Resolved … Don’t Be Evil

The vast majority of workplace bullies don’t think of themselves that way. They justify or make excuses about their behavior. However, I suspect that many workplace bullies – at least those who are not actual psychopaths or sociopaths – do know on some level that what they are doing is wrong.

Every manager should consider the following:

  • How would you feel if your mother, child or partner was treated the way you treat your target? Not so good? Then what you are doing is wrong.
  • Are you flattering yourself?  Are you really a perfectionist trying to get the best out of your workforce or are you a petty tyrant satisfying a personal need for power and control?  If the latter, your actions are damaging both the target and your employer.
  •  There is a fine line between workplace abuse and other forms of abuse, including intimate partner abuse, child abuse and elder abuse. Especially for those in a supervisory position, when you zero in on a subordinate target, visualize a small child who is about to be smacked.
  •  Yes, some employees deserve to be disciplined and/ or fired but there is a difference between exercising legitimate supervisory authority and bullying. No employee ever deserves to be treated disrespectfully or bullied.
  • If you are an employer who is using bullying strategically to avoid a legal obligation – such as paying workers compensation – you are taking a serious risk. Sometimes targets of bullying do not simply fade into obscurity. They hire lawyers and sue.  And whether they win or lose, you will pay.
  •  Bullies are “ fortunate” to work in the United States, which unlike many other industrialized countries for decades has ignored  overwhelming research that workplace bullying causes potentially severe mental and physical damages to targets. But times are changing. Educated employers do not tolerate bullying because they know that they ultimately pick up the tab in terms of needless turnover, absenteeism, higher health costs, litigation, etc.
  • If you are a Human Resources “professional” and you turn a blind eye when a worker complains to you about being bullied – or make things worse for the target – you are part of the problem.  You are acting unethically and doing a great disservice to your employer.

New research is showing that workplace bullies are often their own worst enemies.  American is growing less tolerant of this kind of management style.  It’s one thing if a manager gets an isolated complaint but it can quickly end a promising  career when there are multiple bullying complaints. For all of the above reasons and many more, I propose the following resolution for workplace bullies in 2012:

  DON’T BE EVIL!

Screamers, Demeanors, Schemers …

This gal knows her stuff! Some good ideas here. PGB

Oct. 28, 2010

Bosses Who Revel in Subordinate’s Misery

By TORY JOHNSON, ABC News Workplace Contributor

If you have a bully for a boss, you’re among the many people who probably dread going to work every day. The bullying can come in many forms, and from bosses who have their own unique style of bringing the pain. Some supervisors love to yell and scream, while others revel in humiliating their employees. Some workers also say that their bosses have schemed behind their backs to undermine their performance.

The Screamer: Sadly, at one point, we’ve all worked for or with screamers. Excessive yelling definitely makes for a toxic work environment. This type of boss doesn’t need a reason to yell. It’s just his or her style to scream at will.

Walk Away: Best solution is to stand up for yourself by walking away from a tirade. Bullies only scream at people they perceive to be weak — people who’ll easily take it. As a kid, you may have had to sit still and take it from a parent, but not so at work. Refuse to subject yourself by walking away, going to the restroom, grabbing a cup of water, stepping outside. This is especially helpful if you’re on the verge of getting emotional, which you don’t want to do. Above all, remember that when you do nothing, when you just sit there and take it, you’re giving the bully permission to continue. By doing nothing, you’re saying, “This is OK,” even though it’s not.

The Demeaner: The demeaner makes humiliating comments — “You’re such an idiot.” “Could you be any dumber?” “My kids could do this better and faster than you any day.” This person also uses humiliating gestures — rolling their eyes, using their hands dismissingly. This kind of toxic boss might also laugh at your ideas to belittle you. This kind of boss is particularly vexing because one of the most important characteristics that drives our excellence at work is our confidence in ourselves and our abilities. When we’re demeaned, we naturally second-guess ourselves and our worth. That means we don’t perform our best work. So it’s counterproductive for the boss to treat people this way on the job, even though he or she doesn’t see it. Confront Calmly: If you work for a small business, there isn’t an HR department to complain to about this, which means it’s up to you to tackle it directly with the boss. Sit down with the boss and tell him or her that you’re very proud of your skills and abilities and you’re especially proud of the results you generate in this role — and you know the company does good work. But you’re curious as to why someone who is so successful would resort to bully tactics when it accomplishes nothing. Make it clear that you don’t mind constructive criticism but when you do X, Y, Z, it’s not conducive to performing at your very best. If you go this route, make sure you share very specific examples. Instead of asking, “Why are you a bully?” say, “When you laugh at my ideas, call me this name, and compare me to your kids — like you did on these four occasions — those specific actions and comments prevent me from giving you and this company my absolute best. And I want very much to over-deliver for you, so I’d respectfully request that you stop doing this.” Stick just to facts delivered in a reasoned manner.

The Schemer: The schemer attempts to undermine your status by repeatedly withholding key information from you, excluding you from e-mail distributions, and intentionally leaving you out of meetings when you ought to be in the loop. The schemer nitpicks and micromanages, somehow always finding fault with your work, and fails to give you credit for the good work you do. A demanding boss can push you to deliver the best and can set the bar high with big expectations for excellence, but the schemer is never satisfied because of barriers that he or she puts in your way.

