Monthly Newsletter

Mickey Busca, Editor


July, 2024


Can a person file a lawsuit based upon workplace bullying?

The quick answer:  it depends.

Workplace bullying isn’t covered by many federal and state laws protecting employees against harassment, unless it is based on a protected characteristic, such as race or gender.  However, such conduct could become actionable and employers shouldn’t ignore such conduct.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as, “repeat mistreatment,” which includes sabotage, verbal abuse and abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating or harassing.  But what conduct is unlawful in the workplace? 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace harassment based on national origin, race, color, religion and sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity and pregnancy).

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits such behavior based on age, starting at age 40.  Connecticut law has no such age threshold.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits harassment based on disability.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers harassment illegal when enduring offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.

The types of conduct that the EEOC recognizes as offensive include: 

  • offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name-calling;
  • physical assaults or threats;
  • intimidation;
  • ridicule or mockery;
  • insults or put-downs;
  • offensive objects or pictures;
  • interference with work performance;

However, offensive conduct may not always be unlawful, even when based on a protected characteristic.  “Petty slights, annoyances and isolated incidents, unless extremely serious, will not rise to the level of illegality,” according to the EEOC. “To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile or offensive to reasonable people.”

When bullying relates to an employee’s protected status, it could potentially lead to a Title VII lawsuit or a lawsuit under state or local anti-discrimination laws.

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