When workplace bullying triggers workplace violence

In his 1995 book Violence at Work, Joseph A. Kinney, founder of the National Safe Workplace Institute, observed that workplace violence can be a consequence of bullying at work.  Kinney noted that “there have been numerous instances where abusive supervisors have baited angry and frustrated employees, pushing these individuals to unacceptable levels of violence and aggression.”

Sadly, it appears that a workplace killing in Fresno, California last week was a replay of that scenario.  As reported by writer Mark Ames on AlterNet, an employee named Jim Badasci showed up to work with a gun and started shooting:

Jim Badasci, who’d worked at Fresno Equipment for 10 years, showed up Tuesday morning with a shotgun at 8:57 a.m., and the first thing he did was kill a fellow co-worker, Ralph Wallis. About two dozen fellow co-workers scattered at that point, some taking refuge at a nearby car wash, others reportedly hiding inside of a locked vault, as Badasci, wearing a hunting vest filled with ammo, proceeded to “shoot the equipment” — in this case, John Deere agricultural machinery.

Badasci then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

Ames dug into the story and contacted Michael Von Flue, a former co-worker of Badasci, who gave his explanation of why Badasci “went postal”:

In an email exchange with Von Flue, he told me that Jim Badasci had been driven to desperation by a particular supervisor and the company’s toleration of the supervisor’s mistreatment. . . . Von Flue said that Jim “loved his job, talking with people,” and was very sociable, but that the supervisor had made his life hell, and unfortunately the company owners decided not to do anything about it, even though others had also complained. “It is sad that they didn’t follow through…things might have been different I’m sure.”

Ames provides an extensive and provocative analysis of how this workplace killing relates to the current political and economic climate facing workers in America.  This is strong, pointed stuff, and not everyone will buy into Ames’s larger political connections.  But it’s a legitimate attempt to understand bullying and violence at work in a broader context.

For “Why Jim Badasci ‘Went Postal’: How Bullying Bosses and Economic Devastation Are Behind America’s Latest Workplace Shooting” go here.

Hat tip to Michelle Smith of California Healthy Workplace Advocates for the link to this story.

Download and use it: The 2007 WBI/Zogby Workplace Bullying Survey Results

During the past few months I’ve been fairly buried in writing obligations, most of which deal in some way with workplace bullying and psychological health in the workplace.  One source I return to time and again, whether to use and cite in an article, or simply for important background information, is the 2007 public opinion survey on workplace bullying conducted by Zogby International pollsters under the guidance of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

This remains the most thorough American public opinion survey of workplace bullying ever conducted, and it provides valuable information for employment relations practitioners and scholars alike.  I’m pasting in some of the key findings:

  • 37% of workers have been bullied: 13% currently and 24% previously
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • More perpetrators are men (60%) than are women(40%)
  • Most Targets (57%) are women
  • Women bullies target women (71%); men target men (54%)
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal discriminatory harassment
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of Targets suffer stress-related health problems
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers
  • Only 3% of bullied people file lawsuits
  • The WBI website includes freely downloadable files of (1) a results flyer; (2) a brochure; and (3) the complete report: http://www.workplacebullying.org/research/WBI-Zogby2007Survey.html.  This page also contains links to other studies and resources.  For those doing research on workplace bullying, this is one of your starting places.

    November’s Work, Stress, and Health Conference: A tipping point for workplace bullying research?

    One of the best gatherings to learn about the latest research on psychological health in the workplace is 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.  It is an international, multidisciplinary conference featuring the work of practitioners and scholars, and it makes for a rich mix of knowledge and exchange.

    This year’s conference, “Global Concerns and Approaches,” will be held on Nov. 5-8 in San Juan, and it is hosted and co-sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico.  The early registration deadline is October 10.

