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Introduced by Senator Cummings of Washington District

Referred to Committee on


Subject:  Labor; employment practices; workplace bullying; prohibited

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to make it an unlawful employment practice to subject an employee to an abusive work environment.


It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:


(a)  The general assembly finds the following:

(1)  The social and economic well-being of Vermont is dependent upon healthy and productive employees.

(2)  Surveys and studies have documented that:

(A)  Between 16 and 21 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, or harassment, and that these occurrences are four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone.

(B)  A hostile or abusive work environment can have a serious effect on targeted employees, generating feelings of shame and humiliation, stress, loss of sleep, severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, reduced immunity to infection, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, and patho-physiologic changes that increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

(C)  A hostile or abusive work environment can have serious financial consequences for employers, including reduced employee productivity and morale, high turnover and absenteeism rates, and significant increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims.

(3)  Mistreated employees who are not members of a protected class and who have been subjected to hostile or abusive treatment at work are unlikely to have any legal recourse to redress the abuse.  Legal protection from hostility or abuse at work should not be limited to behavior generated due to the victim’s protected class status.

(4)  Existing workers’ compensation laws and common law tort actions are inadequate to discourage this behavior or provide adequate redress to employees who have been harmed by being subject to workplace hostility or abuse.

(b)  The purpose of this act is to provide:

(1)  Legal redress for employees who have been harmed psychologically, physically, or economically by being deliberately subjected to an abusive work environment.

(2)  Legal incentives for an employer to prevent abusive conduct and respond to employees who have been mistreated at work. 

Sec. 2.  21 V.S.A. § 495(a) and (c) are amended to read:

(a)  It shall be unlawful employment practice, except where a bona fide occupational qualification requires persons of a particular race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, place of birth, age, provided the person is 18 years or older, or physical or mental condition:

* * *

(c)  The provisions of this section prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age shall apply for the benefit of persons 18 years of age or older  It shall be an unlawful employment practice to subject an employee to an abusive work environment.

Sec. 3.  21 V.S.A. § 495d(14), (15), (16), (17), and (18) are added to read:

(14)  “Abusive conduct” means actions or omissions of action by an employer or employee in the workplace that are malicious and that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to the employer’s legitimate business interest.  The occurrence of “abusive conduct” is determined by the severity, nature, and frequency of the behavior and includes gratuitous sabotage or undermining of the employee’s work performance, repeated physical conduct or verbal abuse such as derogatory remarks, insults, or epithets that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating.  A single act will not constitute abusive conduct unless the act is particularly severe and egregious.

(15)  “Abusive work environment” is a workplace in which an employee is subjected to abusive conduct sufficiently severe to cause the employee physical or psychological harm, or both.

(16)  “Malice” means the desire to cause another person to suffer psychological, psychic, or economic harm without legitimate cause or justification.  Malice may be inferred from outward expressions of hostility, harmful conduct inconsistent with an employer’s legitimate business interests, a continuation of harmful illegitimate conduct after the complainant request that it cease or demonstrates outward signs of emotional or physical distress in response to the conduct or attempts to exploit the complainant’s known psychological or physical vulnerability.

(17)  “Physical harm” means a material impairment of a person’s physical health or bodily integrity as documented by a competent physician.

(18)  “Psychological harm” means a material impairment of a person’s mental health as documented by a competent psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.

Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont