France Télécom executives are on trial for workplace bullying associated with dozens of worker suicides

Former France Télécom executives are on trial for alleged violations of France’s “moral harassment” code, in a case alleging that systematic bullying tactics were employed to reduce the company’s workforce. During the time in question, 35 workers died by suicide, and many left notes explaining that working conditions had pushed them beyond their ability to endure. Angelique Crisafis reports for the Guardian (link here):

Former executives at France Télécom could face prison over organised workplace harassment that led to a spate of staff suicides a decade ago, as a two-month trial that shocked France draws to a close this week.

French state prosecutors have urged judges to find the executives guilty of moral harassment and hand down the maximum prison sentence of one year, plus large fines, after details emerged in court of the turmoil felt by workers over systematic bullying tactics aimed at pushing staff to leave.

MTW Revisions: July 2019

In this regular feature, each month I’m reviewing some of the 1,700+ entries to this blog since 2008 and opting to revise and update several of them. I hope that readers find the revised posts useful and interesting. Here are this month’s selections:

After being bullied at work, what next? (orig. 2009; rev. 2016 & 2019) (link here) — “Oftentimes, workplace bullying leaves a target’s head spinning. Whether of the overt or covert variety, or perhaps both, work abuse can be quickly destabilizing. It’s hard to get one’s bearings. …All of this boils down to the fact that targets must often consider their options on their own. For those who are in such a position, here are several questions to ask and answer, ideally earlier rather than later….”

The sociopathic employee handbook (orig. 2016; rev. 2019) (link here) — “I once had an opportunity to review provisions of an employee handbook from a large, mostly non-union employer in the non-profit sector. . . . Heh, among my reactions was that this handbook read like the handiwork of a sociopathic lawyer!”

What is at-will employment? (orig. 2015; rev. 2019) (link here) — “The legal rule of at-will employment is the presumptive employment relationship in the United States. It means that an employer can hire or terminate a worker for any reason or no reason at all, so long as that action does not violate existing legal protections. . . . Outside the U.S., at-will employment is not the norm. In many industrialized nations, workers can be terminated only for just cause, which usually means inadequate performance, serious misconduct, or financial exigency.”

Tribes for brewing ideas and engaging in positive change (orig. 2015; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Today, tribes may form and sustain with members spread across the land. Physical proximity helps a lot, of course, especially in the form of periodic conferences and meetings. But the online world can be a way of sustaining and building those bonds too, especially when face-to-face interactions are less feasible.”

MTW Newsstand: July 2019

Every month, the “MTW Newsstand” brings you a curated selection of articles relevant to work, workers, and workplaces. Whenever possible, the pieces are freely accessible. Here are this month’s offerings:

Caitlin Flanagan, “The Problem With HR,” The Atlantic (2019) (link here) — “If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement? And given that it did, why are companies still putting so much faith in HR?”

Shahida Arabi, “Bullied by Narcissists at Work? 3 Ways Narcissistic Co-Workers and Bosses Sabotage You,” PsychCentral (2019) (link here) — “If you work or have worked in a traditional corporate environment, chances are you’ve run into a narcissist or sociopath in your career. Research suggests that psychopathic personalities do climb the corporate ladder more readily and are able to charm and gain trust from other co-workers and management to do so.”

Quentin Fottrell, “Is your boss a psychopath?,” MarketWatch (2019) (link here) — “Do you ever wonder why the bad guy is in charge — and the good guy is pushing paper? There may be a reason for that. Bad bosses often promise the world, according to Deborah Ancona, a professor of leadership at MIT Sloan School of Management and founder of the MIT Leadership Center, and hard-working employees can be left to deal with the aftereffects. ‘Toxic leaders are often talking about all the great things that they can do,’ she told MIT Sloan.”

Amy Coveno, “As adults, some former bullies try to keep history from repeating,” WMUR (2019) (link here) —  “News 9 put out a call on Facebook for former bullies to tell their stories.”

Ruchika Tulshyan, “How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring,” Harvard Business Review (2019) (link here) — “Changes in process and diversity initiatives alone are not going to remedy the lack of equal representation in companies. Individual managers who are often making the final hiring decisions need to address their own bias.”

