University of Wisconsin–Madison

Resources on Bullying: School, Workplace and Cyberbullying Law & Legislation

We may think of bullying as something that happens in the schoolyard but according to research, bullying behavior is not limited to the playground and exists in almost every institution, including places of higher education as well as in the workplace.  Bullying has also reached into cyberspace, where the bully is given a level of anonymity that would not normally exist in a face-to-face or peer-to-peer confrontation.

Schools view bullying as a security issue for their students, as well as a liability issue, and several states have passed  laws to provide school officials with better policies and better employee training to protect their student community.

Workplace bullying is viewed as on the rise.  In a recession, where it becomes  more difficult for a employee to escape a hostile work environment, workplace bullying problems can increase.  This can lead to higher levels of stress and health problems on the job. 

For the employer, an increase in bullying behaviors at work can lead to a decrease in productivity, an increase in absenteeism--as the bullying often affects the targeted employee's health-- and a possible uptick in legal liability.  Even loss of a a company's competitive edge has been attributed to workplace bullying, as talented employees flee a work environment they find hostile.   

But for the target of bullying, the laws alone may not always be an effective means of protection, as aggressive attacks can sometimes amount to a matter of life and death.  A recent suicide in Wisconsin has been attributed to persistent and repeated harassment of the individual in a workplace environment.  The suicide of Jodie Zebell, age 31, became the impetus for introducing an anti-bullying workplace bill in the state.   However, the bill failed to pass.

What is a Bullying Environment? 

According to Rebecca Flanagan in her article, Lucifer Goes to Law School:  Towards Explaining and Minimizing Law Student Peer-to-Peer Harassment and Intimidation,  there are four factors that contribute to a bullying environment:
1.  Deficiencies in leadership, [such as lack of], inadequate oversight...thus, not addressing what is appropriate behavior with peers...;
2.  Deficiencies in work design...[such as] improper supervision or no supervision of physical work environments...(e.g. isolated areas...and physical spatial distances from others).
3.  A socially exposed position of the victim-management's unwillingness to address bullying becomes obvious to bullies who take advantage inequities in the work environment.
4.  Low morale standards... the culture of the organization learns to tolerate substandard treatment and there by bullying is not only tolerated but transcends to being expected.

School Anti-Bullying Laws

To locate more information on states who have enacted anti-bullying laws, see:  BullyPolice USA: A Watchdog Organization.

Workplace Anti-Bullying Legislation

In the United States, workplace bullying legislation has been introduced by several states, but no legislation has been passed.  Canada, and several European countries, already have workplace anti-bullying laws. 

For more information on bullying in the workplace, see Resources from the Healthy Workplace.   This site provide information on states who have introduced workplace anti-bullying legislation.   

Cyberbullying Laws

Cyberbullying or Internet Safety Laws have been enacted in several states.  You will often find these laws attached to the public school anti-bullying legislation.  For information on which states have enacted cyberbullying legislation, see: State Cyber Bullying Laws:  A Brief Review of State Cyberbullying Laws and Policies

For an interesting article on an incident of teenage cyberbullying, see: Kick a Ginger Day? Cyberbullying and Ginger Bashing, which links social networking behavior in teenagers to an episode from Comedy Central's TV show, South Park. 

Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on September 17, 2010

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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