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I recently was able to attend the American Bar Association Labor & Employment Law Section Annual Conference — this time in Seattle. It’s a conference I’ve posted about many times before.

There were several good programs that were held which I hope to write about in upcoming posts. One of them covered the topic of Bullying in the Workforce and the increasing trend of legislation to regulate such bullying.

One of the speakers noted that it’s difficult to define bullying at times but the overall it’s viewed as a pattern of negative actions repeated over time. The speakers differentiated this from incivility which they described as low intensity deviate acts such as rude behavior or nonverbal behavior with an ambiguous intent to harm.

The speakers pointed to a November 2022 article in the Harvard Business Journal on “How Bullying Manifests at Work — and How to Stop It”. That article noted that there are different types of bullying too (with 15 (!) different features identified). That article — and the speakers — noted that there is a common assumption that bullies are often star performers and that high performance justifies bad behavior. But the researchers noted that actual star performers are more likely to be targets rather than bullies.

While the speakers were unanimous in the need to stop bullying, they diverged on a solution. Some of the speakers noted that companies should have the first crack at this by working on policies and procedures to stop this behavior and training too.

Other speakers encouraged the use of legislation to regulate this behavior. Many of the proposals, including those coming out of NY, would copy much of the law preventing sexual harassment but would eliminate the need to provide that such harassment was “because” of sex. Those measures are still in the works but have been getting more support in legislatures.

I’ve talked about this as far back as 2008 when Connecticut was considering this but back then, it seemed like a topic that was an ahead of its time.

But given what the speakers have talked about, it’s a topic that is taking on more relevance now.