Workplace Bullying: What Protections Do You Have?

The term bullying has been used commonly for decades now, but recently, has taken on new life in our nation’s social dialogue. While in the past, bullying was looked upon by many as some sort of rite-of-passage for our youth, the cold reality of bullying’s effects on our society is now coming to light. Every day, more and more tragic cases of bullying are being featured in the media, making evident what victims of bullying have known for years: bullying and harassment causes real pain and psychological damage to its recipients.

Take, for example, the case of 13-year-old John Carmichael, a young boy in Texas who took his own life after being subjected to horrendous treatment from his fellow students. According to an article from the ACLU:

[F]ootball players at his middle school in northern Texas had attacked him in the locker room, stripped him nude, tied him up, placed him in a trash can, and called him a “fag,” “queer,” and “homo,” while the whole event was videotaped and later posted on YouTube.

A teacher stood by as the attack occurred and did nothing to stop it. In fact, several teachers at the school had, for months, witnessed Jon being attacked and bullied.

This sort of behavior had been going on for months, and no one at John’s school attempted to stop it. The ACLU article goes on to state:

On almost a daily basis, classmates assaulted him in the locker room and forcibly removed his underwear, shoved him in the hallways, pushed him to the ground on the athletic field, flushed his head in the toilet, or stuffed him into a trash can. But no one stopped it because, in the words of one teacher, “Boys will be boys.”

The tacitly approving attitude of John’s teacher is not uncommon. But it’s an attitude that will hopefully become antiquated, as devastating situations like John’s are beginning to become the subjects of civil actions across the country. While such suits will never erase the pain John endured, and that his family continues to endure from their loss, the successes of these suits will likely usher in a new era of vigilance in school districts for the protection of their students.

But what about when bullies grow up and continue their campaigns of harassment in adult life? The issue of workplace bullying has barely broken through to the public consciousness, although we are all aware that it exists. Most people can likely name one or more former co-workers or bosses who have exhibited harassing behaviors towards others on the job. Many have been the target of these co-workers, and some have even possibly been severely affected by the harassment being leveled against them.

What can be done about this type of harassment? After all, it isn’t illegal for someone to be a jerk, right?

While that may seem to be the conventional wisdom, there may actually be civil remedies available for targets of workplace bullying in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky has two criminal statutes in its Penal Code that prohibit certain harassing conduct: KRS 525.070 and KRS 525.080.

KRS 525.070 states:

(1) A person is guilty of harassment when, with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:

(a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise subjects him to physical contact;

(b) Attempts or threatens to strike, shove, kick, or otherwise subject the person to physical contact;

(c) In a public place, makes an offensively coarse utterance, gesture, or display, or addresses abusive language to any person present;

(d) Follows a person in or about a public place or places;

(e) Engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose […]

KRS 525.080, on the other hand, prohibits harassing communication:

(1) A person is guilty of harassing communications when, with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:

(a) Communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telegraph, mail, or any other form of written communication in a manner which causes annoyance or alarm and serves no purpose of legitimate communication;

(b) Makes a telephone call, whether or not conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication […]

As you can see, the behavior proscribed in these statutes easily fits with much of the behavior we have come to understand as defining the term “bullying.” These statutes obviously provide a criminal penalty for such conduct, but under KRS 446.070, these statutes may also provide a civil remedy for the target of the behavior prohibited within their provisions. KRS 446.070 allows a person to recover any damages suffered for the violation of any Kentucky statute that doesn’t provide any civil remedy, and since the above criminal statutes do not provide for any such remedy, they would fall under that umbrella. Therefore, these criminal statutes, in conjunction with KRS 446.070, likely provide a cause of action to victims of workplace bullying, if the behavior those victims have been subjected to matches the behavior listed in these Harassment statutes.

Furthermore, other traditional causes of action, such as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent Retention, and Negligent Supervision, are also available for targets of workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying can have detrimental effects on the health, both physically and psychologically, of those subjected to it. Studies performed by the Workplace Bullying Institute show a correlation between bullying and stress-related diseases and health complications, as well as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If you have been subjected to workplace bullying, you should be compensated for the damages you have sustained. Seek counsel immediately to learn more about the options you have available to you.

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