Workplace bullying bills

As a Tennessee appellate court noted in rejecting Joan Frye’s lawsuit against her hospital employer, “[T]he fact that a supervisor is mean, hard to get along with, overbearing, bellig­erent or otherwise hostile and abusive does not violate civil rights statutes.” Some legislators are trying to change that (excited in part by Suffolk Law Professor David Yamada’s theory of making “bullying” actionable). The ABA Journal is the latest to note the trend. (The article unfortunately repeats the false smear against my colleague John Bolton.) As we noted last May,

Enactments of this sort could result in a large new volume of litigation; the ample scope for differences of opinion about what constitutes hurtful sarcasm or a humiliating memo style could turn the courts into ongoing “superpersonnel departments” dispensing financial balm for injured feelings in the workplace.

Employment attorney Richard Block is more blunt in the ABA Journal: “You’re talking about a lifetime annuity of work for employment lawyers.” Bills are pending in thirteen states.


  • You’d kinda think the free market would take care of this sort of thing. If the employees are treated poorly, then they should be able to find passive-aggressive ways to ensure that productivity goes down, that ourside contacts and vendors catch the bad vibes, that bad boss’s boss gets wind. Finally people are not indentured; they can vote with their feet.

  • Time to bone up on employment law and switch to plaintiff’s work. Who needs activist judges when you have asinine legislators.

  • If this case were to go through, could I sue my former drill instructor? I mean he was mean, belligerent and a bully? You talk about abusive!

  • It’s becoming such a joke. It’s not worth being on the defense side in employment law b/c companies are afraid to fight anymore. Between judges, juries, and lawmakers, the goal of income redistribution to the worst performers in our society is well underway.

  • I could not agree more with Nevins. Bad bosses beget transitory workforces and ultimately cannot succeed as bosses because of their revolving door. Good bosses create loyalty, retain good employees, and succeed accordingly. Imposing liability merely for being subjected to a bad boss sets a dangerous precedent that has the real potential to eliminate the “at will” from all such employment relationships.

    Nevertheless, this trend unfortunately seems to be catching on. An Ohio appellate court just affirmed an unemployment award for an employee who quit because his boss was, for lack of a better term, an ass. See

  • Hi Ted,

    Yes, bullying bosses create hostile, abusive workplaces. Everyone suffers. Even productivity suffers as turnover rises.

    I’m a consultant, not a lawyer, so I focus on the individual in that situation; not on the legal system.

    If you work for a bully, don’t take it. What’s the effect of tolerating bullies? Slow erosion of your soul.

    There are a lot of things you can try in order to shine a light on the abusive behavior and get help from the top. But if they won’t act to rectify the situation, get out of there. Take charge of your own life. Don’t wait for the system to rescue you.

    Best wishes,

  • In theory you are right – but actuality is sometimes different. I love the work I do and the product I sell is absolutely the best, but the general manager of our facility is the devil. The enormous corporation I work for either doesn’t care or doesn’t pay attention. We are abused wives making the choice to leave the home we love or stay with the horrible husband.