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Bullying in the Workplace: A New Claim in Employment Law?


With the problem of bullying in America's youth gaining nationwide attention in the media and with numerous distinguished politicians speaking out on the issue and calling for its awareness, occurrences of bullying are starting to be addressed in other environments, particularly the workplace.

For years, an individual's complaint of suffering from abuse or bullying by a co-worker was not in and of itself sufficient for a claim for which relief could be granted, without that person also being able to demonstrate that he is member of a protected class and that such maltreatment was motivated by his status as a member of that protected class. Therefore, at present, to invoke Title VII, there must be an allegation of discrimination on the basis of one's protected category.

However, victims may soon find a venue to seek relief as anti-bullying legislation has been proposed. Indeed, since 2003,17 states have already considered legislation that would protect employees from bullying at their place of work. This year, New York came very close to a floor vote on such a bill. The proposed New York legislation noted that "between sixteen and twenty-one percent of employees directly experience health endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment" and that "[s]uch behavior is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment."

Because this legislation reaches unchartered territories, many questions would still need to be answered. For example, what conduct rises to the level of actionable bullying? How will the anti-bullying statute define bullying without its scope being too narrow or, alternatively, over-inclusive?

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