I have been conducting harassment prevention training for California clients since AB 1825 became effective back in 2005. After presenting what must be hundreds of sessions in the last decade, I am always on the look-out for new topics to discuss, and new hypotheticals to present, and sometimes the universe just cooperates with me. Watching the second Presidential debate last weekend was one of those experiences.
Since 2015 (AB 2053), California law has required employers to train management on abusive conduct (also known as “bullying”). While bullying is not yet illegal, it should be against most employer policies, and should lead to discipline for employees who violate those policies.
Bullying is defined as workplace conduct, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. The law goes on to say that bullying may include:
- Derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets;
- Verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating;
- The gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.
So let’s consider the following hypothetical:
A group of managers is in a team meeting where each person is supposed to present on their enumerated topics to a group of colleagues. When one manager is talking, the other one (who is physically larger) is pacing behind, making faces, and making noises (something between a snort and a grunt). The hands are gesturing and fingers pointing. The manager pacing also repeatedly interrupts the colleague, either with snide comments, jokes (which get laughs or cheers), or insults. Is this bullying?
Would a reasonable person find this conduct to be hostile? Offensive? Unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests? Is this verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating? Absolutely.
In fact, many employment attorneys and HR professionals I know were physically uncomfortable while watching the debate, at least in part because we were witnessing conduct that no reasonable employer could tolerate. While we certainly cannot require free speech to be polite or politically correct, we certainly can and should agree that this type of bullying would not be okay in any workplace.