The quest to enact Healthy Workplace legislation, Part I: Subtle progress in Massachusetts

The 2013-14 Massachusetts state legislative session ended last week, and the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) made it to “second reading,” meaning it was approved through various committees and was poised to be brought up to the House of Representatives for a full floor vote. As the session approached its end, the HWB was still under discussion among House leaders, no small achievement given the thousands of bills introduced each session.

Those of us who support the HWB were hoping for more from this session, perhaps even making it all the way through to the Governor’s desk. Nevertheless, we are well primed for the next legislative session, and here’s why:

1. Legislative sponsors — The HWB has attracted increasing support in the MA state legislature. We went from one legislative sponsor in the 2009-10 session, to 13 in the 2011-12 session, to 39 in the just-concluded 2013-14 session. Our lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, remains deeply committed to this legislation. A bill once regarded as a novelty is now receiving serious attention.

2. Grassroots support — Our grassroots advocacy group is flexing its muscles. We are hearing from legislators and their staffs that calls, e-mails, and visits from HWB advocates are making a difference.

3. Organizational support — From the beginning, the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) has been a source of significant support and “inside the building” expertise. During this last session, we also picked up more endorsements and active support from other labor unions and worker advocacy groups.

4. Media attention — The HWB is getting attention from the media. During the closing weeks of the session, workplace bullying and the HWB were subjects of a lengthy lead editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe, and an extensive feature in the Globe‘s Lifestyle section. During the course of the session, WGBH’s “Greater Boston” program and WBUR’s “Radio Boston” program devoted major segments to workplace bullying and the legislation.

5. Vocal opposition — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts — a powerful corporate lobbying presence — and a small group of ultra-conservative state legislators opposed the HWB. You know you’re making progress when the opposition comes out of hiding.

6. Our turn next? — A welcomed hike in the state’s minimum wage law and the long-needed addition of occupational safety & health protections for many of the state’s public workers were among the pro-worker bills that successfully made it through this session. In the meantime, the HWB created much more of a buzz this time around, as the idea of enacting protections against workplace bullying has become mainstreamed.

Legislative advocacy, especially for pro-worker bills that are considered cutting-edge policy proposals, often requires patient and steadfast commitment. Such is the case for the Healthy Workplace Bill. That said, our prospects for the next legislative session are looking very good, and I strongly believe that we can make this happen.

Boston Globe editorial sees impact of workplace bullying, hedges on Healthy Workplace Bill

This is one where you could say the glass is half full: A Sunday Boston Globe editorial recognizes the serious impact of workplace bullying on individuals and organizations, but sits on the fence as to whether the Healthy Workplace Bill — which provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to take bullying at work seriously — should be enacted into law.

It’s a lengthy editorial covering a lot of familiar ground on the pros and cons of enacting the Healthy Workplace Bill, so I’m not going to excerpt portions here. Rather, I encourage you to read the full editorial and to add a comment or write a letter to the editor. In addition, let me summarize a few points from my perspective:

  • The primary reason why employers are incorporating concerns about workplace bullying into their employee relations practices is the real possibility of the Healthy Workplace Bill becoming law. Without the threat of liability, in the near future or currently, many employers will handle allegations of bullying by ignoring them or siding with the aggressors.
  • Current harassment and discrimination laws do not provide adequate protections. They apply only when the mistreatment is motivated by protected class status such as sex, race, disability, and age.
  • The substance of the Healthy Workplace Bill draws heavily from the Supreme Court’s definition of hostile work environment for sexual harassment and from tort (personal injury) theories concerning severe emotional distress. Thus, it is situated comfortably in familiar American legal doctrine.

I mentioned that the glass is half full concerning the Globe editorial. A decade ago, the prospects of a major newspaper editorial board weighing in on the Healthy Workplace Bill were slim to none. We’ve come a long way toward mainstreaming workplace bullying as an employee relations priority, and we’re continuing to make progress on creating legal protections for American workers.


