A Massachusetts legislative committee recently heard public testimony on the issue of psychological safety in the workplace. The hearing was held to address a measure pending in the state legislative, Bill H.1882, also known as the Psychological Workplace Safety Act.
The bill would make it illegal for employers to engage in psychological abuse — defined as “mentally provocative harassment or mistreatment that has the effect of hurting, weakening, confusing or frightening a person mentally or emotionally.”
Based on a Rhode Island law, the measure would require employers to take reasonable steps to prevent psychological abuse in the workplace. That would include creating and maintaining a workplace policy that prohibits psychological abuse, investigating and addressing complaints, and providing training to employees on psychological safety.
The measure would give employees the right to file a complaint if they believe that they have been subjected to psychological abuse in the workplace. If an investigation finds that the employer has violated the law, the employer could be ordered to pay damages to the employee and to take steps to prevent future violations.
What might constitute abuse?
Examples of psychological abuse cited in the legislation include frequent requests for work below the employee’s competence level, assigning additional long-term tasks without compensation, consistently taking credit for someone’s work, exclusion from work gatherings, hostile yelling, disclosing private facts about the employee, unreasonably heavy workloads, excessive monitoring, and more.
A number of people testified at the hearing, including employees, employers, and representatives of advocacy organizations.
Employees: Many employees testified about the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. They shared stories about how they had felt psychologically unsafe in their jobs, and how this had negatively impacted their work performance, mental health, and overall well-being.
Employers: Some employers testified in support of the bill, arguing that it would help create a more positive and productive work environment for employees. Meanwhile others expressed concerns about the cost of implementing the bill’s requirements.
Advocacy organizations: Deb Falzoi, co-founder of an organization called End Workplace Abuse, said existing anti-discrimination law is not sufficient for handling workplace abuse.
The hearing committee is currently considering the testimony provided and will decide whether to recommend the bill to the full Massachusetts legislature for a vote.