Why we need the Workplace Psychological Safety Act


In October, the Massachusetts state legislature heard testimony from hundreds of activists in support of the Workplace Psychological Safety Act (WPSA), an anti-bullying bill that could set a new national precedent. The measure — which was first put forward in Rhode Island earlier in 2023 — would hold employers accountable for psychological abuse committed on the job. Advocates for the bill define psychological abuse as “bullying and mobbing that violate an employee’s basic human right to dignity.”

With bullying affecting nearly 80 million U.S. workers (roughly one in two overall), according to a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, there is an urgent need to counteract such abuse being tolerated or committed by employers, many of whom rely on loopholes in current laws to avoid facing penalties. The WPSA lays out a more stringent system for workers to seek recourse from, among other things, “common behaviors that a reasonable person would deem to be toxic.”


While there are plenty of laws designed to protect employees from racism and discrimination in the workplace, these laws are far from perfect — and many do not account for abuses that are less blatant. As a professional credentialed teacher, I’ve seen colleagues being yelled at, intimidated and talked to condescendingly, none of which would, at present, be legally considered workplace abuse.

Teachers are among the workers who need this act’s safeguards the most. There is no cookie-cutter approach to teaching. Every day is unique, challenging and exhausting. And expectations — especially for new teachers — are extremely high. Some students have different learning ability levels, language barriers, social-emotional and various other challenges. On top of these pressures, teachers face the threat of displacement.

Put simply, displacement is a bureaucratic method to get rid of teachers. A school can justify displacement for reasons such as low enrollment or favoring teachers in certain subjects over others. But sometimes, administrators simply displace teachers because they don’t get along with them personally or professionally. One could say that displacement is a form of bureaucratic psychological abuse.

Conditions that displaced teachers face can cause psychological issues like anxiety, depression, hypervigilance and post-traumatic stress. Newer teachers are often the ones displaced, and they are mainly placed in schools that they have not selected.

It is time for unions and civil rights organizations to stand up and declare displacements unacceptable.

Regardless of years of experience, all teachers must be treated with dignity and respect. Students will only benefit from having an effective, long-term teacher who is not being micromanaged or harassed.

We must get the WPSA signed into law in all 50 states. We must stand up for the rights of all workers to be treated fairly and with respect. The WPSA can serve as a legal protection for new teachers who, at times, may feel that their labor union may not advocate or represent them in relation to the issue of displacement.

Teachers throughout the United States have an opportunity to organize, advocate for and demand that their school board members support and adopt the Workplace Psychological Safety Act.

By implementing the principles of the Workplace Psychological Safety Act, school board members can set the example that bullying and psychological harassment of teachers is unacceptable and no longer tolerated.

Randy Jurado Ertll is a teacher, newspaper columnist, and an award winning published author. This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, a project of The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.