New York workplace bullying legislation is in the news

In the aftermath of the New York State Senate approving the Healthy Workplace Bill with strong bipartisan support, opponents of workplace bullying protections have been denouncing the legislation in hopes of derailing it in the State Assembly.  

I’m shamelessly linking to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s excellent post collecting these pieces, with a request that if you support the Healthy Workplace Bill, please consider posting your online responses.

Signs

It’s no fun to read blatant distortions and inaccurate summaries of the Healthy Workplace Bill served up by opponents. There are legitimate concerns whenever new protective legislation is being proposed, but what we’re seeing here is a lot of noise designed to cloud the real question: Isn’t it time for American employment law to protect workers from malicious, health-harming abuse, which is exactly what the HWB covers?

Last week I responded to the standard-brand claim that the HWB is a “job-killer,” positing that if anything, the bill is an equal opportunity people saver.  That said, there are at least two good signs emerging from this flurry of opposition:

1.  We’re being taken seriously — It wasn’t long ago that potential opponents of protections against abuse at work didn’t take us seriously. The fact that they are firing out against the HWB is a significant sign that they understand what this movement is capable of doing.

2.  Opponents are showing where their hearts are — If you read statements and quotes in opposition to the HWB, you will struggle to find much acknowledgement about the devastating harm that workplace bullying can do to individuals.  Why?  Because it’s awfully hard to make a moral, ethical argument that malicious behaviors capable of causing depression, heart disease, anxiety attacks, PTSD symptoms, and even suicide should not be grounds for legal protections.

Instead, it’s easier to talk about litigation costs, “oversensitive” workers, and the divine right of employers to treat their workers as they wish.

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I’m writing this from London, en route to the 7th International Conference on Bullying and Harassment at Work in Cardiff, Wales.  Gary Namie and I are among the keynote speakers, and we will be delighted to share with conference delegates the emerging progress on the HWB in the U.S. Equally important, we will bring back fresh insights and information on work being done to prevent and respond to workplace bullying around the world.

Workplace Bullying and the Law, 2000-2010: A Global Assessment

A decade ago, efforts to enact legal protections against workplace bullying were in their infancy.  Only Sweden, with its 1993 Victimization at Work ordinance, had in place a specific statutory measure designed to respond to psychologically abusive treatment on the job.

A lot has changed since then.  National and state/provincial governments in Australia, Canada, and France are among those that have enacted workplace bullying laws.  Courts in the United Kingdom have applied its general harassment statute to workplace bullying.  And in the United States, we are getting closer and closer to seeing the Healthy Workplace Bill become law in various states.

Keynote presentation at Cardiff conference

At the 7th International Conference on Bullying and Harassment at Work in Cardiff, Wales this week (June 2-4), I will presenting a keynote address that takes us through a snapshot tour of these developments.  For readers of this blog, I have posted the Powerpoint slides I will be showing as part of my presentation.

The presentation is based largely on a forthcoming book chapter, David C. Yamada, Workplace Bullying and the Law: Emerging Global Responses, in Stale Einarsen & Helge Hoel, eds., Workplace Bullying: Developments in Theory, Research and Practice (London: Taylor & Francis, forthcoming 2010).

Coming to a workplace near you?

Jeanna Bryner, writing for LiveScience.com, reports on a study indicating that the college students today are considerably less empathetic than those of generations past:

College students today are less likely to “get” the emotions of others than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago, a new review study suggests.

Specifically, today’s students scored 40 percent lower on a measure of empathy than their elders did.

The findings are based on a review of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students overall conducted between 1979 and 2009.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

Uh oh…

Whether we’re talking about workplace bullying, business ethics, or just the everyday ways in which people are treated at work, this is not good news for anyone who values psychologically healthy workplaces.  There are plenty of implications for educators and organizations, not the least of which is how to nurture and identify qualities of empathy, social intelligence, and inclusive leadership in those who will be taking their places in our offices and plants during the years to come.

Why the Healthy Workplace Bill is a not a “job killer”

In a New York Daily News op-ed piece last week, E.J. McMahon and James Copland of the Manhattan Institute attacked the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) as a “job killer” that would end at-will employment — i.e., the right of employers to terminate workers for any reason or no reason at all — in New York State.  They claimed that protecting people against abusive treatment at work would place an unfair burden on employers.

A New Jersey state of mind?

