Phillips & Associates

Is Bullying Illegal? - November 2019

While you may no longer be on a campus, where New York state laws make bullying and cyberbullying illegal, but that doesn’t mean everyone has grown up and bullying is no longer an issue. Indeed, workplace bullying can be just as prevalent, and harmful, as school ground problems. There are a number of different types of harassment that are made illegal by various state and federal laws, but bullying can be one of the hardest to define.

Bullying is unwelcome behavior from a co-worker or manager that continues for a period of time. The behavior is designed to harm an individual who feels powerless to respond to the bully. Bullying comes in several forms, from physical intimidation to verbal teasing and threats. Social bullying, where the victim is intentionally excluded from a group or publically remanded, is also a problem. Some of these behaviors rise to the level of being illegal whereas others are not but can be addressed in other fashions.

Federal and New York State Laws

Federal law covers workplace bullying when the actions occur because of someone’s membership in a protected class, such as their race, gender, age, or disability. In this instance, you would have to be able to demonstrate that the bullying occurred because of your membership in a protected class, for example, the bully’s threats targeted a particular disability or were commentary on your gender. New York state laws extend the types of protected classes to include gender expression, sexual orientation, military service, and others.

Further, if the bullying includes verbal or physical threats, these actions may have civil or criminal consequences under state assault and battery laws. Assault is intentionally physically striking or causing injury to another person. Battery is the verbal threat of physical harm and, in New York, is only part of a civil complaint whereas assault can carry criminal consequences.

Efforts are underway in the legislature to pass additional workplace anti-bullying laws, but until that happens, employees have existing state anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws as well as workplace-specific policies to rely on to protect them from bullying behavior in the office.

Workplace Civility Policy

If your workplace has someone who is an “equal opportunity harasser,” they’re harassing everyone regardless of that person’s inclusion or not in a protected class. While they may not be breaking federal discrimination and harassment laws, your workplace likely still has a policy in place to prevent such behavior.

Start by looking in your employee handbook for a workplace civility policy or code of conduct. While the employee handbook isn’t a federal or state law, it does carry weight when considering how employees should be treated at work. No business wants their employees to feel threatened and uncomfortable at work as it leads to low morale and low productivity. Your employee handbook should also contain steps you can take to report problematic behavior and an indication of what the possible consequences of this behavior is. Employers are expected to apply the terms of their employee handbook and code of conduct consistently across the board as failing to do so can create problems.

If you think you’re facing bullying or harassment in the workplace, reach out to our team of experience New York employment lawyers. We will take the time to review your case and help you determine whether you have a cause of action against your employer. When you hire Phillips & Associates, you can be confident that your rights are going to be protected just as aggressively as your employer protects the business. For a free consultation, call the attorneys at Phillips & Associates today at (212) 248-7431.

At Phillips & Associates - We Level the Playing Field

Employees were, and for the most part still are, at a big disadvantage in the workplace. There is a dramatic power imbalance between employees and the companies for which they work. This power balance can intensify after experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination. The company/employer often hires a large law firm to represent it, while the employee may have just lost their job, have very little money and no one to help them understand their rights. At Phillips & Associates, we have the experience, staffing, and financial backing to keep the playing field level. People need to take a close look at the lawyer or law firm they want to hire and determine if that lawyer or firm has the funds, experience and the resources to properly litigate their case.

Phillips & Associates, one of the largest plaintiffs’ only employment law firms in New York. The firm handles cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace including pregnancy, race, disability, religion, gender, and sexual orientation and other protected traits. Phillips & Associates also handles other areas of harassment at work such as retaliation and wrongful termination. Most recently Phillips & Associates was selected as one of the "10 Best Employment & Labor Law Firms" in New York" by the American Institute of Legal Counsel.

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