Randall J. Beck & Jim Harter, “Why Great Managers Are So Rare,” Gallup (2019) (link here) — “Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents….”

Janelle Nanos, “Wayfair walkout is part of a new era of employee activism,” Boston Globe (2019) (link here) — “Employees of Wayfair, the online furniture giant based in the Back Bay, weren’t planning to stage a walkout on Wednesday. But when the company’s leadership shrugged off workers’ objections to fulfilling a $200,000 furniture order for detention centers on the US-Mexico border, ‘Wayfairians’ became the latest group of tech co-workers to start a social activist movement targeting their own employer.”

The privileges of creating a “body of work”

Four years ago, I wrote about Pamela Slim‘s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), which invites us to examine — in the author’s words — “the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created” (link here). She defines “body of work” this way:

Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created.

I first wrote about this concept in 2009:

Until recently, I’ve regarded the term “body of work” as being somewhat odd.  It refers to an individual’s total output, or at least a substantial part of it.  We often hear “body of work” invoked when assessing an individual’s creative, artistic, or athletic endeavors, as in looking at the career of a great musician, writer, or baseball player.

But I’ve come to realize that we all produce our own body of work, even if we are not famous artists or athletes.  It may include work we are paid for, but it also may capture contributions as parents, friends, caregivers, volunteers, and members of the community.  For some, their “day job” of showing up to work or caring for children may be complemented by starting a band, coaching a softball team, or singing in a community chorus.  Taking into account all of these possibilities, our body of work represents our contributions to this world while we are a part of it.

And here’s another dimension that I’ve come to realize with much greater clarity: If one is sufficiently fortunate to be able to conceptualize their life in this manner, then one is very privileged. For countless millions around the world, it’s not about building a body of work; rather, it’s about meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, health care, and safety.

This understanding leads me to a popular maxim: To whom much is given, much is expected. The phrase actually has its roots in Scripture. Here’s one version from The Oxford Study Bible:

When one has been given much, much will be expected of him; and the more he has had entrusted to him the more will be demanded of him. (Luke 12:48)

I don’t usually go around quoting the Bible. My own religious beliefs are that of a non-denominational believer, i.e., believing in a God whose truth is to be found somewhere in the intersection of various faith traditions. I also respect those who are devout believers, agnostics, or atheists.

Nevertheless, the basic sentiment sticks with me. Those of us who are privileged, nay, blessed, to think of our lives as encompassing a body of work have a responsibility to help others and to make the world a better place. How that is done is an individual decision, hopefully rendered with gratitude, empathy, and understanding.

Working notes as summer beckons

Briefing MA legislators, staffers, and interns on the Healthy Workplace Bill

Dear readers, with summer now officially here in Boston, I’m working away at various projects, initiatives, and events. In addition to writing a law review article, here is a sampling of what has been keeping me busy and drawing my attention during recent months and heading into summer:

Legislative briefing on MA Healthy Workplace Bill

Last Tuesday, we had a very successful briefing session on the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 1072, link here), with a full room of legislators, legislative staffers, and interns joining us at the State House. Jim Redmond, legislative agent for SEIU-NAGE, facilitated the briefing. Our lead sponsor, Senator Paul Feeney, spoke about the need for the HWB, and I gave a short presentation about the legal and policy mechanics that have informed my drafting of the bill. We had time for Q&A, which included added remarks by former SEIU president Greg Sorozan, a key leader behind labor efforts to address workplace bullying.

This coming Tuesday, June 25, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a hearing on labor-related bills, including public testimony on the HWB (go here for info). We’ll be there in full force for that, as well.

Medium highlights the Healthy Workplace Bill campaign

We continue to advocate for workplace anti-bullying legislation on a national basis. Recently, for a piece in Medium titled “How to Outlaw the Office Bully” (link here), I shared this observation with writer Leigh Ann Carey:

“We are benefitting from a ripple effect from the #MeToo movement,” Yamada says. “The media headlines start with sexual harassment, but as you read deeper into the story you find out there’s a lot of generic bullying. These behaviors don’t occur in a vacuum. They hang together. Shouldn’t we be free of all this stuff by now?”

