Silence Perpetuates Workplace Bullying

Many victims of workplace bullying experience embarrassment and shame, and endure the bullying until they can quit, transfer, are fired or find another job.

A 2011 Careerbuilder survey found that only 28 percent percent of workers who were bullied brought the situation to a higher authority by reporting the bully to their Human Resources department. (Of these, 62 percent said no action was taken.)

Of those who didn’t report the bully at all, 21 percent said it was because they feared the bullying would escalate.

When a target does report a bully to management,  the employer may respond with some kind of private internal procedure or investigation.  The bully may even face a disciplinary action or ultimate termination, but it’s all secret. So the bully leaves and is hired by another organization and repeats his/her behavior and devastates the life of another target.

There’s a huge downside to silence in the context of bullying.

For example, until the 1970s, society deemed domestic violence to be a private family matter and women were often advised by law enforcement and religious authorities  to simply become a better wife or partner to the abuser, who would then have no reason to abuse the victim. We know today that this advice ignores the power dynamics of domestic violence and resulted in deaths of many women and children.  By  one estimate, 3 million women continue to be  physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.

And,  society still deems it appropriate to shield rape victims, which is not surprising given our history of blaming rape victims, who traditionally were shamed and ostracized.

In a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a rape victim argues that silence works to shield universities from their responsibility to protect students, and has made students less safe from violence.  I think the same dynamic exists for workplace bullying. If we “outed” bullies, there would be fewer serial bullies and there would be more sensitivity in general to the problem.

If you are being bullied, consider reporting it. Research shows that bullying may exact a severe toll on your physical and mental health. affects your career and your financial well-being, and that it can even erode your relationship with your spouse and children. Also, chances are your bully boss or supervisor has bullied others, and he or she will bully again unless stopped.

If you are an employer, you may be inclined to shroud employee complaints of bullying from public view.  For example, like the universities mentioned in The Chronicle article, you may feel that silence protects you or your company.  However, there is overwhelming research showing that bullying costs employers billions of dollars every year in higher health care premiums, lower morale, absenteeism, work hours lost, needless turnover,  litigation costs, etc.  By providing cover to the bully, you  become an accomplice in the problem, enabling the bulling and further demoralizing victims and witnesses. You will continue the bleeding that a bully inflicts on an employer’s bottom line.

So think about it – who really wins when there is silence about the problem of bullying in the workplace.

The bully.

Congress to Consider School Anti-Bullying Law

Federal officials are rightly concerned about bullying in school. The problem, of course, is also pervasive in the workplace. It would not be surprising if lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered employees,  or employees who are perceived as thus, also are frequent targets of workplace bullying.  PGB

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last week in an effort to protect to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in federally-funded public elementary and high schools from bullying.

The bill, which was reintroduced by U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN), was prompted by suicides resulting from anti-LGBT bullying of several students in recent years.

According to the bill:

“Public school students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (referred to in this Act as ‘‘LGBT’’), or are perceived to be LGBT, or who associate with LGBT people, have been and are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, and have been deprived of equal educational opportunities, in schools in every part of the Nation.”

The SNDA is modeled after Title IX [20 USC § 1681 et seq.] of the Education Amendments of 1972 and would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination against LGBT students in public schools. The act would also prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as prohibit schools from ignoring harassment. If enacted into law, violations of the SNDA would result in the loss of federal funding and provide a legal cause of action for victims who encounter discrimination in public schools.

The legislation was first introduced in the 111th Congress and currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 27 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, lawmakers, students and parents also convened last week to discuss measures to combat bullying. Several state and federal legislators have introduced similar bills aimed at preventing bullying in public schools. In a press release, the White House said:

“Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year – upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready.”

The Massachusetts House of Representatives in March 2010 unanimously passed a bill seeking to prevent bullying in schools and cyberspace.

According to the SNDA, there is a special need for legislation addressing bullying of  LGBT students:

“Numerous social science studies demonstrate that discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropping out, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement, among LGBT youth.

When left unchecked, discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity can lead, and has led, to life-threatening violence and to suicide.”

NBC Should Fire Donald Trump!

Shows Lousy Leadership Skills

Donald Trump,  real estate mogul and boss of  The Celebrity Apprentice,  hit a new low this week when he fired a target of workplace bullying and retained the bully.

Trump retained Richard Hatch after Hatch, in his capacity of Project Leader, actually physically pushed away  his “employee,” David Cassidy, when Cassidy tried to make suggestions.

Hatch, who won the first Survivor reality TV show, is physically considerably larger than Cassidy, who is a performer and former teen idol. Hatch treated Cassidy like a pesky fly, physically pushing him away a couple of times.  At one point, Cassidy confronted Hatch, complaining that Hatch had physically touched Cassidy twice and telling him to stop.

