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OSHA Adopts Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has adopted a safety program for its own workers that includes a workplace anti-bully policy.

The policy is contained in a 278-page document, the OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual, which was released on May 23, 2011. The manual outlines safety practices for OSHA’s field offices. It was drafted in cooperation with the National Council of Field Labor Locals, a union that represents OSHA workers.

OSHA’s workplace bullying policy is significant because the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees … .” However, OSHA has not enforced that provision with respect to workplace bullying, despite overwhelming research that workplace bullying may cause severe damages to a target’s mental and physical health.

The stated purpose of the workplace bullying policy, contained in the manual’s “Violence in the Workplace” chapter, is: ”To provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.”

The manual defines “intimidating behavior” as:

“Threats or other conduct that in any way create a hostile environment, impair Agency operations, or frighten, alarm or inhibit others. Verbal intimidation may include making false statements that are malicious, disparaging, derogatory, disrespectful, abusive, or rude.”

 And, “workplace violence” is defined as:

“An action, whether verbal, written, or physical aggression, that is intended to control, cause, or is capable of causing injury to oneself or other, emotional harm, or damage to property.”.

 All OSHA employees are required to “treat all other employees, as well as customers, with dignity and respect. Management will provide a working environment as safe as possible by having preventative measures in place and by dealing immediately with threatening or potentially violent situations. No employee will engage in threats, violent outbursts, intimidations, bullying harassment, or other abusive or disruptive behaviors.”

The manual states that the Assistant Regional Administrator/Director for Administrative Programs or equivalent unit will:

1. Disseminate the workplace violence policies and procedures to all employees;

2. Provide annual training on this policy and U.S. Department of Labor workplace violence program for responsible OSHA Manager(s); and

3. Conduct an investigation and complete a Workplace Violence Incident Report for all incidents reported. The report will be submitted to the Regional Administrator within 24 hours of completion.

Congress created the OSHA  to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor.

Other Federal Laws

OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 1970

Some experts say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should take the lead on combating workplace bullying.*  There is overwhelming evidence that workplace bullying can lead to serious injury and even death.  In fact, a term has been coined for workers who are driven to suicide as a result of bullying – “bullycide.”  In several other countries, workplace bullying is considered a health and safety issues and is regulated by a federal agency like OSHA. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in May 2011 adopted a safety program for its own workers that includes a workplace anti-bully policy. The policy is contained in a 278-page document, the OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual,  which outlines safety practices for OSHA’s field offices. It was drafted in cooperation with the National Council of Field Labor Locals, a union that represents OSHA workers.

OSHA’s workplace bullying policy is significant because the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees … .” However, OSHA has not enforced that provision with respect to workplace bullying.

The stated purpose of the workplace bullying policy adopted by OSHA for its own workers,  contained in the manual’s “Violence in the Workplace” chapter. is: ”To provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.”

Here is the OSHA General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) SEC. 5:

Duties

(a) Each employer —

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees …

*See Susan Harthill. “The Need for a Revitalized Regulatory Scheme to Address Workplace Bullying in the United States: Harnessing the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.” University of Cincinnati Law Review 78.4 (2010): 1250-1306.

WAGE AND HOUR LAWS

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address workplace bullying per se but it can be used to combat certain types of abuse. The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.  The FLSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division  If one aspect of the bullying campaign is failure to pay proper wages or overtime, for example, the FLSA is one potential remedy.

THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT

The National Labor Relations Act  (NLRA) was passed in 1935 to protect the right of employees in the private sector to create labor unions, engage in collective bargaining and to take part in strikes. The act is also known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Sen. Robert F. Wagner.  The act is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board.

 Specifically, the National Labor Relations Board protects the rights of employees to engage in “protected concerted activity,”  which is when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment.  A single employee may also engage in protected concerted activity if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.

A few examples of protected concerted activities are:

  • Two or more employees addressing their employer about improving their pay.
  • Two or more employees discussing work-related issues beyond pay, such as safety concerns, with each other.
  • An employee speaking to an employer on behalf of one or more co-workers about improving workplace conditions.

Most employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA. However, the Act specifically excludes individuals who are employed by federal, state, or local governments, agricultural laborers, some close relatives of the employer, domestic servants in a home, independent contractors, employers subject to the Railway Labor Act, etc.

 FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers potential help for employees who are suffering health effects from workplace abuse.  Administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, it  entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

-the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;

-the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;

-to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;

a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;

– any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or

Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin to the employee (military caregiver leave).

