“Can we help you with the problems we caused?” The ironies of employee assistance and wellness initiatives

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and employee wellness programs are among the features of many contemporary workplaces, especially larger organizations that are in a position to devote time and money to extended human resources operations. They can serve useful roles in creating healthier, more productive workplaces and in helping workers with personal problems and challenges. Many are staffed by dedicated, trained EAP and wellness practitioners.

In less-than-wonderful workplaces, however, EAPs and wellness initiatives can play an ironic role: They exist in part to deal with the dysfunctional and unhealthy aspects of the organization itself.

Briefly explained…

EAPs are designed to help workers deal with personal problems that may impact their job performance and health. They may include providing advice and consultation, short-term counseling, and referrals to other care providers.

Common employee wellness initiatives may include anti-smoking counseling, exercise classes, weight control assistance, and mindfulness programs.

But what if…

So here’s the rub: What if the problems and challenges that lead workers to contact an EAP or partake in a wellness program are triggered by work-related stress or even mistreatment?

I’m not talking about the everyday stress that is part of many jobs. Rather, I’m referring to acute situations that can be attributed, at least in significant part, to bad management, interpersonal abuse (such as sexual harassment or workplace bullying), and unhealthy organizational cultures.

For example, what if a worker is contacting the EAP because she’s being sexually harassed by her boss? What if a worker enrolls in a smoking cessation program because undue stress created by a dysfunctional work situation has fueled a nicotine habit?

“It’s all about you”

These scenarios highlight the limits of EAPs and wellness programs: The focus is typically on the individual. However well meaning and helpful at times, they often are constrained in addressing systemic problems that may prompt someone to seek help.

To draw on the examples above: What will an EAP director do if an alleged serial sexual harasser is the same person who hired her? If participants in a smoking cessation program repeatedly complain about work-related stress, will the program coordinator be able to raise concerns about an unhealthy organizational culture?

I’m not suggesting that we get rid of EAPs and wellness programs because of these inherent limitations; quite the contrary. However, I am very curious to know how many dysfunctional, unhealthy organizations look like pure gold on paper because they offer these useful benefits, without addressing some of the internal, core reasons for why their workers access them.

Nurses and workplace bullying

If asked to identify an occupational group that has been pro-active in addressing workplace bullying and related behaviors, nurses would quickly come to mind.

Over the years I’ve had many interactions with nurses of different certification levels and with organizations that represent their interests, ranging from participation in workshops and conferences to individual exchanges. Here in Massachusetts, for example, I’ve spoken at programs on bullying at work sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses, and the latter has endorsed the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Uniquely situated

Nurses are uniquely situated to address workplace bullying for several reasons:

First, bullying is common in the healthcare workplace, and nurses are on the receiving end of it from doctors and other nurses. This is no small matter to them.

Second, nurses are at the heart of healthcare workplaces. They see a lot and they know a lot, and they are in a position to understand how organizational dots connect.

Third, many nurses are unionized. This provides them with a structure for raising concerns about mistreatment at work through advocacy, member education, and collective bargaining.

Finally, nurses are part of a professional structure that includes health care associations and colleges of nursing. These entities can play a key role in education, prevention, and response.

Lots of blog posts!

I’ve written many posts about nurses, workplace bullying, and related topics on this blog. Here is a good sampling:

Nurse can proceed with age discrimination claim against employer seeking “rising stars,” federal court holds (2013)

Why we need psychologically healthy workplaces in the healthcare sector (2012)

U of Cincinnati conference examines workplace violence, bullying, and incivility in healthcare (2012)

Cheryl Dellasega’s When Nurses Hurt Nurses (2011)

Nurse writes about bullying by doctors, other doctors respond (2011)

Nursing as a Calling: Aspirations and Realities (2010)

Workplace bullying in healthcare IV: Nurses bullied and responding (2009)

The ongoing disconnect: Employment law and worker well-being

A quick perusal of topics at a major international law & mental health conference is all I need to remind me of how employment law is way behind other legal fields in connecting to mental health and psychology.