A Rome conference

A recurring educational highlight for me is the biennial International Congress on Law and Mental Health, sponsored by the International Academy for Law and Mental Health (IALMH). Thanks to the good graces of the IALMH, our International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence organizes a dedicated stream of panels specifically on therapeutic jurisprudence topics. The conference is a welcomed opportunity to share some of my own work and to attend panels featuring colleagues from around the world.

The next International Congress is scheduled for this July in Rome. I’ve organized two panels for the conference, both of which I’ll share more details later:

  • A panel on “Bullying, Mobbing, and Harassment: Psychological Trauma and Civil Litigation.” I’ll be talking about the concept of “trauma points” in employment litigation, highlighting (1) the many points at which a plaintiff in an employment lawsuit must retell the narrative of an abusive work situation, leading to re-traumatization; and (2) the traumatizing nature of litigation itself, as a legal process. I’ll be building my talk around a prototypical racial harassment claim, drawn from real-life cases. 
  • A panel on “Legislative Scholarship, Design, Advocacy, and Outcomes.” I’ll be examining how therapeutic jurisprudence principles should be applied to the development of public policy, referencing — among other things — the U.S. push for workplace anti-bullying legislation.

I’ve included in my travel schedule a few extra days for sightseeing, as I’ve never been to Rome and look forward to exploring it. But seriously, the conference is a draw in and of itself, as every time I come away from it enriched by the research, insights, and ideas offered by so many of my colleagues. It’s an intellectual treat, with real-world applications.

Blog planning

I’ve never been very systematic about planning entries to MTW, but I’d like to become a bit more focused in the future. Also, with some 1,700 pieces posted here since late 2008, and a lot of other folks entering the social media fray on topics such as workplace bullying, I’d like to spend more time updating past pieces and sharing relevant commentaries from other sites. This summer I’ll be implementing a monthly blogging schedule that looks something like this:

  • A new and original post about workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse;
  • A post that collects and shares my revisions of, and updates to, some of the 1,700+ articles previously posted here;
  • A post that collects and links to a variety of articles and resources relevant to work, workers, and workplaces, as well as broader, related topics of psychology, economics, and public affairs;
  • A post on miscellaneous topics relevant to this blog.

I’m also going to consider ways in which educators might better access and use the material that I’ve posted here. This idea was planted by a review of this blog discussed below.

Finally, I’m posting more content to my new Facebook Page, especially links to interesting pieces and to relevant past blog posts. If you’re on Facebook, you may receive new postings by “liking” or “following” this link.

MTW receives positive review from educational resources site

MERLOT.org, a popular educational resources site devoted to sharing online materials that can be used for classroom purposes, has given Minding the Workplace a very positive peer review (link here). This is especially gratifying in view of the fact that MTW has not been necessarily designed for classroom use. Nevertheless, the reviewer saw the potential usefulness of MTW for classroom purposes. Here’s a snippet of that review:

The blog underscores workplace issues of enormous contemporary significance (e.g., diversity, bullying, toxic cultures) and provides a perspective that can deepen students’ understanding. The author of the blog is an expert in the subjects that the blog addresses. The blog is exceedingly well-written, well-informed, and professionally presented. Entries link out to a variety of newspapers and periodicals. The blog contains links to key organizations and scholarly articles that address workplace bullying, employee dignity, and employment law. 

The reviewer concluded that MTW is an “excellent resource for faculty and students who have an academic or professional interest in issues and challenges related to workplace culture.”

Legislative briefing for Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill, June 18

Draft of my briefing discussion for June 18

Advocacy on behalf of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 1072, Sen. Paul Feeney, lead sponsor; link here) is revving up here in Massachusetts.

As I wrote here in June 6, the HWB will be among the bills discussed in a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, on Tuesday, June 25, starting at 1 pm. I will be joining other advocates in testifying in support of the bill. We have also prepared a packet of written testimony for distribution to committee members.

But wait, there’s more!

