My Boss Kicked Me: Can I Sue?

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

Hi
I work for a privately owned business and one of the guys was told he was my manager and ever since then it's been a not so friendly environment. Yesterday it went a little too far when he thought he was being funny and kicked me on my behind and told me to get back in my office. Even though he was trying to be funny in front of the rest of the guys here I was definitely not comfortable with it. Do you think I should contact a lawyer for this matter?

So your new boss thought it was funny to kick you? Wow. He sounds like a jerk. Whether or not there's a potential lawsuit depends on the circumstances. Here are some things that a lawyer will consider if you want to sue when things get physical at the office:Were you hurt?: What your boss did was battery. However, the big issue is what are your damages? If you were hurt, then you may have a lawsuit. Otherwise, it's doubtful a lawyer would take on a battery suit.

Did you report it?: If you reported it to HR or the police and were then subjected to retaliation, you may have a whistleblower case. Because battery is illegal, by objecting to an illegal activity your state may (or may not) have whistleblower laws that protect you against retaliation.

Were you kicked due to a protected status?: If you were being harassed due to your race, age, sex, national origin, religion, disability, for taking Family and Medical Leave, because you blew the whistle on illegal activity, because you engaged in concerted activities with coworkers to improve working conditions, or some other legally protected status, then your boss may be breaking the law.

Are you a government employee in Tennessee?: I see by your question that you aren't, so there's no anti-bullying law that protects you. If your new boss is just a jerk and didn't hurt you, then you probably don't have a lawsuit worth filing. Being a bully isn't illegal in any state but Tennessee, and their anti-bullying law only applies to government employees. If you worked for the government in Tennessee, you might be in luck. (And kudos to Tennessee for being the first state to pass a Healthy Workplace law!)

If you are subjected to any kind of unwanted touching, especially something like a hit or kick, I suggest you report it, in writing, to HR and ask them to take prompt action to address the situation. If they are on notice of this jerk's propensity to hit employees and don't take action to correct the situation, and he actually hurts someone, then the employer will be liable.

You should note, though, that your coworkers may back the boss and say it was all in good fun and you're just being a spoilsport. If that happens, it's probably time to start looking elsewhere.

Once a bully gets away with bad behavior, they'll probably accelerate the behavior, and others may pile in with the abuse. Unless the company puts this guy on notice that hitting employees, even in "fun," won't be tolerated, he'll do it again, to you or someone else.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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