    Typically, the WSH conference has featured a couple of panels expressly devoted to workplace bullying, but this year’s program features five panels:

    Workplace Bullying in Hospital Settings (Symposium)
    Workplace Aggression: Bullying and Aggression in the Workplace (Paper Panel Session)
    Case Studies in Workplace Bullying (Symposium)
    Workplace Bullying: From Research to Activism (Roundtable Discussion)
    Workplace Bullying Issues (Paper Panel Session)

    In addition, titles of other panels use terms such as workplace incivility, aggression, harassment, violence, and mistreatment, all of which are likely to be of interesting to those examining workplace bullying.

    It’s enough to make me wonder if we’re reaching a saturation level!  But for now I’ll gratefully accept the abundance as sign that we’re reaching a good tipping point in terms of the mainstreaming of workplace bullying as an employment relations concern.

    Conference website: http://www.apa.org/pi/work/wsh.html

    Boston’s Hyatt Hotels: Not Much Hospitality Toward Their Own Workers

    On ongoing labor story here in Boston underscores why jobs and employment must remain one of our highest political, economic, and policy priorities.  It involves three Hyatt hotels whose management abruptly terminated some 100 housekeeping workers after having them train replacement workers from a Georgia-based contracting company.  The workers claim they were deceived into thinking they were training vacation fill-ins.

    As reported last week in the Boston Globe:

    When the housekeepers at the three Hyatt hotels in the Boston area were asked to train some new workers, they said they were told the trainees would be filling in during vacations.

    On Aug. 31, staffers learned the full story: None of them would be making the beds and cleaning the showers any longer. All of them were losing their jobs. The trainees, it turns out, were employees of a Georgia company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions, who were replacing them that day.

    Labor advocates and elected officials have responded with dismay and outrage, and with good reason.  Hyatt employees with 20 years service were making a modest wage of a little over $13/hour plus benefits, which based on a full-time work week adds up to annual earnings of around $26,000.  Their replacements will earn about $8/hour, which leads to annual earnings of around $17,000.  Hyatt, in effect, has eliminated 100 jobs that pay barely a living wage and replaced them with jobs that pay less than subsistence wages in an expensive metro area like Boston.

    In response to the growing firestorm, the Hyatt Corporation said that it is setting up a task force to help the terminated workers find employment and extending their health benefits to the end of the year.  This strikes me as being too little, too late, and a shallow attempt to look better in the public eye.

    Contracting has become a common form of replacing full-time employees, and at times, economic necessity may require changes in staffing arrangements.  But one has to wonder about the social responsibility and ethics of a major corporation that deems loyal 20-year employees earning $26,000 “too expensive.”  And if the allegations about deceiving their workers into training their replacements are true, then we can only wonder if they have any decency.

    On a broader scale, this disturbing situation raises at least three questions that are front and center when we consider jobs and employment:

    1.  How can we create an economy that delivers a living wage for all who work to support themselves and their families?

    2.  The Hyatt workers were not unionized.  How can we encourage unionization as one path toward safeguarding America’s workers from this type of sudden, devastating job loss?

    3.  How can we ensure a viable safety net of health care benefits, transitional income replacement, and placement assistance for those who have lost their jobs?

    [Friday a.m., Sept. 25 update — I am out of town right now and can provide only a brief update, but this situation is becoming a symbol for workers and the labor movement.  Boston’s taxi drivers union has announced a boycott of the city’s Hyatt hotels unless they rehire the terminated housekeepers.  As the comment from my brother Jeff indicates, this has led to labor protests in Chicago as well.  The Hyatt Corporation has reiterated its commitment to treating workers fairly and has denied deceiving the housekeepers who lost their jobs.  Here’s a link to the Boston Globe’s coverage of the story:  http://www.boston.com/business/ticker/2009/09/hyatt_protests.html.]

    [Friday p.m., Sept. 25 update — This story keeps developing.  According to the Boston Globe:

    Hyatt Hotels Inc. responded today to public outcry and calls for a boycott of the hotel chain, saying it would offer housekeepers it fired new jobs through an outside staffing agency or retraining programs.

