Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Harassment Protection Orders may assist targets of workplace bullying in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has taken one small step towards government ordered civil workplaces. They have passed a law that will assist folks being harassed at work, and it went into effect yesterday.

Previously, restraining orders against stalkers, abusers and those committing sexual assault were reserved for family members, roommates, spouses, or substantial dating relationships. The new law has made the ability to file a Harassment Protection Order (HPO) against anyone, regardless of relationship, available. That means one could potentially file an order against a co-worker or boss for bullying.

I'm no attorney though, so here is some useful information from attorney Phil A. Taylor, offered on his blog:
If one is being harassed, which is defined as “(i) 3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property; or (ii) an act that: (A) by force, threat or duress causes another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations; or (B) constitutes a violation of section 13B, 13F, 13H, 22, 22A, 23, 24, 24B, 26C, 43 or 43A of chapter 265 or section 3 of chapter 272″, one can now apply to the court for a harassment prevention, regardless of the presence of any family relationship.
A defendant in an action under Chapter 258E can be ordered to: “(i) refrain from abusing or harassing the plaintiff, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (ii) refrain from contacting the plaintiff, unless authorized by the court, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (iii) remain away from the plaintiff’s household or workplace, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; and (iv) pay the plaintiff monetary compensation for the losses suffered as a direct result of the harassment; provided, however, that compensatory damages shall include, but shall not be limited to, loss of earnings, out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained or property damaged, cost of replacement of locks, medical expenses, cost for obtaining an unlisted phone number and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

More information on HPO's can also be found on attorney Denise Murphy's blog, at Women's Law.org, and on attorney Ernest H. Hyde's blog. The law's verbiage can be found here, on Massachussets' government website.
What are the implications for employers in Massachusetts?
You're going to see a lot of advice online that includes implementing guidelines and training to be sure your workplace remains HPO-free. While these are useful tools, if you are working in the type of organization where HPO's are possible, you've got more problems than training and policies can correct.
Take preventative measures. That means leadership will need to step up to the plate and be sure they are exhibiting exemplary behavior for others to follow suit. Develop an action plan for building a positive workplace culture - it should include performance management programs, building effective internal communication, mentoring programs, and a team of champions that will carry the action plan through, for example.

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