Workplace bullying is not always confined to the office in the age of technology.
A worker for the state of Nevada believes she was the victim of bullying by a supervisor writing on his Facebook page because she took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
According to the Las Vegas Sun:
Steven Zuelke, a unit manager for the state’s unemployment benefits anti-fraud unit, used his personal Facebook page to complain about an unidentified employee he thinks uses too much sick time.
“Why is it that for some people FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act and for others, it should stand for Fire My Lazy Ass?” Zuelke wrote on his Facebook page last month, hours after one of his employees left work early because she said she was sick.
Zuelke engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with a group of his Facebook friends — including another state staffer who works in the same division — in which he initially mocks his employee and then rants about how difficult it is for the state bureaucracy to deal with problem workers.
The rant was specific enough that one of the two employees Zuelke has had on FMLA status thinks Zuelke was talking about her.
“I had to read it a few times because I was shocked and confused,” said Sherry Truell, a claims examiner who works in Zuelke’s unit and has used FMLA time extensively this year. “I was being referred to as lazy, an anchor, that other people have to do my work, stuff that related to my personal business … I was extremely embarrassed. My co-workers can see this information.”
Truell said she used FMLA heavily last month because of what she described as a stress-related medical condition and because her son needed surgery. She added that she usually takes two or three days off a month.
Truell has sought the help of her union representative to address the issue and is considering filing a grievance.
“He’s discussing his employees, his work environment, he has friended multiple other employees in the same office. … There are so many problems with this,” said Priscilla Maloney, labor representative for Truell’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local.
Instead of offering an apology, Zuelke alludes to his First Amendment’s right to free speech. He says he did not post during working hours or using a state computer.
Nevada doesn’t have a specific written policy on Facebook use, which could end up costing the state.
If an employee takes legally appropriate medical leave, it is not acceptable for a manager to penalize, demean or harass her. In fact, it is never acceptable for a supervisor to publicly demean and harass an employee. Most importantly for his employer, however, Zuelke’s actions subject the state of Nevada to potential legal liability.
The FMLA provides that eligible employees of covered employers have a right to take job-protected leave for qualifying events without interference or restraint from their employers. The FMLA also gives employees the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit under the Act (or cause a complaint or lawsuit to be filed), and to testify or cooperate in other ways with an investigation or lawsuit without being fired or discriminated against in any other manner.
If Zuelke”s subordinate at the Nevada Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department actually did take FMLA time, the state may find itself defending a retaliation lawsuit. Also, Zuelke inferred that an employee, who apparently was easily identifiable, engaged in fraudulent behavior by taking sick leave under the FMLA when she was not sick. He published his remarks on a Facebook page for all the world to see. Hello … defamation, slander, libel.
Research shows that between a quarter and third of workers are the victims of health endangering bullying, most by a supervisor. This problem costs American employers billions every year in unnecessary turnover, absenteeism, higher health care costs, and needless litigation.