Working Notes: Interview with workplace anti-bullying activist, Kaplan survey on bullying & nurses, freelancers & nasty clients

Good morning, dear readers! Here are three items that may be of interest to you:

1. Tufts professor profiles Massachusetts anti-bullying activist and labor leader Greg Sorozan

Tufts University professor Lisa Gualtieri did an excellent in-depth interview Greg Sorozan, coordinator of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates and union president. Greg has been a pioneering voice in the labor movement on workplace bullying and is an initial Fellow of the U.S. Academy of Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Abuse. I encourage you to read Dr. Gualtieri’s full profile of Greg; here’s the intro:

“Bullying is part of the spectrum of abusive behaviors that exist in this world. I know about child abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and now adult abuse at work. They all work together to create many, if not most, of the health and mental health problems we have,” said Greg Sorozan. Greg is President of SEIU/NAGE Local 282 and Massachusetts State Coordinator of The Healthy Workplace Bill, working to prevent bullying in the workplace. I read about his work in a Boston Globe article and his MA legislative activity and asked to interview him about his work as a patient activist.

2. Kaplan survey: Nursing school graduates concerned about workplace bullying

A survey by the Kaplan testing preparation company shows that nearly half of surveyed 2014 nursing school graduates are concerned about experiencing bullying and related behaviors. Here’s the lede from the Kaplan news release:

For those entering the workforce, typical top-of-mind issues include opportunities for growth, benefits, and job security — but nearly half of those entering the nursing profession voice another concern: being bullied by colleagues. According to a just-released Kaplan survey of over 2,000 nursing school graduates from the class of 2014, 48% say they are concerned about being the victims of workplace bullying or working in a hostile working environment. The survey also found that 39% personally knew nurses who were victims of workplace bullying or a hostile working environment.

 3. Freelancers Union piece on working with jerks

A sense of independence is one of the great appeals of going the freelance route, and that may include being able to work with agreeable clients instead of difficult ones. But it’s not always that easy; bullying-type behaviors rear their ugly heads in the indie sector as well. Kate Hamill, writing for the Freelancers Union blog, shares a bad client situation from her early freelancing days and lessons learned from it. Here’s a snippet:

Early on in my freelance career, I worked with a company that has since gone under – quite deservedly. Looking back, there were a lot of red flags: a haphazard hiring process, an unclear reporting structure (to this day, I can’t tell you exactly who my boss was), relatively low pay, and unreasonable demand. Most tellingly, they employed an army of freelance writers, with a high turnover rate.

…It didn’t take long for the client to become unpleasant. It started out with small things; deadlines that seemed unreasonable, unsubtle demands to work overtime, a tendency to ignore boundaries. I would send emails that got no response, only to get chewed out days later for not following policy. When I forwarded emails that exonerated me… no reply. They kept giving me more and more work, including assignments I was painfully unqualified for. Then I found out how much money they were charging THEIR clients for my services, while claiming I possessed certain certifications… that I didn’t.  I was making about 10% of what they were charging. Their language got increasingly harsh – with me, with everybody.



The quest to enact Healthy Workplace legislation, Part II: From individual targets to advocates for change

In our efforts to advance the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) in the recently concluded Massachusetts legislative session, we started getting feedback from folks inside the State House at levels of frequency and intensity that we hadn’t heard before: Your advocates are making a difference.

In other words, when our outreach coordinator asked HWB supporters to contact legislators at different points in the process,  those supporters responded by getting on the phone, sending e-mails, and scheduling visits. While we fell short of the success we had hoped for, at critical points the HWB made it to next procedural steps and overcame opposition because of the voices of our grassroots advocates.

This is a critically important development, and permit me to explain why.

Many advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill have experienced workplace bullying. In other words, they have been targets, and they know firsthand what this form of interpersonal abuse can do to people. They also understand how being bullied at work can be a lonely, isolating experience, especially when others around you dive for cover or start to keep their distance.

That sense of isolation can create self-protective barriers that may make it difficult for targets to participate in a movement to create legal protections against how they were mistreated.

And yet, we’re now seeing more targets coming out of the woodwork, joining with others to say that the law, among other societal institutions, should step in and draw the line against workplace bullying.

For many, it’s not easy. Sharing one’s story, even self-identifying as a target during, say, a phone call with a legislative staffer, means revisiting very difficult stuff. But those personal stories are helping to drive the forces for change.

Especially for those people, I hope that being a part of a broader response to their own terrible experience is a life-affirming way to make positive change. So many social movements leading to legal reforms — the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT movement, to name a few — have been fueled by people who have experienced injustice and abuse. Why not this one?


Related post

The quest to enact Healthy Workplace legislation, Part I: Subtle progress in Massachusetts (2014)


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.


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