Workplace Bullying: When does Uncomfortable become Unlawful?

In most workplaces, there is a fair amount of unwanted harassment and “bullying,” most corporations have strict rules in place to curb this type of behavior.  It has long been seen as dangerous for morale and causes unneeded stress and turnover in most occupations.  In Florida, there are no “anti-bullying laws,” however, there is a point where bullying crosses over into discrimination and harassment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates hundreds of charges of workplace discrimination and harassment each year.  In Florida, the agency often pairs with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) to investigate these charges and determine probable cause and jurisdiction.
The most common charges that lead to lawsuits are based on workplace harassment that is based on discriminatory remarks and exclusionary practices.  Under federal law, employers may not discriminate against an employee or applicant based on race, color, religion, sex, marital status, ethnicity, age (40 or older), or disability.  Discrimination, harassment, and favoritism that is not based on these characteristics are not protected under federal or state law.
When Does Harassment Become Illegal?
Offhand remarks and general poor humor is not necessarily a base for a discrimination lawsuit.   To prove an employer is violating federal law, it must be proven that the employer is abusive, threatening, or hostile, and enduring the harassment has become a condition of employment.
The unlawful action can be committed by the victim’s supervisor, co-workers, or another employee/supervisor in a different office.  The behavior does not have to be directed towards you, but may be indirect in a way that makes you feel threatened or intimidated.  Examples of this may be religiously offensive materials being posted in a break room or circulating mass emails that are intended to harass or provoke discriminatory behavior.  Ultimately, the employer is responsible for maintaining a safe environment and may be held liable for the harassment/discrimination committed by its employees.
Many employers have been proactive in curbing harassment in the workplace.  Many programs include interactive training seminars for supervisors and employees, as well as more stringent enforcement of existing policies.  Currently, only three states have anti-bullying laws on the books, but bills have been introduced in 23 others, including Florida.  The Florida “Abusive Workplace Environments” Bill was proposed in 2013 but gained no traction in the Florida State legislature.
If you believe you are a victim of workplace bullying or harassment, you can contact the law office of Massey & Duffy in Gainesville.  Our attorneys are experienced in Employment and Labor Law and known throughout North Florida as one of the top resources for employees who suffer unlawful discrimination and harassment by their employers.  We offer FREE CONSULTATIONS for all employment-related cases and are available to represent you.  Please give us a call at (352) 505-8900.


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