Bullying at Work: A Sometimes Legal Practice

Those who endured schoolyard bullies probably looked toward adulthood with a sense of optimism. Unfortunately, as any adult knows, things don’t always change quite as we expected – or for the better. Such is the case when you’ve encountered a bully at work. It might take a few encounters for the reality to set in, but yes, some adults hold on to childish behaviors like bullying.

To be clear, we’re talking about some of the following kinds of behavior:

  • Name-calling
  • Intentional insults
  • Pranks or practical jokes at your expense
  • Constant criticism
  • Demeaning comments
  • Threats

As far as employers are concerned, bullying can adversely impact company morale and damage the trust employees have in their leaders and each other. All of that can lead to a company spiraling downward or enduring a turnover rate that would make any employer’s head spin.

Bullying at work is an especially serious problem for those who endure it. It can cause psychological harm, undue stress, and injury if any kind of physical harm is at work. If someone endures it long enough, it can impact their job performance, which could lead to employment consequences. You might think this would be reason enough to outlaw bullying behavior at work – even when laws are on the books that ban it for children at school – but unfortunately, it’s not unless it crosses into illegal territory.

When Does Bullying Become Illegal?

There are two points where bullying can become illegal. The first is rather obvious: when it becomes a criminal matter. When bullying at work involves physical violence, offenders can be criminally charged for their actions and held accountable in a civil court. The same can be said for sexual harassment that crosses into sexual assault and rape.

When bullying behavior isn’t criminal, it may still be unlawful. The second point at which someone’s actions could become illegal is when they’re directed at someone who could be associated with a protected class. When that happens, the aggrieved party may be experiencing unlawful discrimination.

Protected classes in West Virginia are:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability status
  • Age (if "substantially older," which could mean 30+ in some cases)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • AIDS/HIV status
  • Off-duty tobacco use

If a supervisor or coworker’s bullying behavior is directed at someone for any of these reasons, or could be interpreted as such, they may be held legally liable for discriminatory harassment. For example, Joe could be discriminated against if his employer constantly tells him that smoking will kill him. Likewise, Rachel could have a valid complaint if her boss constantly asks her probing questions about her HIV/AIDs status.

When bullying is based on someone’s affiliation with a protected class, assumed or actual, it transforms into unlawful and discriminatory harassment. It’s at this point that you should call an employment law attorney to help you protect your rights.

Hoosier Law Firm, PLLC Looks Out for Our Clients

At Hoosier Law Firm, PLLC, we are dedicated to each client who trusts us to fight their employment law violation claim. We can represent anyone who’s facing any kind of unlawful treatment at work, including harassment and discrimination. While bullying isn’t legally actionable on its own yet, we can consult with you on how you can keep track of the behavior and when it may cross into illegal territory.

When that happens, you’ll already have an experienced legal team who’s aware of what you’ve been going through on your side. We’ll relentlessly fight for your and your best interests as we help you seek justice through legal remedies that can include fair and just compensation.

When you need help, call Hoosier Law Firm, PLLC at (800) 455-8721 or contact us online to reach someone who can help.