When the Alleged Abuser Refuses to Leave …

The lack of legal protection from workplace abuse has consequences, as can be seen in the cases of two politicians who have ignored calls to resign.

Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves is weathering a storm of protest after an investigation concluded in December that he was “widely viewed as a workplace bully, dishonest, demeaning, intimidating, threatening and explosive.” According to The Daily Herald, Graves is ignoring calls to resign, while working mainly from home. The investigation was prompted after a worker complained that she was sexually harassed by Graves.

Meanwhile, State Rep.  Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, is undeterred by a flap involving his use of taxpayer funds in 2015 to pay a $48,395 settlement to a female employee in Washington, D.C.  who allegedly threatened to sue him over frequent drunkenness and a hostile work environment.

The flap generated a letter to the editor in a local newspaper calling for Grijalva’s resignation but otherwise seems to have had little impact in Southern Arizona. Grijalva is seeking re-election to Congress to his eighth term in Congress.

The settlement was initially disclosed by The Washington Times in December when it reported on how the Congress uses taxpayer money to quietly settle sexual harassment and other worker complaints against members of Congress.  Grijalva denied the settlement involved sexual harassment but said he was constrained from providing “further details on this matter” by a confidentiality agreement in the settlement.

According to the Times, a top Democratic staffer, after only three months on the job, hired a lawyer and threatened to sue Grijalva “for being too often drunk at work and creating a hostile work environment.” Grijalva’s office stopped paying the woman until she agreed to settle the matter for five additional months of pay. Continue reading “When the Alleged Abuser Refuses to Leave …”

Solutions Exist to End Workplace Bullying; What is Lacking is the Will to Act

What to do about workplace bullying?

The Boston Globe published an article on the problem of workplace bullying recently that focused on a proposed state-by-state solution that has been touted since 2001 by Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute and Suffolk University Professor David R. Yamada, author of the proposed  Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).  Originally introduced in California in 2002, the HWB  has been considered in some form by more than two dozen states. If Massachusetts eventually passes the HWP, that only leaves workers in 49 states,  five territories and the District of Columbia without protection from workplace bullying.

Is this really where all the din and struggle of the past decade has gotten us? The United States is falling even farther behind other western democracies, some of which acted decades ago to protect workers from bullying.

The Globe article also perpetuates the common misconception that all workplace bullies are sadistic bosses and mean-spirited co-workers. In fact, much of the problem can be attributed to unscrupulous employers that use bullying tactics strategically to expel older workers and workers who  demand  better working conditions or a legal right (i.e., overtime pay). The absence of anti-bullying laws and regulations in the United States leave these bottom-of-the-barrel employers free to cut corners and evade their legal responsibilities. Taxpayers are left to pick up the tab in the form of higher social welfare costs.

The Globe article, like so many others, fails to note that there are many possible approaches to the problem of workplace bullying in addition to the HWB. Continue reading “Solutions Exist to End Workplace Bullying; What is Lacking is the Will to Act”

Workplace bullying is a hot commodity but still no solution

So Gary Namie, a co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, has announced the WBI will offer a three-day “Workplace Bullying University” in October  that will cost upwards of $2,000 to attend.

The faculty are Namie, who calls himself “North America’s foremost authority on workplace bullying,”  and Ruth Namie, his wife, a clinical psychologist and former workplace bullying target who says she is “the definitive expert on the devastating effects of bullying on targeted workers.”

Meanwhile, the WBI web site advertises sundry programs for employers, personal “low cost” consultations for targets of bullying, books, DVDs, etc. Alas, the Institute has announced it is no longer giving free advice to telephone callers.

The Bellingham, Wash.-based WBI is a veritable hive of capitalism. all revolving around workplace bullying, a serious problem affecting one in every three or four workers in the United States that has eluded a solution for decades.

Could one impediment to progress be the WBI?

Since 2001,  the WBI has championed a plodding state-by-state solution to the problem of workplace bullying, rather than a targeted national approach. The WBI recently claimed that Rhode Island will be the 30th state to consider the WBI’s seriously flawed  proposed anti-bullying legislation, The Healthy Workplace Bill. If by some miracle, a state does finally pass the WBI’s proposed bill, it is anyone’s guess how long it will take for the second state to do so. It is almost inconceivable that so-called business friendly states ever will adopt such a bill. Continue reading “Workplace bullying is a hot commodity but still no solution”

Psst. That advice you got to combat workplace bullying may not work

 Much of the advice given by co-workers , friends and family to targets of workplace bullying  doesn’t help or makes things worse.

