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If Your Boss Is a Jerk, Should You Be Able to Sue?

If your boss is a jerk, you may soon have other options besides quitting or extracting revenge like this. As this article, Is the boss a real piece of work? (LA Times 8/21/07), reports, at least four state legislatures are considering legislation that would allow workers to sue their superiors for bullying or an abusive work environment. From the article:

The ranks of bullying bosses are growing, some experts contend, as short-staffed companies tap managers with lousy people skills. Others point out that though mean and dimwitted supervisors have been around since work was invented, baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and restless younger employees are more likely to complain or quit than suffer in silence. It's easy to decide against taking the latter tack, thanks to the proliferation of venting websites, among them

According to the article, the proposed legislation currently lacks important details such as what would constitute an abusive work environment. A sampling of complaints submitted in a recent Bad Boss contest sponsored by the AFL-CIO included bosses who kept the office so cold that ink in pens froze up; a boss who took employees to lunch at a discount warehouse and told them to eat the freebies; and a boss who mocked a cancer patient when her hair fell out after chemotherapy. 

At the same time, there's some concern (e.g., as expressed here) that the proposed legislation may lead to a rash of new lawsuits and create a new burden for management, which are already subject to myriad anti-discrimination laws.

Martha Neil of the Statutory Construction Blog argues that that bad behavior doesn't justify new laws. She writes:

Of course, it doesn't take a law for a company to enact a policy requiring bosses not to abuse employees. And workers have other ways, besides litigation, to make known their feelings about unpleasant supervisors. Today, for instance, the AFL-CIO, one of the country's biggest and best-known unions, will name the worst boss in the country, based on the results of an Internet contest. One entry, the Times reports, "is about a lawyer who called the office every morning to give instructions as he brushed his teeth and conducted other business in his bathroom."

Initially, I agreed fully that there ought to be better ways to force bosses to improve their conduct than the threat of litigation. After all, we read so much about how positive employee morale boosts company profits -- and you'd think that these economic incentives would suffice to keep bad bosses in line without the threat of litigation. But perhaps that's not an accurate assumption. As Lisa Fairfax of The Conglomerate posts here, a recent study shows that bad bosses get promoted rather than punished. According to the study, approximately 64 percent of the 240 people surveyed said domineering bosses were actually promoted for their conduct despite its negative impact on the workplace environment. If this survey has any scientific accuracy (unlikely, given the small sampling size) and it's true that nastiness gets you ahead in the workplace, then perhaps there is a need for legislation to give bosses incentive to behave -- because apparently, the workplace provides incentive not to.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 24, 2007 at 06:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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