Workplace bullying / Mobbing

The word Mobbing in German annoys a lot of English speakers, who see it as a false anglicism. On the legal aspects I can recommend a wonderful book by Maga Petra Smutny, Richterin des Landesgerichts für Zivilrechtsachen in Vienna and Dr. Herbert Hopf, Hofrat des Obersten Gerichtshofs: Ausgemobbt! Wirksame Reaktionen gegen Mobbing (for links see below). It’s a book written for the person on the Vienna omnibus, but by well-informed judges.

The equivalent English terms are (workplace) bullying, harassment and (employee) abuse.

According to the book, Mobbing is an artificial word (Kunstwort) taken from the English (to mob = umringen / attackieren), but in the last instance from the Latin (vulgus mobile = aufgewiegelte Volksmenge). It was first used in a scientific sense in the 1950s, by Konrad Lorenz, referring to a group attack of geese on a single fox.


In the 1960s and 1970s, the Swedish doctor Peter-Paul Heinemann applied the term to human conduct, group violence among children. And in the 1980s and 1990s, Heinz Leymann, in Sweden, applied it to adult working life, referring to an escalating type of conflict in the workplace.

Certain elements of Mobbing can be agreed on: it can originate from one person or a group. It is characterised by unequal power structures: boss against employee, group against individual. It is systematic. There must be a certain frequency and duration. The aim is to isolate and finally exclude the bullied person.

Smutny and Hopf cite a large number of cases and legal sources in German and Austrian law, and give advice for individuals.

In the German American Law Journal Blog, from the land where men are men and churches, drugstores and beer joints abound, in Prayer for Relief: Mobbing, Clemens rather pooh-poohs all this:

Relief for some such conduct should be sought in a church, drugstore or beer joint, but some perceive mobbing as so hurtful that they seek refuge in the law.

He refers to a ‘current discussion on legal boards’ which holds that ‘mobbing does not constitute a defined cause of action’. There is no tort of mobbing. That seems to be the case in Germany and Austria too. There doesn’t seem to be any one constellation that constitutes or defines the phenomenon.

One problem is that even if one tells a bullied or harassed individual to go for help elsewhere (but I think U.S. law does help the harassed), what solution is this for the company where this behaviour is escalating?

Here’s something about workplace bullying in the USA.

Smutny/Hopf: Ausgemobbt! Deutschland / Österreich

6 thoughts on “Workplace bullying / Mobbing

  1. Workplace bullying can give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal in England and Wales; there is a fair amount of case law on this. The EAT case law provides a measure of legal protection against workplace bullying, even when the bullying is done by a colleague.

  2. I’m changing my mind about Romain! Executorship is good. However, if an executor is just the icing on the German cake and a non-executor court oversees the winding up of the deceased’s estate in Austria then, surely, Testamentsvollstreckung is implementing the Will e.g. by administration of the estate:

  3. About Romain: it really has some features you would like. It has vocabulary relating to usage in British judicial documents, and it also sometimes has adverbs used legally, and all based on British English. You don’t need the latest Romain for this – it was the work of Romain himself (pronounced as in French btw – I had an oral exam tested by him). The latest one includes some US usage and adds US spellings, but I suspect the editors didn’t have much time to do more. But you probably can’t get hold of an older Romain.
    I ought to start collecting examples so I can post a summary.

    Apropos Testamentsvollstrecker – there’s probably a lot more to be said about this. We may use Nachlassverwalter to mean personal representatives, but of course the status is different.

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