On December 8, 2014, the Senate Labor Committee met to discuss the Healthy Workplace Act (S280), a bill that would prohibit bullying in the workplace. We previously addressed this bill in our January 2014 issue when it was pending as S3115 during the prior legislative session. The Healthy Workplace Act would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to subject or permit an employee to be subjected to an abusive work environment, or to retaliate against an employee for asserting protections under the Act. The legislation would provide a right to a civil cause of action affording full tort damages, equitable relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and in some circumstances, punitive damages.

This bill is part of a nationwide effort to pass legislation that would prohibit bullying in the workplace in all 50 states. The bill has been introduced in some form or another in 26 states but has not been passed in any. California and Tennessee have passed versions of the bill that only require supervisor training. No vote or other action was taken on S280 at the meeting. Notably, a more employer-friendly version of the bill (A1090) is currently pending before the State Assembly. A1090 has a more restrictive definition of the term “employer” and applies only to “malicious” conduct. Moreover, A1090 would not create a private right of action, but employers that knowingly and willingly violate the Act would be liable for a penalty of not more than $25,000. A1090 would also provide a broader affirmative defense, generally precluding employer liability when “the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the abusive conduct and the aggrieved employee failed to take advantage of appropriate preventative corrective opportunities provided by the employer.”