On November 13, the Assembly Labor Committee met on a proposed bill (A1551), the “Healthy Workplace Act,” that would aim to combat workplace bullying, abuse and harassment unrelated to any category protected by law.  If passed, this bill could open the floodgates to claims by employees who feel they were picked on, harassed, or otherwise undermined by co-workers, without regard to the reason.

Noting that “[c]urrent employment discrimination law provides protection only for those employees who have been subjected to abusive treatment at work on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or age,” this bill would expand the prohibition on harassment, bullying and abuse to all employees.

The bill defines “abusive conduct” as “the malicious conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive or unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interest.  Abusive conduct may include, but is not limited to, repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.  A single act shall not constitute abusive contact unless it is especially severe and egregious.”  If passed, an employer that knowingly and willingly violates the provisions of the Act would be liable for a penalty of not more than $25,000, unless the employer can show that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the abusive conduct and that the aggrieved employee failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

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