Workplace Bullying: The Big Picture

I am pleased to be quoted in a  Businessweek  feature on the problem of workplace bullies but I also find it frustrating that  the American media consistently fails to see the big picture about this serious national problem.

Workplace bullying is not just about misguided individuals who bully co-workers and subordinates. More importantly, it is about American employers.

American employers permit bullying in the workplace because there is no law or regulation that requires them to stop it – despite the fact that it is widely recognized as a form of workplace violence. Other industrialized countries recognize workplace bullying as an important public health and safety problem. And decades of research show that workplace bullying causes targets to suffer potentially severe emotional and physical harm.

Only employers can stop workplace bullying. Employees who are targeted for bullying generally are completely helpless to do anything about it, especially if the bully is a superior.

Why don’t employers stop it?

Because in America, workplace bullying is seen as a prerogative of the employer. In fact, some unscrupulous employers use bullying strategically to accomplish a goal – such as to avoid unions, downsize without paying unemployment compensation, or to evade a potential worker’s compensation claim. In my own practice of law, I saw many cases where employees were bullied and driven out of the workplace by an employer after they complained about wage theft (which, by the way, is epidemic in the United States). 

Why don’t workers do anything about it?

The vast majority of American workers are completely priced out of the American legal system and,  besides, federal judges (who have lifetime tenure barring bad behavior) are appallingly ignorant and unsympathetic to claims of  employment discrimination and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

So one in three or four American workers are bullied by employers, either directly or because the employer tolerates or fails to stop an abusive workplace environment.  

This all  stands in sharp contrast to other industrialized countries – including the European Union – where authorities recognize workplace bullying as a major problem and have placed the burden of eliminating workplace bullying squarely on employers.

Activitists in the United States have been spinning their wheels for more than a decade in an attempt to get a state-by-state solution to the problem of workplace bullying but the only real answer lies with the federal government.  States should act – and I hope they will act – but this is not the solution.  Today, many states will do virtually anything to attract new business; it is wishful thinking that they will voluntarily pass a law protecting targets of workplace bullying  if they can gain any competitive edge by not doing so. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has acknowledged the problem by enacting workplace bullying protections for its own employees but it has failed to take any steps to protect the health and safety of millions of American workers across the nation.

This blog is a member of the coalition Protect-US-Workers that has launched a petition drive asking U.S. President Barack H. Obama and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis to formulate a national response to the problem of workplace bullying.

Talk to your legislators. Sign the petition.

Employment Discrimination: What’s with Indiana?

 

The number of  employment discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission  is at an all time high, and its expected to rise.

But there are indications that discrimination is more prevalent in certain states, which apparently have laws and a regulatory schemes that favor business. For example, Texas is an employment-at-will state, which means that employees can be terminated for any reason as long as it doesn’t violate the law (i.e. discrimination) or an important public policy.

Conversely, some high population states appear to have a lower incidence of employment discrimination, possibly indicating a more favorable climate for employer-employee relations.

Businessweek recently did an analysis based on the number of EEOC “merit resolutions” in 2010. These are cases resolved without litigation by the EEOC with private employers and state and local government employers (not federal government). The EEOC filed 250 lawsuits in 2010, resolved 285 lawsuits, and resolved 104,999 private sector charges.  Note: The EEOC “prosecutes” only a fraction of the complaints that are filed with the EEOC.

Businessweek’s analysis shows that Texas was the state with the highest number of merit resolutions in 2010. However, this is not particularly surprising given that Texas has the second highest population of any state, after California, which ranked 2nd.

But what’s with Indiana? It’s the 15th largest state but ranks 5th state in terms of EEOC merit resolutions. Indiana touts itself as America’s heartland, a family friendly place.  Apparently it is even friendlier to business.  If you’re looking for a job, you might want to take this into account. And if you have a job in states like Indiana, Alabama or Mississippi, well … good luck!

On the other hand, New York is the 3rd largest state but ranks 15th in merit resolutions. Go New York!

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says private sector workplace discrimination charge filings with the federal agency nationwide hit an unprecedented level of 99,922 during the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2010. All major categories of charge filings in the private sector (which include charges filed against state and local governments) increased. These include charges alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; the Equal Pay Act; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

For the first time ever, retaliation under all statutes (36,258) surpassed race (35,890) as the most frequently filed charge, while allegations based on religion (3,790), disability (25,165) and age (23,264) increased.

Here’s the Businessweek ranking of states with EEOC merit resolutions:

1. Texas, 2nd largest state, population 25,145,561; merit resolutions,  1,780.

2. California, largest state, pop. 37,253,956; merit resolutions, 1,600.

3. Florida, 4th largest state,pop.  18,801,310; merit resolutions, 1,409.

4. Georgia, 9th largest state, pop. 9,687,653; merit resolutions, 1,288.

5. Indiana, 15th largest state, pop. 6,483,802; merit resolutions, 1,063.

6. Illinois, 5th largest state,pop.  12,830,632; merit resolutions, 1,001.

7. Pennsylvania, 6th largest state, pop. 12,702,379; merit resolutions, 860,

8. North Carolina, 10th largest state, pop. 9,535,483; merit resolutions, 823.

9. Tennessee, 17th largest state, pop.  6,346,105; merit resolutions, 800.

10. Ohio, 7th largest state, pop. 11,536,504; merit resolutions, 680.

11. Alabama, 23rd largest state, pop.4,779,736; merit resolutions, 650.

12. New York, 3rd largest state, pop. 19,378,102′ merit resolutions, 609.

13. Michigan, 8th largest state,  pop. 9,883,640; merit resolutions, 559.

14. Colorado, 22nd largest state, pop. 5,029,196; merit resolutions, 509.

15. Virginia, 12th largest state, pop. 8,001,024; merit resolutions, 499.

16. Arizona, 16th largest state, pop.,  6,392,017; merit resolutions, 496.

17. Missouri, 18th largest state, pop., 5,988,927; merit resolutions, 463.

18. Mississippi, 31st largest state, pop., 2,967,297; merit resolutions, 392.

19.  Arkansas, 32nd largest state, pop. 2,915,918; merit resolutions, 376.

20. Washington, 13th largest state, pop. 6,724,540;  merit resolutions, 353.