We also now have a special briefing on the HWB for Massachusetts legislators and staff members scheduled for this coming Tuesday, June 18, at 11:00 am in Room 222 of the MA State House. In that briefing, Senator Feeney will speak about the need for the HWB, and I will give a presentation about the legal and policy mechanics that have informed my drafting of the bill. This recent addition to our advocacy and public education efforts is due to the work of Sen. Feeney and the support of SEIU-NAGE and the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates.

We are building on the organizing successes of the new legislative session. With 107 of the 200 elected state representatives and senators signed on as co-sponsors of the HWB for the 2019-20 session, this is by far the strongest showing of support for the bill among the five full sessions in which it has been active.

***

You may follow latest developments at the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates blog site (link here) and Facebook site (link here).

Lessons learned early: School responses to bullying and abuse accusations

For better and for worse, we often learn about organizational responses to bullying and abuse accusations early in life, by witnessing how school systems deal with them. As Kerry Justich reports for Yahoo (link here), a high school senior in Vancouver, Washington, is learning what that response may entail:

A high school senior in Vancouver, Wash. will no longer be walking in his graduation on Saturday, after accusing the administration of ignoring bullying and sexual assault allegedly taking place at school.

Charles Chandler was giving a speech in front of students and families of Heritage High School during a ceremony on Wednesday when he went off script and made some controversial comments against the administration.

“And to you, underclassmen,” Chandler is heard saying toward the end of his speech, “who have to endure all the things the school throw at you for two to three more years. A school where the administration closes their eyes to everything that happens in the school. Their school. The sexual assault, the bullying, the depression, the outcasts. And they do nothing to fix it.”

Through surprised reactions heard throughout the crowd, Chandler continued to say that if the school does take notice of these incidents, “they take the side of the accused and not the victim,” before the audience ultimately erupted in cheers.

Although Chandler’s peers appeared to agree with him, principal Derek Garrison did not, claiming his comments were not truthful:

“His comments were full of inaccuracies, inflammatory statements and hurtful accusations,” the principal’s letter, obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle, reads. “Administrators called the student in to explain why spreading rumors and inaccurate information was extremely problematic.”

The story has attracted a lot of local attention, and several dozen Heritage students protested the school’s treatment of Chandler by staging a walkout.

One of many

Of course, this is only one of many accounts of how school systems have pushed back against accusations of bullying, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse and misconduct. Typically this takes place in one or more of these forms:

  • Outright denial that any wrongful behavior occurred;
  • Dismissal of the seriousness of the allegations, suggesting an overreaction;
  • Active coverups of abuse; and/or,
  • Retaliation against the accusers.

Hmm, this sounds like what happens in way too many bullying, harassment, and whistleblower situations at work, yes?

Indeed, school responses to student allegations of wrongdoing sometimes resemble responses of bad employers to employee allegations of mistreatment or misconduct. When both student complainants and bystanders witness how such allegations are swept under the rug or otherwise mishandled by their schools, they learn an unfortunate lesson about getting along, going along, and keeping their mouths shut in the face of wrongful behavior.

Back to Heritage High

We don’t know the full story behind Charles Chandler’s accusations about student life at Heritage High School. According to the Yahoo news article, the “principal’s letter offered Chandler the opportunity to participate in a ‘restorative solution,’ or face disciplinary action that included not walking at graduation,” and that Chandler opted for the latter. Reading between the lines, it appears that he didn’t trust the process offered to him, and that many of his fellow students — as evidenced by their support for him — share his concerns. 

In fact, Katie Gillespie reports for The Columbian that other students have reported mistreatment at the school (link here):

Some students at the school praised Chandler for standing up for what they see as continued tolerance of bullying and harassment at the Evergreen Public Schools campus.

Frost Honrath, 17, said she twice reported being physically assaulted by another student, but felt the district’s response was insufficient.

“I really want to see action in our school,” Honrath said. “They’re pushing it aside.”

Ethan Wheeler, 17, said a student once wrapped a noose, a prop from a play, around his neck and told him to kill himself. When he tried to get help, “it seemed like nothing was really done.”

This may turn out to be one of those more unusual situations of a story going viral, and thus prompting a public defense of the individual issuing the accusations. It could lead to a more comprehensive examination of student life at this high school. Maybe the students will learn a different lesson about the value of raising their voices.

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