Those who have experienced bullying can particularly attest to how dilapidating and dehumanizing bullying is. The mention of bullying sends our minds right to high school bullying experiences and traumas. But one would hope that having grown up bullying becomes a thing for puberty. However, that is not always the case. Bullies also grow up and end up in the workplace with their victims, and bullying goes on.
We at Big Ben Lawyers have seasoned bullying lawyers who can stand on your side if you or your loved one is or was a victim of bullying. The question and expectation that every victim of workplace bullying has are: ‘if the employer did not protect me, I hope the law can’. It would be disappointing if the law can’t. This is more so if the employee reports the workplace bullying incidents to the superiors only to get bullied more in retaliation.
For the sake of clarity, we at Big Ben Lawyers do not just handle workplace bullying alone. We also handle school bullying claims which are common in high schools. Anti-bullying laws have been put in place to ensure that bullies are punished accordingly.
What exactly amounts to bullying?
It is common to think that someone being mistreated somehow is being bullied. However, not all conduct that we think is bullying actually meets the legal definition of ‘bullying conduct’ as per the anti-bullying law. There are some factors that need to be considered in order to determine if particular conduct meets the threshold of bullying as per anti-bullying laws. These factors include the use of insulting and abusive language of conduct, aggressive behavior, behavior that humiliates and embarrasses the victim, cyber bullying, use of jokes which are offensive, spreading rumors, aggressive behavior, and other disparaging behavior which is directed at the bullied victim.
Bullying at Work
Every workplace with a number of people who stay in one place for some time gets to develop a culture. This culture is passed down to new employees. It is this kind of workplace culture that determines if bullying is fostered or not. For instance, some workplaces have cultures of “initiation”, You mean like in the movies? Yes. Like that. New employees might be forced to do some demeaning and embarrassing things so as to earn a certain seniority status. This is more so where the bullied victim has low self-esteem.
The new employees would not be truly considered as “one of us” unless they are subjected to this humiliating bullying ritual. Sometimes, it is hard to root out this culture of bullying in such a workplace because even the bosses at the top know about it having themselves gone through it, and accept it as a form of “employee bonding experience” or “welcoming of new members into the ‘family’”. So, can some newcomer do something against a bullying culture that everyone has already gone through? And more importantly, isn’t such bullying illegal in California?
School bullying is the most common form of bullying, especially in public schools. The statistics for instance school bullying show that California public schools have the highest number of reports of bullying with one out of four reporting instances of getting bullied while on the school premises in high school.
One would expect that the states should put in place laws and policies to ensure the safety of students and pupils against bullying. One would also expect that in order to ensure compliance with such anti-bullying law, the school districts and school administrators should be held liable in a school bullying lawsuit where a student was bullied on school grounds while those responsible for the safety of the students did nothing. One would also expect a harsher penalty where school officials knew that certain students were being bullied and looked the other way.
School administrators are expected to be at the forefront in handling and dealing with any reports of school bullying. The school district should also keep wakeful and keep eye on any reports of bullying and ensure that bullies face the full force of the law. School districts are in a position to have an overall picture of trends of bullying claims hence they can make the necessary recommendations to curb bullying within the particularly affected school district. where the school districts fail in this very vital role, the victims of school bullying should also hold the school district liable. The school staff is the closest to learners and they also have a significant role to play in rooting out bullying in schools.
School bullying is not limited to high school students. Bullying victims on the school campus, middle school, those inside a school bus, and any children who attend a school or otherwise school-aged children all deserve to attend school and receive an education without facing the nuisance of bullies.
As the years have passed, there are several policies against school bullying have been put in place.
Seth’s law is one such law that came in place in 2012 against school bullying. This particular law is named after Seth Walsh, a 13yr old learner who as a result of being bullied committed suicide. The reason behind his bullying was because of his sexual preference. The public school in which Seth Walsh was attending was accused of failing to take proactive steps to tackle public school bullying.
On this basis, Seth’s Law was developed and it places a strict requirement that public schools establish protective measures for students who may become targets of school bullying due to either their actual/presumed: sexual preference, gender expression, religious affiliation, ethnic origin, or race, and national origin.
Seth’s law requires public schools and school officials and school authorities to actually carry out investigations into allegations of bullying and those who are found guilty of bullying should be punished accordingly by getting suspended or being preferred criminal charges
We at Big Ben Lawyers are also top-notch school bullying lawyers and you can reach out to us to speak to a school bullying lawyer for a free consultation. We can then kick the ground running and deal with the school officials who have slept on their job and have them held accountable.