    Company officials said the 98 housekeepers — who were fired last month and replaced by employees of a staffing agency — would be offered jobs in the Boston area through United Service Companies — an outsourcing firm — at other hotels in the city. Hyatt does not plan to rehire them to work at its own hotels, it said.

    It’s still not a good situation for the workers who lost their jobs.  Although the details are unsettled, it appears they will have no guarantees of continued employment at their current pay rates — which weren’t very high to begin with — beyond 2010.  This is costing Hyatt money and a ton of bad press, but the workers themselves are still facing uncertainty and disruption in their lives.]

    [New Dec. 15 post updating the controversy: https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/hyatt-hotels-sometimes-cruelty-comes-at-a-cost/]

    Murder of Yale graduate student raises bullying/violence and school/work relationships

    The killing of a Yale graduate student and lab worker, Annie Le, allegedly at the hands of a co-worker, Ray Clark, has been grabbing a lot of headlines in this region of the country.  Initially treated as a missing persons case, days later it became a murder investigation as Le’s body was discovered in the basement wall of the Yale lab building in which she worked.  The emerging facts behind this tragedy reveal some of the cusp lines between workplace violence and bullying, as well as those between student  and employee status.

    Even with a suspect under arrest, the investigation of this death is still at its early stages.  And we must remember that allegations are not tantamount to guilt.  (Campus events can easily turn into a mob scene.  Recall, for example, the wrongful accusations of rape lodged against members of the Duke University lacrosse team in 2006.)  Thus, any conclusions we draw from this situation must be preliminary ones.

    That said, Kathy Hermes, coordinator of the Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates and a professor at Central Connecticut State University, recently sent around a statement addressing some of the implications of the Le killing.  With her permission, I provide a significant excerpt immediately below:


    We have all been shocked and horrified by the murder of Annie Le at
    Yale. A graduate student who also worked in a lab, she was the co-
    worker of her alleged killer, Ray Clark. Based on news reports, we do
    not know much, but we do know that Ray sent emails to her that berated
    her for her lack of proper protocol concerning the lab’s mice. It is
    this kind of petty tyranny that workplace bullies inflict upon targets
    every day. It is not every day that they murder their targets, as Ray
    Clark is charged with doing.

    Recently, a former student athlete at CCSU, where I teach, has alleged
    that his coach, George Kewacki, made him drink blood in front of
    teammates. http://www.newsnet5.com/news/20974558/detail.html

    While there are racial overtones to this incident, it is also an
    instance of bullying. Like Annie Le, the student athlete hovers
    between “school” (bullying is banned by law in CT schools from K
    through 12) and work (there are no workplace bullying laws).

    In that space, college/work, the opportunities for bullying are rife.
    So much depends on one’s performance and compliance, from scholarships
    to housing to careers, that targets are naturally reluctant to speak

    If you have experience as a graduate student worker, or as a student
    athlete, and you have been bullied, please write to your state
    legislators. Ask them to include in the Healthy Workplace Bill
    provisions for protecting those who are also the employees of their
    colleges or are holding some sort of contract for services rendered.

    -Kathy Hermes, coordinator of Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates


    Here is a link to the New Haven Register’s story archive on the killing and aftermath: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/09/17/news/new_haven/doc4ab23ca3c02f7136037500.txt.

    Workplace pioneer: Barack Obama as a modern day Jackie Robinson

    I never thought that I would be comparing President Obama to Jackie Robinson, the Hall of Fame baseball player who broke the game’s color line when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  Throughout that season, and during years that followed, Robinson endured virulent racial taunts from fans, threatening, racist letters, and the cold shoulder from many fellow ballplayers.  He often was a man alone, and it is a mighty testament to his character that he managed to play so well under such pressure.

