Yamada, the Healthy Workplace Bill author, said workers face the challenge of trying to prove bullying, which generally falls short of physical assault and is Machiavellian and difficult to identify. "I liken our understanding of workplace bullying to where we were with sexual harassment three decades ago," Yamada said. "A lot of people have had to deal with this for years but didn't know what to call it."
Bill backers say internal appeals processes often fall short, citing the case of Kevin Morrissey, who was managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review magazine. Morrissey shot himself to death last June after relatives and friends said his — and others' — repeated complaints about a bullying boss were ignored. The University of Virginia, which publishes the magazine, said it had handled the complaints properly and that the manager could not be blamed for Morrissey's death.
The recession has made it easier for bullies to carry on because jobs are scarce and employees are reluctant to quit or to speak up and be seen as troublemakers, bill proponents say.
Gant, who worked in a county courthouse, said that after a few months a new boss openly called her "stupid," humiliated her at meetings, and sent out office e-mails that belittled her work.