As the chapters in this volume have demonstrated, we are witnessing the steady emergence of a global understanding that workplace bullying poses a serious threat to workers and employers alike. The work being done to comprehend and address workplace bullying is cross-disciplinary in nature, and one of the areas of focus is the law. More specifically, researchers and advocates are considering ways in which the law can be used to prevent and punish serious bullying behaviour. This chapter will identify some of the central themes concerning bullying and the law.
Any analysis of the role of the law in addressing workplace bullying should start by identifying the policy objectives that the law should advance within the realm of abusive work environments. Although such an assessment is inherently subjective, many researchers and advocates who are concerned about workplace bullying would generally concur with the following: first and foremost, the law should encourage preventive measures to reduce occurrences of workplace bullying. If bullying is prevented, then workers and employers alike reap the benefits, and the legal system is spared additional litigation. Second, the law should protect workers who engage in self-help to address bullying and provide incentives to employers who respond promptly, fairly and effectively when informed about bullying behaviour. This encourages the prompt, internal resolution of bullying problems.
Third, the law should provide proper relief to targets of severe workplace bullying, including compensatory damages and, where applicable, reinstatement to his or her position with the assurance that the bully has been either transferred or reformed. The law must be careful not to provide a cause of action for every bruised feeling or bad day at work, but it should enter the fray when bullying is severe in intensity and duration, and causes harm to the target. Finally, the law should punish bullies and the employers who allow them to abuse their co-workers. This provides the law with necessary 'teeth', and serves an important deterrent function.