Michigan Bill Links Bullying & Crime

singsingA lawmaker has introduced a proposed bill in Michigan that would make bullying and cyberbullying a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of up to 93 days.

Republican State Rep.  Dale W. Zorn’s bill also would permit a judge to require an individual who is convicted of or found responsible for violating the anti-bullying law to “undergo an evaluation by a mental health professional at his or her own expense and to receive counseling or other treatment at his or her own expense if determined appropriate by the court.”

 Rep. Zorn’s proposal is one of  the first if not the first proposed bill in the United States to link bullying with crime and mental health. Other proposed legislation in the U.S. is civil  (non-criminal) in nature and seeks monetary damages and/or injunctive relief.

Zorn’s proposed bill addresses both school and workplace bullying. 

 There is precedent elsewhere for treating workplace bullying as a crime. Lawmakers in Victoria, Australia adopted an anti-bullying law known as “Brodie’s Law “that took effect in June 2011 and makes stalking related to bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. 

Brodie’s Law was passed after the suicide of Brodie Panlock, 19, a waitress who was subjected to relentless bullying in the workplace. Four co-workers were fined a total of $355,000 (Australian) in 2010 but Ms. Panlock’s parents felt the fine was a slap on the wrist and lobbied for criminal sanctions.

Zorn says Michigan House bill No. 4746 is intended to encourage the rehabilitation of bullies by offering an option for mental health counseling at the judge’s discretion and the bully’s expense. The criminal  charge could be expunged or wiped from the defendant’s criminal record upon successful completion of treatment.

 “The  behavior of bullying has become a societal problem that may need to be eradicated through professional counseling,” he said.

The bill likely would face challenges with respect to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even though it specifically exempts speech that is protected by federal and state law.

 The bill defines “bully” to mean engaging in one or more of the following behaviors on two or more separate occasions with the intent to frighten, intimidate or harass another person:

     (i) Assaulting or battering that other person.

     (ii) Referring to that other person while in his or her presence with a derogatory or offensive nickname or label.

     (iii) Disseminating false or misleading information about that other person.

It is not clear why the bill prohibits derogatory  or offensive speech in the presence of the individual, but not in the individual’s absence.

In a press release, Zorn said he arrived a the definition of bullying after meeting with school administrators, students, parents, prosecutors and judges.

The bill was immediately referred to the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. 

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.

Judges Who Blog

gavelI was surprised to find out this week from LawSites that I may be one of only three judges in the United States who “blog.”

 I am an appellate justice for a Native American tribe in Northern Nevada. I work for a sovereign nation that has its own court and code of laws but  is bound to the United States by a complex series of federal laws and treaties.  I formerly worked as a tribal court judge for another tribe.

 I don’t blog about being a judge, per se, though that experience undoubtedly informs my blog.

I write about employment discrimination, workplace bullying and abuse – from a worker’s perspective.  I began blogging after I took a job at a national domestic violence organization and became a target of a bullying supervisor.  I have since written a book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace.

 I find it appalling that the United States is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that does not protect workers from workplace bullying,  which is a widely recognized form of  violence that can severely impact a target’s health, lead to physical violence,  and costs society billions each year in lost work hours, higher medical costs, social services expenditures, etc.

 Back to blogging judges  …

 It seems a shame to me that more judges don’t blog. Their silence supports the status quo, which works largely to benefit corporate interests, the powerful and the rich (who contribute to political campaigns).   

 I would argue that silence does not serve the judiciary.  As Alexander Hamilton stated in The Federalist Papers,  the judiciary is the weakest branch of government because it controls neither sword nor purse.  The judiciary has utterly failed to make its case to American taxpayers for  appropriate funding.

 According to the American Bar Association,  most states have cut court funding by at least ten percent in recent years. Many states have stopped filling judicial vacancies and/or laid off judges. Many states have frozen or cut the salaries of judges or staff, despite ever increasing caseloads.  Many courts have reduced their opening hours or even close on some work days.

 It’s almost like the painful post-Internet downfall of the Post Office, but there is no satisfactory alternative to the court system for the vast majority of Americans.

 By its silence, the judiciary fails in particular to effectively champion the plight of people who need a just resolution of civil disputes. Civil courts are largely inaccessible to the poor and, increasingly, to the middle class. This has led to injustice on a massive scale. Meanwhile,  taxpayers become more disillusioned, which makes the judiciary even weaker.  

 I suspect that some people find the judiciary  to be arrogant and secretive – perhaps because its leaders on the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to allow their proceedings to be televised and it’s virtually impossible to work there unless you graduate from an Ivy League law school.  

Also, judges seem to think – admittedly with some justification – that they will never be promoted if they voice a public opinion on anything that is  more substantial than the weather.

 But the biggest disservice that is done by the silence of the judiciary involves the public perception of the work of a judge.  

