Long Island Business News quoted Lynn Brown in an article titled “Standing Up To Workplace Bullies.” The article, published October 19th, discusses how the anti-bullying legislation, known as the Healthy Workplace Bill, has been pending in the state legislature for years. This would establish a civil cause of action for employees but doesn’t include language specific to cyberbullying, a growing trend in our increasingly social media-centric world of communications.
The article stated: “Lynn Brown, who is of counsel at Garden City-based Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, said workplace bullying is about one person with more power in the company preying on someone who is or is perceived to be less powerful.
“Generally speaking, if it’s hostility or aggression toward a target who is physically or emotionally weaker than the other person, that would properly be characterized as bullying,” Brown said. “Why? Because it is something that causes pain and distress in the target.”
Asked how the pain and distress may manifest themselves via electronic communication, whether through company-owned email or Facebook accounts, Brown offered, as an example, employees who “circulate a cartoon via email that makes fun of someone else, either because the person in the cartoon looks like an employee or has something in common with that employee.”
If legislation such as the Healthy Workplace Bill starts to pass in New York and other states (currently, just California and Tennessee have anti-bullying workplace policy-only laws), Schlicht expects that documented social media communications can fall into the category of workplace bullying that a target can use to show a pattern of abusive behavior.
“Email is already a tool a person can now use to show this pattern, but without a law an employee is very unlikely to find any interest from the employer to address the issue, even if they wanted to,” Schlicht added.
One question surrounding cyberbullying involves electronic communications between coworkers outside of the office, through their personal email and social media accounts. If bullying occurs then, is the employer potentially culpable or somehow required to address such out-of-office communications?
Brown noted that the Dignity for All Students Act, which took effect at New York public schools in 2012, makes clear that schools can discipline students for cyberbullying that occurs off school property.
“With respect to the workplace, I think that it really turns on when the employer first knows about what’s going on,” Brown said. “I mean, obviously, if the employer has no way of knowing this, how can you hold the employer liable for it?”
The full article can be read at Long Island Business News (May require subscription).