STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING!

The U.S. Campaign for Workplace Bullying Laws

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Level Playing Field

The story of our U.S. legislative advocacy

The U.S. has no specific anti-bullying state or national laws as of January, 2009. The country lags behind Canada with its two provincial statutes and most of the industrialized western world. This symposium provides the rationale for having U.S. anti-bullying laws and reports the experiences of lobbying efforts to date.

Workplace bullying recognized as part of American employment law began with the 2000 publication David Yamada's law journal article detailing the failure of existing anti-discrimination and other laws to adequately address bullying. Yamada crafted legislative language for lawmakers to use to make state anti-bullying laws. The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) forbids a health-harming "abusive work environment." It requires medical documentation and holds employers liable unless they have taken steps to correct and prevent abuse when reported.

The HWB was created for use by the Workplace Bullying Institute-Legislative Campaign (WBI-LC, workplacebullyinglaw.org). WBI solicits volunteer, amateur citizens from the ranks of formerly bullied individuals across the country. The citizen-lobbyists are trained then provided with message-consistent materials with which to communicate the need for an anti-bullying law to their elected state government representatives. Coordinators in states form a virtual network and share resources, strategies, progress and setbacks as a group via a special website, an e-mail listserv and periodic teleconferences, all coordinated through WBI-LC. All Coordinators and advocates not WBI-LC staff are people with jobs, careers and families. They lobby as a free-time activity.

The first state to introduce the HWB was California in 2003. The resulting California Healthy Workplace Advocates group now maintains a website (bullyfreeworkplace.org) and holds regular in-person meetings of its members.

In 2008, at least four states had active HWB legislation: New York, Vermont, Washington State, and New Jersey. All State Coordinators begin with the same HWB text, but state lawmakers may change the text to either appease business advocacy group critics or in anticipation of such predictable reflexive opposition. Typical arguments made against the HWB are presented.

New York

The New York State Coordinator and a handful of advocates in early 2006 met more than 25 state legislators in their inaugural lobbying season. The result was one Assembly bill and one Senate bill, with identical text (called companion bills) calling for an empirical study. The bills died without a vote

The New York Healthy Workplace Advocates (NYHWA) launched its website (nyhwa.org) in 2007. The group divided into teams: “upstate” and "downstate," which included metropolitan New York City. New York had two Co-Coordinators.

With a larger volunteer group in 2007, NYHWA was able to encourage the introduction of three bills. Two were identical companion study-only bills, repeating 2006.

Bullying should be a non-partisan issue. However, the reality is that until 2007, the legislators in all twelve states who had either sponsored the HWB or voted in favor of it were all members of the Democratic political party. According to the WBI-Zogby survey, political party self-identification influenced reported bullying prevalence rates -- Democrats reporting the highest and Republicans the lowest rates.

In New York in 2007, a partisanship breakthrough occurred. After intense multi-day lobbying in the state capitol coupled with lobbying in lawmakers' hometown district offices, the first Republican sponsor for HWB in the U.S. was identified. Furthermore, he amended the first flawed draft of the bill as requested by the NYHWA Co-Coordinator. The state's third bill was amended and became New York's first version to resemble the complete HWB.

Outreach is an important function of NYHWA. The organization is now recognized by unions as the primary organization in the state working on workplace bullying legislation. To date, three unions have either issued, or pledged to issue, resolutions to address workplace bullying in support of the HWB and NYHWA: The New York State University Teachers, the Professional Staff Congress, and the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA). CSEA is already educating its union stewards to recognize bullying and is negotiating contracts to include a workplace bullying protections. The Business and Professional Women of New York State also issued a resolution.

NYHWA also educates the community through presentations and media appearances. State Coordinators testified to the State Labor department regarding the expansion of existing workplace violence laws, using the HWB as model language to expand the code. NYHWA members have appeared on television and in an upcoming documentary.

The NYHWA campaign forges alliances with like-minded workers' rights and civil rights groups expands the number of advocates. Future legislative campaigns will be made easier with more individuals involved and with the help of the earned reputation for unwavering advocacy for anti-bullying laws.

Vermont
The Vermont State Healthy Workplace Advocates, with its own website (vtbullybusters.org) began work in 2007. A mid-2007 commitment to begin the legislative process was given by a veteran Republican state Representative. This was only the second Republican lawmaker to support the HWB. After successful lobbying by the State Coordinator, the original Representative adoped the full bill for consideration in 2008. Shortly thereafter, a companion (the identical text introduced in the second legislative house) was written by a state Senator. Thus, Vermont became the first state to have two mirroring HWBs.
Washington and New Jersey

Finally, lessons from Washington and New Jersey are shared. In Washington in 2005, the first draft of legislation was a study-only bill, but with a cost attached. That bill died in the Appropriations committee lacking funding. The full HWB was introduced in 2008. The first year for a New Jersey bill was 2006. It underwent three text revisions before the bill more closely resembled the HWB. One erroneous revision placed a $25,000 maximum penalty on employers. The experiences in both states illustrate the effect of diluted legislative language on the likelihood of passing a law with adequate worker protection.

In conclusion, in 2008, marking the 10th year of the U.S. workplace bullying movement, state lawmakers are familiar with workplace bullying. Many now declare "the time has come for a law." To date, 13 states have introduced, but none have passed into law, some version of WBI-LC HWB legislation. 

This story was presented to the world audience at the 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying in Montreal, Canada June, 2008 by our National Healthy Workplace Advocates. 

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