The American Workplace: Lonely, Hostile

A survey by Mental Health America (MHA) has found that 80 percent of workers tend to work alone because of unhelpful or hostile work environments.

MHA created the  on-line survey about three months ago to measure levels of bullying and psychological wellness in the American workplace. Founded in 1909, the MHA calls itself the nation’s leading community-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. So far, the survey has generated 2000 responses.

The research is supported by the Initiative to Create Psychologically Healthy Workplaces , an effort launched by the private Faas Foundation to explore bullying and wellness in the workplace and to create methods to assess psychological health and eliminate the unnecessary stress. The Faas Foundation was founded in 2005 by Andrew Faas, a one-time Canadian business executive  who claims that he learned about the devastating impact of a hostile workplace environment first-hand after blowing the whistle on a corrupt business executive. The Foundation is also supporting research by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation (CAMH).

Other findings of  the MHA surveyare:

  • Eighty-three percent of those surveyed reported that their company is overly focused on trivial activities.
  • Despite the difficulties they face, 41 percent of people in unhealthy work environments report that rarely or never miss work due to work related stress.

According to the Faas Foundation, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence will “bring the skills of emotional intelligence into the new initiative to improve mental health in the workplace  across Canada and the U.S. by creating psychologically healthy workplaces.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centers in this field. CAMH is creating a new program called Well @ Work., which will be Canada’s most comprehensive, evidence-based service and resource to promote mental health in the workplace.

Faathe bully traps says he hopes the initiative “ will result in greater awareness for employees, c-suite executives, board of directors and all those who are responsible for creating and sustaining healthy work environments.”  Faas is the author of book on workplace bullying  written from the perspective of an executive called, The Bully’s Trap.

The United States lags far  behind other industrialized countries in addressing the problem of workplace bullying.   There is no federal or state law prohibiting workplace bullying. The U.S. Occupational and Safety and Health Administration is charged with eliminating  health and safety threats to American workers but has done virtually nothing about workplace bullying, which is a well-document and potentially severe threat to the mental and physical health of American workers.

Workers Search for Fairness in Federal Courts

Interesting  article in The Nation about the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr:

” … the Roberts Court has been consistently skeptical of the need for judicial redress for victims of state or corporate wrongs. It has imposed strict ‘pleading’ requirements that help corporate defendants get lawsuits dismissed before having to turn over potentially damning evidence to employees or customers, and it has barred classwide remedies even when they are the only meaningful way to hold businesses accountable.”

Author David Cole notes that many of the Court’s decisions were 5-to-4, reflecting the political bent of the justices, five of whom were appointed by Republican presidents and  four of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents. He notes the  one-vote conservative margin could shift in the years ahead, depending upon who is elected to the presidency and who is appointed to the Court.

A common theme of this blog is the inability of  workplace abuse and employment discrimination victims (especially age discrimination victims) to achieve even a modicum of justice in our federal court system, which is heavily tilted toward government and corporate employers.  In my weekly review of  federal appellate court decisions in employment law cases, it is rare to find a decision affirming the right of workers to be treated with respect and dignity.  It is commonplace to find  the case of an aggrieved worker dismissed on the basis of an obscure technicality or because of the legal equivalent of a whim. It is all the more distressing that federal courts seem to be out of touch,  imperiously unaccountable to average Americans (they even refuse to televise their proceedings), and oblivious to the need for innovation and change .

Not only is the U.S. Supreme Court  majority extremely conservative but so are the hundreds of judges with lifetime tenure who populate the federal bench – most of whom also were appointed by Republican presidents.

In my recent book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I decry various U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have eviscerated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).  Among other things, I cite a 2009 Court decision that raised the level of proof required in ADEA cases high above that of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin. I also note the nation’s highest court accords age discrimination its lowest standard of review – so a law that discriminates on the basis of age literally has to be irrational to offend the Court, which accords a much higher level of scrutiny to laws that discriminate on the basis of race and sex.

Is it really a radical notion to suggest that all Americans – even older workers – should be accorded equal justice under the law? US Supreme Court

EEOC Makes its Presence Known in Silicon Valley

The EEOC this week filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination in hiring against a Silicon Valley, CA, employer.

No, the EEOC didn’t sue Google or Microsoft. The EEOC sued  the city of Milpitas for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by choosing a younger candidate over older applicants with greater qualifications for the position of executive secretary to the city manager. The city allegedly failed to hire four qualified applicants who scored higher than the person selected in a three-person panel review of the candidates.  The individuals who were not selected were 55, 42, 56 and 58 years old. Instead, EEOC alleges the city hired a younger applicant (age 39) who was less qualified than these people, without a valid justification for disregarding the panel rankings.

EEOCAge discrimination in hiring is particularly blatant in Silicon Valley, where the high-tech industry is notorious for hiring only young workers.  Some Silicon Valley employers unabashedly advertise for job applicants who are “digital natives” and “recent graduates.”

A  60-year-old software engineer who was not hired by Google in 2011 filed a class action age discrimination lawsuit against Google earlier this year. The lawsuit  alleges the company’s workforce is “grossly disproportionate” with respect to age. The lawsuit asserts the median age of the 28,000 employees who worked for Google in 2013 was 29.  The U.S. Department of Labor reports the median age for computer programmers in the United States is 42.8 and the median age for software developers is 40.6.

EEOC Senior Counsel Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, in a speech last summer, singled out open and flagrant age discrimination in the high-tech industry, adding, “Some of our officers have made it a priority in looking at age discrimination in the tech industry.”

 Silicon Valley has been a virtual apartheid ‘state’ for younger workers for years.

The EEOC lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (EEOC v. City of Milpitas, Case No. 5:15-cv-04444) after attempts failed to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  EEOC’s suit seeks, among other things, monetary damages for the four applicants and injunctive relief intended to prevent a recurrence of age discrimination in City of Milpitas government.

“Older workers continue to face discrimination based on age due to negative stereotypes and inaccurate assumptions about their abilities,” said EEOC San Francisco Acting Regional Attorney Jonathan Peck.  “It is important for employers to ensure that such stereotyping does not impact a person’s ability to be employed.  Employment decisions must be based on merit, not age.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director William R. Tamayo added, “Age discrimination remains a problem, making up 23 percent of all EEOC charges filed in the United States last year.  It is important that employers not ignore the value that older workers can bring to their workforce.”

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