Worker abuse is a widespread problem – in a 2007 Zogby poll, 37% of American adults said they had been bullied at work – and most of it is perfectly legal. Workers who are abused based on their membership in a protected class – race, nationality or religion, among others – can sue under civil rights laws. But the law generally does not protect against plain old viciousness.
That may be about to change. Workers’ rights advocates have been campaigning for years to get states to enact laws against workplace bullying, and in May they scored their biggest victory. The New York state senate passed a bill that would let workers sue for physical, psychological or economic harm due to abusive treatment on the job. If New York’s Healthy Workplace Bill becomes law, workers who can show that they were subjected to hostile conduct – including verbal abuse, threats or work sabotage – could be awarded lost wages, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages.