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Tennessee Extends Anti-Bullying Laws to Private Workplaces – What it Means for Small Businesses

by Andrew GivensDecember 3, 2019 8:00 AM

If you think bullying only affects children, guess again. According to a 2019 Monster.com survey, a whopping 94 percent of people said they were bullied in a workplace at some point. This trend has grown to the point where now states like Tennessee are implementing new statutes to combat the issue. Find out how Tennessee plans to tackle workplace bullying and what what you can do to protect your business.

An employee being bullied at work. 

How Tennessee’s Anti-Bullying Statute Now Impacts Employers

Tennessee’s efforts to have workplaces implement anti-bullying policies started back in 2014 with the adoption of the Healthy Workplace Act. This act incentivized employers to add these anti-bullying policies in exchange for some legal protection against potential litigation from bullied employees. 

The 2014 version of the statute only applied to state and local government agencies, but that changed on April 23, 2019 when Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that extended those protections to private employers in addition to government agencies. However, the statute doesn’t require employers to create an anti-bullying policy. Instead, it incentivizes them to do so for some legal protection.

How does the statute protect Tennessee employers who add an anti-bullying policy? According the The National Law Review, “Employers that adopt a policy that complies with the act will be ‘immune from suit for any employee’s abusive conduct that results in negligent or intentional infliction of mental anguish.’” 

However, there are some stipulations for the adopted policy in order to gain the aforementioned legal protection, as the policy must meet one of two requirements. First, the employer can adopt the model policy published by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). Second, the employer can create its own policy as long as it:

  • Assists employees in recognizing and responding to abusive conduct
  • Prevents retaliation against employees who report abusive conduct

What Small Businesses Can Do to Protect Themselves and Their Employees from Bullying Cases

While Tennessee’s changes to the Healthy Workplace Act give employers some optional protections against litigation, it isn’t the only state to do so. According to The Healthy Workplace Campaign, 30 states have adopted some form of healthy workplace bill. Regardless of whether your state has some optional protections or not, it’s important to take steps to address the situation for your company.

Not only can bullying cause stress and anxiety for your employees, it can also open you up to potential litigation from victimized workers. Even if you personally didn’t bully the employee, that worker could argue that you ignored the issue or enabled it by creating an environment that fostered bullying. When the potential costs of a lawsuit could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s important that you protect your business from these potential dangers. Here are some steps you can to prepare for the future.

Create your own anti-bullying policy

A good anti-bullying policy can help your workplace even if your state doesn’t offer immunities from potential lawsuits like Tennessee. Having a policy in an updated employee handbook will not only help show that you made an effort to make your stance on bullying clear, it can also helps protect against both people claiming you’re partially responsible for bullying and any employees you need to discipline – or even terminate – for bullying.

The specifics of your policy can depend on the laws in your specific state, but the Society for Human Resource Management provides a good template for an anti-bullying policy as a basis. It’s also important to involve your lawyer and an HR compliance expert to make sure you use the proper verbiage in your policy.

Educate employees

In addition to having a policy in your handbook, it’s also good to take a more active approach toward teaching your employees about anti-bullying practices. One such option would be a training and development program where an HR expert could come in and educate your employees about the steps you’ve put in place to talk about and prevent bullying. Not only will this increase awareness of your efforts to everyone in the company, it can also give them the means of reporting an issue in case one ever occurs.

Get liability insurance

While the steps above can help you limit the chances of bullying and show your company’s efforts to create an open, healthy workplace, there is still a chance that an employee may still file a liability lawsuit. Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) can help protect you against the financial ramifications of these lawsuits whether or not they’re warranted. 

Protect Your Business from Bullying and Other Threats

Whether you’re dealing with bullying, a workplace injury, or some other issue, it’s important to make sure that your business is prepared for any trouble. However, that’s not so easy when you have to spend so much time and effort running your business. That’s where GMS can help.

As a Professional Employer Organization, GMS provides comprehensive HR services for businesses of every size. Whether you need help handling payrollrisk management, or some other key function, our experts can help you prepare for the present and the future while you focus your efforts on growing your business. Contact our Tennessee office or one of our other locations today to talk to one of our experts about how GMS can help your business today.

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