 Many people don’t realize that being a judge is really hard work.  Imagine trying to make a good decision,  with the clock running,  rarely enough reliable information or too much conflicting information to be helpful, with emotions running high on both sides.  Even if the stakes seem low to you or me, they are always high to the litigants.

 A few years ago, a judge in Reno, NV, was shot while standing in his office through a plate glass window  by a sniper crouched in a parking lot across the street from the courthouse. The sniper was a litigant in a divorce case who had just murdered his wife. The judge was presiding over that case.   

 A good judge must be strong enough to make the right decision when it does not serve that judge’s interests. When it goes against the grain of powerful people who feel entitled to more justice than they deserve. A good judge must be strong enough to do the right thing when it could alienate a campaign donor or someone with power over the judge. It can be  like a politician from a “red” state  who has to vote on gun control every day.

Justice is the elusive goal that good judges strive to reach in their deliberations.  But justice is often a moving target. It can be difficult to find the bulls-eye. If you make a “mistake,” there is  an appeals court that will point it out.  Sometimes you make the right decision legally but you know in your heart that it isn’t right on a moral or human level.  You don’t forget those cases.

 There is so much about the judiciary that people don’t know because the judiciary has not told them. I think more judges blogging might help people understand that the course of justice is often imperfect, even when everyone is working in good faith toward a just resolution.

Knowing that so few judges blog makes me feel oddly vulnerable – like the soldier who stands up in a field while bullets whistle past.  Alas, it may be  time to  give up any expectation of promotion to the federal bench.  

 

 

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.

           

           

OSHA Suit Linked to Bullying

osha-logoThe U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has initiated what appears to be one of its first – if not its first – lawsuit involving  workplace bullying.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed the lawsuit earlier this month against a Fort Lauderdale business owner who fired a worker after the worker complained to OSHA that the worker was subjected to discrimination because he complained about hostile workplace conditions at the company.

According to an OSHA press release, Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and its owner, Duane Thomas, are charged with terminating the worker in violation of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).  Section 11 (c)  prohibits discriminating against any employee because the employee has filed a complaint related to the OSH Act or has exercised a right  afforded by the Act.  The employee was not identified by OSHA.

The case  involves what appears to be essentially a campaign of workplace bullying.

The OSHA press release states the employee complained that Thomas on numerous occasions between Dec. 9, 2009 and Feb. 25, 2011 “committed workplace violence and created hostile working conditions. He allegedly behaved abusively, made inappropriate sexual comments and advances, yelled, screamed and made physically threatening gestures, in addition to withholding the employee’s paycheck.”   The employee worked directly for Thomas at the company’s custom marine dock installation services site on Marco Island.

The case is significant because the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act requires employers to provide safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.  However, OSHA has not shown any leadership with respect to workplace bullying, even  though overwhelming research shows that workplace bullying causes potentially serious short and long-term health consequences.  OSHA typically enforces safety standards that relate to traditional industrial hazards, such as high noise levels, chemical exposure, electrical or fall hazards, etc.

Shortly after Thomas was notified of the OSHA complaint, OSHA states that Thomas  had the company’s computer passwords changed to deny the employee remote access to files and then terminated the employee.

The lawsuit seeks back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee’s personnel records expunged with respect to the matters at issue in the case and to bar the employer from committing  future violations of the OSH Act.

Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta, said, “Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation.”

The lawsuit, Solis v. Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and Duane Thomas, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor requesting  an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.   The  program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. Rights afforded by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes.

When Workplace Bullying is Illegal

blackandwhiteWhat is the  difference  between workplace bullying and illegal harassment?

The major difference is that no law at present prohibits workplace bullying –  despite the fact that workplace bullying can severely impact an employee’s emotional and physical well-being.  And most other industrialized countries have enacted laws or regulations that address workplace bullying.

However, bullying  can become illegal when it creates a hostile or abusive work environment in violation of  federal or state civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 Generally, two factors must exist:

  •  The harassing conduct must create a “hostile work environment.”
  •  The harassing conduct must be directed toward a characteristic that is protected under  federal and state  civil rights laws.  Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Therefore, workplace bullying may be illegal if it creates a hostile or abusive work environment and it is directed toward an individual who has protection under federal and state civil rights laws on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, etc.

What is a hostile work environment?  The U.S. Supreme Court says a hostile work environment  is a workplace that is permeated by discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of a victim’s employment and to create an abusive working environment.  Harris v. Forklift Sys., 510 U.S. 17 (U.S. 1993).  The Court has repeatedly said that Title VII  does not prohibit simple teasing or a merely offensive utterance.

NOTE:  A  target of illegal harassment does not have to suffer a nervous breakdown to gain the protection of Title VII. The U.S. Supreme Court says that as long as the environment would reasonably be perceived and was perceived as hostile or abusive, there is no need for it also to be psychologically injurious. The court says psychological harm could be taken into account but is not required by the statute.