On workplace bullying: Jonathan Martin gets a new job, an op-ed from Connecticut, and progress in Massachusetts

Some items of note in the realm of workplace bullying:

Jonathan Martin traded to San Francisco 49ers

On occasion, workplace bullying stories have a good ending, or at least a hopeful one. Jonathan Martin, the NFL player whose claims of severe bullying and abuse as a member of the Miami Dolphins were validated by a league investigation, recently was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and has received a warm welcome. As John Breech reports for CBS Sports:

“I can tell already that I’m going to get along just great with those guys,” Martin said of his new teammates during a conference call on Thursday. “I’ve felt a warm welcome from the entire 49ers community, fan base, coaching staff, everybody. I’m just looking forward to the future and getting back to playing football.”

Connecticut Mirror op-ed on workplace bullying

Katherine Hermes, a history professor and long-time advocate for the Healthy Workplace Bill, penned a very compelling op-ed on workplace bullying in the Connecticut Mirror, citing the suicide of a dear friend that was associated with being severely bullied at work:

There are problems great and small, global and local. But when you are the target of a bully, the problems are so personal and isolating that a wider world ceases to exist. My friend Marlene was a conservationist, a birdwatcher, a lover of literature and film, an enthusiastic cook, a traveler, a scientist—but once the bully had hold of her, a suicide.

Her death catapulted me into a movement, founded by the Workplace Bullying Institute, to try to stop workplace bullying. I discovered that workplace abuse was not illegal unless the campaign of destruction was directly related to the protected status of the person being bullied. If the bully did not harass the target because of race, religion, sex, age, and so forth, it was legal conduct.

Healthy Workplace Bill makes progress in Massachusetts

The Healthy Workplace Bill, introduced in Massachusetts as House No. 1766, has been favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

There’s still a long way to go — the bill must be passed by both the state House and Senate — but getting a favorable report out of committee is an important and necessary step. To become active in the MA Healthy Workplace Advocates, go to the website and sign up for alerts and/or join the group’s Facebook page.

Pass ‘em on: Two short videos about workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill

In case you missed them: If you’re looking for fast, accurate, visual explanations of workplace bullying and the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, here they are. Please share them with others to spread the word about workplace bullying and how we can address it.

About workplace bullying

The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence produced this three-minute animated video about workplace bullying:

I worked closely with the APA in developing the script for the video, and I’m delighted with the final result.

About the Healthy Workplace Bill

Deb Falzoi of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates produced this six-minute video about the Healthy Workplace Bill:

Deb did a fantastic job of boiling down the need for this legislation and the substance of the bill itself into readily understandable basics.

How to support the Healthy Workplace Bill

We’re moving closer to the day when the Healthy Workplace Bill will become law in states across the nation. Getting that first state to adopt it is the toughest hurdle, but once the dam is broken, many others will follow.

If you want to see workplace anti-bullying legislation enacted in your state, here’s by far the most effective route to take:

Contact your state legislators

Contact your state legislators

Contact your state legislators

Visit them, mail them, call them, or e-mail them. But do press your case. Ask them to sponsor or co-sponsor the Healthy Workplace Bill. Ask them to exercise their influence to move the HWB through the thicket of the legislative process. Thank them when they do so.

Some points to consider:

1. It’s most essential that you contact your own legislators. Legislators listen closely to their constituents, i.e., voters in their district.

2. Share your story. Let them know, in personal terms and in your own words, that workplace bullying is about abusive, hurtful mistreatment at work.

3. If your legislator declines to support the HWB, don’t be angry or disrespectful, but try again on another occasion.

Other measures

Here are some other useful things you can do:

1. If you are a member of an advocacy or professional organization that endorses legislation, ask that group to formally support the HWB.

2. Post supportive online comments to news articles discussing the Healthy Workplace Bill and workplace bullying in general.

3. Write letters to the editor of your local paper expressing support for the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Notice what I didn’t mention: “Liking” or commenting on a Facebook post about workplace bullying is fine, but it doesn’t substitute for direct advocacy. Signing an online petition may create a sense of solidarity, but it pales in effectiveness next to personal contact with your legislators.