NOTE: These laws are discussed in depth in my book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.  Also, for additional information or developments with respect to the above laws, use the search form on this blog.

What is Workplace Bullying?

There is no universally agreed upon definition for abuse or bullying.  There are many critical differences between workplace conflict and bullying.  The bully is often a supervisor who  abuses his/her authority to intentionally, repeatedly and unfairly undermine or destroys the credibility of the target. The bully’s actions are  motivated by self-interest, not the good of the company.  The bully is often threatened by the target, who may be competent, well liked and works hard. What follows are definitions from diverse sources that point to common themes.  – PGB

general definition for workplace bullying suggested by leading scholars on the topic is:

  • Harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks.
  • The interaction or process occurs repeatedly and regularly (e.g. weekly) and over a period of time (e.g. about six months).
  • The process escalates until the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts.

(Note: In some countries, a single incident of bullying is sufficient to trigger a civil remedy.)

* From  Katherine Lippel, Introduction, 32 COMP. LABOR LAW & POL’Y JOURNAL 2  (2010), citing Ståle Einarsen et al., The Concept of Bullying and Harassment at Work: The European Tradition, in Stale Einarsen, et al, BULLYING AND HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: DEVELOPMENT IN THEORY, RESEARCH AND PRACTICE 3, 32 (2d ed., forthcoming  2011).

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THE OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ADMINISTRATION

Bullying in the workplace is a widely recognized  form of workplace violence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines workplace violence as “An action, whether verbal, written, or physical aggression, that is intended to control, cause, or is capable of causing injury to oneself or other, emotional harm, or damage to property.” –  OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual, (pps, 10-1, , 10-2 (2011), available athttps://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/ADM_04-00-001.pdf)

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THE U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION SAYS:

The EEOC has an important Enforcement Guidance entitled Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors  that discusses employer liability for harassment in the workplace.

Generally, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where

1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or
2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Federal anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

*EEOC

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BAD EMPLOYERS

Many lawsuits involve employers that use bullying tactics  strategically to rid the workplace of good employees to avoid a legal obligation.  For example, employers may  bully employees to force them to quit so the employer can downsize without paying unemployment compensation or avoid a potential worker’s compensation claim. Many employers use bully in strategically to rid the workplace of employees who  demand pay or overtime to which they are entitled or who assert a legal right to organize collectively. One of the most common types of employee lawsuits involves retaliation, where an employer bullies an employee for complaining about illegal discrimination or harassment.

–  Patricia G. Barnes, J.D., author, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.

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An April  2011  publication by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries contains an overview of workplace and corporate bullying. It  provides the following definition:

“Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).”

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The phenomenon of workplace abuse has been well studied in Europe, where it is called “mobbing.” The concept was introduced in the United States with the publication, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Here is how the authors define mobbing:

  1. Assaults on dignity, integrity, credibility, and competence;
  2. Negative, humiliating, intimidating, abusive, malevolent, and controlling communication;
  3. Committed directly or indirectly in subtle or obvious ways;
  4. Perpetrated by  ≥1 staff member;
  5. Occurring in a continual, multiple, and systematic fashion over time;
  6. Portraying the victim as being at fault;
  7. Engineered to discredit, confuse, intimidate, isolate, and force the person into submission;
  8. Committed with the intent to force the person out;
  9. Representing the removal as the victim’s choice;
  10. Unrecognized, misinterpreted, ignored, tolerated, encouraged, or even instigated by management.

*  Source: Adapted  from Davenport N, Schwartz RD, Elliott GP. Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Ames, IA: Civil Society Publishing; 1999:41.

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GAINING INSIGHT FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE …

Although abuse in our society is silo-ed, in reality, abuse exists on a continuum. It starts in childhood and progresses until the problem behavior is addressed by the abuser or there is an intervention by an outside party.

Here is a definition of abuse used by the federal government in the context of domestic violence. Many aspects of this definition could apply to abuse in the workplace.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Violence Against Women says domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.

Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

Some specific categories of domestic violence:

Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, biting, etc. Physical abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.

• Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.

Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.

Economic Abuse: Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.

Psychological Abuse: Causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

Workplace abuse usually does not include overt physical  behaviors – though it certainly can. For example, sexual harassment is a form of workplace bullying that can involve both men and women.

More often, workplace bullying involves emotional and economic abuse.

