A Guide to Worldwide Bullying Laws

Africa

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Kenya

  • Kenya has explicit laws preventing any and all forms of sexual harassment, which it defines as direct or indirect requests from an employee for sexual intercourse, contact, or any other form of sexual activity that contains an implied or express promise of preferential treatment in employment (or alternatively, a threat of detrimental treatment in employment).
  • The law is vague on other forms of harassment, however. Kenya has non-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against any person on the basis of race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social background, age, religion, dress, or language.
  • There are no particular laws opposing bullying within Kenyan schools, despite the country having some of the highest rates of bullying within Africa. There are laws that explicitly forbid the harassment of students by teachers, however.

South Africa

  • South Africa has implemented laws to combat cyber bullying by requiring that ISPs hand over the contact details of any individual found to be harassing another. Children under the age of 18 can also approach the courts without their parent’s knowledge.
  • In 2013 the country published wide-ranging labour laws to combat harassment in the workplace. Amongst other things, the Protection from Harassment Act allows an employee to obtain a protection order against an abusive employer or colleague.

Australia and Asia

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Australia

  • Australia has extensive provisions in place to counter bullying, both in schools and the workplace.
  • In the workplace, individuals are encouraged to first try and resolve bullying issues through the organisation’s harassment policy. If this doesn’t resolve the problem, however, it’s possible to seek further help by taking the issue to the Fair Work Commission. In the event that the bullying is violent or otherwise threatening, the police are also equipped to handle complaints, and the legal system can prosecute bullies for harassment or assault.
  • In schools, each state or territory forms its own set of anti-bullying policies and applies these policies to public schools. Private school boards, however, are responsible for the oversight of their schools as public school legislation does not apply to them.

China

  • China has strict anti-bullying laws, and is especially aggressive in its attempts to tackle cyber bullying. The country recently passed a law requiring people to register their real names online. This allows the government to track individuals more easily, therefore forcing accountability on what people post online.
  • Corporations are required to provide a healthy environment for employees and individuals are obliged to take steps when they witness or suffer any acts of bullying within a company. Employers are expected to take a zero tolerance policy against bullying, and provide support networks for employees who may be bullied.

Japan

  • In 2013 Japan introduced a law requiring schools to address bullying, including cyber bullying. Schools were required to act to prevent incidences of bullying, and to also report incidents as they arise.
  • Japan has no particular laws addressing bullying in the workforce. However, the laws in place regarding harassment, assault, and similar can also be applied to instances of bullying.

Philippines

  • Philippines has advanced anti-bullying policies in its schools, with wide-ranging provisions to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. These laws include provisions to address cyber bullying as well as bullying that occurs away from school but on school-sponsored activities.
  • The law mandates that all private and public schools adopt comprehensive bullying prevention programs that involve staff and students at all levels.
  • Workplace bullying laws are far less developed, however. Legislation to prohibit workplace bullying has yet to be passed, and anecdotal evidence shows that workplace bullying is rampant with little done to combat the issue.

Singapore

  • In 2014, Singapore criminalised cyber bullying as part of a sweeping set of laws targeting anti-social behaviour that cover both the workplace and schoolyards. Cyber harassment, the bullying of children, sexual harassment in the workplace, and stalking are all illegal, with a first-time offense resulting in a fine of up to S$5,000 or one year in jail. Repeat offenders face fines of S$10,000 and/or a jail term of two years.
  • The laws also give victims the option of civil remedies.

Europe

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Belgium

  • In 2014, Belgium brought new anti-bullying laws into effect as part of a reform that aimed to address all psychosocial risks in the workplace. This sweeping law covers violence, bullying, and undesired sexual behaviour in the workplace.
  • Under these laws, employers are required to be aware of and manage all risks that could damage the psychological health of employees, or lead to stress, burnout, or unacceptable behaviour. Businesses are required to have formal policies placed in these areas, and assign a responsible person to oversee this area.
  • Belgium also has advanced anti-bullying laws in place for schoolyard bullying and is actively addressing the problem of a growth in cyber bullying throughout the country.

France

  • Bullying is referred to as ‘moral harassment’ in France, and the country has laws in place to outlaw such acts. Moral harassment is defined as ‘repeated acts leading to a deterioration of the working conditions that are likely to harm the dignity, physical, or psychological health of the victim or his/her career”.
  • These laws allow for both civil and criminal action to be taken against a bully. Maximum penalties can be as high as two years imprisonment and a fine of €30,000. The workplace is also liable for any bullying that occurs within its walls, and a bullied worker is able to win damages from the organisation through civil action.
  • Measures to oppose schoolyard bullying, however, are less developed in France. The previous government was the first to start considering the issue, but in most cases parents still need to contact the French equivalent of parent teacher associations in order to voice their opinions. How the situation is handled is then dependent on circumstances and individual school policy.

