Hyatt Hotels: Sometimes cruelty comes at a cost

When three Boston-area Hyatt hotels abruptly terminated some 100 housekeeping workers in August after having them train their own replacements from a Georgia-based contracting company, they probably had no idea that they would become a symbol of corporate cruelty.

Well, the joke’s on them.  This story, which we blogged about in September (link below), continues to gain attention and has become a rallying point for the labor movement.  Hyatt has tried to defuse the crisis by extending health care coverage and offering alternative contracting arrangements, but it hasn’t managed to stop the groundswell of voices asking why this company discarded these workers, some of whom had 20 years service while making roughly $26,000 a year.

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Lawrence Harmon writes about how Boston’s clergy are getting involved in the controversy:

Massachusetts clergy are now circulating an open letter decrying the company’s “unethical conduct.’’ Promises to support a boycott of Hyatt are flowing in from the leaders of parishes and congregations ranging from Saint Monica-Saint Augustine in South Boston to the First Lutheran Church in Lynn.

On Thursday, Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah of West Roxbury is scheduled to deliver a petition signed by more than 200 rabbis, including dozens from the Boston area, to the Hyatt headquarters in Chicago. The petition calls on Jewish institutions and individuals to boycott Hyatt properties. The National Association of Jewish Chaplains, which was scheduled to hold a January conference at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, already has switched to the Hilton at Logan Airport.

So far, the moral outrage has not managed to save the jobs of the terminated workers.  Maybe that will change.   In any event, it is heartening, in the midst of this terrible recession, that voices of dignity and decency continue to call attention to this story.

Lawrence Harmon’s “No Comfort at the Hyatt”:

Our earlier post:

Here is a remarkably lame Boston Globe CHRISTMAS DAY op-ed piece by Hyatt Regency GM Phil Stamm, defending the decision and criticizing the union, Unite Here, that has been in assisting these non-unionized workers in the aftermath of their terminations:

Workplace bullying in healthcare I: The Joint Commission standards

We hope that healthcare is all about getting healthier, but if you work in healthcare, you may see a lot of very unhealthy workplace bullying.  The stakes are high: Not only do these behaviors hurt healthcare workers (as a later post will suggest, nurses often bear the brunt of this mistreatment), but also they affect the quality of patient care.

Joint Commission

The Joint Commission, an independent, non-profit organization that accredits health care organizations and programs, has entered the fray.  In 2008, the Joint Commission issued a standard on intimidating and disruptive behaviors at work, citing concerns about patient care:

Intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions in more professional environments.  Safety and quality of patient care is dependent on teamwork, communication, and a collaborative work environment. To assure quality and to promote a culture of safety, health care organizations must address the problem of behaviors that threaten the performance of the health care team.

JC Leadership Standards

Two leadership standards are now part of the Joint Commission’s accreditation provisions:

The first requires an institution to have “a code of conduct that defines acceptable and disruptive and inappropriate behaviors.”

The second requires an institution “to create and implement a process for managing disruptive and inappropriate behaviors.”

Healthcare stakeholders are including workplace bullying among initiatives designed in part to meet the Joint Commission standards.  These include training and assistance for healthcare providers and inclusion of workplace bullying in employee policies.


Link to Joint Commission standards on intimidating and disruptive behaviors

Note: This is the first in a short series of posts on workplace bullying in healthcare, running this week and next.

Link to the second post in the series, discussing a Vanderbilt U. program for physicians

Link to the third post in the series, discussing tort claims brought against physicians by healthcare workers

Link to the fourth and final post in the series, discussing bullying of nurses and how nurses’ unions can respond


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Minding the Workplace turns one

This week marks the first birthday of Minding the Workplace, and I’d like to thank all of you who have discovered this blog and become readers.  Also, many thanks to those of you who have posted such thoughtful comments and questions in response to posts.

Several readership patterns have become evident during the year:

First, posts about workplace bullying are by far the most visited.  That shouldn’t be surprising, and hopefully those posts have been informative and useful to readers.

Second, posts about psychological health at work, management practices, business ethics, and similar topics attract a fair amount of interest.  Given the close connection of workplace bullying to these broader topics, that makes sense too.

Third, despite the sour state of our economy, posts about unemployment, the labor market, and jobs have been among the least popular.  I’m guessing that people in search of commentary on those topics rely on plenty of other, more established online sites.

