We have shined a light on sexual harassment in our workplaces, revealing the shocking frequency and severity of such disturbing and illegal conduct. But harassment goes beyond that of a sexual nature. And during the public health emergency when many are working from home, cyberbullying has also been on the radar.
“Workplace bullying” is the “repetitive and systematic engagement of interpersonally abusive behaviors” that harm both the targeted person and the entire organization, according to an article by two physicians. They explain that bullying can have “[e]motional/psychological consequences” like sleep disturbance, fatigue, depression, anxiety, distress and in the worst cases, suicide. Harassment can also cause physical problems like neck pain and other pain, fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal problems and cardiovascular issues.
Unlawful discrimination includes harassment
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. Many do not know that any protected characteristic for purposes of illegal workplace discrimination is also protected from harassment. For example, employers may not discriminate based on gender, religion, disability, age, race, national origin and other protected characteristics – nor may an employee be harassed for these reasons.
Harassment based on a protected characteristic has the same legal remedies as discrimination. Complaints can be made to state and federal agencies and often lawsuits in state or federal court are available.
What if the bullying is not based on a protected trait?
If the harassment was not based on a protected characteristic and has caused a mental injury such as PTSD or anxiety, the victim may still have legal remedies. Discuss the situation with a knowledgeable Maryland employment lawyer who also has experience with workers’ compensation and personal injury law. They can analyze the various bases for relief.
In Maryland, it is difficult to get workers’ compensation benefits for a purely mental injury related to the workplace, but not impossible. Each situation is unique and certain factors may influence the outcome of a claim. For example, PTSD may not be a likely type of injury in some jobs, but for an EMT who deals with emergencies, violence and death, it seems a predictable outcome. It also may make a difference if the harassment or bullying also caused physical injury.
While normally workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for a work-related injury, preventing direct lawsuits against an employer, if the employer intentionally targeted the employee, workers’ compensation does not normally prevent a suit against the employer such as one for intentional infliction of emotional distress. And if the harassment came from a supervisor or co-worker, the employer still may be liable under a theory of respondeat superior, meaning an employer may be responsible for some kinds of misbehavior of its employees.