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In April  2010 the Massachusetts’ state legislature unanimously passed what is called the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation with respect to schools. The law was precipitated by two cases of  Massachusetts youths committing suicide after allegedly being bullied. The legislation requires school employees to report all instances of bullying and require principals to investigate them. PGB

The MASSACHUSETTS‘ 2010  School Anti-Bullying Law:

“Bullying”, the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that:

(i)  causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property;

(ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property;

(iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim;

(iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or

(v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a  school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyberbullying.

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THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION (ILO) SAYS …

Workplace bullying is one of the fastest growing complaints of workplace violence. It constitutes offensive behaviour through vindictive, cruel, malicious or humiliating attempts to undermine an individual or groups of employees through such activities as:

  • Making life difficult for those who have the potential to do the bully’s job better than the bully;
  • Shouting at staff to get things done;
  • Insisting that the bully’s way of doing things is the only right way;
  • Refusing to delegate because the bully feels no one else can be trusted;
  • Punishing others by constant criticism or by removing their responsibilities for being too competent.

*ILO

Bullying behaviors may include:

  • making life difficult for those who have the potential to do the bully’s job better than the bully;
  • punishing others for being too competent by constant criticism or by removing their responsibilities, often giving them trivial tasks to do instead;
  • refusing to delegate because bullies feel they can’t trust anyone else;
  • shouting at staff to get things done;
  • persistently picking on people in front of others or in private;
  • insisting that a way of doing things is always right;
  • keeping individuals in their place by blocking their promotion;
  • if someone challenges a bully’s authority, overloading them with work and reducing the deadlines, hoping that they will fail at what they do; and
  • feeling envious of another’s professional or social ability, so setting out to make them appear incompetent, or make their lives miserable, in the hope of getting them dismissed or making them resign.

*Duncan Chappell and Vittorio Di Martino, VIOLENCE AT WORK, International Labour Organization (2006)

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The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  •  Verbal abuse.
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
  • Work interference, i.e. sabotage, that prevents work from being done.

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PSYCHOLOGICAL TERROR

“Workplace bullying is traumatic because it is unexpected and always perceived as undeserved and unjustified (Keashly and Neuman, 2005). Abuse is not a requisite aspect of work duties, is unrelated to job demands, and is, consequently, perceived as unwarranted. The shock of being singled out for repeated abuse can be as traumatic as divorce or a loved one’s death (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2002) and can evoke levels of anxiety and psychological pain necessitating therapeutic help (Randall, 2001). What makes this experience especially corrosive is that it is ongoing, frequent, enduring, and escalatory—typically worsening over time. The trauma is also a function of the intensive fear and dread bullying creates. In fact, bullying and mobbing are often called ‘psychological terror’ (Leymann, 1996: 375).”

– Lutgen-Sandvik, P. (2006). Take this job and …: Quitting and other forms of resistance to workplace bullying. Communication Monographs, 73, 406-433.

Sample WP Bullying Policies

 *  Perhaps the most authoritative policy is the one promulgated in 2011 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in the OSHA Field Safety and Health Manual, Violence at Work, Section 10.  This policy applies to all OSHA employees.  OSHA is responsible for protecting the health and safety of all American workers but, as yet, has done virtually nothing  to protect non-OSHA employees from this recognized form of workplace violence. See also the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s directive on a model Equal Employment Opportunity Policy for federal agencies. Finally, the Society for Human Resources Management has a sample workplace bully policy here.  You can  find examples of other sample workplace anti-bully policies below.

1.  The municipality of Anchorage Alaska approved a workplace bullying policy for municipa; employees on October 19,2015.  The policy can be found here.

The policy defines workplace bullying as “intentional behavior that a reasonable person would find hostile, intimidating, offensive or intended to create an abusive work environment.”

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets.
  • Verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating or humiliating nature.
  • The sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work, performance or opportunity for promotion or advancement.

2. This policy is from Final Report, Ventura Grand Jury, Bullying in the Workplace, May 24, 2011. 

 [YOUR COMPANY]

ANTI-BULLYING POLICY

[YOUR COMPANY] is committed to providing all employees a healthy and safe work environment.

[YOUR COMPANY] will ensure that procedures exist to allow complaints of bullying to be dealt with and resolved within [YOUR COMPANY], without limiting any person’s entitlement to pursue resolution of their complaint with the relevant statutory authority. [YOUR COMPANY] is committed to the elimination of all forms of bullying.

This policy applies to all employees of [YOUR COMPANY]. It applies during normal working hours, at work related or sponsored functions, and while traveling on work related business. There will be no recriminations for anyone who in good faith alleges bullying.

