Murderer Cites Workplace Bullying in TV Shootings

Update: As information has developed, it is apparent that Flanagan filed an earlier lawsuit  alleging race discrimination against a Florida television station in 2000. This appears to be the lawsuit that he refers to as having been settled out of court.  The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Flanagan complained that he and another black employee were referred to as “monkeys” by a producer and that a supervisor told him he was  an exception among blacks who are “lazy and do not take advantage of free money.” Flanagan’s former boss in Tallahassee is quoted as stating that Flanagan had “threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.” 

Legislation to stop workplace bullying came from an unusual source this week – a man who filmed his fatal shooting of a TV journalist and camera operator while they were conducting a live interview in Roanoke,Virginia.

Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was an ex-reporter at the station, WDBJ7 TV,  which employed two of his three victims, reporter Alison Parker, 24,  and Adam Ward, 27, a camera operator. Professionally known as Bryce Williams, Flanagan was fired after about a year in 2013 and escorted out of the building by police, reportedly over angry outbursts.

In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC, Flanagan, who was gay and African-American, claims he was bullied  and the victim of racism and homophobia during his year at the station.  The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2014.

“I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore,” wrote Flanagan, “THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on.”  

Flanagan killed himself about five hours after the murders –  which he filmed using his telephone camera and  posted on Twitter. He fatally shot himself after crashing his car while fleeing police.

Obviously a deeply disturbed man, Flanagan also states the horrific attack on Parker and Ward was intended to avenge the Charleston shootings earlier this year in which a white gunman killed nine parishioners at an African-American church.

Was He Bullied?

Whether Flanagan was bullied (or a bully) raises questions about how employers should deal with  bullying, harassment and problem employees.  Did his employers offer staff diversity training or provide Flanagan with the opportunity for coaching or psychological help? Could the tragic shootings have been averted?

The BBC quotes Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ7’s general manager, as describing  Flanagan as unhappy, difficult to work with and always “looking out for people to say things he could take offence to.”

Flanagan admits that he made mistakes while employed by WDBJ-7, adding that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke ” but you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!” [Read more…]

Do ‘Nice Guys’ Finish Last?

Baseball player Leo Durocher famously said “nice guys finish last.”

Do they?

There is no conclusive answer to this question but Christine Porath, in a recent article for the New York Times, argues that politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.  She cited a study involving a biotechnology company that found workers who are seen as civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find research that comes to the opposite conclusion. At least one study shows that agreeableness affects income – particularly for women. Nice gals and guys are thought to earn less than co-workers who are not nice.

I submit that Duroucher’s question misses the point.

A smart employer, mindful of the bottom line, would not knowingly  promote a worker who  is rude, engages in workplace bullying or fails to show respect for others.  

Employers increasingly recognize that incivility or bullying in the workplace is bad for business and the bottom line. An abusive workplace exposes a company to expensive and unnecessary turnover, low morale and productivity, higher medical costs and needless risk of litigation. Moreover, research shows that workplace bullies act for their own selfish reasons, in complete disregard for the success of the employer. The success of a  bully in a workplace is directly proportional to  the employer’s failure  to effectively manage the company’s most critical resource  – its workforce.

Still Far From a National Workplace Bullying Solution

It is an interesting phenomenon that workplace bullying advocates seem to have a hard time working together.

In fact, they don’t, which is one reason why after so many years there is no national solution on the horizon to the problem of workplace bullying.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, chaired by Gary Namie, has been touting a law written by Suffolk University Professor David Yamada since 2002. The so-called Healthy Workplace Bill  (HWB) has been considered by more than 20 states but it has only been passed, in small part, by Tennessee. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s version of the HWB was so unfortunate  that it was promptly disowned by Namie.

Even if the HWB was passed by some states in an unaltered form, it is almost inconceivable that it would be adopted by competitive, pro-business states where workers are the most vulnerable to abuse. And some say it is fortunate that the HWB has fared so poorly, because it offers scant real protection to targets of workplace bullying, especially when compared to anti-workplace bullying laws and legislation passed in other countries.