The blog’s readership has grown steadily, with a modest growth spurt occurring in the fall.  Weekly “hits” averaged around 600-800 through August, and then jumped to around 900-1000+ since then.  Because of the topical content, the kind of writing, and the technological frumpiness of the blog, I don’t expect to enjoy overnight surges in popularity.  However, I hope that readership will continue to increase.

Content-wise, you can expect more of the same.  In addition, I will be adding more bells & whistles during the coming year.  I’m even taking some blogging classes to learn about how to snaz up the blog and make it more visually appealing.

Again, thanks for being among the first readers of the blog.  I really appreciate it.

“Can workplace bullying situations be mediated?”

Can workplace bullying situations be mediated?

This is a recurring question that came up again in the aftermath of a talk I gave yesterday on workplace bullying at the annual workshop on Humiliation and Violent Conflict, sponsored by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network and hosted by Columbia University in New York City.  I have meant to post about this question in more detail, incorporating the many discussions that have taken place over it among experts in workplace bullying and dispute resolution, but for now let me give you my short answer:

I think it’s necessary, in this context, to distinguish between workplace bullying and lesser forms of workplace incivility.

Workplace bullying typically involves an abuse of power accompanied by malicious intent, enabled by differences in organizational rank and privilege, dint of personalities, or some combination.   Attempts to mediate such situations subject targets to even more abuse, and wrongly suggest that somehow we can split the differences between the parties and arrive at a fair resolution.  Just as we would not attempt to mediate child abuse or spousal abuse, we should not attempt to mediate work abuse.

However, lesser forms of incivility, where power imbalances are not as pronounced and intentions are not malicious, may well benefit by a mediation approach.  It can mend fences, reduce stress, smooth over working relationships, and perhaps even keep parties out of court.

Of course, it’s not always easy to differentiate between abusive bullying and other forms of employee discord.  Drawing those lines in an academic, definitional sense is hard enough; applying those distinguishing characteristics in real life is even harder.  I won’t attempt to tackle that subject here.

I’ll have more to say about the excellent workshop itself in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that I am heartened by the work of so many change agents in endeavors related to human dignity.

Link to Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network:

December 10: It’s Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 23 pertains specifically to work:

  •  (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  •  (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  •  (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  •  (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

We have made a lot of progress over the past 61 years, but these statements remain largely aspirational for millions of workers, both in the U.S. and globally.  Let us continue to work toward making them a reality.

Link to full text of the Universal Declaration:

Last year, Phil Tajitsu Nash wrote a piece for Asian Week magazine, commending our work on workplace bullying as an affirmation of the mission of the Universal Declaration:

Check out these blogs recognized by the ABA Journal

The ABA Journal, the American Bar Association membership magazine, highlights its 3rd annual “Blawg 100” in the December issue.  Among the honorees are three on our blogroll.  Hat’s off to all three!

Mediation Channel (

Connecticut Employment Law Blog (

Delaware Employment Law (

Link to ABA Journal “Blawg 100” article:

Workplace violence in higher education settings

A fact of life in colleges and universities is that a small number of students may suffer from personality disorders or psychiatric conditions that render them at risk to act out violently toward others.  Fortunately, this is not an everyday, ongoing threat.  But when situations occur, the risks are significant for everyone involved.

Michael Schmidt and Michael Regan, reporting for the New York Times, wrote about last week’s killing of a SUNY Binghamton professor, allegedly at the hands of a graduate student.  The article mentions a claim from one student that he attempted to warn university officials about the alleged assailant’s tendencies:

In this small upstate college town, there were many who tried to comprehend how a popular 77-year-old professor who championed antiwar philosophies would have come to such a violent end: stabbed to death in his office on Friday, by, the police said, a graduate student whom he knew.

Then there were those who said they had noticed signs of erratic behavior by the suspect, a graduate student at Binghamton University, who, they said, was becoming increasingly fearful — so much so that his roommate said he had warned university officials of his concerns.

The suspect, Abdulsalam S. al-Zahrani, 46, remained held without bail on Sunday, charged with second-degree murder in the death of the professor, Richard T. Antoun.

The 2007 killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech  by senior student Seung-Hui Cho remains the worst of these events.  Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor writes about a recent report that clarifies the timeline of the university’s handling of the unfolding tragedy:

Basically a clarification to the original report, the correction changed the timeline of the university’s response, pointing out that university officials failed to alert the campus of a “shooter on the loose” for two hours even as they locked down university offices and at least two staffers informed their own families of the first shooting, at Ambler Johnston Hall. The new report also notes that the university cancelled trash collection 20 minutes before alerting the campus.