To sum up,  there may be no substantive difference between  the conduct that constitutes serious workplace bullying and the conduct that is acknowledged under the law to create an illegal hostile or abusive work environment.  The harassing conduct can be identical, with the exact same devestating  result.

The significant difference between serious workplace bullying and illegal harassment  is a legal distinction pertaining to  the characteristics of the  target of the conduct.

Nevada State Sen. Richard Segerblom has proposed making Title VII “status blind” so that the law provides a remedy for  all targets of a hostile or abusive workplace, whether or not they fall within a category that is now  protected under the law.

 As Shakespeare once observed: “If you prick us, do we not bleed.”

Individuals who are targets of workplace bullying may have other legal recourse, in addition to federal and state civil rights laws.  All targets of workplace bullying  are  encouraged to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law for employees (not companies) to discuss the specific facts of their case and any potential legal remedies within their jurisdiction.

Getting Fired

FIRED!

The capstone of a campaign  of workplace abuse and bullying is often termination from the job.

 And that reality  – or even the fear of being fired  – can be a devastating blow to a worker who has endured months of  abuse that has stripped away his or her sense of mental and physical well-being.

 But today what does it really mean to be fired?

 I know business leaders who were fired  and recovered to achieve impressive new success.

 Sallie Krawcheck, past president of Merrill Lynch, US Trust, Smith Barney, the largest wealth management business in the world, suggests that if you don’t get fired at least once, maybe you’re not trying hard enough?

 She says that as the pace of change in business increases, the chances of having a placid career are receding. And if in this period of rapid change, you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances.

 Being fired is not always a reflection of performance.

Research shows that some targets of workplace bullying are dismissed because they are creative, hard-working and well-liked employees who are seen as a threat by a supervisor or co-worker. They may be among the best in their workplace and that is why they are targeted.

 I also know bureaucrats (and I use that term  in the worst sense of the word)  who should be fired but probably never will be, despite their obvious incompetence.  They have managed to insinuate themselves into secure positions, by surrounding themselves with synchophants and/or by avoiding any personal responsibility for anything, except to claim success for others’ work.

Many  employees are fired because  a new supervisor wants to put in his or her own team in place or the worker’s values or vision don’t  comport with that of  the supervisor.

Many workers are fired for illegal reasons –  they are victim of discrimination on the basis of  age, sex, race, religion, etc.  Some are fired because they asked for a legal right – such as the right to be paid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

 So if you were fired in the past year or expect to be in the year ahead, try to  keep it in perspective. Any employee who was fired can likely think of some things that they could have done better.  Hindsight is 50-50.  Nobody’s perfect.  Etc.   Hopefully, your new and hard-earned  knowledge will help you succeed the next time?

 Ms. Krawcheck also advises:

 I  had a friend tell me shortly after I left “When something like this happens, you think you’re thinking straight, but you’re not. You won’t think straight for at least three months.” If you have the luxury of avoiding any major career decisions that long, the perspective you gain after decompressing can be valuable.

OSHA: A Sleeping Giant Awakes?

whip in

Many countries around the world consider workplace violence to be an important worker health and safety issue but the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been oddly silent on this issue..

 That’s why it is significant that OSHA recently cited a  Dallas company for safety violations following a robbery that resulted in the  horrific death of a store clerk at a Whip In convenience store in Garland, Texas. 

 The OSHA citations carry proposed fines that are  underwhelming – $19,600.   However, the action sends a message to convenience store owners that they would be well advised to pay attention to the issues of workplace violence. 

 In May of 2012, the store clerk, Nancy Harris, 76, died from second- and third-degree burns after she was set on fire during the robbery. Police said Matthew Lee Johnson, 36, arrived at the Whip-In shortly after the store opened at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Officers said he carried in a bottle of flammable liquid and used it to douse Harris and then set her on fire — after clearing out the cash register.

OSHA cited TMT Inc., owner of the Whip In chain,  for four serious safety violations.  OSHA contends that if the employer had implemented appropriate control measures and provided training to ensure awareness of potential violence, it is possible that Ms. Harris’ death could have been avoided.

OSHA could not cite any specific violations of their safety standards, so each store was cited with violating OSHA’s “general duty clause” for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death.

While the fine is a pittance, it is not inconceivable that the TMT will face a civil lawsuit as a result of Ms. Harris’ death and  the OSHA action could be a significant factor in  such a lawsuit.

 OSHA’s Dallas Area Office opened an investigation at the Garland store in May after the robbery and later investigated the company’s three other stores in Dallas and Mesquite. OSHA  found that workers at those locations were exposed to the same or similar workplace violence hazards.  TMTemploys more than 60 employees across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides.

  OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening and disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site.  According to OSHA, workplace violence  includes behavior ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.

 More information on workplace violence is available at OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence.

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.

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.