Workplace Bullying: Can You Be Held Liable?

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What Is Your Liability for Workplace Bullying

We have all heard a lot about bullying lately, especially in the context of school bullying. Although we might not hear about it as often, workplace bullying is also a problem. In 2010, the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35% of all American workers have experienced first-hand bullying in the workplace, while 15% have witnessed it.

I wrote this post about tip sharing, stressing that Minnesota law prohibits employers from requiring employees to take part in a tip sharing arrangement. However, when talking with an employee of a local restaurant the other day and when explaining this law to him, he asked me this: What about if the other employees harass an employee who doesn’t want to share his tips? Then what? What choice does the employee have?”

That a good question and indeed, what should an employer do if this is going on? First, the employer needs to be aware of what is happening amongst employees. This means establishing clear and open communication so that an employee who is being harassed feels that he can come forward, complain and be protected. It also means having open eyes and open ears to catch on to what is happening. Furthermore, it means educating your employees about the law, conducting trainings and reminding employees about what they can and can’t do.

If an employee is bullied by co-workers for not taking part in a tip sharing pool, an employer could be liable for the behavior of those employees. Employers are required to provide a safe and secure place to work. This duty extends not only to the public, but also to employees. This means not only repairing and maintaining equipment, but also making sure that harassment and bullying doesn’t take place and keeping violence out of the workplace.

If an employer who does not take reasonable steps to protect an employee and if the employee suffers harm as a result of the bullying, the employer could be liable for what is called negligent hiring or supervision. This means that the employer didn’t act reasonably in hiring or supervising an employee and that injuries were suffered.

The moral of the story: Train your employees. Don’t tolerate violence or bullying. Inform employees about what the law allows and doesn’t.



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