Humiliation at Work
Posted: 19 Aug 2002
Humiliation has a significant impact on the working lives of many people. That humiliation should be the basis for making certain employment practices or incidents actionable is often taken for granted. Yet, the explicit premise of the various laws that address workplace humiliation is that work life is full of humiliating experiences and not all of them can or should be illegal. Legal doctrine reflects a lack of understanding about the nature and causes of workplace humiliation and the various harms it causes. This lack of understanding contributes to unpredictable legal rules, which in turn contributes to a stalemate in the academic literature and among lawyers as to whether law provides too little or too much regulation of workplace culture. This article, which was part of a symposium on gender jurisprudence and the new jurisprudence of emotions, briefly surveys the growing psychological literature on humiliation and analyzes the law's treatment of workplace humiliation, arguing that the law is both arbitrary and biased. The article argues that greater attention to the nature of humiliation would make legal doctrine more rational. It also explores the extent to which legal rules and processes may contribute to or ameliorate humiliation by considering whether certain legal rules empower victims of workplace practices by making them understand that their misfortune is not attributable solely to their own failings or whether it disempowers them by enabling them to assume the role of hapless and traumatized victim as the price of obtaining legal redress.
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