Does Workers’ Compensation in Orlando Cover Workplace Bullying or Hazing?
Written by Shawn Diederich on November 16, 2016
Workers’ compensation is typically associated with physical injuries, such as a slip-and-fall or an accident involving industrial equipment. But what about psychological injuries suffered in the workplace? Can a Florida employee seek workers’ compensation benefits if they have suffered mental harm due to acts of bullying or hazing at work?
Defining Harassment, Bullying, and Hazing
Federal anti-discrimination law prohibits “harassment” of an employee based on certain protected characteristics, such as age, race, sex, national origin, or disability. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment describes a work environment that “would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.” This can include a supervisor calling an employee names, a co-worker who repeatedly makes offensive jokes, or any other act intended to ridicule or mock someone at work.
Harassment may also refer to bullying. Bullying generally refers to any systematic effort to inflict psychological distress on a victim. In the workplace context, bullying is often used as a form of social exclusion. According to a 2010 study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, workplace bullying may include “hostile behavior, such as humiliation, intimidation and insults, threats, harassment, withholding information, undermining an individual, and critiques of professional competence, to nonverbal, indirect, or passive acts.”
This same study found that nearly 8 percent of the U.S. workforce—more than 9 million people—have been victims of workplace bullying.
A related problem is hazing. While bullying is usually about socially excluding the victim, hazing is designed to force the victim’s inclusion in a group through the infliction of physical or mental harm. This often takes the form of “rituals” designed to harass or intimidate new employees.
How to Deal With Bullying in the Workplace
As the EEOC notes, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents” generally do not rise to the level of harassment or bullying. But employees should never be afraid to speak out if they are subjected to any conduct that compromises their mental health or well-being.
A responsible employer should have a written policy defining workplace bullying and hazing and identifying any potential consequences for violators. And if you are an employee who has been bullied or hazed, you should promptly file a written complaint with your supervisor or human resources representative.
Is There a Legal Remedy for Workplace Bullying?
Unfortunately, even in severe cases where an employee misses work due to the mental stress of bullying or hazing, Florida makes it difficult to seek workers’ compensation on those grounds. Florida law states that a “mental injury” due to “stress” is not an injury for purposes of workers’ compensation unless it is the result of a “physical injury” that is the “major contributing cause of the mental or nervous condition.” In other words, unless the bullying or hazing is primarily physical, an employee may have no recourse under workers’ compensation law for a purely psychological trauma.
But that does not mean you should avoid seeking advice on how to deal with your situation. An experienced Orlando workers’ compensation attorney can review your situation and determine I you have a case—or alternatively if there are other legal remedies available to address your workplace bullying or hazing. Contact the Diederich Law Firm, P.A., if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.