Boss: “Joe, get me some coffee.”
Joe, the employee: “How would you like it?”
Boss: “Regular, with cream and sugar.”
Joe: “I am going now to get it for you.”
Five minutes later, Joe returns with a cup of coffee.
Boss: This coffee is terrible. It takes an idiot like you to mess up something like coffee. Not only do you not know how to make copies, you are clueless at making coffee. Why did I hire such a dope? Go home for the day without pay. Return tomorrow with the knowledge and skill to make a coffee. I cannot handle all the dopes in this office. Do you think that our clients would still be with us if they really knew how many idiots like you work here? Get out of my building, now.
The company hired Joe to do basic office work like organizing files and making copies. He helps out wherever he can. His job description did not include making coffee. What is more, his boss routinely makes similar obnoxious comments to him. Joe has recourse under the current law and more under the proposed law.
The Washington State Legislature initially introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill in 2012, which would amend the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Washington Human Rights Commission is the body overseeing fairness in the workplace.
Elements of Workplace Bullying
Washington law defines workplace bullying as:
- Repeated and ongoing actions;
- Toward one or more employees,
- That is intended to undermine, degrade, threaten, harm or humiliate employees,
Generally, a superior who abuses his or her status by bullying a subordinate is a workplace bully. Most often it is a behavior, usually verbal, wherein the superior bullies a subordinate. However, the Healthy Workplace Bill also classifies institutional actions as bullying. That is to say, when a corporation provides a work detail that is unmanageable or has unrealistic deadlines, it can also be workplace harassment.
Another less common bullying employer behavior is when the employer excessively monitors employee behavior. Having cameras in the washroom and kitchens may be considered bullying under the statute.
Under a proposed update to the Healthy Workplace Bill from 2016, the following are suggested changes:
(1) It is an unfair practice to subject an employee to an abusive work environment.
(2) It is an affirmative defense to an action for an abusive work environment that:8 9 (a) The employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and 10 promptly correct the abusive conduct and the aggrieved employee 11 unreasonably failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or 12 corrective opportunities provided by the employer. The employer may demonstrate reasonable care by adopting employment policies prohibiting abusive conduct and establishing effective enforcement procedures. This defense is not available when the abusive conduct culminates in a negative employment decision; or (b) The complaint is grounded primarily upon a negative 18 employment decision made consistent with an employer’s legitimate business interests, such as a termination or demotion based on an employee’s poor performance, or the complaint is grounded primarily upon an employer’s reasonable investigation of potentially illegal or unethical activity.
We will see where the legislature takes this.
Have you been bullied at the workplace? Contact the Washington employment law firm of HKM.