    When Barack Obama was elected President last year, I thought America was largely past the kind of bigotry that confronted Jackie Robinson.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those who claimed that his election meant that America had become a “post-racial” society.  And I certainly never have believed that we have conquered racial bias.  (After all, I live in Boston, where vestiges of the city’s ugly history on race and exclusion are very much alive and well in our workplaces, communities, and civic life.)

    But what has transpired over these past few months has been stunning.  The hatred being directed at this President is unlike anything I’ve seen during my adult life.  And how pathetic it is that opposition to the humanitarian cause of affordable health care for all has become the latest and most prominent vehicle for rallying the haters.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please, please start paying attention to the news.  And I don’t mean FOX News.)

    Even as an employment law professor and labor and civil rights advocate, it took me a while to see things this way: Barack Obama is a workplace pioneer.  This is about his experience of work.  This is what he deals with on the job.  Like Jackie Robinson, he has to show up to work every day, while at the same time there are many who dearly hope he will fail because he happens to be black.

    This is why so many of us have a stake in the President’s success.  I don’t agree with everything he’s said or done, but especially in view of the extra burdens that have been placed on him, he is doing as well as anyone could do under the circumstances.  I remain delighted that I voted to “hire” this man as our leader, and Election Night 2008 remains one of my happiest moments as a citizen.  Let us hope that our President weathers this storm and succeeds in ways that benefit all of us.

    Bob Rosner on the Worst Places to Work

    In Today’s Workplace, journalist and workplace observer Bob Rosner serves up a good post on the Worst Places to Work.  Here’s a nice snippet:

    Having personally responded to over 50,000 emails from workers and bosses, as you can imagine, I’ve received screenfuls of emails about awful workplaces—or should that be screamfuls of emails?
    A few examples from my inbox—there was the guy who got a daily soaking trying to spray clean dumpsters with a pressure washer, the woman who had to work next to the guy who would have loud, long conversations with his wife totally in baby talk, the guy who had to inventory used underwear after fashion shows, the guy who wrote to me that he just goes to work hoping that he’ll come home with all of his body parts intact and the woman who worked for a boss who asked his assistant to type her own termination letter.

    Here’s the full post: http://www.todaysworkplace.org/2009/09/14/worst-places-to-work/


    Bullied at work, then bullied by the legal system

    A lousy work experience is bad enough, but it can get worse if you seek relief from our legal system. You may even experience an injury that therapist Karin Huffer calls “Legal Abuse Syndrome.”

    How the law deepens fractures in the employment relationship

    In a provocative, disturbing pamphlet titled The Law in Shambles (2005), labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan reminds us that, whereas the contractual grievance process in a union-management setting often contemplates a continuing or perhaps repaired employment relationship, resolution of work-related disputes for the vast majority of workers who are not in unions can be so imbued with anger, accusation, and expense that the parties only grow further apart even if they move closer to a legal settlement of their differences.  (Granted, it’s not easy for union members either.) Geoghegan concludes:

    …(T)his tort-type legal system, which replaces contract, is a system that feeds on unpredictability and rage.  A white-hot, subjective tort-based system with the threat of “discovery” replaces a cooler, more rational, contract-based one which was modest, and cheap, and kept us from peering, destructively, into one another’s hearts.

    Of course, certain types of claims, such as actions for discriminatory, harassing, and bullying behaviors, may be unavoidably confrontational and emotional, regardless of venue.  Nevertheless, Geoghegan’s larger point still holds: The resolution of employment disputes in America often leads to bitterness, acrimony, and fractured relationships between workers.

    Exacerbating a traumatic work experience: Legal Abuse Syndrome

    In addition, the very experience of resolving an employment dispute can prolong and intensify the impact of traumatic work experiences on individuals.   A plaintiff in an employment dispute will have to repeat her story numerous times, possibly face cross-examination in multiple proceedings, and have many parts of her life portrayed and questioned in excruciating detail.  A case that does not settle may take years to resolve, making it difficult for parties to achieve closure and attempt to put the event behind them.