Because we tend to think of colleges and universities as havens from the trials of everyday life, it is easy to underestimate risks of physical violence.  But let us remember that we are dealing with a huge cohort of students, many of whom face considerable stress and anxiety — notwithstanding any rose-colored memories (accurate or not) we might have of our own student days.  And like any other population, some will be dealing with problems that, under certain circumstances, could manifest themselves in physical violence.

Based on my own experiences and observations as an educator in university settings for some 18 years, I believe that we continue to downplay these risks.  However, the current economy and job market mean that students are as stressed out as ever, and some may not be coping with these realities effectively.  Furthermore, some students who are dismissed for academic or disciplinary reasons may be at risk for committing destructive behaviors.  We all need to be better trained to watch for warning signs of students who are at risk of doing harm to themselves and/or to others, and to have protocols in place for when dangerous situations occur.

For “Binghamton Student Says He Warned Officials” (NYT):

For “Three lessons shaping society after Virginia Tech massacre” (CSM):

The blog Workplace Violence News contains a wealth of ongoing, relevant commentary:

For a previous entry about the killing of Yale graduate student Annie Le:

Websites of the Week: Two new sites about the Healthy Workplace Bill

Here are two new websites for those who want to learn more about, and advocate for, the Healthy Workplace Bill, the legislation I drafted that creates a legal claim for targets of severe workplace bullying and provides incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying at work:

National Site — Healthy Workplace Bill (

This is the new website of the national legislative campaign, spearheaded by the Workplace Bullying Institute.  Here you’ll find information about Healthy Workplace Bill and the various state campaigns to enact it.

Massachusetts Site — Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates (

As noted before on this blog, the Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in Massachusetts as Senate Bill No. 699 (Senator Joan Menard, lead sponsor) for the 2009/10 session.  Thanks to Deb Falzoi for her superb work in creating this site!

Massachusetts supporters of the HWB — Save the Dates — A legislative hearing for the bill will be held on Wednesday, January 27.  We also will be holding a meeting for supporters of the bill on Thursday, January 7.  Details to follow!

Treating your workers well now may pay off when the economy recovers

Market economies go through up and down cycles.  While this meltdown has been a particularly brutal one, if history is any indication, the job market should make at least a modest recovery.  There may be evidence of that happening already in the fall monthly national jobs reports.

In the meantime, employers that have attempted to treat their workers well during the recession may reap the rewards in terms of employee loyalty, while those that have regarded the recession as an opportunity to crack down on their workers may pay a price as jobs become more plentiful.

In a wide-ranging Workforce Management blog post titled “The Rueff Truth on ‘Abusive’ Employers and the Talent Flight Ahead,” Ed Frauenheim quotes Rusty Rueff, former HR director for videogame company Electronic Arts, who claims that rounds of layoffs at some firms have helped to create an “abusive” employer-employee relationship.  Rueff labels some of the management practices during the recession “callous” and “insensitive” and done to please Wall Street at the cost of individual workers.

Frauenheim further suggests that bad management practices may result in greater attrition as the economy rebounds:

And many workers say they are ready to bolt. Sixty percent of employees intend to leave their firms as the economy improves next year, and an additional 27 percent are networking or have updated their résumés, according to a recent survey of 904 workers in North America by advisory firm Right Management.

Will some firms see a talent flight as the economy recovers?  What job opportunities open up will provide part of the answer.  But the other major factor will be whether their workers felt respected and valued even during the tough times.

Full post from Workforce Management:

Shorter papers on workplace bullying, dignity at work, and related topics

I’ve posted some of my short papers that have accompanied various presentations to a site called Academia. There’s a lot of repetition among them in terms of content, especially on talks concerning workplace bullying.  However, some readers may find these papers useful.  Here is what I’ve posted so far:

Imagining the Good Workplace: It Starts with Individual Dignity (New Workplace Institute forum, 2007)

Potential Legal Protections and Liabilities for Workplace Bullying (New Workplace Institute publication, 2007)

Multidisciplinary Responses to Workplace Bullying: Systems, Synergy, and Sweat (International Conference on Workplace Bullying, 2008)

Workplace Bullying and Employment Law (Massachusetts Bar Association, 2009; emphasizes Massachusetts law)

Necessary Remedy: Injecting Therapeutic Jurisprudence into American Employment Law (Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, 2009)

Is There a “Business Case” for Workplace Bullying Legislation? (Work, Stress, and Health Conference, 2009)

The Role of Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining in Combating Workplace Bullying (Work, Stress, and Health Conference, 2009)

For freely downloadable copies of these papers, go to:

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