Cyberbullying happens in cyberspace via online communication platforms, for instance, Twitter, Instagram, and others. Cyberbullying can occur in any environment be it on school grounds, at home, or at work.
There are other elements that need to be proved in order to prove cyberbullying. The first condition is that the bullying occurred on a digital platform. Other conditions include acts of sending, sharing, and posting content that is harmful and false regarding a victim (someone).
Jordan’s Law is another law that you should be aware of. The gist of this law is that it makes filming and recording of bullying aggravate the offense which leads to longer sentences for the bully. This is so where the intent being recording the violent act of bullying is to worsen the act of bullying. Therefore, those bullies who bully their victims while recording or streaming the act will end up serving longer prison sentences. The reasoning behind this law is due to several violent bullying videos that have ended up on the internet.
Are there anti-bullying laws in California?
The answer to this is “yes” and “no”. It depends on who the victim of bullying is. The law only steps in to protect certain classes of people but not everyone else. Therefore, unless the victim belongs to the protected class of people, then the victims who place their hopes on the law to protect them have their hopes misplaced.
In California, no one particular law provides for bullying. Instead, there are a few provisions of various statutes touching on bullying or conduct that can be perceived as bullying. An example of such conduct is “workplace harassment” or “workplace discrimination”. The laws that provide for these conducts are the California Fair Employment Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As you might have already noticed from the names on these particular statutes, “fair employment” mentioned in the name of FEHA and “disabilities” in ADA implies that these statutes are meant to protect specific classes of people who can be discriminated against in employment – and not everyone. Therefore, any harassment and discrimination dealt with by these two statutes only apply to the said protected classes of people.
But who are these groups of people who get to be protected by the law from bullying and not everyone else? Well, this protection is based on certain characteristics such as the person: race, nationality, religious affiliation, disability, or sexual orientation.
What is the penalty for the crime of Bullying in California?
Cyber bullying is an offense classified as a misdemeanor. A person who is found guilty of bullying is eligible for a prison sentence for a term of one (1) year or subject to payment of a maximum of $1,000 fine.
This sentence might appear light but consider the life of an ex-con. Once a person becomes an ex-convict, it does not matter what kind of crime you committed or the circumstances or excuses that you may have. Having a criminal record is an automatic disqualification for most job opportunities especially given that employers look for reasons to remove applicants. Employers view bullying ex-cons as walking disaster makers who may cause problems with the human resource department. For a student, having a criminal record will derail your education and career opportunities. Achieving job security will be quite hard achieved.
Do anti-bullying laws in California protect all the bullied victims?
The laws in California do not place many obligations on an employer to prevent bullying in the workplace. For the rest of the workers/employees who do not fall in any particular group mentioned above, the only law in California that has an inkling of protecting the rest of the employees not belonging to the special groups is a 2014 law called AB 2053.
But can we now say that the rest of us are protected from bullies too? NO! Sorry but unfortunately not. Law AB 2053 does nothing more than require those employers who employ more than 50 employees to train their supervisory personnel on sexual harassment for 2 hours once every 2 years. That’s all!
However, for school bullying, the law does not hesitate to step in where your child is being bullied.
Is Creating a hostile work environment also bullying?
No. “Creating a hostile work environment” is just a fancy way of saying “bullying” in FEHA statute; and as discussed earlier, FEHA only protects certain classes of people.
Harassment is related to bullying and if the harassment continues, the victim ends up working in a work environment that is hostile. Harassment can be committed against the victim through visuals, words, and physical contact (touch). For instance, displaying an offensive cartoon impression of the victim is harassment against the victim visually. Where the victim is insulted using words, the harassment takes the form of verbal threats and even the ears (auditory). Harassment can also be of sexual nature i.e., sexual harassment. We have discussed more sexual harassment on our website. The victim can also be harassed physically through unwanted and unwelcome touch, though being pushed, pulled, and any other form of intimidating and unwelcome physical contact.
The courts usually distinguish between harassment and a hostile work environment by subjecting the bully’s conduct towards the victim through a number of tests including the length of time when the bullying behavior was committed, the exact nature of the bullying conduct, the context of the bullying behavior and whether the conduct was demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating against the victim being bullied.
Let us take the example of Maria. Maria is 26 and an immigrant from Venezuela. She immigrated to the US recently and is still struggling to speak English. She often gets teased sometimes by her colleagues by calling her humiliating names. Maria is also a bit “overweight” so they often call her “Fatty” and laugh at her. Sometimes she enters the office only for a bucket of water to fall over her head. Then everyone who was waiting for the trap to spring broke into laughter. These sorts of things have been happening for quite some time.
