work bully

BACK OFF BOSS: Workplace Bullying is the Next Frontier in Employment Litigation

By: Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire
The manager of a fast food restaurant in Missouri has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the December 2016 suicide of a teenaged worker she supervised. The felony complaint alleges that the manager’s bullying of the teen contributed to the young man’s tragic decision to end his life and cites to the testimony of a number of the teen’s former co-workers indicating that the manager frequently ridiculed the young man by calling him derogatory names, making him clean the floor by hand while lying on his stomach, and throwing food at him that the manager claimed had been prepared incorrectly.

Although criminal prosecutions relating to workplace bullying are rare, employee reports of workplace bullying are not. Researchers at the University of Phoenix found that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, as a target or a witness. Not surprisingly, there is an increase in the number of civil claims being asserted by employees seeking damages caused by workplace bullying. Employers, meanwhile, are proactively seeking ways to ensure that employees conduct themselves in a way that not only avoids potential legal woes but also fosters a healthy and productive workforce.

Pennsylvania does not currently have a law which specifically prohibits bullying in the workplace. Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature have proposed House Bill 1041-known as the “Healthy Workplace Act” – which is intended to “provide legal redress for employees who have been harmed physically or economically by deliberate exposure to abusive work environments and to provide legal incentives for employers to prevent and respond to abusive treatment at work.” Although the proposed legislation has been referred to the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee for further study and consideration, when – or if – it will ever become law is uncertain.

Even though Pennsylvania law currently does not specifically protect workers from bullying, an employee who is subjected to workplace bullying may have possible claims under existing federal and state law. Bullying which is based on a person’s race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, or disability may give rise to employment discrimination claims under federal and state law. Under certain circumstances, employees who suffer from workplace bullying may also be able to assert state tort claims, such as, for example, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, or invasion of privacy, while sufficiently severe injuries may give rise to a workers’ compensation claim.

Workplace bullying not only exposes employers to potential civil liability, but according to numerous studies, it also adversely impacts a company’s productivity, diverts resources, and hampers the ability to attract and retain good employees. It is important for employers to articulate a policy which prohibits bullying in the workplace and provides clear instructions to employees and management for preventing, reporting, and investigating bullying conduct.

Whether you are an employee who has experienced on-the-job bullying or an employer seeking to protect its employees and operations from the harm and losses caused by an abusive work environment, the experienced employment attorneys at the Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP can help.  Contact Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send her an e-mail at
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The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP, is located in Media, PA and serves clients in and around Media, Glen Riddle Lima, Brookhaven, Wallingford, Newtown Square, Lenni, Springfield, Swarthmore, Chester, Aston, Bryn Mawr, Morton, Woodlyn, Broomall, Gradyville, Folsom, Chester Heights, Crum Lynne, Glen Mills, Marcus Hook, Ridley Park, Drexel Hill, Marple, Bethel, Garnet Valley, Chadds Ford Concord, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County.

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