    For targets of workplace bullying, the situation can be even worse, as the likelihood of success diminishes for those who must navigate an inadequate smorgasbord of potential legal claims in an attempt to obtain relief and justice.

    Their challenges resonate with the perspective of therapist Karin Huffer, whose 1995 book Legal Abuse Syndrome examines “the pain caused by . . . psychological reaction to profound and prolonged injustice” inflicted by the legal system.  Huffer understands how the legal system itself creates and exacerbates mental anguish for people who already have faced enough of it in the experiences that brought them to court in the first place.

    Huffer considers Legal Abuse Syndrome to be a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, “a personal injury that develops in individuals assaulted by ethical violations, legal abuses, betrayals, and fraud.” From her webpage, she adds:

    Legal Abuse Syndrome is a public health menace in this country.  It leads to massive medical intervention costs, burdens insurance companies, and adds to Medicare and Social Security costs.  Most painfully, it crushes the brilliance and creativity of its sufferers.  Legal Abuse Syndrome is detrimental to all of society, and nobody is immune.

    …When litigants are unable to get fair resolution to their issues, when the court dysfunction further adds to the litigant’s burden, when no amount of actual case law compels an equitable outcome, litigants suffer often disabling levels of stress. When further attempts to achieve redress fail, litigants display the hallmark signs of Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS). 

    Where does this lead us?

    At least three points come to mind:

    1.  We need to encourage employers and their lawyers to act preventively.
    2.  We need to reform our systems for resolving employment disputes.
    3.  We need to enact legal protections for targets of severe workplace bullying.


    Parts of this post were adapted from my law review article, “Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace”: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1462406

    For Huffer’s Legal Abuse Syndrome website: http://www.lvaallc.com/

    2010 Workplace Bullying Conference in Cardiff, Wales

    Planning for the 7th International Conference on Workplace Bullying & Harassment, scheduled for June 2-4, 2010, is well underway.  This has become the flagship event for exchange of research, information, and opinion about workplace bullying and how to respond to it.  The conference draws academicians, practitioners, researchers, and students from around the world.  It is a remarkable learning experience.

    Those who would like to present their research at the conference are invited to submit abstracts for consideration.  The deadline is October 30.  If you are doing research on workplace bullying from either a theoretical or applied perspective, I strongly encourage you to submit an abstract.

    Earlier this year, I accepted an invitation from the conference organizers to be among the keynote speakers.  I look forward to sharing my remarks about the need to enact effective legal protections against severe workplace bullying.

    Here is the conference website: http://www.bullying2010.com/.

    More on workplace bullying and the recession: WBI Survey

    Here are the Workplace Bullying Institute’s Labor Day findings about workplace bullying and the recession, based on an analysis of survey data from self-reported bullying targets:

    According to the WBI survey of 422 respondents, the proposition that bullies are being purged by employers during the recession . . . is debunked. Bullies lose their jobs at a rate under 2%, while 44% of bullied targets lose their jobs. Retaliation is the most common consequence for targets. Bullies (still) abuse with impunity.

    No surprises here!  This is completely consistent with earlier reports on the frequency of bullying during the recession.  (See links to previous posts, below.)  The idea that workplace bullies would thrive in a strong economy but be shown the door during a bad one makes little sense in view of all that we’ve learned about this destructive behavior.

    Here’s the full post on the WBI survey: http://www.workplacebullying.org/2009/09/06/ld2009/

    To put workplace bullying in a broader social, political, and economic context, here’s a Labor Day podcast from WBI co-founder Dr. Gary Namie: http://www.workplacebullying.org/2009/09/04/podcast9/

    Our previous posts on this topic:

    “Management harassment and bullying up, reports Labor Notes”:  https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/management-harassment-and-bullying-up-reports-labor-notes/

    “Workplace bullies, jerks and the recession: Wall Street Journal op-ed gets it wrong”: https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/workplace-bullies-recession-wall-street-journal-wrong/

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