This is the upshot of an article in this month’s issue of The Journal of Applied Communication Research by Stacy Tye-Williams, a communications study professor at Iowa State University, and Kathy Krone, a professor of organizational communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The researchers surveyed 48 targets of workplace bullying about the effectiveness of the advice they’ were given to address the bullying.  The top suggestions include: quit the job or get out of the situation, ignore the bullying, fight or stand up to the bully, or report the bullying.

The researchers say there is a  “strong possibility” that direct confrontation of a bully will result in retaliation and the target will be labelled as a problem employee.

Many targets of workplace bullying “are treated as if they are overly emotional or behaving as if they are responsible for single-handedly stopping the bullying.” This attitude “helps sustain an orientation toward organizational life that privileges rationality over emotionality and individual expression over community.”Moreover, urging  individual targets to ‘remain calm’ and ‘stay rational’ overestimates the difference a single individual can make, downplays the significance of strong emotional responses to bullying, and constrains the ability to think and act with greater freedom.”

Another problem, according to the researchers, is that targets of past workplace bullying often tell targets who are currently experiencing the problem to use strategies that proved ineffective for the original target.

The researchers say there is a need for good strategies to successfully combat workplace bullying. “We don’t have a lot of success stories out there,” said Tye-Williams.

The study defines workplace bullying as repeated verbal and nonverbal acts over a period of time intended to inflict humiliation harm.

The United States continues to be among the only developed countries in the world that ignores the plague of workplace bullying, which is a form of workplace violence that causes potentially serious mental and physical harm to workers. An estimated one out of every three or four workers experiences workplace bullying.

This blog has noted that employers are responsible for creating a safe workplace free of harassment and violence.  The author advocates adoption of  a uniform federal workplace bullying law, such as extending the anti-harassment provision of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to all workers and not hose who suffer discrimination.

Wells Fargo Whistle-Blowers Wait for Justice

Among the casualties in the Wells Fargo Bank scandal are many employees who were allegedly bullied and fired for refusing to engage in unethical practices.

What has happened to them since the news faded from the headlines points up a new scandal – the lack of any real protection for workers who refuse to engage in illegal acts or who participate in whistle-blowing.

Many of the Wells Fargo ex-workers’ complaints have been pending with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  for years without action.

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo paid $190 million in fines to federal and state authorities after acknowledging that its employees covertly opened as many as two million checking and credit card accounts without the customers’ authorization.  The bank, which fired 5,300 employees for improper sales tactics over a five-year period, finally changed its practice of requiring workers to meet unrealistic sales goals o  Jan. 1.

Many of the fired workers claim they were terminated because they refused to engage in or complained about Wells Fargo’s unethical practices. At least a dozen current and former Wells Fargo workers filed complaints with OSHA; some date back more than a decade.

OSHA finally took some action last month when it ordered Wells Fargo to rehire one whistle-blower, a wealth manager who was not named but who was fired in 2010 after he reported suspected fraud via Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. OSHA ordered Wells Fargo to pay the ex-manager $5.4 million in back pay, damages and attorneys’ fees.  Wells Fargo has announced it will fight the ruling. Meanwhile, the whistle-blower. who filed his OSHA complaint in 2011, said he has been unable to find a new job since he was fired. Continue reading “Wells Fargo Whistle-Blowers Wait for Justice”

Murderer Cites Workplace Bullying in TV Shootings

Update: As information has developed, it is apparent that Flanagan filed an earlier lawsuit  alleging race discrimination against a Florida television station in 2000. This appears to be the lawsuit that he refers to as having been settled out of court.  The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Flanagan complained that he and another black employee were referred to as “monkeys” by a producer and that a supervisor told him he was  an exception among blacks who are “lazy and do not take advantage of free money.” Flanagan’s former boss in Tallahassee is quoted as stating that Flanagan had “threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.” 

Legislation to stop workplace bullying came from an unusual source this week – a man who filmed his fatal shooting of a TV journalist and camera operator while they were conducting a live interview in Roanoke,Virginia.

Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was an ex-reporter at the station, WDBJ7 TV,  which employed two of his three victims, reporter Alison Parker, 24,  and Adam Ward, 27, a camera operator. Professionally known as Bryce Williams, Flanagan was fired after about a year in 2013 and escorted out of the building by police, reportedly over angry outbursts.