Bottom line

I think you get the message. It’s all about persuading those in a position to support and vote on the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Be assured that powerful interests that oppose workplace bullying legislation are quietly spreading their message in state capitols across the country. They have money and power behind them, and they want to ensure that employers will not face liability for this form of abuse.

It’s up to us to say that we, as a society, must do better than that.



National website for the Healthy Workplace Bill campaign — Check here to see if your state is actively considering the HWB, and to become part of a network of grassroots activists supporting it.

Massachusetts website for the Healthy Workplace Bill campaign — The HWB has been introduced in the current, 2013-14 session as House No. 1766. At this website you can sign up for updates about what you can do to support it.

Six-minute video explaining the need for the Healthy Workplace Bill — A short, snappy, informative video prepared by Deb Falzoi of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates.

WGBH’s “Greater Boston” on workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill

On Tuesday I was a guest on WGBH’s “Greater Boston” nightly news program, talking about workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill. I joined program host Emily Rooney, reporter Adam Reilly, and developmental psychologist and consultant Sharon O’Connor for the studio discussion, complemented by interview footage featuring organizational consultant Paula Parnagian, workplace bullying target Shelton Prince, and small business policy advocate Bill Vernon.

It’s about a 12-minute segment.

Radio day: WBUR segment on workplace bullying

WBUR's graphic for this story

WBUR’s graphic for the online story

This afternoon I was a guest on WBUR’s Radio Boston program, talking about the Healthy Workplace Bill and workplace bullying in general. You can listen to the 24-minute program here. You also can go online to add your comments.

I was interviewed at WBUR’s studios by program hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks. Management-side employment lawyer Andrew Botti joined us by phone to offer a contrary viewpoint about the need for workplace bullying legislation.

WBUR is Boston’s NPR news station. Many thanks to the producers and program hosts for their hospitality to this first-time on air guest.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill garners support at State House hearing

Photo: Deb Falzoi, MA Healthy Workplace Advocates

Photo: Deb Falzoi, MA Healthy Workplace Advocates

In recent years, I’ve participated in four Massachusetts legislative hearings on workplace anti-bullying legislation, the last three times on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill. If yesterday’s hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development is any indication, support for the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State is reaching a tipping point.

The Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1766 in the current MA session) was among the bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, and the growing support was evident. Here’s a quick summary of who supported the bill:

  • The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates panel testifying in support included co-coordinator Greg Sorozan (President of NAGE Local 282), a former bullying target, and me.
  • Lead sponsors Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Katherine Clark and co-sponsor Rep. Frank Smizik were among the legislators who testified in support of the HWB.
  • Approximately 12 citizens shared individual stories of experiencing bullying at work and why passage of the HWB is necessary to safeguard workers.
  • Many others who appeared before the Committee to endorse other legislation added remarks supporting the HWB.

The only voiced opposition came from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a powerful corporate trade association. In addition, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an editorial opposing the HWB, claiming that existing laws are more than adequate to address bullying-type behaviors.

I’m hardly a disinterested party, but I was struck by how frequently this bill was mentioned during the hearing. Ten years ago, such an event simply was not imaginable. Yesterday, however, workplace bullying was among the dominant topics at a legislative hearing in which many worthy bills were being considered.


Thanks to Deb Falzoi, Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, for some of the information above.

Working Notes: A busy Friday discussing workers and workplaces

L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

Yesterday served as a welcomed reminder that healthy dialogue can play an important role toward advancing the interests of workers and workplaces. I was fortunate to participate in two excellent events, and I’d like to share a bit about each.

MARN Legislative Forum

I spent the morning at the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses 2013 Health Policy Legislative Forum, held in the Great Hall of the State House. There I joined Representatives Ellen Story (a lead sponsor of the HWB, House Bill No. 1766) and Kay Khan (a HWB co-sponsor and psychiatric nurse) for presentations and Q&A about workplace bullying in healthcare and the importance of supporting anti-bullying legislation. MARN is one of the organizational endorsers of the HWB.

The discussion was both practical and policy oriented. We talked about the challenges of dealing with bullying behaviors in the healthcare workplace, as well as the role that associations like MARN can play in advancing the Healthy Workplace Bill.