Notably, Hatch did not physically touch any other team member.

In addition to physical bullying, Hatch repeatedly referred to Cassidy in demeaning terms, at one point calling  Cassidy delicate and one of the “little people.”

Meanwhile, in a behavior that is typical for a workplace bully, Hatch at first denied the abuse, which was caught on film, and then minimized the abuse.

Unfortunately, the scenario is all too typical.

In a 2008  poll by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 53 percent of targets of workplace bullying said they reported the abuse to their employer, and their employer substantially did nothing; 71 percent said the employer retaliated against them!

Cassidy and other team members reported the bullying to Donald Trump  but, sadly, Trump’s response was essentially to criticize Cassidy for failing to be more assertive.  Trump said  his gut  (which he said is always right)  told him to fire Cassidy and not Hatch. However, cynics might infer that Trump’s gut told him the villainous Hatch is better for ratings.

This is an appalling example of poor leadership for any boss but especially one who is making noises about running for the Republican nomination for U.S. President.  (I’m referring to Trump)

In addition to Cassidy, Trump  failed Cassidy’s team-mates. Witnesses of bullying often fear that they may be next, and experience guilt that they didn’t intervene on behalf of the bullied.  Several of Cassidy’s teammates watched in silence while Hatch physically dominated Cassidy.

Hatch, by the way, spent three years in prison for failing to pay taxes on his winnings from Survivor and subsequent earnings. (A federal judge ordered Hatch back to prison on 3/11/11 for nine months because he still hasn’t settled up with the IRS.) Fellow Survivor cast member Sue Hawk threatened to file a lawsuit after Hatch, while nude, brushed up against her during a Survivor challenge.

Hatch calls himself a corporate trainer.

God help us!

By the way, for all you employers out there who think the workplace should be a battleground, here’s an overview and definition of the tort of battery.

Battery occurs when the defendant’s acts intentionally cause harmful or offensive contact with the victim’s person. [See Restatement §§ 13, 16, 18.] While battery requires intent, the prevailing tort definition does not require an intent to harm. It is only necessary that the defendant intend to cause either harmful or offensive contact.  [From: J. Diamond, et. al, Understanding Torts (Lexis-Nexis, 2010)].

– PGB

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Workplace Anti-Bullying Laws Inevitable …

Here are excerpts from a Jan. 21, 2011 article in The New York Law Journal by two attorneys at a major law firm that represents management and employers, warning that it is just a question of time before a state passes a law providing a right of civil redress to workers who are victims of workplace bullying. Note: this article presents a somewhat alarmist view of what the authors concede is the inevitable passage of legislation to combat workplace abuse. The authors trivialize the current problem, focusing on co-worker spats and hypersensitive employees while ignoring the devastating impact of workplace bullying on targets, their families and the employers.  The authors’ interpretation of case law is unduly negative and slanted.  And the authors fail to present an accurate picture of the current costs of  workplace abuse  on employers and society– PGB

Office Bully Takes One on the Nose: Developing Law on Workplace Abuse

by Jason Habinsky and Christine M. Fitzgerald

For years the law has been stacked against an employee claiming that he or she was abused or bullied by a co-worker. Generally, the law offers no protection to such a victim as long as the alleged bully can show that his or her actions were not motivated by the victim’s status as a member of a protected class. Currently, there are no federal, state or local laws providing a cause of action for an individual subject to a non-discriminatory abusive work environment. However, with bullying becoming front-page news across the nation, it is just a matter of time before the law adapts. Since 2003, 17 states have considered legislation designed to protect employees from workplace bullying. Indeed, this year New York came very close to a floor vote on a bill that would provide a cause of action to an employee subjected to an abusive work environment.

Proponents of anti-bullying legislation contend that it is necessary given the prevalence of abusive conduct in the workplace. The proposed New York legislation noted that “between sixteen and twenty-one percent of employees directly experience health endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment” and that “[s]uch behavior is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment.”

Currently, employers have little to worry about with respect to facing substantial liability as a result of workplace bullying. The existing legal framework provides very limited recourse to an employee who is bullied at work. While some types of harassment are outlawed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII’s reach is narrow. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, color, religion, or national origin.

Likewise, the extreme behavior that gives rise to the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress does not encompass most workplace bullying.

Employees also have been unsuccessful in trying to fit their workplace bullying claims into a cause of action for constructive discharge.

Therefore, it appears that we may be on the cusp of a new era of legislation and legal precedent targeted at preventing and punishing workplace bullying. Indeed, it seems inevitable that some form of the HWB (Healthy Workplace Bill) will become law, whether in New York or elsewhere, and that once the first state adopts an anti-bullying statute others will shortly follow.