of work; or
  • Physical abuse.

Dealing with such behavior in the workplace can be overwhelming. It is possible – and recommended – for employees to file a complaint with Human Resources against a bullying co-worker or supervisor. However, many workers might wonder: can they take legal action in these cases?

Is there legal recourse for workplace bullying?

Generally, employees cannot take legal action against bullying in the workplace alone, but they can take legal action if it falls under the definition of:

  • Workplace harassment;
  • Workplace discrimination;
  • The creation of a hostile work environment; or
  • Retaliation.

In many cases, bullying does fall under these categories – or, at the very least it is related to these situations. For example, individuals often bully other employees in retaliation for filing a complaint or to intimidate them in incidents of sexual harassment.

If individuals experience bullying at work, they should make sure to document the details of each incident, including the date, time, individual involved and witnesses to the incident. This ensures they have evidence for when they file a claim and helps them determine if they can move forward with legal action.

Unfortunately, as it is with most cases of discrimination or harassment, many workplace bullies will deny they meant any harm. Their counterclaims can make it incredibly challenging to hold workplace bullies accountable. Employees facing such cases should consider speaking to an experienced employment law attorney such as those at Piro Zinna Cifelli Paris & Genitempo to understand all of their options.

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