The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has been discussed by state and federal legislators for nearly 15 years, and has been the subject of substantial debate and interest. During that time, 26 states have introduced the HWB, or one modeled on it. No state has yet passed the bill (although Tennessee has passed a bill limited to public-sector employees), and several state legislatures have vetoed it.
According to proponents of the HWB, workplace bullying is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators” that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse;
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating; and/or
- Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.
California was the first state to introduce the HWB (in 2003), but has not yet passed it. However, in the final quarter of 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2053 into law. That law is not the equivalent of the HWB, but specifically adds “abusive conduct” to the required biannual 2-hour “classroom or other effective interactive training and education” for supervisors of all employers in California with over 50 employees.
“Abusive conduct” is defined in the California law as:
. . . conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.
That definition, as further spelled out in the law, tracks the definition of “bullying” under the HWB by including repeated verbal abuse (derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets), conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, and “the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.” Under California’s legislation, a single act “shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”
Under the new California law, an initial training session must be attended by supervisors within 6 months of assuming supervisory duties, and then must be repeated at least once every two years. The requirement went into effect on January 1, 2015, meaning that California employers with over 50 employees now must review and revise training procedures to specifically include anti-bullying measures in existing training programs.
While there does not seem to be overwhelming legislative support for the HWB on a national level, the bill has developed substantial grassroots support over the years. If other states replicate this California effort and introduce/pass bills to add training requirements, the grassroots effort that has sustained the HWB may continue to gain traction.
To stay ahead of the curve on this issue, knowledgeable and conscientious employers should consider including anti-bullying training in existing programs, and should ensure that supervisors are sufficiently trained on and aware of the risks inherent in a lack of knowledge on this subject.