An employee of a Brooklyn, New York clothing store was awarded $4.7 million by a federal jury after being repeatedly bullied by a co-worker and ultimately physically attacked. The award was for assault, emotional distress, negligence in the employer's hiring of the bully and punitive damages.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff, a Yemen-born stock clerk, was bullied by a security guard at the store, who repeatedly called the plaintiff “bin Laden” and used other religious, racial and ethnic slurs throughout the plaintiff's employment at the store. The security guard also made threatening physical gestures.
The plaintiff complained numerous times to the store manager about the name-calling and the threats of physical harm, saying that he feared for his life. The plaintiff also repeatedly asked that the security guard be transferred or that other action be taken – but the store manager did not act. After approximately a year and a half of verbal taunts and threatening gestures, one day the security guard punched the plaintiff, knocking him unconscious. The store manager refused to call the police or an ambulance. Eventually, the security guard was arrested and pled guilty to a criminal charge of assault.
Workplace bullying is not only unacceptable and potentially expensive, it may soon violate new state laws. At least 15 states are considering legislation that would protect workers against bullying. The following five steps can help employers recognize and prevent bullying in the workplace:
Create a policy that clearly defines verbal, physical and online bullying, lists the company's anti-bullying rules and identifies the penalties for breaking the rules;
Make sure all employees are aware of and understand the anti-bullying policy;
Apply the policy consistently for all employees and in all situations;
Encourage employees to report all incidents of bullying to their supervisors or to human resources; and
Screen potential new employees for past workplace bullying or harassing behaviors.