The “job killer” tag is a favorite of those who oppose laws to protect workers, suggesting that safeguards against mistreatment and harm translate into costs that “kill” jobs and chase them across state lines.  In the case of New York, opponents of the HWB are trying to scare people into believing that enactment of the bill will cause a rush of companies to pick up and move to New Jersey — a state that has some of the toughest worker protections in the nation!

Fair and balanced

Even apart from the reality that New Jersey is hardly an employer’s legal paradise, there are many reasons why the HWB is not the “job killer” Mssrs. McMahon and Copland claim it to be:

1.  High standard for proving a case — The HWB requires an individual to prove that the bullying behavior was malicious and harmful to physical and/or mental health.  By legal standards, that’s a high threshold.

2.  Damage cap for lesser claims — In cases where the bullying did not include a negative employment decision such as a demotion or termination, emotional distress damages are limited to $25,000 and no punitive damages are allowed.  In other words, the HWB blocks runaway jury verdicts for comparatively modest claims.

3.  Preserves management prerogatives — The HWB expressly maintains traditional management prerogatives to evaluate employees.  It does not do away with the rule of at-will employment.

4.  Incentives — The HWB imposes liability on employers, but it provides them with incentives to reduce or avoid liability by taking adequate preventive and responsive measures toward bullying.

5.  Notice — The New York version of the HWB requires employees to put employers on notice of bullying behavior as a pre-condition for filing a lawsuit.

An equal opportunity people saver, not a job killer

Most targets of severe workplace bullying fall between the cracks of existing labor protections.  The HWB is designed to fill this huge gap in the law.  It provides bullied workers who can prove that they were subjected to malicious, health-harming abuse with damages and relief.  These protections are truly “equal opportunity,” as they extend to everyone, regardless of their demographic characteristics.

The Healthy Workplace Bill promotes human dignity and productive organizations by recognizing that we all work better when we are not subjected to disabling, destructive abuse at work.  It’s not a job killer, it’s a people saver.

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Earlier post on the Healthy Workplace Bill in New York

Embracing Creative Dreams at Midlife

Avocation — a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment
-from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true.  I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity.

Two long-time friends come to mind when I ponder this.  Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University (Indiana) who is the author of historical novels for young adults.  Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, is creating a niche for itself in the Greater Chicagoland indie rock scene.

Hilda Demuth-Lutze, Novelist

Hilda’s desire to write novels was evident in college, but getting married, raising a family in Valparaiso, and becoming a high school English teacher would come first.  However, she never let go of the idea of a writing life, and over the years she would exchange ideas, essays, and chapter drafts with assorted friends and family.

Her dreams of authorship started to become a reality when she and her sister Emily secured a grant to do historical research for a novel they conceptualized about two Wisconsin girls during the 1850s whose lives would intersect with the Underground Railroad.  Their collaboration led to the publication of their 2009 novel for young readers, Plank Road Summer.

Hilda then set out to write a second novel — also for young readers — featuring a village boy in 14th century Germany who is summoned away for a year of service at Wartburg Castle.  Kingdom of the Birds, published this year, interweaves encounters with Martin Luther and the history of Reformation Germany.

Pursuing creative aspirations in midlife sometimes requires superhuman stamina and juggling.  This interview with Hilda in an online literary magazine sheds some light on how a busy parent and educator makes time to write.

Mark Mybeck, Nomad Planets rock band, vocalist, guitarist, song writer

Mark has been into music for as long as I can remember — and those memories go back to the 3rd grade!  When we were kids, he had a great record collection and knew what radio stations were playing the best music.  (Thanks to Mark, his nerdy friend Dave was introduced to rock music and FM radio.)  Though details have faded, I also recall that he put together a group that played at our high school battle of the band nights.

Mark went to college, got married, and took jobs in the graphic arts and (currently) real estate fields.  Throughout this time, he never lost his desire to write and perform music.

Eventually Mark helped to put together Nomad Planets,  a 4-person band, which has evolved into the vehicle for his musical expression.  Nomad Planets have released three albums, the latest of which, You’re Never Lost Until You Panic, also happens to have an awesome cover!  After several years of plugging away at their craft, their perseverance is paying off: Nomad Planets are getting more gigs, earning some love from reviewers of the Chicagoland music scene, and building a core of devoted fans.

Check out Nomad Planets at their website, as well as visit their MySpace and Facebook pages, where you can sample their music.