Document Details: Complaining about these toxic tactics can make you seem petty — “Oh, I wasn’t invited to the meeting; oh, the boss never told me about this” — so to avoid that impression, you want to document the details over time. It could be a couple of weeks or even a month where you write down exactly what happened, when, where and any witnesses, so it’s all spelled out in meticulous detail. Keep copies of any supporting documentation. That prevents you from being brushed off as a petty complainer or thin-skinned. Depending on the size of your organization, you’ll bring this to HR or you may have to go directly to the boss. You’re not just going to report this behavior, but also going to demonstrate that it’s impacting your work because it has created an uncomfortable or even hostile work environment. Even though bullying has been proven to be costly to the company’s bottom line, which is why they should take action to nip this behavior, don’t expect HR to be instantly on your side. HR works for the company’s benefit, not that of any individual employee. If you don’t find satisfaction, you may have to contact a labor lawyer who can advise you on your situation.

Walk -Away Time

So many people have told me in recent days and months that they’re really stuck on this one. They can’t afford to quit — and they’re afraid they won’t easily find a new job, which is very natural — but they’re also at a breaking point in an unhealthy environment. While I’d never cavalierly tell anyone to walk away from a paycheck without a financial safety  net, there are two considerations:

1. Your mental health and self-esteem are far more important than any one position. As hard as it may be to pound the pavement while unemployed, you always can get a new job but it’s far more challenging to rebuild your crushed confidence and your declining health.

2. Focus on plotting your Plan B right now as a positive distraction while you’re still employed. Get serious about job searching or starting your dream business to go out on your own. Just knowing that you’re taking steps to make a change — and bring an end to this misery — will likely make you feel better. Doing nothing and feeling trapped is the worst. You have choices — make them.

Support Co-Workers: Even if you’re not subjected to a toxic boss, as colleagues we shouldn’t sit silent while our co-workers are subjected to this form of bullying. Let someone know that you see what they’re going through and you’ll support them any way you can.

Seek Help: If you’ve done everything you can to no avail, seek professional help. This may be from your state’s labor department, a lawyer or a counselor to weigh your options.

STATE HARASSMENT/DISCRIMINATION LAWS

  • California passed a general anti-harassment law in 2014, AB 1825, that went into effect on January 1, 2015. It requires that supervisors in all firms with 50 or more employees receive training in “abusive conduct.” This requirement was added to an existing law requiring employers to provide two hours of sexual harassment training  to supervisors within the first six months of the employee’s assumption of a supervisory role. The new law defines “abusive conduct” as:

  . . . conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.  [It] may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.”

Malice is conduct that is “intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

The new law states that a “single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe or egregious.”

  • Tennessee approved a “Healthy Workplace Act” in 2014 that is designed to curb verbal abuse at work by making public-sector employers immune to bullying-related lawsuits if they adopt a policy that complies with the law. The law applies only to public-sector employers, and administrators aren’t required to follow guidelines. If they do, however  they receive immunity from potential lawsuits.
  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 216 into law in 2014 to mandate Abusive Conduct training for public sector The law requires state agencies to train supervisors and employees about how to prevent abusive conduct. The law takes effect July 1, 2015. Utah is the second state to pass a training-only law to begin to address abusive conduct in the workplace.

Every state has laws that protect employees from unlawful discrimination. These laws may be more expansive than similar federal laws, encompassing more employers and additional classes of victims.  They may offer protection that is  not available under federal law. For example, the U.S. Congress has yet to adopt legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but almost half of the states and the District of Columbia have adopted such laws.  Thus, a victim of harassment based on sexual orientation may be able to file a lawsuit in state court that would not be possible in federal court.  State  discrimination laws may offer a wider range of damages, especially with claims related to age discrimination.  Many attorneys prefer to bring suit in state courts to avoid federal courts, which tend to be hostile to employment law claims.  You should check the laws in your state.

The Healthy Workplace Bill (2010)

This is  the  2010 version of the Healthy Workplace Bill,, drafted by  David C. Yamada, Professor, Suffolk University Law School, and supported by the Workplace Bullying Institute.  This proposal was sharply criticized by international scholars and others as being far less protective of worker rights than legislation in other industrialized countries. The bill has been improved since 2010 but still is problematic.  In any case, after more than a decade, it appears unlikely that a state-by-state approach is a viable option to the problem of workplace bullying. This blog supports a federal national approach, recognizing that workers who may need the most protection live in so-called “pro business” states that  will never adopt a workplace anti-bully protections. Also, workplace bullying is an important health and safety issue for workers and the United States lags behind other industrialized countries in addressing the problem.  Workers need help now! PGB

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THE HEALTHY WORKPLACE BILL

By David C. Yamada, Professor, Suffolk University Law School

Section 1 – Preamble

(a) Findings

The Legislature finds that:

(1) The social and economic well-being of the State is dependent upon healthy and productive employees;

(2) Between 37 and 59 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment, and this mistreatment is approximately four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone;

(3) Workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment can inflict serious harm upon targeted employees, including feelings of shame and humiliation, severe anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, impaired immune systems, hypertension, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

(4) Abusive work environments can have serious consequences for employers, including reduced employee productivity and morale, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims;

(5) If mistreated employees who have been subjected to abusive treatment at work cannot establish that the behavior was motivated by race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or age, they are unlikely to be protected by the law against such mistreatment;

(6) Legal protection from abusive work environments should not be limited to behavior grounded in protected class status as that provided for under employment discrimination statutes;

and,

(7) Existing workers’ compensation plans and common-law tort actions are inadequate to discourage this behavior or to provide adequate relief to employees who have been harmed by abusive work environments.

