As the cannabis industry strives to ensure a safe and inclusive dispensary workplace for everyone, they should note that some harmful bullying behaviors that aren’t technically unlawful harassment can still be addressed in a workplace civility policy.
An employer’s cannabis dispensary’s policies can be more protective of employees than the law can and if having a workplace free from bullying is important to employers, they can go a long way to achieving that by modeling behavior, having a good policy and enforcing that policy.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is generally defined as unwelcome behavior that occurs over a period of time and is meant to harm someone who feels powerless to respond. Verbal bullying includes teasing and threatening to cause harm, according to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Social bullying in the workplace might happen by leaving someone out of a meeting on purpose or publicly reprimanding someone. A survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute estimated that 61 percent of employees are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace, 19 percent have experienced it and another 19 percent have witnessed it.
These behaviors may or may not constitute unlawful harassment. Bullying is actionable under federal law only when the basis for it is tied to a protected category, such as race or sex. Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment on the basis of color, national origin, race, religion, and sex.
Other federal laws prohibit such behavior on the basis of age, disability, and genetic information. Additionally, if bullying amounts to some other civil or criminal wrongs, such as assault or battery, it could amount to a claim under state law.
So a manager who is mean to everyone – who is sometimes known as the “equal opportunity harasser” – might not be engaging in unlawful conduct. But that doesn’t mean it must be tolerated in the workplace. Bullies can create morale problems and other workplace issues.
Cannabis industry employers can have codes of conduct that address respect in the dispensary workplace and hold employees accountable if they do not treat others with respect.
Local Law Trends
In the absence of federal legislation prohibiting generic workplace bullying, several states are considering legislation that would provide severely bullied employees with a claim for damages if they can prove that they suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the bullying.
Legislatures in local jurisdictions have introduced workplace anti-bullying bills in recent years that would prohibit all “abusive conduct” against employees – even if it isn’t based on a protected characteristic. Public employers are immune from liability if they adopt a policy that is compliant with the statute, though individuals would remain liable despite the adoption of the policy.
It would not be surprising to see more laws requiring employers to train employees on anti-bullying. However, legislation that creates a separate cause of action for bullying unconnected to a protected class could open the floodgates for lawsuits by employees who feel their boss is abusive or even just unfair or mean.
Dispensary HR’s Role
Even without a law against general bullying, employers can create policies and practices to prevent and prohibit such behavior. It is suggested that cannabis industry employers:
- Conduct a climate survey to learn about the problems in their particular dispensary workplace and use the survey’s findings to tailor policies and procedures to that dispensary workplace.
- Adopt clear, written anti-bullying policies in as many languages as are spoken in the workplace.
- Foster an organizational culture that prioritizes inclusion and doesn’t tolerate bullying by regularly demonstrating a commitment to anti-bullying policies.
- Conduct bystander intervention training, which empowers co-workers to intervene when they witness bullying or harassing behavior. This helps create a sense of collective responsibility for eliminating bullying and other problematic behavior in the workplace.
- Conduct workplace civility training, which may reduce the likelihood that bullying will occur by promoting respect among employees from different backgrounds and at different job levels.
- Implement clear and straightforward procedures so that employees know how and where to report incidents.
- These procedures should include multiple confidential reporting channels.
- Make an effort to maintain dispensary employees‘ confidentiality throughout the investigation. If employees need to be identified, investigators should notify employees about the possibility that co-workers will learn about their complaints.
Dispensary workers who are victims of bullying or harassment should know they can promptly report incidents to their supervisors, management-level employees, human resource representatives or other employees designated to receive reports.
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