I Will Ruin … Who?

NOTE:  State College of Florida President Lars Hafner subsequently  resigned on Oct. 30, 2012 with a $363,000 settlement agreement.  The board  voted 7-0 in January 2013 to hire a new president,   Dr. Carol Probstfeld,  formerly vice president for business and administrative services at the college.  Carlos Beruff, a realtor, remains on the board.  Sigh.

Go quietly or I will ruin you

That alleged threat is at the heart of what promises to be a costly battle between two titans at State College of Florida (SCF) in Manatee-Sarasota.

The Bradenton Herald reports that the college’s board of trustees voted  5-2 this week to ask Florida’s Attorney General to investigate an allegation of forgery against SCF President Lars Hafner.

Hafner says the vote stems from a campaign of bullying by SCF board chairperson Carlos Beruff.  He recounted a private conversation with Beruff about nine months ago in which Beruff allegedly told Hafner, “If you don’t go quietly, I’m going to ruin you and ruin your reputation.”

Beruff has accused Hafner of forging former board president Steve Harner’s name on a 2010 state grant application for SCF’s Collegiate School charter school. Hafner contends he signed Harner’s to the document with Harner’s permission.

Hafner accused Beruff of risking the college’s reputation for the sake of what Hafner called Beruff’s personal and political agenda against him.

“This has been nine months of, basically, a witch hunt, and of you bullying me,” Hafner said to Beruff. “You’ve been doing it in private so other board members were not aware of what you’re saying or doing.”

At a special board meeting called by Beruff , Beruff presented an affidavit from attorney Greg Porges, whom Beruff had hired privately to research the forgery question, in which Porges said Harner did not authorize Hafner to sign the grant application in his stead.

Hafner presented an affidavit directly from former president Harner, in which Harner stated he believed that in up to four instances he had authorized Hafner to sign his name on Harner’s behalf and with Harner’s “direction and instruction.”

Meanwhile, board member Jennifer Saslaw, one of two board members to vote against taking the case to the attorney general, said Harner told her that Hafner’s signature on the application was made with Harner’s approval.

Joe Miller, the other board member to vote against involving the attorney general, questioned whether Beruff was attacking Hafner at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, whose has proposed eliminating tenure for university employees and cutting the pay of university and college presidents.

Judge Ed Nicholas, a member of the SCF Foundation, accused the SCF board of “destroying the morale of this school” and driving away donors.  “Ever since you’ve been chairman, you’ve done nothing but attack this college or attack the staff,” Miller said. “I’m not sure who’s running things, the governor or this board.”

Hafner also said he was exploring whether Beruff violated state statutes by sharing information about Hafner’s evaluation.

One can’t help but wonder whether at any point the above officials considered other options to settle their difference? Say, mediation?  Counseling about the proper role of the administration versus the board? A duel?

Avoidance Increases Target’s Stress

Most targets try to avoid contact with an abusive supervisor but this tactic may backfire because it increases the target’s stress, according to research published in the American Psychological Association’s  International Journal of Stress Management.

A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel found that direct communication with a bully boss results in more positive emotions for the target than avoidance. An example of direct communication is: “I tell the supervisor directly that he/she must not treat me like that.”

“It is understandable that employees wish to reduce their contact to a minimum.  However, this strategy further increases the employee’s stress because it is associated with a sense of weakness and perpetuates their fear of the supervisor,” said Prof. Dana Yagil, a member of the university’s Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences who headed the study.

According to the study, abusive supervision is a major organizational stressor yet little is known about how employees cope with such stress. The study examined five types of strategies for coping with the stress factor of abusive treatment:

  • Directly communicating with the abusive boss to discuss the problems.
  • Using forms of ingratiation such as doing favors, using flattery and compliance.
  • Seeking support from others.
  • Avoiding contact with the supervisor.
  • Reframing or mentally restructuring the abuse in a way that decreases its threat.

The most widely-used strategy reported by the 300 employees who participated in the study was avoiding contact with the abusive supervisor, disengaging from the supervisor as much as possible, and also to seeking support from others.  The least used strategy was direct communication with the abusive supervisor — the strategy that was most strongly related to employees’ positive emotions.

The study shows that managers should be alert to signs of employee detachment – as it might indicate that their own behavior is being considered offensive by those employees.