Dreams Maturing

I’ve never formally interviewed my two friends about their creative avocations, but watching them pursue these aspirations later in life has been a joy.

My long-held homespun theory has been that many of us who belong to the “Tweener generation,” i.e., tail-end Baby Boomers who came along too late to experience the heart of the 1960s, are taking a bit longer to find ourselves and realize the full meanings of our lives.  (I can’t fully explain the reasoning behind this belief, but I trace some of it back to the weirdness and lack of definition of the 1970s, our formative years!)

In any event, seeing folks like Mark and Hilda do some of their most creative work in the heart of midlife not only allows me to validate my own theory (hey, I’m a professor…), but also sends a message to all of us that maybe, just maybe, some of life’s best stuff is waiting for us to embrace.

By contrast

We’re seeing a lot of self-help books for maturing Boomers in search of fulfillment on bookstore shelves these days.  One example is Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 (New York: Sarah Crichton, 2009).  Lawrence-Lightfoot is a Harvard sociologist who collected stories of people in their 50s and beyond who made dramatic life changes.

The Third Chapter features stories of people who reached a point in their lives where they felt the need for a major transformation.  Their stories are interesting, but frankly, many of them are in, uh, privileged positions.  They’re well-placed subjects of a well-placed author.  They may have quit their jobs and chased their dreams, seemingly throwing caution to the wind, but in reality many had abundant connections and back-up options in case the fairy tale crashed and burned.

By contrast, the stories of my friends are more typical, realistic, and accessible, embracing determination and pushing beyond one’s comfort zone.  But make no mistake: They also are stories about life’s adventure, and in that sense they are inspiring tales for the rest of us.

What are some of your creative aspirations?  Might they be the stuff of a new hobby, an avocation, or perhaps a later-in-life career shift?  Here’s to their discovery and realization!

Massachusetts workplace bullying legislation: Looking ahead

As the 2009/10 session of the Massachusetts legislature heads down the home stretch, it appears unlikely that the Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 699, Sen. Joan Menard, sponsor) will be moving out of committee and to a floor vote.

That said, this already has been a forward-looking session for advocates of workplace bullying legislation in the Bay State.  We have attracted a legislative leader in Senator Menard as our bill sponsor, assembled an expanding group of supporters, and testified in support of the bill before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Building on progress elsewhere

Our efforts in Massachusetts continue against the backdrop of growing national support for legal protections against workplace bullying.  Variations of the Healthy Workplace Bill have been introduced in nearly 20 states.  This year, we succeeded in moving the bill through successful floor votes in the state senates of New York and Illinois, and at this writing it is possible that the New York bill will be passed by the Assembly and move to the governor’s desk for his signature.  Breakthroughs are in sight.

Next up

Legislative advocacy is not for the impatient.  New ideas take time to percolate.  Rare is the bill of any significance that is enacted the first time it is introduced.  I am no cheerleader when it comes to the realities of politics and advocacy, but I say without reservation that we should feel good about the progress we have made so far concerning the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts.

If you are interested in becoming involved, please sign up at the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates website and/or join our Facebook page.  We’ll continue to plan our strategy over the summer and organize in earnest in the fall.

Ongoing thanks

SEIU/NAGE Local 282 president Greg Sorozan and communications specialist Deb Falzoi, co-coordinators of Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, deserve special thanks for moving us forward during this legislative session.  Greg has marshalled support from his union on behalf of the bill, and Deb has developed much of our Internet presence and social networking outreach.  We are fortunate to have their talents and dedication on our side.

Riggio on the cardinal virtues and sins of leaders

I’m a fan of Ronald Riggio’s Cutting-Edge Leadership blog at Psychology Today, and here are two posts on the virtues and sins of leaders worth highlighting:

Virtues

In a 2009 post he identified the four virtues of a true leader:

  • courage
  • prudence
  • temperance
  • justice

Sins

Last month he discussed the four cardinal sins of bad leaders:

  • lying
  • bullying
  • cronyism
  • neglect

I’m pleased to see that Ron recognizes the harm wrought by workplace bullying to the point where he includes it on his list.  It’s another sign of how bullying is entering the mainstream of our employment relations dialogue.

Read more

The lists are not exactly symmetrical, but taken together they make imminent sense.  Ron has a lot more to say than my bullet point summary provides, so I’d suggest taking a closer look if you have a few minutes.

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