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.

Workplace Bullying: America Lags Behind

It is a disgrace that America is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that tolerates workplace bullying.

Please sign a petition asking the Obama administration to formulate a national strategy to halt workplace bullying. The petition, created by a coalition of workplace anti-bully advocates (including this blog), can be found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/protect-us-workers/.

Among other countries, America lags behind the 32 members and participating states of the European Union that voted in 2007 to require all employers to address and prevent workplace bullying.  Sweden acted in 1993!

The World Health Organization calls workplace bullying a major public health problem.  There is overwhelming research showing that targets of workplace bullying may suffer a variety of long-and short-term mental and physical health problems. A high level of stress in the workplace is linked to chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease.

If you happen to be the one-in-four American workers who are afflicted with bullying, you will quickly find that no federal or state law exists to protect you.  Sure, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 requires employers to provide all workers with a safe workplace but the OSH Act is not enforced with respect to workplace bulling. Even if you can shoehorn your complaint into an existing law, it will be an expensive, long, uphill battle.  You may also find that the American judiciary is not knowledgeable or sympathetic to the plight of workers.

Surveys show that most targets of bullying are either forced to quit or resign.

In a little more than two weeks, about 7,000 people have signed the petition. Surely this is evidence of the overwhelming nature of this problem, especially in our current dire economy, with an aging workforce that cannot afford to quit or retire. When you sign the petition, an email is dispatched to both the White House and to the Labor Secretary.

Here are some recent comments from the petition:

  •  Workplace bullying has to end! My diabetic dad is too afraid to speak out against his coworker and boss who are creating a severe hostile work environment for fear of losing his job. This epidemic has to stop.
  • Workers who bully are unprofessional and immature and psychologically disturbed, and contribute to health problems in their targets and increased absenteeism and med costs. Remove the bullies, the work environment should be on a professional par with other industrialized countries, and not a playpen or a refuge for sociopaths.
  •  I too was bullied by a supervisor, who was a bully while in school. He would snark at me, make fun of my work if my way of performing the task was different than how he envisioned (my way was more time-efficient even), roll his eyes at my comments, and such. Once when he was asking me for some personal info I finally told him, ‘why would I give a bully additional info to use against me?’ I had lots of hair loss, high blood pressure, unsettling dreams leading to unsettled sleep patterns, and felt tired all the time. I did finally make it to retirement, whew, and it took 6-10 months for my body to realign from all the stress.
  •  I had loved my job and the people I worked for and with; but after seeing my boss bully and harass employees until they quit or are fired; it suddenly became my turn. i could not understand why a guy that i gave everything to 12- 15 hours a day, would harass me and call me names to the point where I would be hospitalized several times for severe anxiety disorder, and have to live with it and medication. all caused by one man that felt that with power and riches he can ruin anyone’s life he chooses.
  •  Bullies aren’t found only in the schools. Some graduate to become workplace bullies. Just because they are chronologically adult doesn’t guarantee they will act responsibly. Please act to protect working Americans.

SIGN PETITION: STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING!

Now you can do something about the epidemic of workplace bullying!

Please sign this petition to ask President Obama and the Secretary of Labor  to formulate uniform national legislation to protect American workers from this widely recognized form of workplace violence.

The petition drive is sponsored by this blog (When the Abuser Goes to Work) and other workplace anti-bully advocates.

Workplace bullying is devastating to the mental and physical health of targets and it costs employees, employers and taxpayers billions each year in lost productivity, absenteeism and health and social welfare costs.

America lags far behind other industrialized countries on this issue. Sweden adopted a workplace anti-bully law in 1993. The 32 countries of the European Union agreed in 2007 to require employers to prevent and protect workers from workplace bullying. Workers in Turkey and Estonia have protection from workplace bullying – why don’t we?

A 2011 survey by CareerBuilder found that 27 percent of American workers report having been bullied in the workplace. The short-term impact of this form of abuse is severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. The long-term impact of high stress is chronic disease,  including cardiovascular disease.

The vast majority of targets have little or no legal recourse. For many, the only hope is to quit and face chronic unemployment.