HR Doesn’t Work for Workplace Abuse Victims

This blog initially began with a rhetorical question – how do perpetrators of domestic violence act when they report for work?

I was reminded of this when I read about the travails of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi, 47, who was fired recently because he allegedly brutally assaulted three much younger women under the auspices of “rough sex.”

The Toronto Star also reported that a CBC staffer who worked on Ghomeshi’s show, Q,  complained to the CBC of verbal and sexual harassment by Ghomeshi. According to the Star:

“She never dated Ghomeshi. She alleges he approached her from behind and cupped her rear end in the Q studio, and that he quietly told her at a story meeting that he wanted to “hate f—” her.

The woman said she complained about Ghomeshi’s behaviour to her union representative, who took the complaint to a Q producer. As the woman recalls, the producer asked her “what she could do to make this a less toxic workplace” for herself. No further action was taken by the CBC, and the woman left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.”

What could the CBC have done to make the workplace less toxic? Really? And this is a unionized workplace?

Victims of workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse often find a deaf ear when they complain to the Human Resources Department. It’s obvious that HR exists at management’s pleasure, to protect management, and not to protect victims of workplace abuse. No matter how many anti-harassment policies are place, that is the bottom line.  Ghomeshi was a major talent at CBC and his subordinate wasn’t.

The question that began this blog is rhetorical because we all know that when abusers go to work they do not stop being abusers. Abuse is about exerting undue  power and control in relationships, whether it be with a partner or a co-worker or subordinate.  That’s why workers everywhere need laws to protect them from workplace abuse and they need courts that are willing to enforce those laws when employer’s won’t.  Maybe some day?

According to the Star, none of the four women the paper interviewed have ever filed a police complaint against Mr. Ghomeshi, and none of them agreed to go on the record. The women said they are afraid that if they come forward, they will be sued or become victims of vicious online attacks, the paper reported.

Elements of a Good Workplace

GallupMany of us have experienced the horrors of a  bad workplace but what does a good workplace look like?

Jim Clifton, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Gallup poll organization, says he knows, based upon decades of polling data.

  What follows, according to Clifton, are the 12 most important, and most predictive, workplace elements.  If these elements are in place, the employer has an engaged, healthy workforce where employees innovate, work hard  and achieve results.  If these elements are not in place, it is likely that workers are disengaged, less healthy, less productive, and less invested in the success of the company.

What’s your workplace look like? Feel free to show this article to your boss.

  1.  I know what’s expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work talked to me about my progress.
  12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

 According to Clifton, a major reason that workforces are not engaged is bad management or what he calls “management from hell.”

 Gallup research has found that the top 25% of employees — the best-managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst-managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, he says, people in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs.

Rutgers’ “Independent” Investigation

RutgersOne wonders how an “independent” investigation could support a finding that Rutgers bullying basketball coach Mike Rice should remain on the university payroll?

Rice was forced to resign recently after a videotape was leaked to the public and showed him verbally and physically  abusing players, while using homophobic slurs.

 In his letter of resignation letter to Rutger’s President Robert L. Barchi, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti writes:

 “As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”

Corporate Counsel  reports that the outside counsel, Attorney John Lacey, an attorney with Connell Foley of Roseland, NJ,  issued a report in January stating that Rice could not be fired “for cause.” because there was no clear violation of his employment contract.

  Lacey found that Rice was extremely demanding of his assistant coaches and players but that his behavior did not constitute “a ‘hostile work environment’ as that term is understood under Rutgers’ anti-discrimination policies.”  Lacy said  the “intensity” of Rice’s misconduct may have breached provisions in his contract against embarrassing the school but, as Rutgers officials conveniently point out, did not recommend termination. 

The conclusion of the so-called independent investigation once again raises questions about these so-called  independent investigations.

 Increasingly,  employers hire  outside parties to “investigate” claims of workplace abuse.  There  often is  an unstated expectation that the result  of the investigation will affirm the employer’s goal of retaining the valued bully while insulating the employer from a potential lawsuit if the less valued target files a lawsuit. Too often the so-called independent investigators are attorneys who place themselves in the position of appearing to be for sale to the highest bidder.

