If an employee puts a co-worker’s stapler in Jell-O as a prank, is that bullying? What if that prankster intentionally sends a colleague to the wrong address for a client meeting, causing him to miss it?
The answer is probably no on the Jell-O prank, but a definite yes on sabotaging the meeting, according to Molly Hurley Kellett, an employment law attorney at Connell Foley. Kellett led a webinar today to help employers identify bullying behaviors, understand the financial costs in terms of lost productivity and potential liability, and develop workplace policies to prevent it.
“Jokes aren’t illegal,” Kellett said. “But something that is interfering with someone’s ability to do their job is not permitted in the workplace.”
A 2017 survey found that 60.3 million employees are affected by bullying in the workplace and 35% have experienced bullying firsthand, Kellett said.
Kellett defined bullying as behavior that sabotages someone’s ability to do their job, or repeated ill-treatment, such as verbal abuse that is derogatory, insulting, offensive or humiliating. While there is no federal or state law in New Jersey yet specific to workplace bullying, most bullying lawsuits brought against employers arise from claims alleging violations of existing laws that protect against discrimination, hostile work environments or the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“There’s potential liability and it is costing employers and organizations money so it must be addressed,” Kellet said. “Employers can no longer put their head in the sand and pretend that people are just being sensitive.”
To watch the entire webinar, “Workplace Bullying: What Employers Need to Know,” including tips for establishing anti-bullying workplace policies and interactive employee training sessions, go here.