Bullies haven’t needed to fear the law. However Massachusetts has a law GL c 258 E which could be a tool against bullies – and it features the possibility of recovering attorney’s fees. Because the law is aimed at stopping egregious repeated conduct it has been strictly interpreted but its definitions seem to fit many bulling-type situations. This law probably would not apply to conduct in the workplace due to the rule making workers compensation the lone remedy for almost all workplace claims.
The “harassment prevention orders” law passed in 2010 is similar to the law of domestic relations protective orders. If a judge makes the required findings in a civil proceeding – orders issue against the defendant. Violation of those orders is a crime.
STANDARDS FOR JUDGES TO ORDER AN END TO HARASSMENT
The judge needs to find a pattern of harassment from evidence of three (or more) acts that were
- · Willful and malicious conduct
- · Aimed at a specific person
- · Committed with the intent to cause fear intimidation abuse or property damage and
- · Which actually does cause fear, intimidation, abuse or property damage
STANDARDS APPLIED STRICTLY
While this list sounds like the ordinary conduct of bullies, Massachusetts’ top court cautioned that this law’s constitutional use needs to preserve the right of free speech. O’Brien v Borowski
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court returned to interpret this law in 2014 in a case involving allegations about a little league parent threatening to punch the face and break the knees of an assistant coach. Seney v Morhy The top court found there was not enough evidence of three separate acts with the required bad intent.
DESTROY RECORDS OF WRONGLY ISSUED ORDERS
Having a prevention order issued against them would stick to a person’s record and the court emphasized that if harassment orders were later vacated all records of the proceedings must be destroyed.
POWERFUL LAW SHOULD BE APPLIED CAREFULLY
Due to the reputational harm they are likely to cause, judges should require strict proof before issuing orders under this powerful but dangerous law. It is not aimed at trivial annoyance but abusive intentional intimidation.