As I wrote in my last post, I’m at the biennial Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The program book (pdf here) lists the dozens of panels offered each day during the week-long gathering, and a cursory review yields the dominance of topics concerning criminal justice, health care, family law, juvenile law, substance abuse, and forensics. But there is scant evidence of workplace issues, even in the many sessions related to therapeutic jurisprudence, the school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of law and legal institutions.

Compare this to the recent “Work, Stress and Health” conference I wrote about last month – another biennial, international gathering – where researchers and practitioners in fields such as industrial/organizational psychology, occupational health psychology, and occupational safety and health are positively immersed in the linkages between public policy and the psychological aspects of worker health.

Nevertheless…

I get a lot out of this conference even in the absence of many presentations directly addressing employment law & policy. As I’ve noted in previous posts, therapeutic jurisprudence has quickly become a collegial theoretical “home” for my legal interests, in that it makes eminent sense to me that the law should promote, rather than undermine, psychologically healthy outcomes. Accordingly, I find many of the ideas exchanged here to be an easy “port over” to the law of the workplace and the practice of employment law.

For example, earlier this week I listened to a simply wonderful presentation by Erna Haueter, a domestic relations lawyer in Zurich, Switzerland, who explained how she uses stress reduction and relaxation techniques with her clients who are going through emotionally difficult divorce proceedings. Haueter drew upon insights from neuropsychology to explain the effects of stress on her clients, negatively impacting their ability to act in their own best interests.

Of course, her words resonated loudly with me, as I have seen countless individuals dealing with similar stress levels due to bullying and other forms of mistreatment at work. I thought to myself how great it would be if plaintiffs’ employment lawyers were taught how to use these relaxation techniques with their clients.

A challenge

My belief in the need to strengthen linkages between employment law and mental health was reaffirmed during the course of a conversation I had with an Israeli lawyer and doctoral student who is planning to do her thesis on some aspect of therapeutic jurisprudence and employment law. She expressed surprise over the paucity of work linking these two areas, suggesting that they were a natural fit together. We discussed the many relevant psychological aspects of employment law that could form the basis of a very promising thesis topic.

Those of us who understand these linkages need to do a better job of persuading fellow employment and labor law scholars to incorporate these perspectives in their work. The two dominant frames for examining employment law & policy, namely, economics (leaning right) and civil & labor rights (leaning left), yield important insights. But mental health and emotional well-being are equally important and deserve a place at the roundtable of this discussion.

***

Go here to download a copy of my 201o law review essay, “Employment Law as If People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace.”

Working notes: On screening out sociopaths, the anti-worker Supreme Court, heroic flight attendants, and much more

I’ve got lots of good stuff to share with you today. Here are seven items that may be of interest:

Forbes on Employee Screening for Sociopaths

Rob Asghar writes for Forbes magazine on “How To Screen Out The Sociopath Job Candidate.” His piece features psychiatrist Martha Stout, author of the compelling and chilling The Sociopath Next Door (2005):

I asked psychiatrist Martha Stout . . . how hiring managers and corporate boards can avoid unwittingly unleashing a sociopath within their organizations—especially at the senior levels.

“More and more businesspeople people are asking me about this,” she says.  “After all, having a sociopath can be expensive.” Indeed, they often aren’t extracted from an organization until they’ve caused permanent injury.

Dr. Stout offers four pieces of advice. Check out the full article if you’d like to read more. (You’ll probably have to click through a subscription invitation pop up first.)

I’m glad to see this topic getting mainstream media attention. While some “jerks” and abrasive bosses can be coached and counseled to interact with others more appropriately, those who behave abusively are in a different category. Among the latter include those with sociopathic and psychopathic traits, many of whom perpetrate or orchestrate the most damaging instances of workplace bullying and abuse.

Hat tip to eBossWatch

LA Times on Supreme Court Employment Law Decisions

Alana Semuels reports for the Los Angeles Times on employment cases decided during the recently concluded term of the Supreme Court, which includes a quote from me, among many others:

“You can see this common thread of making it more difficult to have your day in court,” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “The legal climate for employees is a tough one.”

The current incarnation of the U.S. Supreme Court continues to interpret federal employment and labor laws in ways that make it increasingly difficult for workers pursuing legal claims. It is fair to say that this is the most anti-worker Supreme Court of the modern, post-World War II era.

USA Today on the Heroic Flight Attendants of Asiana Flight 214

Ben Mutzabaugh from USA Today reports that last weekend’s crash landing of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport could’ve been much worse had it not been for the calm, brave responses of the flight attendants. Here’s his lede:

Asiana Airlines attendants are being lauded as heroes for their role in helping passengers to safety after the crash-landing of Flight 214 at San Francisco on Saturday.

Lee Yoon-hye, described by The Associated Press as the “cabin manager” who was “apparently the last person to leave the burning plane,” was among those being called out for her efforts to lead fliers to safety.

The heroic, life-saving work of the flight attendants is becoming one of the important backstories of this event. Read Mutzabaugh’s article for more details.

Next Avenue on Back to School at Midlife

Nancy Collamer, blogging for Next Avenue, offers some advice for workers who are considering degree and certificate programs to enhance their employability:

I suspect many Americans in their 50s and 60s are considering going back to school to improve their career prospects.

…But college isn’t cheap and there’s no guarantee that further schooling will lead to a new job or fatten your paycheck.

So when does it pay to go back to school after age 50 or so?

It’s a good piece if you’re thinking about a return to school. The Next Avenue site has become one of my favorites. Take a look and click around!

Dean & Provost on Being Thrown Under the Bus

J. Dirk Nelson, writing for Dean & Provost, a publication for academic administrators, addresses a situation that occurs all too often in academe — and elsewhere: That of being “thrown under the bus,” i.e., being scapegoated or wrongfully blamed. Here’s a snippet:

Political forces in colleges are never an easy ride, and unfortunately many careers have been shattered or significantly altered by the seemingly petty, arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory and often childish politically driven actions of others.

…(T)here certainly exist unsavory political forces on campuses, and consequently, a colleague (or you) may be “thrown under the bus” i.e., made the scapegoat or blamed for something that wasn’t his responsibility in the first place.

. . . The appropriate responses to being thrown under the bus — while possibly difficult in practice — are simple and sound in theory: Have a positive attitude, vent, behave with professionalism, and learn.

Do you agree or disagree? Nelson gets into a lot more detail in the full article, exploring a topic that will resonate with many people who are familiar with workplace bullying. Wrongful blame for mistakes made by others is high on the list of common bullying tactics.

Hat tip to Mike Schlicht, New York Healthy Workplace Advocates

Followup to Blog Post on the Stages of Dealing with Workplace Bullying

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece on what I characterized as the four stages of dealing with workplace bullying: Recognition, response, recovery, and renewal. Since then, thoughtful readers have shared their own stories of being bullied and the aftermaths.

For some honest, raw, courageous testimony about the toll that this form of abuse can exact, scroll down to the several dozen comments following my blog post, here.

Unpaid Internship Ruling Spurs Media Coverage

A federal court decision in June holding that unpaid interns working on the Fox Searchlight Pictures production of “Black Swan” were entitled to back pay under federal and state minimum wage laws has resulted in an abundance of media coverage. Here are three recent articles for which I was interviewed:

Bloomberg.com, Jim Snyder & Christie Smythe, June 27

“This question of whether private-sector internships violate the minimum wage laws has been sort of a sleeping-giant issue for many years,” said David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “The absence of payment is done with a wink and a nod. Interns know they better not make any trouble about this.”

Boston Globe, Taryn Luna, June 26

The majority of students who accept unpaid internships can only do so on their parents’ dime. This creates both a class issue, where more students from affluent families get a foot in the door, and a situation where employers limit their applicant pool, Yamada says.

In These Times, Michelle Chen, June 24

David Yamada, a labor law specialist at Suffolk University Law School, comments via email, “We’ll probably never know how many people from modest backgrounds don’t even bother applying for unpaid internships because they know they can’t afford it. But there surely is a strong element of economic class bias in this practice.”

. . . Yamada says that since it was filed in 2011, the Fox lawsuit has “led to the creation of informal networks of former interns and lawyers weighing the possibility of bringing lawsuits to challenge unpaid internships,” and has since developed intern networks that “are coalescing via social media and face-to-face gatherings. This is becoming a genuine social and legal movement.”

“Total Worker Health” vs. “Wellness” vs. “Well-Being”: Framing worker health issues

l to r: Larissa Barber, David Ballard, Lois Tetrick, Matt Grawitch

Organizational psychology experts discuss worker health at “Work, Stress and Health”: Larissa Barber (Northern Ill. U.), David Ballard (APA), Lois Tetrick (George Mason U.), and Matt Grawitch (St. Louis U.) (photo: DY)

What should be our primary framework for thinking about worker health?

Last month’s “Work, Stress and Health” conference in Los Angeles featured the theme of “Total Worker Health.” This important biennial event is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP). On its webpage, NIOSH defines Total Worker Health this way:

Total Worker Health™ is a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being.

As conceptualized by NIOSH and others, Total Worker Health engages both legal mandates and pro-active measures to promote worker health and safety.

Wellness

Another term often invoked at this conference was “wellness,” usually in association with employer-sponsored programs that promote smart health habits, such as good nutrition, exercise, weight control, smoking cessation, and mindfulness practices.

Wellness programs are designed to contribute to healthier and more productive workforces and to save organizations money through lower health insurance premiums and less absenteeism and turnover.

Well-being

A third term that recurred at Work, Stress and Health was “well-being.” The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examine well-being in the context of a concept they label “Health-Related Quality of Life.” They define well-being this way:

Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well. Good living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) are fundamental to well-being. Tracking these conditions is important for public policy. However, many indicators that measure living conditions fail to measure what people think and feel about their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions and resilience, the realization of their potential, or their overall satisfaction with life — i.e., their “well-being.” . . . Well-being generally includes global judgments of life satisfaction and feelings ranging from depression to joy. 

More than word salad

Okay, so you might be thinking, “Total Worker Health” . . . “Wellness” . . . “Well-Being” . . . blah blah blah. Just a toss of word salad among terms that you basically can mix and match.

Maybe so, at least from a distance. But these terms do carry subtle distinctions and connotations within the world of employment relations, especially in the fields of occupational safety & health and organizational psychology.

In a Good Company blog post, Dr. Matt Grawitch (St. Louis U.), an organizational psychologist who plays a key role in the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, reflected upon how these terms were invoked at the conference and cast his vote for well-being as the best framing concept:

For organizations, this means you have to have a strategy, one emphasizing the development of a workplace that fosters (or at least does not detract from) overall worker well-being. It should not start with the implementation of a wellness program; it should start by taking a long hard look at the culture, structure and business practices of the organization to identify where those important contextual factors are enhancing or detracting from worker well-being. It should include an assessment of a range of well-being factors (including health). And it should result in a multi-faceted approach that leverages a host of psychologically healthy workplace practices to effectively improve worker well-being.

Exercise can be a good way to relieve stress that we experience from an abusive supervisor, work-life conflict or poor working conditions. But wouldn’t the organization and its employees reap greater rewards if abusive supervision, work-life conflict and poor working conditions were eliminated? Then, exercise could be used to enhance health rather than to simply maintain it (or keep it from deteriorating even more).

I’m happy to cast a concurring vote. I confess that I had not given this any attention before. But at the conference, my thought process was first triggered by a sidebar conversation with Dr. Tapas Ray of NIOSH, who shared with me how his research is centering on measures of well-being. By the end of the conference, further informed by other discussions and panels, I had became a convert. Indeed, I realized that well-being, within the context of workplace health and safety, is a very good fit with broader questions about human dignity and employment law that I’ve been raising for several years.

I’m sure that I’ll be exploring these conceptual links in future posts.

Why conferences?

WSH-2013_tcm7-116912

I’m spending an extended weekend in Los Angeles, attending and participating in the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference theme is “Protecting and Promoting Total Worker Health,” and the agenda packs in four solid days of speeches, panel discussions, symposia, workshops, and poster presentations.

Despite its serious sounding title (anything with “stress” in the name tells us something, yes?), Work, Stress and Health is my favorite larger-scale conference. It’s where I learn the most from fellow participants, and it’s where I’ve had opportunities to present my work to knowledgeable, savvy colleagues.

These days I find myself less and less drawn to big conferences. To me, they’re usually too impersonal and have the feeling of being caught in an urban commuter rail station during rush hour. Work, Stress and Health, however, manages to overcome my predispositions, and here’s why:

First, it’s multidisciplinary. Although the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and occupational health psychology frame the overall conference, it draws presenters and attendees from many occupations related to employee relations. Tackling the challenges of making our workplaces healthy and productive requires input from many different perspectives, and this conference does a very good job of bringing many of them together.

Second, it’s relevant to both research and practice. Academics and graduate students form the largest cadre at the conference, but the programs typically carry significance for scholars and practitioners alike. Equally important, most people drawn to this conference bring a genuine respect for both research and practice.

Third, it’s friendly. Frequent conference goers understand the significance of that statement. Too many such gatherings are cold, stuffy, uptight assemblages, and I greet them with dread. Work, Stress and Health manages to avoid that look and feel. I actually look forward to being a part of it.

Fourth, it’s a great place to learn. Here, too, conference devotees get what I mean. Frankly, at some conferences, all you really care about is not saying something really stupid during your own presentation. The rest of the conference holds scant interest to you. By contrast, at Work, Stress and Health, there’s a lot of compelling stuff being presented, and not infrequently one has to make a choice among two or three appealing programs during the same time slot.

Finally, it connects and reconnects me with good people. This conference enables me to reconnect with valued associates and make new ones. Indeed, last night I joined long-time friends Gary & Ruth Namie (Workplace Bullying Institute), Kathy Rospenda (University of Illinois-Chicago), and Stale Einarsen (University of Bergen, Norway) for an excellent dinner and lots of story swapping at Mio Babbo’s Ristorante in Westwood Village. These folks are among the pioneers in helping us to understand workplace bullying, and I always enjoy their company.

l to r: Gary Namie, Ruth Namie, Kathy Rospenda, DY, and Stale Einarsen

l to r: Gary Namie, Ruth Namie, Kathy Rospenda, DY, and Stale Einarsen

***

I look forward to sharing several future posts summarizing and commenting on information and research presented at the conference.

Imagining the “compassionate mind” at work

In a thoughtful, compelling piece on the “compassionate mind,” Dr. Emma Seppala draws together a wealth of research and analysis on the role on compassion — defined “as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help” – in advancing the human condition. Here’s a short snippet of a piece that deserves a full read:

Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being. Research by APS William James Fellow Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

The article appears in the May-June issue of the Observer, published by the Association for Psychological Science. It discusses whether compassion is natural or learned, the benefits of compassion for physical and psychological health, how compassion can change the world for the better, and how we can cultivate it.

OBS_Cover_May-June_header-88px1

Compassion at Work?

Is it naive to suggest that we could use more compassion in our workplaces?

Five years ago, I wrote a law review article suggesting that human dignity should be the framing concept for American employment laws. I noted, among other things, that considerations of human dignity are rarely voiced directly in connection with U.S. employment policy.

The idea of compassion seems even more, well, weird to associate with everyday employee relations.

Which is a big part of the problem. Too many of our workplaces are downright mean and utterly devoid of compassion. (That statement includes public service and non-profit employers, as well as profit-making businesses.) Within such organizations, incivility, bullying, violence, and other forms of aggression are common.

I understand that workplaces must be productive, however one defines the term, in order to thrive and survive and deliver our paychecks. So I’m not suggesting that we turn our places of employment into a giant support group. We have work to do — I get that.

But maybe someday we’ll understand that most of us do our best work in environments that are safe, supportive, and — yes — compassionate. Saying so isn’t naive; rather, it makes good sense.

***

Emma Seppala is the Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. Go here to access her website.

“At some point, we need to have a serious conversation about $5 t-shirts”

The title of this piece quotes a Facebook post by Jennifer Doe, a widely respected labor organizer here in Boston.

Jennifer is referring, of course, to the latest workplace safety horror in Bangladesh: Last week, an eight-story building housing garment factories collapsed, with the death toll approaching 380 and very likely to rise. (Go here for extensive coverage by The Guardian.)

Last November, some 120 people died in a fire at another Bangladeshi garment factory. It bore an eerie similarity to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City, where 146 workers perished.

The $5 t-shirt, the $30 DVD player, and so on

The Bangladeshi workers were making clothes for U.S. brands. As we go about our business today, many of us could be wearing the results of their toil.

Which is exactly Jennifer’s point. Lots of consumer goods that we buy in shiny department, big box, and electronics stores carry low price tags in large part because they were made by workers in impoverished countries who earn subsistence wages while facing harsh, sometimes life-threatening working conditions.

Thrift vs. blood savings

I fully understand the value that many Americans put on thrift. Especially during these difficult times, inexpensive clothing, electronics, and other goods are especially appealing to anyone on a tight budget.

My mom grew up during the Great Depression. Throughout their lives, she and her sisters dutifully clipped coupons and waited for sales to buy things they needed. While concededly I have not wholly internalized their level of thrift, I get it: Hunting for a bargain is a good thing.

But we need to face the question of the human costs of these bargains. Most of us have purchased goods made by low-paid workers in other countries. In the case of products made in countries like Bangladesh, however, we’re talking about downright blood savings. These folks are dying so we can buy inexpensive stuff.

The path to labor globalization

The terrible situation in Bangladesh is hardly an isolated phenomenon.

The globalization of manufacturing involves the constant search for the cheapest, most exploitable labor possible. The rough pathway started with manufacturing jobs secured by union collective bargaining agreements in the north, followed by the flight of those jobs to anti-union southern states. When those wages got “too high,” manufacturers fled to other countries where workers were willing earn a tiny fraction of what even the lowest-paid Americans expected to receive.

More recently, as manufacturing workers in places like India have engaged in labor organizing, these companies are packing up again for new places to mistreat the rank-and-file, such as Bangladesh. However, now that Bangladeshi workers are protesting these recent disasters, I’m sure these companies will start looking elsewhere.

They may be running out of South Asian countries, but sub-Saharan Africa has yet to be fully exploited in this way. Wouldn’t it be obscenely ironic if American-led multinationals targeted the continent that supplied future slaves to the U.S. for their next round of exploitation? It’s not an implausible scenario.

Popular posts from 2012

I’ve collected a dozen of the more popular 2012 posts from Minding the Workplace. Especially if you missed them the first time around, I hope you find them interesting.

1. Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (December) — “It can range from petty mind games to severe, twisted harassment and stalking. The goals are to undermine a target’s confidence, keep the target off-balance, and instill fear and paranoia.”

2. Not “Set for Life”: Boomers face layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work (November) — “The bottom line? For many workers, the American Dream is no more. The assumption that working hard and playing by the rules would lead to a relatively comfortable retirement has been demolished.”

3. Are some workplaces “bullying clusters”? (September) — “So here’s the hypothesis: Bullying behaviors are not evenly distributed among all employers. Rather, bullying behaviors are disproportionately concentrated in a smaller number of toxic workplaces.”

4. Positive qualities of my best bosses (August) — “I’ve been giving some thought to the personal qualities of the many bosses I’ve worked for, going back to high school and extending to the present day. A handful stand out as being especially good, and I’ve come to realize that they shared a lot of positive characteristics. Here goes….”

5. Do “almost psychopaths” help to explain the prevalence of workplace bullying and abuse? (July) — “While the true psychopath may have trouble functioning in regular society, the almost psychopath often can navigate life successfully, including — perhaps especially in – the workplace.”

6. Cruelty on a school bus (June) — “A group of junior high school students from Greece School District in Rochester, NY, subject bus monitor Karen Klein to a profanity-laced stream of humiliating insults and threats.”

7. A movement emerges: Will unpaid internships disappear? (May) — “Now there’s an emerging movement against unpaid internships (especially in the private sector), and here’s evidence of its coming out party….”

8. Workplace bullying 2.0: Psychology and mental health (April) — “Of all the major disciplines relevant to studying, preventing, responding to workplace bullying, the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and its emerging sibling, occupational health psychology, rank first in terms of research and practice.”

9. Maryland teachers sue for bullying and harassment (March) — “Teachers in Silver Spring, Maryland, are suing their principal and the school board for ongoing bullying and harassment.”

10. Workplace wellness and workplace bullying (March) — “When you hear the term ‘employee wellness,’ do you also think about “workplace bullying”?”

11. Burnout in the non-profit sector (February) — “Non-profit employment attracts those who are drawn to changing society for the better. . . . However, it also feeds burnout tendencies that are exacerbated during difficult times.”

12. “Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (January) — “Let’s start with what I call puppet master bullying. In these situations, a chief aggressor’s power and influence over a group of subordinates may be sufficient to enlist their participation in mistreating a target, creating what looks and feels like a mob. . . . By contrast, genuine workplace mobbing occurs when the malicious energy is shared among the many, who proceed to go after the few.”

OSHA cites convenience store owner for workplace violence risks

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which administers and enforces the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, has cited a convenience store owner for allegedly failing to safeguard its employees from robberies and other forms of violence on the job.

In the Matter of TMT Inc.

Bruce Rolfsen reports for the BNA Daily Labor Report (Nov. 30, by subscription only):

Citations issued Nov. 19 against a Texas convenience store owner for allegedly failing to protect workers from robberies and other violence marks an increased willingness on the part of the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to use the general duty clause as a tool to prevent workplace violence.
OSHA cited TMT Inc. with four alleged violations of the general duty clause, one each for Whip In stores in Garland and Mesquite, and citations for two stores in Dallas. Proposed fines total $19,600.
. . . The citation announcement marked the first time in recent memory that OSHA has used the general duty clause to cite a convenience store operator for violations related to workplace violence, according to observers who follow convenience store safety.

 

General duty clause

OSHA issued the citation under the law’s general duty clause, which requires employers to provide workers with conditions of employment “that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Despite thousands of individual regulations addressing workplace safety promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, there is no specific provision addressing workplace violence. However, OSHA has released a fact sheet on workplace violence and engaged in educational initiatives for employers about the subject.

Application to workplace bullying?

OSHA’s recognition of workplace violence as a serious hazard raises hopes that workplace bullying, too, will get greater attention.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal government’s research arm on workplace safety, has included bullying in its studies of workplace violence and aggression and hosted meetings of leading researchers to discuss the impact of bullying on worker health.  NIOSH researchers have examined organizational dynamics of workplace bullying and the implications for intervention strategies.

Back in 2005, I participated in a working group convened by NIOSH to examine workplace bullying and psychological aggression. This included a day-long session in Cincinnati that, to this day, remains one of the most intense and insightful exchanges I’ve participated in on this topic.

We can now at least imagine the possibility that research findings about the harm caused by bullying will lead to a stronger regulatory response.  As I’ve noted earlier on this blog, some of the analysis for that response may be found in the work of professor Susan Harthill of Florida Coastal School of Law, who has argued persuasively that occupational safety and health law can be part of a multi-pronged approach that includes collaborative and cooperative efforts between public and private employment relations stakeholders.

Limitations

Of course, mild penalties are one of the genuine limitations of current federal workplace safety law, as reflected by rather paltry proposed fines (under $20,000) in the TMI case. In addition, this statute does not allow individual claims for damages by injured workers. Identical limitations would apply in workplace bullying situations as well.

Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction, and with the current Administration in place for another four years, it bears watching.

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