The Dignity At Work Act (DAWA) provides a cause of action for employees who suffer from workplace bullying, which has a discriminatory impact on women and non-white workers.
With the legislation, we fight for the most safety for employees of any known proposed legislation and prohibit the most known forms of bullying behavior to create safe work environments.
DAWA is rooted in these principles:
- Workplace abuse isn’t covered by existing law. Harassment isn’t illegal unless targets are members of a protected class (sex, race, age, etc.) under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and can prove the abuse is from their protected class membership. Employers know there’s a loophole in the law for not addressing bullying. The bill will fill that gap in the law.
- Other potential avenues for relief for targets of workplace bullying are ineffective. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claims require targets to prove the bully’s intent and to show severe emotional distress, setting too high of a bar for relief. Workers comp laws often fail to address workplace bullying and psychological harm, and when they do, they provide inadequate relief. DAWA will provide targets a clear avenue to be made whole and to continue their careers.
- Employers often don’t enforce their own policies and retaliate against those who report bullying. The target leaving or getting fired is generally what stops the bullying. Because employers aren’t required to follow their own policies, a law requiring employers to create anti-bullying policies and training doesn’t protect targets. Tennessee passed a bill incentivizing workplace bullying policies, and California passed a training-only bill. Neither have proven effective. DAWA does not give employers immunity simply for having a policy. Instead, DAWA creates an incentive for employers to actually prevent, detect, remedy, and eliminate workplace bullying.
- Employers need incentive to change. We know over the history of workplace harassment that the business case is not enough to convince employers to adequately address workplace bullying. Instead, the penalties for failing to do so must be enough to provide incentive. An effective bill must require employers to adopt all necessary steps to eliminate workplace bullying — steps well-established in bullying literature. Failure to do so must expose employers to meaningful penalties. Established defenses have not been effective in preventing, detecting, remedying, and eliminating workplace bullying. An effective anti-bullying bill must avoid adopting immunity defenses.
- We can’t prove intent. We’ve learned from US and international jurisprudence that it’s often impossible for targets to prove the bully’s intent, but the bullying still has negative impacts. Intent (general or specific) must not be one of the required elements for a claim of workplace bullying. Bullying scholars and legal practitioners both understand the difficulty of proving intent. As a result, intent is generally not included in the research definition of bullying and should not be included in the law. DAWA does not require targets of bullying to prove their bully’s intent.
- Psychological and physical harm is only one aspect of damage. We’ve learned through US harassment jurisprudence that targets should not have to suffer psychological or physical harm before they have a cognizable claim. As the EEOC has recently reiterated, we want to stop harassing behaviors as soon as possible. An effective bill must establish a standard of harm that mirrors the EEO laws that the hostile environment or the bullying itself is enough of a harm to have a cognizable claim. Just as the EEOC and the judicial system have recognized that a hostile environment caused by harassment based on a protected status is harmful to workers, DAWA recognizes the hostile environment created by bullying is also a harm that should have a legal remedy.
- Legal action must be affordable to everyone. The majority of US workers are unable to afford access to the pay-to-play legal system. An effective anti-bullying bill must account for this lack of access and provide access to remedies via a governmental agency. A governmental agency with enforcement and oversight of an anti-bullying bill will be able to not only provide access to targets, but also provide regulations, enforcement guidance, and model policies for employers. Conflict resolution via a governmental agency will be more expeditious than litigation, prevent tying up already overburdened courts with additional litigation, and provide paths for mutually agreeable resolutions that will allow employers and employees to continue a productive working relationship. DAWA would assure targets several paths to remedies including access to a state agency with enforcement power and private litigation should they choose that route.