(b) Purpose

It is the purpose of this Chapter:

(1) To provide legal relief for employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically, by being deliberately subjected to abusive work environments;  (2) To provide legal incentive for employers to prevent and respond to abusive mistreatment of employees at work.

Section 2 – Definitions

(a) Abusive work environment. An abusive work environment exists when the defendant, acting with malice, subjects an employee to abusive conduct so severe that it causes tangible harm to the employee.

(1) Abusive conduct. Abusive conduct is conduct, including acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find hostile, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the defendant’s conduct. Abusive conduct may include, but is not limited to: repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets; verbal or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature; the sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance; or attempts to exploit a employee’s known psychological or physical vulnerability. A single act normally will not constitute abusive conduct, but an especially severe and egregious act may meet this standard.

(2) Malice. Malice is defined as the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another.

(b) Tangible harm. Tangible harm is defined as psychological harm or physical harm.

(1) Psychological harm. Psychological harm is the material impairment of a person’s mental health, as established by competent evidence.

(2) Physical harm. Physical harm is the material impairment of a person’s physical health or bodily integrity, as established by competent evidence.

(c) Adverse employment action. An adverse employment action includes, but is not limited to, a termination, demotion, unfavorable reassignment, failure to promote, disciplinary action, or reduction in compensation.

(d) Constructive discharge. A constructive discharge shall be considered a termination, and, therefore, an adverse employment action within the meaning of this Chapter. A constructive discharge exists where: (1) the employee reasonably believed he or she was subjected to abusive conduct; (2) the employee resigned because of that abusive conduct; and, (3) prior to resigning, the  employee brought to the employer’s attention the existence of the abusive conduct and the employer failed to take reasonable steps to correct the situation.

Section 3 – Unlawful Employment Practices

(a) Abusive Work Environment. It shall be an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter to subject an employee to an abusive work environment as defined by this Chapter.

(b) Retaliation. It shall be an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter to retaliate inany manner against an employee who has opposed any unlawful employment practice under this Chapter, or who has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation or proceeding under this Chapter, including, but not limited to, internal complaints and proceedings, arbitration and mediation proceedings, and legal actions.

Section 4 – Employer Liability and Defense

(a) An employer shall be vicariously liable for an unlawful employment practice, as defined by this Chapter, committed by its employee.

(b) Where the alleged unlawful employment practice does not include an adverse employment action, it shall be an affirmative defense for an employer only that:

(1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any actionable behavior; and,

(2) the complainant employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

Section 5 – Employee Liability and Defense

(a) An employee may be individually liable for an unlawful employment practice as defined by this Chapter.

(b) It shall be an affirmative defense for an employee only that the employee committed an unlawful employment practice as defined in this Chapter at the direction of the employer, under threat of an adverse employment action.

Section 6 – Affirmative Defenses

It shall be an affirmative defense that:

(a) The complaint is based on an adverse employment action reasonably made for poor performance, misconduct, or economic necessity;

(b) The complaint is based on a reasonable performance evaluation; or,

(c) The complaint is based on a defendant’s reasonable investigation about potentially illegal or unethical activity.

Section 7 – Relief

(a) Relief generally. Where a defendant has been found to have committed an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter, the court may enjoin the defendant from engaging in the unlawful employment practice and may order any other relief that is deemed appropriate, including, but not limited to, reinstatement, removal of the offending party from the complainant’s work environment, back pay, front pay, medical expenses, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

(b) Employer liability. Where an employer has been found to have committed an unlawful employment practice under this Chapter that did not culminate in an adverse employment action, its liability for damages for emotional distress shall not exceed $25,000, and it shall not be subject to punitive damages. This provision does not apply to individually named employee defendants.

Section 8 – Procedures

(a) Private right of action. This Chapter shall be enforced solely by a private right of action.

(b) Time limitations. An action commenced under this Chapter must be commenced no later than one year after the last act that constitutes the alleged unlawful employment practice.

Section 9 – Effect on Other Legal Relationships

The remedies provided for in this Chapter shall be in addition to any remedies provided under any other law, and nothing in this Chapter shall relieve any person from any liability, duty, penalty or punishment provided by any other law, except that if an employee receives workers’ compensation for medical costs for the same injury or illness pursuant to both this Chapter and the workers’ compensation law, or compensation under both this Chapter and that law in cash payments for the same period of time not working as a result of the compensable injury or illness or the unlawful employment practice, the payments of workers’ compensation shall be reimbursed from compensation paid under this Chapter.