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Bullied At Work, Victims Fight For Laws

By Chris May

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- We've heard a lot about school bullying, but what about workplace bullying? Abuse so bad, it causes illness, depression, even post-traumatic stress. And right now, in most cases, workplace bullying is perfectly legal.

Carola Parmejano still cries when she thinks of how she was treated when she worked at a restaurant years ago.

"I'm not the only person who's been through this," she said, "and I'm not going to be the last one."

Carola is from Brazil. She says her new American co-workers routinely mocked her accent and her English. She cried as she said, "I'm wearing your shirt, your name on my shirt. I'm here to help you."

Victoria Johnson of Philadelphia says at a former job, a female supervisor yelled at co-workers. Johnson said, "Routinely I found people crying, very upset."

Victoria says when she tried to stand up for them, she became the target of harassment from the same supervisor until she quit.

"I was completely devastated that something so insidious can make me not only lose my income, but lose my ability to do what I love," said Victoria.

Victoria found The Workplace Bullying Institute online. It says you may be a victim if you're miserable, if the workplace bully humiliates and threatens you, or if your work is sabotaged or stolen.

Psychiatrist Daniel Bober said, "People should be able to work and feel safe in their workplace."

Dr. Bober says workplace bullying looks a lot like domestic violence. A victim is dependent financially on their abuser, yet has to work with them every day.

"People feel like they need to do anything they can to hold onto their jobs," Dr. Bober said.

Kevin M. Costello is a New Jersey employment lawyer who says he's heard from thousands of bullying victims.

"'My boss screams at me every day. He calls me names every day.' Not discriminatory names, just names," Costello said.

But unless it's discrimination, bullying is almost always legal. That's why Costello supports a New Jersey bill called the Healthy Workplace Act. It would ban "abusive conduct so severe that it causes physical or psychological harm."

Victoria Johnson is lobbying for a similar law in Pennsylvania. "We need legislation, because right now, there is just a huge gap," said Johnson.

The Workplace Bullying Institute says if you're a victim, don't blame yourself. Even though reporting a bully can get you fired, investigate whether you have a discrimination case. If not, review company policies. Document everything. Build a case that the bully hurts business, and seek counseling.

Carola got a new job, but she wrote her old boss an email: "I said, 'The first week I worked there, you guys almost destroyed my life.'"

Click here to find out about the Workplace Bullying Institute:

Click here to find out about New Jersey's Healthy Workplace Act: or for further information, click here:

To find out about Pennsylvania's effort to pass a healthy workplace bill, click here:

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