Liability for Bullying in the Workplace: No Longer Just “Maybe Someday”

October 31, 2013

It’s a common refrain: there is no liability for bullying in the workplace – but there might be soon! Awareness and discussion of bullying, and all of the stresses and issues that come with that behavior for both the bullied and those around them, seemingly grows exponentially annually. While this rising awareness certainly includes focus on bullying in many venues other than the workplace (notably, schools), workplaces also have not been excepted from the conversation. At least one study has concluded that nearly half of all adults have either witnessed or been subjected to workplace bullying, with 37% of respondents reporting that they have been the subject of that bullying. In 2003, a bill was introduced in California to provide employees with remedies against workplace bullying, and legislators in many other states followed suit. While no state has passed legislation to that effect to-date (in fact, all 23 efforts have failed), New Jersey is currently considering anti-bullying legislation. For its part, Minnesota was the 21st state to introduce workplace bullying legislation, though that measure did not pass.[1] It would be tempting to believe that, with the failure of that legislation, Minnesota employers need not worry about liability for workplace bullying that did not also amount to illegal conduct for some other reason, such as racial bias. However, an employee recently successfully sued his employee in Ramsey Country District Court for behavior that could only be classified as bullying, using the Minnesota Whistleblower Statute, Minn. Stat. § 181.932. This article provides brief background on the operation of that statute, and then discusses the litigation that may change the legal landscape for workplace bullying in Minnesota.

This information is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or legal advice.