Lessons for Ebenezer Scrooge

*** As we read about the one percent who own 40 percent of our nation’s wealth, the millions of unemployed, the plague of home foreclosures, the failure of schools, and the GOP’s insistence upon extending Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans, let us remember the lessons of the original bully boss. PGB

 Lessons for Ebenezer Scrooge

Spirit of Christmas Past: “And as your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart, as Alice said it would.”

——————————

Ebenezer: “I suppose you’ll be wanting the whole day tomorrow.”

Bob Cratchit: “If quite convenient, sir.”

Ebenezer: “Every Christmas you say the same thing. And every Christmas it’s just as inconvenient as the Christmas before. Good night.”

———————————

Jacob Marley: “In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!”

Ebenezer: ” But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!”

Jacob Marley: “BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!”

—————————————–

Spirit of Christmas Present: “My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts?”

Ebenezer: “I don’t know, how can I promise!”

Spirit of Christmas Present: “If it’s too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson!”

[opens his robe, revealing two starving children]

Ebenezer: [shocked] “Spirit, are these yours?”

Spirit of Christmas Present:  “They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!”

Ebenezer: “But have they no refuge, no resource?”

Spirit of Christmas Present: [quoting Scrooge] “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

———————————-

Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

*From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Maybe someone should fire his ass?

Workplace bullying is not always confined to the office in the age of technology.

A worker for the state of Nevada believes she was the victim of bullying by a supervisor writing on his Facebook page because she took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the Las Vegas Sun:

Steven Zuelke, a unit manager for the state’s unemployment benefits anti-fraud unit, used his personal Facebook page to complain about an unidentified employee he thinks uses too much sick time.

 “Why is it that for some people FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act and for others, it should stand for Fire My Lazy Ass?” Zuelke wrote on his Facebook page last month, hours after one of his employees left work early because she said she was sick.

Zuelke engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with a group of his Facebook friends — including another state staffer who works in the same division — in which he initially mocks his employee and then rants about how difficult it is for the state bureaucracy to deal with problem workers.

The rant was specific enough that one of the two employees Zuelke has had on FMLA status thinks Zuelke was talking about her.

“I had to read it a few times because I was shocked and confused,” said Sherry Truell, a claims examiner who works in Zuelke’s unit and has used FMLA time extensively this year. “I was being referred to as lazy, an anchor, that other people have to do my work, stuff that related to my personal business … I was extremely embarrassed. My co-workers can see this information.”

 Truell said she used FMLA heavily last month because of what she described as a stress-related medical condition and because her son needed surgery. She added that she usually takes two or three days off a month.

Truell has sought the help of her union representative to address the issue and is considering filing a grievance.

“He’s discussing his employees, his work environment, he has friended multiple other employees in the same office. … There are so many problems with this,” said Priscilla Maloney, labor representative for Truell’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local.

Instead of offering an apology, Zuelke alludes to his First Amendment’s right to free speech.  He says he did not post during working hours or using a state computer.

Nevada doesn’t have a specific written policy on Facebook use, which could end up costing the state.

If an employee takes legally appropriate medical leave, it is not acceptable for a manager to penalize, demean or harass her. In fact, it is never acceptable for a supervisor to publicly demean and harass an employee.  Most importantly for his employer, however, Zuelke’s actions subject the state of Nevada to potential legal liability.

The FMLA provides that eligible employees of covered employers have a right to take job-protected leave for qualifying events without interference or restraint from their employers. The FMLA also gives employees the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit under the Act (or cause a complaint or lawsuit to be filed), and to testify or cooperate in other ways with an investigation or lawsuit without being fired or discriminated against in any other manner.

If  Zuelke”s  subordinate at the Nevada Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department actually did take FMLA time, the state may find itself defending a retaliation lawsuit. Also, Zuelke inferred that an employee, who apparently was easily identifiable, engaged in fraudulent behavior by taking sick leave under the FMLA when she was not sick. He published his remarks on a Facebook page for all the world to see.   Hello … defamation, slander, libel.

Research shows that between a quarter and  third of workers are the victims of health endangering bullying, most by a supervisor.  This problem costs American employers billions every year in unnecessary turnover, absenteeism, higher health care costs, and needless litigation.