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Workplace retribution, whether the consequence of on-the-job bullying, unfair treatment of individual employees or workplace violence, is a major issue for U.S. corporations. CAL/OSHA concluded that one in four workers is the victim of on-the-job violence. When the victim of actual violence settles out of court, the average settlement is $500,000. Jury awards to victims average $3 million. Awards for non-violent illegal actions may approach these amounts in some circumstances.
Bullying is a non-physical form of abuse that results in emotional harm to the victim. Workplace bullying may begin as an isolated incident involving a small number of workers, but often escalates if unchecked. An article published by the Workplace Bullying Institute notes some ways bullying manifests itself: the new worker is given a job without adequate training and is then teased by co-workers for "not being good enough," or may be publicly reprimanded by her boss; surprise meetings may be called where the victim is humiliated; or special punitive assignments are given in order to "correct" or improve the victim's behavior or performance. Other bullying and non-physical abuse may be in retaliation for whistle-blowing, or may be based on a person's sex, race, color or other individual characteristic.
The Limits of Institutional Responsibillity
Bullying or harassment, even by supervisors, while reprehensible, is not in itself a cause of action, according to John Mahoney, an attorney specializing in Equal Opportunity Commission-related complaints. The bullying or harassment must be related to a "hostile work environment" -- a legal term for illegal actions taken on account of race, color, sex, religion, age or disability. Other harassing actions become illegal and therefore actionable if it can be shown that they are retaliatory for the victim's exercise of rights protected by civil rights laws. Related to that and also actionable are retaliations for whistle-blowing -- the reporting of illegal actions.
Average settlements for non-violent workplace "hostile work environment" suits can approach those for retributive suits for on-the-job violence. One legal firm specializing in such suits cites retribution settlements of more than $1 million for non-violent behavior based on the victim's sex and race and another for $400,000 for workplace sexual molestation by a superior.
Circumstances That Influence Settlement Amounts
Employees tend to get larger settlements from large corporations than from smaller firms. The quality of the evidence against the harasser also influences settlement amounts. Egregious behavior ups the average settlement amount, as does behavior instituted by the victim's superior. Some corporations have either a policy or a culture of opposition to settlement and may go to court before agreeing to a reasonable settlement amount. Actual violence against the victim almost always increases the settlement or, if no settlement is reached, the amounts awarded at trial. Certain suits -- for disability discrimination, for example --usually allow for punitive damages at trial, while others, such as age discrimination suits, usually do not. This difference in damage recovery amounts at trial also affects settlement amounts.
The Effects of Harassment in the Workplace→
How to Handle Workplace Bullies & Interrogators→
When Can a Person Sue After Getting Fired From an At-Will Job?→
Where & How to Deal With Stereotyping in the Workplace→
Can a Union Employee File a Charge of Wrongful Termination?→
How to Terminate Workplace Bullies→
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.