Hostile Work Environment Definition Updated by New York State Senate

June 8, 2012 - Comments Off

Last month, New York State’s Senate passed a bipartisan anti-bullying workplace bill – the Healthy Workplace Bill – that would permit employees to sue employers for physical, psychological or economical abuse by both supervisors and co-workers.  Although the bill has yet to become law, its movement past the Senate is a positive sign for employees and workers’ rights advocates alike.

The impetus for the bill came from research and survey findings revealing that workplace bullying and abuse is a pervasive problem in New York’s workforce.  According to the bill, studies indicate that between 16% and 21% of employees in New York directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment.  Further, these studies have found that an abusive workplace can have serious physical and psychological effects on targeted employees.  According to Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Labor Committee and co-prime sponsor of the legislation, “Workplace bullying, abuse and harassment bring with them a variety of very serious human and economic costs . . .[it] can cause grievous harm to employees who are the victims of it . . . [and] costs employers in terms of lost employee productivity.”

Although current anti-discrimination laws protect employees from workplace harassment based on certain protected characteristics – such as race, sex, national origin or age – these laws do not provide redress for general abuse by an employer.  If passed, New York’s bill would broaden the scope of protection for employees.  Specifically, it would apply to organizations of all sizes and capture a more expansive range of workplace abuses, including the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets, as well as verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening.

According to the Healthy Workplace Campaign – a grassroots organization created to drive support for anti-bullying workplace legislation throughout the U.S. – New York employees are not alone in suffering this abuse.  It is estimated that approximately 37% of adults in the United States have experienced some form of workplace abuse.  Although there is currently no state in the United States with an anti-bullying workplace bill, 12 states in addition to New York have anti-bullying bills pending.  While only time will tell whether these bills will become reality, there is no question that these states’ efforts are moving us towards a new definition of hostile work environment.

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