Laws Protect Certain Classes from Workplace Abuse: Why Not Everyone?

06/11/2015 03:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

Many individuals don't realize that workplace bullying is legal in most states and jurisdictions in the U.S., unless the actions or behaviors are so blatant that a target seeks protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on an individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin --- and later amended to include pregnancy in 1978.

Federal employment laws protect individuals from workplace bullying, harassment, or abuse if - and only if - the behavior is discriminatory based on an individual being part of a protected class.

Conversely, anyone who isn't part of a protected class doesn't - as a matter of law - have the same federal protections from any arbitrary or capricious workplace bullying actions or behaviors. Therefore, individuals must rely on a company's policy (if available) or personal courage to address any hostile workplace issues. Otherwise, individuals might not be shielded from unnecessary, unwanted, or preventable attacks.

Gaps in legal protections that don't protect everyone equally can lead to:

  • disparate treatment - different application of actions or behaviors to individuals under similar circumstances;

  • actions or behaviors taken to the limits of a law - attacks might be taken far enough as to not violate Title VII or similar protections;

  • unprotected individuals - those who aren't protected by the operation of law, company policy, or human decency.

Laws must protect everyone equally and define legally acceptable standards of behaviors, which should be applied consistently. Furthermore, legislative employment protections should set minimum standards that apply to everyone and every company; however, additional protections can and should be available to any group that doesn't have a record of equal protection under the law.

Federal and state employment laws should be developed to protect all resources (e.g., employees, contractors, etc.) from workplace bullying and companies from allegations of unfair treatment via clearly defined expectations for acceptable standards of behavior.

Company policies must be implemented and consistently applied to minimize any concerns related to other factors (e.g., disparate treatment, circumventing the law, all-star employee exceptions, etc.) that might impact compliance. Notwithstanding the availability of laws and company policies, societies have a responsibility to establish and demonstrate its permissible behavioral standards; otherwise, unnecessary abusive behavior and attacks can and will continue.

The starting point for acceptable behavior begins with each individual making a choice and taking action to not allow anyone - including themselves - to be harassed, intimidated, or threatened. Anyone who allows bullying actions or behaviors to go unchallenged is complicit and deprives someone from their rights to have a quality-of-life that isn't hindered --- specifically the rights to peace and an enjoyment of life.

Everyone - as documented in the Declaration of Independence - has "... certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Therefore, Federal and state lawmakers must take swift and decisive action to safeguard individuals who otherwise can't or don't protect themselves.

Additional information on workplace bullying can be obtained in Mr. Young's solution-oriented books "Bullies... They're In Your Office, Too: Could you be one?" or his mini-book "Management Spotlight: Workplace Bullying".

This post originally appeared on S. L. Young's blog on his website at: