With America’s workplace anti-bully movement seemingly stuck in the trenches, perhaps it is time to follow the example of America’s neighbor to the North.
The Canadian province of Quebec amended its Labour Standards Act in 2002 to ban non-discriminatory workplace harassment and bullying. The law, which went into effect on June 1, 2004, also imposes a duty on employers to prevent and stop bullying.
According to one observer, the law was the result of a sustained campaign by Quebec unions, as well as by a non-profit advocacy and resource group for non-unionized workers, “Au bas l’echelle” (in English, “Rank and File”).
This effort resulted in the establishment in 1999 by then Minister of Labor, Diane Lemieux, of an Interdepartmental Committee on Psychological Harassment at Work. The committee in 2001 recommended the government take legislative steps to prohibit psychological harassment.
It is time for unions and workplace anti-bully advocates to call upon the U.S. Secretary of Labor to empanel a commission to study the problem of workplace bulling in the United States and recommend new legislation to Congress.
There is overwhelming research that the problem of workplace bullying is epidemic in the United States, affecting at least one in four workers, and that workplace bullying destroys lives and costs American employers billions every year.
Efforts began in the United States almost a decade ago to pass a so-called Healthy Workplace Bill on a state-by-state basis. Thus far, no state has adopted the bill, which is much weaker than Quebec’s legislation.
Meanwhile, the worsening economy has left more and more workers vulnerable to bullying. Not only are there fewer jobs, but the nature of the workforce is changing. More workers today are categorized as “independent contractors” who receive no benefits and low pay. These include home-workers, tele-workers, piece-workers.
Even if one state does step up and adopt a workplace anti-bully bill, it will take decades, if ever, before all of the states do.
*** See Debra L. Parkes, “Targeting Workplace Harassment in Quebec: On Exporting a New Legislative Agenda” (2004) 8 Empl. Rts. & Employ. Pol’y J. 423.