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HB 2155 Will Multiply Frivolous ‘Harassment’ Lawsuits, Harm Virginia Businesses Recovering from COVID Pandemic

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Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


HB 2155 Will Multiply Frivolous ‘Harassment’ Lawsuits, Harm Virginia Businesses Recovering from COVID Pandemic

WASHINGTON / February 16, 2021 – SAVE is calling on Virginia lawmakers to oppose HB 2155, which dramatically expands the definition of “workplace harassment” to the point that almost any employee experiencing any job-related interpersonal discomfort could claim to be a victim of “harassment.”

As a result, any Virginia business could find itself the target of a costly lawsuit made by a disgruntled or under-performing employee. This would hamper efforts to overcome the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on Virginia businesses.

The problems with HB 2155 start with its broad characterization of “workplace harassment,” which is defined as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age, marital status, or veteran status, regardless of whether it is direct or indirect, or verbal or nonverbal, that unreasonably alters an individual’s terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (1)

The words “intimidating, hostile, or offensive” are not defined by the bill, so an employee who is merely “offended” by a person’s personality, awkward remarks, or even slovenly attire could claim to be a victim. A supervisor who gives a performance review that reveals areas of needed employee improvement could be accused of harassment, as well.

The bill expands the scope of “workplace harassment” in several other ways. The bill would allow trivial incidents to give rise to a lawsuit by stating that “Conduct may be workplace harassment regardless of whether:

  • the complaining party is the individual being harassed;
  • the complaining party acquiesced or otherwise submitted to or participated in the conduct;
  • the conduct is also experienced by others outside of the protected class involved;
  • the complaining party was able to continue carrying out the duties and responsibilities of such complaining party’s job despite the conduct;
  • the conduct caused a tangible or psychological injury; or
  • the conduct occurred outside of the workplace.”

The “conduct occurred outside of the workplace” provision is especially problematic for employees who gather for lunch, holiday parties, and other events.

The provisions of HB 2155 are inconsistent with court decisions and federal law (2).

Eight percent of Americans report being targeted by a false allegation of abuse (3). Such allegations undermine due process, dissipate scare public resources, undermine the credibility of future victims, and harm the reputations and careers of the falsely accused.