The question then becomes, does this amount to bullying? Well, what needs to be considered in order to answer this question is whether Maria belongs to a protected class of people that the law is particular about protecting. There is no mention of any disability but there is mention that she is an immigrant from Venezuela. Therefore, one can argue that the reason for Maria being bullied is tied to her nationality. As discussed above, the FEHA and Title VII of Civil Rights act prohibit bullying based on amongst other factors; a person’s nationality or origin. Therefore, Maria falls under the class of people whom the law seeks to protect.
Legal action against bullies at work
Having determined that a victim falls under the class of people that the law seeks to protect, bullying victims have two avenues for seeking remedies against bullies at work. One form of seeking a remedy is where victims of bullying in the form of harassment can bring/file their respective complaints against bullies with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (usually abbreviated as “DFEH”.
Another form of legal action is for the victim to file a bullying lawsuit in court against bullies at the workplace. It is not only the bullies that the victims can sue. They can also decide to sue their employers who condoned bullying of the victim right under their noses. However, should the victim decide to sue the employer, the basis for such a suit is where a supervisor bullied the victim at work or where the victim reported incidents of bullying to the employer but the employer dealt with the complaint in a negligent manner.
Do I have a legal claim against an accused bully?
As discussed above, bullying is not actually illegal according to the law in California for adults. However, laws are in place and step in where your child is being bullied. But there are those groups of people whom the law sees as being particularly vulnerable due to their nationality, religion, age, gender, marital status, etc. The law only steps in to protect these classes of people but not the others. So, it becomes difficult to determine if the bullying victim has a legal claim against the bullies at work; and if not, then determine any other alternative to stop the bullying and possibly prevent bullying further.
This is where a seasoned bullying lawyer with years of experience in handling bullying and harassment claims at the workplace comes in. This kind of bullying lawyer should be able to hear the victim’s story and determine if the bully’s conduct amounts to illegal bullying from which the law seeks to protect the victim. If not, then the bullying lawyer will determine if there is an alternative solution to the problem.
Some bullying cases and instances of harassment are against employment law, such as where the bully ends up creating a hostile work environment for the victim through repeated harassment. The California employment law frowns upon such repeated conduct. But as said, it is up to an experienced bullying attorney to determine if the conduct of the bully meets the requirements of creating a hostile work environment. If so, then the attorney gets the bullying victim the protection provided by the employment law.
However, in some instances, the law does not protect some victims. Therefore, the victim’s attorney can determine if the bullying incidents can be properly dealt with by the Human Resources department of the employer.
Nonetheless, sometimes the fact that the bully gets summoned to the Human Resources office only to find the employer, the victim, and the victim’s attorney is enough to make the bully sweat. Sometimes what is needed is for the employer to know that it is in his/her interest to stop bullying at the workplace or end up getting on the headline as the employer who tolerates bullying, which is bad for business.
Victims of bullying are always apprehensive of getting hit or yelled at or any form of abuse at any time. It gets even harder to concentrate at work. It also kills teamwork or takes advantage of the hidden skills that the victim might have because, over time, the victim becomes depressed, of low self-esteem, is timid, and is a non-team player. All these are bad for work productivity. Employers sometimes need to be reminded of this. But even after being reminded, the employer might consider choosing the easier method of “letting the victim go” and bringing someone new with less baggage. However, this would be a bad idea. If an employee who is a victim of bullying ends up getting fired for making a complaint against bullying, this might end up playing in favor of the victim. Why? Because when an employee gets fired because of getting bullied at work, such kind of termination of employment is called “wrongful termination”. Basically, the employer just handed the victim a hammer to bash the employer's head. Wrongful termination entitles an employee to claim compensation including those of working overtime, wage underpayments, and others.
You might fall under a class of persons protected by anti-bullying laws
As we have said above, anti-bullying laws only benefit specific classes of people in California. However, you just might belong in one of these classes, if you have been bullied. The list of protected classes is not merely limited to race, religion, national origin, and those already mentioned before. There are certain groups that are less known and to which the victim might belong. These groups include military or veteran status, medical condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, ancestry, color, and a few others.
A victim just might have been bullied because of any of these factors. It is therefore for a seasoned bullying attorney to listen to your story and determine if the victim was targeted because of any of these factors.
Fortunately, we at Big Ben Lawyers have decades of experience handling workplace bullying and bullying generally. We help bullied victims in filing a school bullying civil lawsuit and stand up against their bullies. If you have ever been a victim of bullying or your child is being bullied just give our law firm a call for a free consultations