 The videotape is so shocking that it defies reason that any “independent” investigator could reasonably  conclude that Rice’s behavior did not justify dismissal. In fact, some of the basketball  players could have filed criminal assault complaints against Rice for physically manhandling them. Instead of dismissing Rice, Rutgers fined him $50,000 and suspended him for three games in December.

 Just as in the Penn State scandal involving  pedophile football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Rutgers appears to have tolerated Rice’s bad behavior.

After the videotape was leaked, the dominos began to fall. Rice was fired.  Assistant Coach Jeremy Martelli, Rutger’s General Counsel John Wolf, and Pernetti resigned.  If I were Barchi, I wouldn’t make plans to redecorate the Presidential suite.  Barchi’s  claim that he never took the time to watch the videotape.until it was made public was met with obvious disdain at a press conference. Barchi blamed his bad decision on a “failure of process.”

Here is what needs to happen so that employers will take workplace bullying seriously – managers  need to be held accountable.  

These student athletes are essentially workers who are paid in the form of scholarship assistance by the university.  Like any other worker, they know that  a complaint can result in retaliation and their termination.  These players  relied upon their unofficial employer, Rutgers, to insure they were treated with dignity and respect and certainly not subjected to emotional and p physical abuse.

 Most of the players just put up with Rice’s abuse. However, according to news reports, at least three players transferred from the program as a result of Rice’s abuse.

           

           

Link Between Bullying & Discrimination

One of the most common types of lawsuits facing American employers is a discrimination lawsuit.

Workplace bullying and discrimination are closely intertwined and one might even say that bullying precipitates many discrimination lawsuits

Discrimination involves unfair treatment of an individual or group of individuals because of a distinguishing characteristic that is protected under state or federal law, such as sex, race, national origin, disability, religion, etc.   But it also frequently also involves workplace bullying, which is the systematic and repeated harassment of an employee over a period of time..  One employee  – often  a supervisor – attempts to exercise improper power and control over another, often a subordinate.

Even people who despise women or minorities probably would tolerate them if they silently accept whatever abuse the bully chooses to inflict upon them, never outshine or demonstrate competence that threatens the bully and act with complete subservience at all times. Of course, that doesn’t always happens. Targets of discrimination often complain and demand to be treated with fairness. That’s when the workplace bullying begins in earnest. A bully cannot tolerate a target who refuses to aknowledge the bully’s “right” to exercise complete power and control over the target.

Employers never win when they are sued by workers. Among other things, employers have to spend money to defend themselves. It is estimated that it costs an employer $100,000 to defend even the weakest and least meritorious lawsuit, nevermind a strong case that may ultimately result in a settlement or a judgment for the plaintiff.

Last March, a physician’s assistant at a Sacramento hospital won a jury award of $168 million after alleging she was harassed by cardiac surgeons at the hospital.  She filed 18 complaints with the Human Resources Department, which not only ignored her complaints but actually fired her! She speculates the hospital’s failure to address her complaints was because the cardiac surgeons are the highest revenue producers in the hospital. The jury award included $128 million in punitive damages.

Many industrialized countries have adopted health and safety laws and other kinds of legislation to protect workers from bullying and harassment, and to require employers to provide all employees with a workplace free from bullying and psychological harassment.  But America has resisted efforts to protect workers here from bullying for more than a decade. Why?

Some unscrupulous employers use bullying  strategically to get rid of good employees and to avoid legal obligations, such as paying worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits.  Some unscrupulous employers use bullying to thwart unions and  drive out workers who demand their rights under the law. In some cases, the worker actually has a technical right  under some law to sue the employer but the reality is that few workers today can afford the legal process. And it’s biased in favor of employers anyway.

Finally, it is not inconceivable that there’s a lot of ignorance out there  about how much workplace bullying costs American employers – literally billions of dollars a year- in unnecessary turnover, lost work and needless litigation.

The unscrupulous employers are probably a small minority of American employers. Most employers want to follow the law and be good citizens. 

There is an easy and relatively inexpensive way for good employers to mimize the risk of a  potentially catastrophic discrmination lawsuit . They should adopt and rigorously enforce a general anti-harassment anti-bullying policy that makes it clear that bullying will not be tolerated by anyone in the organization, including cardiac surgeons and the Chief Executive Officer.  By the way, that’s also the right thing to do. Doesn’t every employee deserve to be treated with dignity and respect?

Those who are interested in reading more about this topic should read my new book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.