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Workplace bullying - the new face of employment litigation. Morrison Foerster has an app for that.

Date: September 14 2012

Workplace bullying is poised to become the next major battleground in employment law - and a lawyer at Morrison & Foerster has just developed an app for it.

Sharon Parella, a partner in MoFo’s New York office, has a forward-thinking view about on-the-job bullying.

“This area of the law is where sexual harassment claims were 25 years ago,” says Ms. Parella, who represents private employers including financial institutions in employment matters, and who regularly conducts training sessions for clients on workplace conduct. “While currently no federal or state law exists to prohibit abusive work conduct absent accompanying discrimination or workplace violence, numerous states have proposed anti-workplace bullying legislation. Employee bullying will likely be the biggest driver for workplace disputes in the next few years.”

Now, to help companies better respond to charges of bullying among workers – whether from peers or supervisors – Ms. Parella has developed new mobile content expressly devoted to bullying.  Her first-of-its-kind bullying law tab can be found on Morrison & Foerster's recently launched mobile employment law app, Advance@Work, available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

The new tab provides definitions of workplace bullying, as well as sections detailing examples, consequences and motives behind workplace power plays that can be perceived – and litigated – as bullying. The app informs on proposed legislation in New York: The Healthy Workplace Bill.  The bill establishes a civil cause of action for employees who are subjected to an “abusive work environment.”

Ms. Parella notes that the Healthy Workplace Bill, along with other state laws, would address many instances of workplace hostility for employees who do not fit into a protected class already recognized by courts.

“It is a developing area of employment law that is likely to create a broad cause of action for plaintiffs – regardless whether the conduct affects an employee who is a member of a protected category,” says Ms. Parella. “Indeed, that’s the explosive thing about bullying.  It creates causes of action for anyone who experiences conduct of other employees that is creating a hostile environment – even supervisors who may feel intimidated or threatened by subordinates.”

Ms. Parella explained, “It’s important for companies and HR departments to recognize the need for training managers to changing legal standards of appropriate workplace behavior, since conduct that many may find harmless or routine could nonetheless expose a company to legal risk.”

Advance@Work’s new Workplace Bullying tab supplements the app’s functional offerings, which cover mandatory and suggested training protocols under statutes for all 50 states and federal law, and provide an overview of different anti-discrimination, sexual harassment, and workplace bullying training programs employers can obtain for individuals, groups or even for expatriate employees.

“The app is a unique offering that navigates workplace harassment laws, and acts as a fabulous resource for employers or human resource professionals,” says Ms. Parella. “The new tab was specifically created to enlighten companies about the growing wave of bullying claims and how to address it.”

Representing financial institutions and an array of other clients, Ms. Parella defends employers against discrimination and compensation claims in state and federal courts, the EEOC, fair employment practices agencies, and in proceedings before the New York Stock Exchange, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and other regulatory agencies. She also regularly advises on investigations of employee complaints of discrimination and bullying.

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