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.

Hollow Victory of Anti-Bully Law

The recent controversy over the passage of an anti-bully law in Tennessee provides more evidence that a national solution is the only viable way to combat the epidemic of workplace bullying in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported upon the lack of enthusiasm for a new law passed by Tennessee’s legislature last May to protect public sector employees from workplace abuse. The upshot of the story was that the law actually provides little or no protection to public sector workers who are targets of bullying and workplace abuse.

Tennessee’s  “Healthy Workplace Act” calls for an advisory commission to create a model anti-bully policy for public sector workers by March 1, 2015.  The law states that if a public sector employer adopts the model policy or an equivalent anti-bully policy  “then the employer shall be immune from suit for any employee’s abusive conduct that results in negligent or intentional infliction of mental anguish.” Thus, if administrators  simply adopt a policy –  even if it is never enforced –  they will receive legal immunity from potential lawsuits.

Not only does the Tennessee law do little to protect workers, it potentially could make things worse by preventing targets of workplace abuse from seeking damages for emotional distress while removing what many consider to be the only real  incentive for employers to maintain a healthy workplace – the threat of a lawsuit.

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National Coalition to Tackle Workplace Bullying

I am pleased to announce that this blog is a founding member of the National Workplace Bullying Coalition (NWBC), the first organization dedicated to seeking a national solution to the problem of workplace bullying in the United States.

The NWBC proposes a convention, similar to a constitutional convention, to detail the nature of workplace bullying, the negative consequences to both employers and employees, how today’s business leaders address the issue and what remains to be accomplished. The NWBC supports state and local efforts to address workplace bullying but the goal ultimately is to achieve a national  law or regulations that  provides employers with incentive to insure a safe, healthy and bully-free workplace for all employees.

Many developed countries around the world already have legislation in place to address workplace bullying. However, in the vast majority of workers in America workers have no protection unless they can shoehorn their claim under an existing law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals on the basis of race, sex, religion & national origin.

The Workplace Bullying Institute has backed state legislation, the proposed Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), since 2002.  Versions of the HWB have been proposed in more than 20 states but none of the bills have passed, raising questions about the viability of this approach.  Also, it is highly unlikely that  so-called “pro business” states will willingly adopt workplace anti-bullying legislation, leaving employees with no recourse.

Nevada State Senator Richard Segerblom of Las Vegas, NV, has proposed a different solution to the problem of workplace bullying that some consider to be more promising than the HWB approach.  Segerblom has proposed amending Nevada’s employment discrimination law so that  anyone who is a victim of a hostile workplace environment has a legal remedy whether or not they can show illegal discrimination. In other words, he has proposed making the hostile workplace remedy “status blind.”

Many national surveys show that workplace bullying is epidemic in the United States.  CareerBuilder in 2011 found that one in four workers in the United States experience workplace bullying, which has potentially severe mental and physical health impacts.  Most targets of workplace bullying are expelled from the workplace – fired or forced to quit – and many suffer the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome for years afterward.

The NWBC is an outgrowth of New Jersey workplace anti-bullying efforts and a loose-knit coalition called  Protect U.S. Workers, created by this blog and documentary filmmaker  Beverly Peterson of Our Bully Pulpit.  The NWBC supports the on-going petition drive by Protect U.S. Workers’  calling upon the Obama administration and the Secretary of Labor to adopt a national approach to workplace bullying.

Membership  in  the new coalition includes The Honorable Sue Pai Yang, who retired in 2012 after serving as  the  first Asian American appointed to the Workers’ Compensation Court in New Jersey;  Jerry Carbo, Esq.  an Associate Professor of Management at the Grove College of Business at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania, who has researched and  written  about workplace bullying.; Catherine Mattice.  who runs the consulting business, Civility Partners, LLC, which specializes in helping organizations realize positive workplace cultures; and The Honorable Stephen Tuber is a retired Judge of the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation – 1981 – 2009).

 

Another Defeat for Healthy Workplace Bill

TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH

The decade-long strategy of adopting state-by-state legislation to deal with workplace bullying in the United States has suffered yet another defeat.

The Maine House of Representatives recently voted 87-56 to sustain Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill aimed at bullying in the workplace that had been adopted by Maine’s legislature.

 The bill, which was supported by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), directed the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board to study psychological and physical harm employees suffer due to abusive work environments. 

 In his veto message, the governor said the study was unnecessary because the Workers’ Compensation Board already provides benefits to employees who suffer physical and psychological injuries on the job.

 Maine was the 24th state to consider some version of the WBI’s proposed  Healthy Workplace Bill  but no state has yet to adopt it.

 This blog advocates a federal and national solution to the problem of workplace bullying, which affects one in every three or four workers in the United States. So far about 8,000 targets of workplace bullying have signed a petition demanding action from the Obama Administration.

 Ruth and Gary Namie, founders of the WBI, have led  a decade-long campaign to pass proposed legislation called The Healthy Workplace Bill.

 Drafted by Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada, the bill was overhauled earlier this year after criticism by workplace anti-bully advocates that it offered far less protection to targets of workplace bullying than similar legislation in other countries.  

The Namies, who aggressively market consulting services and book sales on the WBI web site,  and Mr. Yamada, who formed an organization called The New Workplace Institute, have not cooperated with other workplace anti-bully advocates who formed a coalition last year (Protect US Workers) to  support a federal solution to workplace bullying.

America lags far behind Europe, Canada, Australia and many other industrialized countries in protecting workers from bullying, which is widely considered to be a health-harming form of workplace violence..