In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC, Flanagan, who was gay and African-American, claims he was bullied  and the victim of racism and homophobia during his year at the station.  The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2014.

“I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore,” wrote Flanagan, “THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on.”  

Flanagan killed himself about five hours after the murders –  which he filmed using his telephone camera and  posted on Twitter. He fatally shot himself after crashing his car while fleeing police.

Obviously a deeply disturbed man, Flanagan also states the horrific attack on Parker and Ward was intended to avenge the Charleston shootings earlier this year in which a white gunman killed nine parishioners at an African-American church.

Was He Bullied?

Whether Flanagan was bullied (or a bully) raises questions about how employers should deal with  bullying, harassment and problem employees.  Did his employers offer staff diversity training or provide Flanagan with the opportunity for coaching or psychological help? Could the tragic shootings have been averted?

The BBC quotes Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ7’s general manager, as describing  Flanagan as unhappy, difficult to work with and always “looking out for people to say things he could take offence to.”

Flanagan admits that he made mistakes while employed by WDBJ-7, adding that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke ” but you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!” Continue reading “Murderer Cites Workplace Bullying in TV Shootings”

Do ‘Nice Guys’ Finish Last?

Baseball player Leo Durocher famously said “nice guys finish last.”

Do they?

There is no conclusive answer to this question but Christine Porath, in a recent article for the New York Times, argues that politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.  She cited a study involving a biotechnology company that found workers who are seen as civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find research that comes to the opposite conclusion. At least one study shows that agreeableness affects income – particularly for women. Nice gals and guys are thought to earn less than co-workers who are not nice.

I submit that Duroucher’s question misses the point.

A smart employer, mindful of the bottom line, would not knowingly  promote a worker who  is rude, engages in workplace bullying or fails to show respect for others.  

Employers increasingly recognize that incivility or bullying in the workplace is bad for business and the bottom line. An abusive workplace exposes a company to expensive and unnecessary turnover, low morale and productivity, higher medical costs and needless risk of litigation. Moreover, research shows that workplace bullies act for their own selfish reasons, in complete disregard for the success of the employer. The success of a  bully in a workplace is directly proportional to  the employer’s failure  to effectively manage the company’s most critical resource  – its workforce.

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.

Federal Agencies Study Workplace Bullying

While federal and state laws to address workplace bullying remain elusive, the U.S. government is moving forward to address the problem.

The  U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently placed “nonsexual harassment” on its research agenda for 2015-2018.  In the past, the MSPB has focused on sexual harassment but it has not previously addressed the problem of general harassment or workplace bullying. The Board states it will study ways to foster effective work environments by eliminating nonsexual harassment.

Meanwhile, the EEOC last month formed a Select Task Force to examine the problem of workplace harassment and look at ways by which it might be prevented. EEOC Commissioner Jenny Yang said 30 percent of the charges received by the EEOC each year include harassment complaints. The task force, which includes 16 members from around the country,  will hold a series of meetings, including public meetings, in the year ahead.

The Occupational Safety Health Administration signed a union agreement in 2011 that provides protection against workplace bullying to its own workforce. Unfortunately, OSHA, which is charged with insuring the safety of America’s private sector workers, has yet to extend these same protections to workers outside OSHA.

According to the MSPB: “Nonsexual harassment is particularly inappropriate when the perpetrator is a supervisor or otherwise exercises official authority over the employee,” states the MSPB.

The MSPB states that federal employees should be aware of the problem of nonsexual harassment and “cognizant of the hazards of nonsexual harassment and strategies to extinguish this behavior before it undermines the quality of their workplace.”

Specifically, the board will study:

  • How do federal employees define nonsexual harassment?
  • How prevalent is it in the federal workplace?
  • Who are the most common perpetrators and victims of nonsexual harassment?
  • What effect does nonsexual harassment have on federal workplace outcomes like retention and turnover, motivation, engagement, job satisfaction, and leader trust?
  • Do federal employees believe that appropriate action is being taken to address nonsexual harassment?
  • What strategies, both effective and ineffective, are used to address it?

The MSPB is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the Executive branch that hears employee appeals of decisions of the Civil Service Commission, reviews significant actions of the U.S. Office of Program Management, and performs merit system studies.

There is overwhelming evidence that workplace bullying causes targets to suffer  potentially severe mental and physical health impacts.  Employers pay the price for bullying in the form of personnel turnover, low morale and absenteeism, higher health care costs and unnecessary litigation

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.