OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 1970
Some experts say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should take the lead on combating workplace bullying.* There is overwhelming evidence that workplace bullying can lead to serious injury and even death. In fact, a term has been coined for workers who are driven to suicide as a result of bullying - “bullycide.” In several other countries, workplace bullying is considered a health and safety issues and is regulated by a federal agency like OSHA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in May 2011 adopted a safety program for its own workers that includes a workplace anti-bully policy. The policy is contained in a 278-page document, the OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual, which outlines safety practices for OSHA’s field offices. It was drafted in cooperation with the National Council of Field Labor Locals, a union that represents OSHA workers.
OSHA’s workplace bullying policy is significant because the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees … .” However, OSHA has not enforced that provision with respect to workplace bullying.
The stated purpose of the workplace bullying policy adopted by OSHA for its own workers, contained in the manual’s “Violence in the Workplace” chapter. is: ”To provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.”
Here is the OSHA General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) SEC. 5:
(a) Each employer –
(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees …
*See Susan Harthill. “The Need for a Revitalized Regulatory Scheme to Address Workplace Bullying in the United States: Harnessing the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.” University of Cincinnati Law Review 78.4 (2010): 1250-1306.
WAGE AND HOUR LAWS
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address workplace bullying per se but it can be used to combat certain types of abuse. The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek. The FLSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division If one aspect of the bullying campaign is failure to pay proper wages or overtime, for example, the FLSA is one potential remedy.
THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935 to protect the right of employees in the private sector to create labor unions, engage in collective bargaining and to take part in strikes. The act is also known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Sen. Robert F. Wagner. The act is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board.
Specifically, the National Labor Relations Board protects the rights of employees to engage in “protected concerted activity,” which is when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment. A single employee may also engage in protected concerted activity if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.
A few examples of protected concerted activities are:
- Two or more employees addressing their employer about improving their pay.
- Two or more employees discussing work-related issues beyond pay, such as safety concerns, with each other.
- An employee speaking to an employer on behalf of one or more co-workers about improving workplace conditions.
Most employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA. However, the Act specifically excludes individuals who are employed by federal, state, or local governments, agricultural laborers, some close relatives of the employer, domestic servants in a home, independent contractors, employers subject to the Railway Labor Act, etc.
FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT
The Familiy and Medical Leave Act (FMLA offers potential help for employees who are suffering health effects from workplace abuse. Administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, it entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:
Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:
-the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
-the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
-to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
-a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
- any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin to the employee (military caregiver leave).