Suzanne Lucas thinks workplace bullying should be legal:
Anti bullying legislation has been under consideration in several states since California first introduced a proposal in 2003. None has passed such legislation, but, the Los Angeles Times reports, New York is likely to make bullying illegal this year. Maryland is holding hearings and other states are considering proposals.
This is all noble and good and completely the wrong thing to do.
She gives five reasons why: It will make it even harder to find new jobs, legislation won’t solve the problem, bullying is impossible to define, managers need to manage (and this can come across as bullying), and protection against bullying often protects the bullies.
She makes a reasonably compelling case. She seems to be in conflict with herself as it pertains to sexual harassment, using it as an example of how ineffectual such laws are while suggesting that the (continued) enforcement of such rules would contribute to a bully-free workplace. To some extent, each of her arguments apply just as much to sexual harassment as they do to any other sort of bullying. There is a major difference between general anti-bullying laws and victim-specific laws, though. Namely, if someone that is part of a “privileged” group is harassed at one place for some stupid reason, that is less likely to be the case if they go somewhere else. The sexual harassment laws were founded in part because discrimination against women was perceived to be so common as to be hard to escape (at least in sectors of the economy generally dominated by men). Anti-discrimination laws were a response to the perception that certain races faced the strong possibility of discriminated against with enough frequency to constitute a real problem and something more than just “well find a new job!”
As an Anglo-Saxon male, the only time I have ever worried about discrimination is when I was living in Deseret. Despite the fact that they are not supposed to, there were employers that were known to ask you which ward (an LDS precinct) you belonged to as a part of the interview. When I interviewed anywhere, I made absolute sure that I did not smoke a cigarette at all that day. Not because I worried that they would not hire me if they knew I was a smoker, but that they would know by the fact that I was a smoker that I was not a member of the Brethren. In the end I found two jobs while I was there and a third that would have hired me had the position not been eliminated instead, so I can’t complain too much. But it was nonetheless stressful and if there weren’t rules in place to prevent blatant discrimination, I am less sure that the job market there would have been as kind.
But given the ambiguous nature of things like the hiring process and bullying, what all can you do about it, really? The legal counsel of my Deseret employer was fired because he was outed. Would it have been better if they had simply found some other reason to fire him other than coming out and saying that he didn’t want abominations of the lord working for him? In one sense, the answer is “no” because he would still be out of the job and quite possibly blackballed in the community. In another sense, though, the world is a better place when people aren’t calling one another epithets. Better enough to constitute a law? Not sure. On the one hand, people are people and decisions and behaviors are ambiguous. On the other hand, such laws at least provide well-meaning employers cover if people want to know why they have a fag as their legal counsel. “Well, you know, the law is the law and he does his job well.” And uncomfortably, people do often take cues as to what is acceptable behavior based on the law. And based on the perception of peers who take cues from the law. Laws can’t change human nature, but they can be a part of affecting it.
I am not a markedly proud person, professionally speaking, but bullying really is one of those things that I would not put up with. I made $10/hr working at Falstaff, but the times when I was so frustrated that I was actively seeking other opportunities, it had more to do with the work environment than the pay. And when the work environment improved, I still resented the low pay, but I was still happy with my job. There are people who are toxic to the workplace and workplaces would do well to root them out. Unless you have a very specific concern about somebody - through no fault of their own - getting a hostile work environment wherever they work, I have trouble with the law trying to step in here.