March 10, 2008 | last updated May 26, 2012 3:39 am
EDITORIAL

Bad Boss Blues

The Senate Democrats have reintroduced an "anti-bullying" bill this legislative session – SB 60 – that would make it illegal for bosses to bully their workers.

On the face of the proposal, it makes sense that bosses should not be allowed to abuse their workers, create a hostile and unpleasant work environment or one that causes physical or psychological harm to an employee.

There are bosses who scream and embarrass. There are bosses who e-mail subordinates at 2 a.m., sending angry communications with the letters all in caps and bolded in a scarlet red typeface.

There are bitter bosses who are angry at the world, unhappy with their own lives, and wrongfully take it out on their staff.

They denigrate their subordinates and inform them of all their faults – real or imagined – in front of an office filled with colleagues.

Bullies can ruin a day on the playground. They can ruin a day at work. That never changes. And of course, it shouldn't be allowed.

Good places to work do not tolerate such behavior by staff or managers. It lowers morale, increases turnover and, consequently, hurts the bottom line.

However, to make bullying illegal in the workplace requires a definition that is not subject to perception.

Take the definition of "abusive conduct" as defined by Senate lawmakers proposing "An Act Concerning Bullying in the Workplace."

They define bullying to mean the "conduct or a single act of an employer or employee in the workplace that is performed with malice and is unrelated to an employer's legitimate business that a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive considering the severity, nature and frequency of the conduct or the severity and egregiousness of the single act."

The bill goes on to define bullying to include "repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or sabotaging or undermining a person's work performance."

Is this another, "I know it when I see it" kind of determination that depends on the perception of a "reasonable person?" And how do we characterize a reasonable person?

Furthermore, what is the standard of proof for malice? And what is derogatory?

Although bullying in the workplace is hellish, not only for the subject of the bullying, but also for those working in that uncomfortable environment, determining such behavior can be very subjective. While there is nothing positive or pretty about a bullying boss, there are a lot of gray areas that would make it difficult to establish.

And there lies the problem. The danger of an anti-bullying law is that there is no absolute definition, which would likely lead to expensive and time-consuming litigation.

Although it is unclear whether such a law would become a nuisance, considering that one man's malice may be another's managerial style, there is the potential for the law to add another burden and cost to Connecticut businesses.

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