It’s an honor to present with two elected officials who truly “get it” when it comes to how public policy can promote human dignity in the workplace. The three of us were pleased to be there, as the photo above (grabbed shamelessly from Rep. Story’s Facebook page) indicates!

Northeastern University Conference, “Employed or Just Working?”

For the afternoon, I hopped on the subway to a conference sponsored by the Northeastern University Law Journal, Employed or Just Working? Rethinking Employment Relationships in the Global Economy, which focused on the changing definitions of employee status and their impact on workers and organizations.

I gave a talk on the “intern economy” and detailed the emerging legal and social movement against the widespread practice of unpaid interns, explaining how this practice excludes individuals who cannot afford to work for free and likely violates minimum wage laws. I will be submitting an article on this topic to the journal later this year, updating my 2002 Connecticut Law Review article on the legal rights of interns. (You may download the 2002 piece without charge, here.)

Several panels focused on the common practice of employers misclassifying workers as independent contractors that, in turn, allow them to avoid paying wages, overtime, and benefits. Some of these practices are egregious, as lawyers who litigate these claims explained to us. We also heard from attorneys representing employers, and they provided an important perspective on the challenges of engaging in good-faith compliance efforts with laws that define “employee” in significantly different ways.

A compelling panel featured advocates and scholars who are examining the difficulties confronting domestic workers such as home health care attendants who are trying to obtain decent wages and benefits. These issues aren’t going away as our population ages and the demand for affordable in-home care increases.

Thanks and kudos

Thank you to both MARN and Northeastern for these opportunities to share information and ideas and to engage in discussions with people who care about the quality of our work lives, and congratulations for putting on very successful events involving multiple speakers. I hope that others who attended and participated benefited as much as I did.

Healthy Workplace Bill: March 2013 update

It’s a steady, hard trudge, but the advocacy work toward enacting the Healthy Workplace Bill continues to move forward:

Here in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill now has an official bill number for the 2013-14 session of the Legislature, House Bill No. 1766.  Here’s a link to the complete bill as filed by our lead sponsors, Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Katherine Clark, joined by 37 co-sponsors.

The bill once again has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development.

Info and testimony packet

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates submitted a packet of information and written testimony to the staffs of our lead sponsors so that they can share it with supporters and others who want to understand the need for the legislation.

The packet includes a briefing paper that I prepared, a short fact sheet, and — most importantly — eight personal statements from individuals who have experienced severe workplace bullying. (Thank you to Greg Sorozan, Massachusetts Co-Coordinator, for assembling and editing the packet.)

To get involved

To get involved, go to the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates website, where you can sign up for updates and also link to our active Facebook page. Co-Coordinator Deb Falzoi can help you get involved in our public education and advocacy work.

Bills filed in eight states

So far, variations of the HWB have been introduced in eight states during the 2013-14 sessions of state legislatures: Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, West Virginia, Florida, and New Mexico.

New York leading the way!

Our friends in New York have lined up a whopping 74 sponsors and co-sponsors in the state legislature, the result of years of hard work and determination.

Kudos to Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt, our co-coordinators there, for their remarkable work to date, with more good stuff to come.

To get involved

For information about the national campaign to enact the HWB, go to the website here. There you’ll find links to sign up with state-level grassroots Healthy Workplace Advocates groups.

Other news items

Management lawyer suggests HWB may be “inevitable likelihood”

Michael Fox, an accomplished law partner at the corporate firm of Ogletree Deakins in Texas and author of a popular blog for management-side employment lawyers, suggests that he’s reconciling himself to the “inevitable likelihood” that workplace bullying laws will be enacted.

Michael and I have had a respectful difference of opinion about the need for such laws, so his graciously worded observation is noteworthy. His short blog post is here.

Insurance Journal: Should EPLI policies cover workplace bullying?

In a January piece for the Insurance Journal on employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policies for small companies, Amy O’Connor cites “new trends” such as workplace bullying as a reason for insurance agents to work closely with clients and carriers.

Seemingly casual references like this are hard evidence — leading indicators, if you will — that employee relations stakeholders are taking notice of the push to enact workplace bullying laws.


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