Research shows current legal protections for employees are inadequate to address status-blind hostile work environment claims, also known as workplace bullying. Employees who face harassment or bullying on the job generally cannot combat the problem unless the bullying is based on protected class status. A 2007 survey indicated that 37% of American workers, about 54 million workers, have been bullied at work. Research also estimates that workplace bullying costs U.S. employers $5 to $6 billion per year. As the nation's largest employer, the federal government would not be exempt. For example, one study estimated that the V.A. could save over $175 million per year by improving fair treatment of V.A. employees. Similar savings could be found in agencies across the civil service.
The President should issue an Executive Order prohibiting workplace bullying in Executive Branch agencies, following a similar model to Executive Orders 11478, 13087, and 13152 prohibiting discrimination in federal agencies based on several protected classes. The new E.O. should direct federal agencies to establish comprehensive anti-workplace bullying policies enforceable by an internal administrative appeal process and/or a negotiated grievance procedure, similar to policies implemented to enforce the earlier anti-discrimination E.O.'s.
Workplace bullying, or status-blind hostile work environment, could be defined using existing legal definitions and precedent for hostile work environment claims based on protected class status, but excluding the element of protected class status from the definition. Thus, serious charges of bullying could be tackled while minor slights could be dismissed.
The Federal Government often states that it strives to be a role model for employers. This is one area where the Federal Government could be on the vanguard in addressing a severe problem in the American workplace while potentially saving millions of taxpayer dollars in lost productivity and other costs.