Nevertheless, the Workplace Bullying Institute has succeeded in bringing attention to the problem of workplace bullying through its state-by-state campaign.

I was part of the formation of the National Workplace Bullying Coalition (NWBC) a couple of years ago.  Some of the group’s members had been put off by Namie, a seemingly gruff and territorial man who has been called a bully himself by a competitor.  Despite this, the NWBC reached out to Namie and Yamada with no success.

From my perspective, it is unfortunate that the NWBC finally settled on a vague mission statement to “work with legislatures at the local, state and federal levels to refine the definition of workplace bullying and implement laws to protect workers’ rights to dignity at work.”  That’s a type of frustrating all things to all people approach that reminds me of the “I’d like to buy the world a coke” commercial for world peace.

Yet, the NWBC has made progress by encouraging the EEOC to study the issue of general workplace harassment. One of the NWBC board members, Professor Jerry Carbo, is a member of an EEOC Select Task Force recently formed by EEOC Commissioner Jenny Yang. The group is expected to issue a report that sheds insight into and offers suggestions to address workplace bullying.  This is an important step.

My area of focus is and always was to achieve a national solution to the problem of workplace bullying.  I believe the answer lies in a combination of health and safety regulations enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and in a federal law that protects all workers from a hostile workplace environment. I advocated a national solution when I wrote my book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace and I still believe it is the only realistic way to protect American workers.

For years, I have received emails every week from good, hard-working Americans who are being viciously bullied on the job and who are suffering severe mental and physical distress. Workplace bullying is a widely acknowledged form of workplace violence. Other industrialized countries took steps years ago – in some cases decades –  to address the problem of workplace bullying. And yet workers in the United States, who have lost so much in recent years, still have virtually no protection, especially if they are poor or middle class.

Maybe it is naive to think we could be more effective if we worked together to demand a national solution? But workers need a real solution and they need it today, not in the distant future.

Federal Agencies Study Workplace Bullying

While federal and state laws to address workplace bullying remain elusive, the U.S. government is moving forward to address the problem.

The  U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently placed “nonsexual harassment” on its research agenda for 2015-2018.  In the past, the MSPB has focused on sexual harassment but it has not previously addressed the problem of general harassment or workplace bullying. The Board states it will study ways to foster effective work environments by eliminating nonsexual harassment.

Meanwhile, the EEOC last month formed a Select Task Force to examine the problem of workplace harassment and look at ways by which it might be prevented. EEOC Commissioner Jenny Yang said 30 percent of the charges received by the EEOC each year include harassment complaints. The task force, which includes 16 members from around the country,  will hold a series of meetings, including public meetings, in the year ahead.

The Occupational Safety Health Administration signed a union agreement in 2011 that provides protection against workplace bullying to its own workforce. Unfortunately, OSHA, which is charged with insuring the safety of America’s private sector workers, has yet to extend these same protections to workers outside OSHA.

According to the MSPB: “Nonsexual harassment is particularly inappropriate when the perpetrator is a supervisor or otherwise exercises official authority over the employee,” states the MSPB.

The MSPB states that federal employees should be aware of the problem of nonsexual harassment and “cognizant of the hazards of nonsexual harassment and strategies to extinguish this behavior before it undermines the quality of their workplace.”

Specifically, the board will study:

  • How do federal employees define nonsexual harassment?
  • How prevalent is it in the federal workplace?
  • Who are the most common perpetrators and victims of nonsexual harassment?
  • What effect does nonsexual harassment have on federal workplace outcomes like retention and turnover, motivation, engagement, job satisfaction, and leader trust?
  • Do federal employees believe that appropriate action is being taken to address nonsexual harassment?
  • What strategies, both effective and ineffective, are used to address it?

The MSPB is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the Executive branch that hears employee appeals of decisions of the Civil Service Commission, reviews significant actions of the U.S. Office of Program Management, and performs merit system studies.

There is overwhelming evidence that workplace bullying causes targets to suffer  potentially severe mental and physical health impacts.  Employers pay the price for bullying in the form of personnel turnover, low morale and absenteeism, higher health care costs and unnecessary litigation