Sweden

  • Sweden was the first, and remains one of the few, nations with laws that specifically prohibit bullying (what it terms ‘mobbing’) in the workplace.
  • This legislation outlaws ‘recurrent, reprehensible, or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community’. The law requires that employers swiftly investigate and counter any instances of bullying as they arise, but also takes a ‘non-punitive’ approach to instances of bullying and aims to resolve problems through dialogue and consensus rather than sanctions.
  • Sweden has also been progressive in taking action on schoolyard bullying, placing the burden of prevention on the institution. Schools that are unable to demonstrate that they are proactive in addressing bullying can be taken to court by the child and are liable for any damage incurred to a person or property.

United Kingdom

  • Since 1998, UK law dictates that state schools are required by law to have anti-bullying policies in place. Independent schools have had similar requirements since 2003.
  • Cyber bullying itself is not a criminal offence in the UK, however there are numerous laws that can be applied to cyber bullying. The Protection from Harassment Act can protect individuals from harassment, while the Telecommunications Act makes it an offence to send anonymous, abusive phone calls. These laws have also been used successfully in the past to prosecute in cases of cyberbullying.
  • In the workplace, bullying isn’t against the law, however harassment is. The UK has comprehensive harassment laws outlawing harassment against a person’s age, gender, disability, marriage, pregnancy, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

North America

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Canada

  • Canada’s definition of bullying is extensive, characterising the act as one of ‘intentional harm, repeated over time, in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists’. This can be applied to physical attacks, verbal harassment, and social exclusion.
  • ‘Bullying’ itself is not a punishable crime in Canada at a federal level, however every action that a bully might take is covered by other laws. The Criminal Harassment (CCC 264), Uttering Threats (CCC264.1), Assault (CCC265 and 266) and Sexual Assault (CCC 271) are all new laws that could apply to someone behaving as a bully. These apply equally to schoolyard or workplace bullying.
  • Canada is especially keen to reverse its current trends that are seeing an increase in schoolyard bullying. These initiatives are being handled by individual provinces, which have passed anti-bullying bills and regulations to varying degrees of success. The only territory that is not currently looking to tackle bullying through legislation is the new territory of Nunavut.

USA

  • Bullying is handled in the USA by state and local laws. A full 41 of the 50 states of the US have both laws and policies in place to handle schoolyard bullying, and in some states, bullying appears in the criminal code and may be applied to juveniles.
  • Workplace bullying laws, meanwhile, fall under the USA’s harassment laws. Harassment is defined as unlawful where a) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
  • Offensive conduct can constitute, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, physical assault, or threats, intimidation, mockery, the use of offensive pictures, and interference with work performance.
  • Harassment is also illegal when used in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws.
  • Under US law, the employer is automatically liable for any harassment that might occur by a supervisor, resulting in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages. The employer is also responsible for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (such as contractors).

South America

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Argentina

  • In 2013, Argentina’s congress passed a bill that was designed to reduce incidences of physical violence and verbal or psychological abuse against students in schools. This law requires sanctions against perpetrators of bullying, rather than simply warning them against their behaviour. The country also provides a toll-free hotline for victims who may be too afraid to report the case at school.
  • In the workplace, moral and sexual harassment is not countered by any specific legislation. However, employers have a ‘duty of safety’ obligation to provide a working environment free of violence and abuse, and bullying cases have been successfully prosecuted on these grounds.

Brazil

  • While Brazil has laws in place against sexual harassment, there are no specific federal provisions to handle moral harassment and other forms of bullying within private enterprises. Despite this, employees have won actions against corporations over moral harassment grounds. In 2015, Samsung Brazil was fined millions over multiple moral harassment cases.
  • When it comes to schoolyard bullying, there is no federal policy that applies to the whole country; rather states or individual schools are left to decide on whether policies should be in place.

Mexico

  • Laws against bullying are limited, and data suggests that as many as 60% of school children are subject to bullying while at school. There is a strong push from the government to start introducing laws to tackle this issue, but for now anti-bullying policy varies by state and school. Currently only five Mexican states have meaningful legislation in place - Tamaulipas, Nayarit, District Federal, Puebla, and Veracruz.
  • Harassment and sexual harassment are considered justified causes for an employee to terminate his or her employee relationship without liability. In such cases, the employee is also entitled a claim before the labor authority demanding rescission of the employment agreement and full severance.