Laws in Virginia as well as the rest of the United States make discrimination and harassment in the workplace illegal. If someone is being bullied at work by co-workers, management or even members of the public who are not employed there, the victim and anyone who has witnessed the bullying have legal recourse.
Most laws covering workplace harassment are federal. However, there are Virginia workplace bullying laws that run parallel, and in some cases, they exceed federal restrictions. While the word "bullying" is usually only used in laws relating to schools, laws regarding discrimination in the workplace also incorporate bullying or harassment.
Discrimination vs. Bullying or Harassment
Harassment and bullying in the workplace are synonymous and are a form of discrimination. However, not all cases of discrimination constitute harassment. For example, refusing to give someone a job or a promotion because of the color of her skin or her sex is discrimination under both federal and Virginia law, but it doesn't constitute harassment.
Federal and Virginia Workplace Bullying Laws
Harassment is described by federal law under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a type of employment discrimination that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on a person's:
- National origin.
- Age, if 40 or older.
- Disability or genetic information.
Harassment becomes illegal when it becomes a condition of employment or when it's severe enough or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile or abusive work environment. Harassing behavior can include offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, physical assault, threats, intimidation, ridicule and insults as well as offensive pictures or interfering with someone's work performance. Harassment is not defined by single incidents unless they are severe. The harasser can be a co-worker, manager or a nonemployee.
The Virginia Human Rights Act
The Virginia Human Rights Act protects every individual in the state from discrimination in the workplace as well as in places of public accommodation, schools and in real estate transactions. The specific criteria for discrimination are the same as those outlined by the EEOC as well as marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
The Virginia Division of Human Rights
In Virginia, the Division of Human Rights investigates complaints relating to the Virginia Human Rights Act and the corresponding federal laws. Complaints against an employer with six to 14 employees fall under state jurisdiction, while larger companies fall under federal jurisdiction and are referred to the EEOC.
Virginia Laws on Bullying in Education
The Code of Virginia's Title 22.1 Education section deals with bullying in schools for both students and teachers. The code defines bullying as any aggressive, unwanted behavior intending to harm, intimidate or humiliate the victim, involving a "real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma."
Bullying includes cyber bullying. It does not include such things as teasing, peer conflict or arguments.
The law states that school boards must:
- Adopt policies to prohibit abusive work environments.
- Discipline employees who contribute to an abusive work environment.
- Prohibit reprisal or retaliation against school employees who allege an abusive work environment or help in an investigation.
Executive Order in 2018
In January 2018, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order to prohibit discrimination within the state government against Virginia state government employees, job applicants and members of the public when dealing with the government. The basis of discrimination uses the same criteria specified by the EEOC, such as race, sex and color.
However, the executive order also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and political affiliation. This executive order rescinded and replaced a similar but less comprehensive executive order that had been in place since 2014.
- Virginia Legislative Information System: § 22.1-291.4. Bullying and Abusive Work Environments Prohibited
- Virginia Legislative Information System: § 22.1-276.01. Definitions.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam: Governor Ralph Northam Signs Executive Order Number One
- Virginia Legislative Information System: Virginia Human Rights Act
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.