 DEFINITIONS

Bullying is unwelcome or unreasonable behavior that demeans, intimidates or humiliates people either as individuals or as a group. Bullying behavior is often persistent and part of a pattern, but it can also occur as a single incident. It is usually carried out by an individual but can also be an aspect of group behavior (see “mobbing” below). Some examples of bullying behavior are:

Verbal communication

  • Abusive and offensive language
  • Insults
  • Teasing
  • Spreading rumor and innuendo
  • Unreasonable criticism
  • Trivializing of work and achievements

Manipulating the work environment

  • Isolating people from normal work interaction
  • Excessive demands
  • Setting impossible deadlines

Psychological manipulation

  • Unfairly blaming for mistakes
  • Setting people up for failure
  • Deliberate exclusion
  • Excessive supervision
  • Practical jokes
  • Belittling or disregarding opinions or suggestions
  • Criticizing in public

Context is important in understanding bullying, particularly verbal communication. There is a difference between friendly insults exchanged by long-time work colleagues and comments that are meant to be, or are taken as, demeaning. While care should be exercised, particularly if a person is reporting alleged bullying as a witness, it is better to be genuinely mistaken than to let actual bullying go unreported.

Mobbing

Mobbing is a particular type of bullying behavior carried out by a group rather than by an individual. Mobbing is the bullying or social isolation of a person through collective unjustified accusations, humiliation, general harassment or emotional abuse. Although it is group behavior, specific incidents such as an insult or a practical joke may be carried out by an individual as part of mobbing behavior.

CONSEQUENCES OF BULLYING

Bullying is unacceptable behavior because it breaches principles of equality and fairness, and it frequently represents an abuse of power and authority. It also has potential consequences for everyone involved.

For those being bullied

People who have been bullied often suffer from a range of stress-related illness. They can lose confidence and withdraw from contact with people outside the workplace as well as at work. Their work performance can suffer, and they are at increased risk of workplace injury.

For the employer

Besides potential legal liabilities, the employer can also suffer because bullying can lead to:

  • Deterioration in the quality of work
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lack of communication and teamwork
  • Lack of confidence in the employer leading to lack of commitment to the job

For others at the workplace

People who witness bullying behaviors can also have their attitudes and work performance affected. They can suffer from feelings of guilt that they did nothing to stop the bullying, and they can become intimidated and perform less efficiently fearing that they may be the next to be bullied.

 RESPONSIBILITIES

Managers and supervisors

Ensure that all employees are aware of the anti-bullying policy and procedures

  • Ensure that any incident of bullying is dealt with regardless of whether a complaint of bullying has been received
  • Provide leadership and role-modeling in appropriate professional behavior
  • Respond promptly, sensitively and confidentially to all situations where bullying behavior is observed or alleged to have occurred

Employees

  • Be familiar with and behave according to this policy
  • If you are a witness to bullying, report incidents to your supervisor, President or Human Resources Director as appropriate
  • Where appropriate, speak to the alleged bully(ies) to object to the behavior

IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN BULLIED

Any employee who feels he or she has been victimized by bullying is encouraged to report the matter to his or her supervisor, or with Human Resources.

  • Where appropriate, an investigation will be undertaken and disciplinary measures will be taken as necessary.

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2.  This workplace anti-bullying policy is adapted by the Ontario Safety Association for Community & Healthcare from the Commission of Occupational Safety and Health, Government of Western Australia. (Toronto, Canada, 2009):

Company X considers workplace bullying unacceptable and will not tolerate it in any circumstances.

Workplace bullying is behaviour that harms, intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates an employee, possibly in front of other employees, clients or customers. Workplace bullying may cause the loss of trained and talented employees, reduce productivity and morale and create legal risks.

Company X believes all employees should be able to work in an environment free of bullying. Managers and supervisors must ensure employees are not bullied.

Company X has grievance and investigation procedures to deal with workplace bullying. Any reports of workplace bullying will be treated seriously and investigated promptly, confidentially and impartially.

Company X encourages all employees to report workplace bullying.

Managers and supervisors must ensure employees who make complaints, or witnesses, are not victimized.

Disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who bullies a co-employee. Discipline may involve a warning, transfer, counseling, demotion or dismissal, depending on the circumstances.

The contact person for bullying at this workplace is:

Name:______________________________________________

Phone Number: _______________________________________

*  Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney with experience in both domestic violence and employment law.  Contact her at barnespatg(at)gmail.com.