Los Angeles Times piece on workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill

Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times leads her excellent piece on workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill (link here) with the story of Kathie Gant, who worked as an administrative assistant for an attorney who treated her abusively. The lawyer yelled at her, threw things at her, and once even locked her in a storage closet.

From target to advocate

Gant sought counseling and eventually brought herself to testify recently on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill before a Maryland state legislative committee:

After months of taunts and needling by her boss, Gant said she ended up on a psychiatrist’s couch and nearly in a psych ward.

With a quavering voice and tearful demeanor, Gant testified about her job situation during a legislative hearing this month at the state Capitol as Maryland became one of the latest states to consider legislation against workplace bullying.

Fixing misconceptions

It’s obvious in reading objections to creating legal protections against workplace bullying — both in Susman’s article itself and posted comments — that there remains a wide chasm between those who have experienced, witnessed, or otherwise come to understand workplace bullying and those who have not.

Too many believe that workplace bullying is about managerial style.  Nothing could be further from the truth, unless you consider routinely screaming at people, becoming physically threatening, or deliberately setting up someone for failure to be valid management techniques. Workplace bullying is about abuse, not legitimate management practice.

Still, others are either uninformed about the limitations of current employment protections or deliberately trying to confuse people into believing that workplace bullying is adequately covered by existing laws. I drafted the Healthy Workplace Bill only after my exhaustive assessment of existing employment laws led to the inescapable conclusion that too many targets of severe workplace bullying had little or no recourse under the law.

9 responses

  1. Not to be philosophical, but consider the causality dilema which is described as the relationship between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.

    For the sake of our discussions; I am identifying ‘the cause’ = GREED $$$$$ from the “tip top” of the food chain, greedy employer/corporation/organization that is run by the CEO, Board of Directors, shareholders, company owners, plantation farmers, etc., In otherwords, the key decision-makers that benefit the most.

    The Effect will be defined as the behavior; bullying, hostility, threatening, Coercive Acts; the bosses that oversee the employees whose jobs are also threatened if they do not make corporate goals.

    In summary, the cause/effect as described above, is a culture. The ‘powers that be’ in the above scenario believe that the only way to drive employees to produce is to “manage by fire.” It is the trickle down effect. What percentage of victimized employees fall into this catagory? I suspect many do.

    This is why the Healthy Workplace Laws, are not being embrassed by many States. It is the CORPORATIONS that are opposing the laws that will hinder their way of doing business. Corporate America is afraid if passed, they will have employment law suits to kingdom come. That their profitability will suffer dramatically, that they will go out-of-business. The Buly without being abully will lose their minds and their jobs. Businesses will NOT know how to motivate their employees without coercion.

    Then of course, the Part II of cause/effect which are the bosses that are sociopathic, maladjusted, paranoid, narcissistic, criminal disorders that operate from an entirely different telescope. These are the executive type that companies like to hire. These would be the personality traits that corporate has determined as #1 qualifications to hire, for positions that oversee, and make decisions about other people’s lives. If Workplace Laws pass, we will see a mass exodus of American companies in the US, to third world countries.

    American companies would never, never, ever be able to mentally or professionally adjust to civil, moral, honest, and humane employee practices. All the companies listed in Best Companies to Work for in America, are FaRRRRRR from Utopia. Always consider the source of information.

  2. I totally agree. That’s why I’m so grateful for those who continue to work on this issue — those of us at the bottom of the “food chain” don’t matter to those who wield the power in these organizations. They don’t have to be big, though. Small companies are also at fault.

    The reality is that you can’t legislate character. The definition of “GOOD” character has changed from what I was taught and still try to live by: integrity; truthfulness; honesty; promise keeping, etc. to: bottom line dollars; make someone else look bad so I’ll look good; manipulation; lying even when the truth would be easier and more helpful; hidden agendas; gossiping, etc.

    • Mary,

      You can’t legislate character; but, You can legislate behavior!

      That’s what we are trying to do!

      NJ, First

  3. I am so very glad that I found this site and these posts. I am a Federal Employee who has been bullied a couple of times in my career. I am currently under going bullying for challenging my boss about his rules associated with telework, first when he would let me telework afte my husband broke one foot and two arms and now–5months later–after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and having my doctors request telework as one of my accommodations. Long story short, he put a letter of reprimand in my file because he viewed something I said as disrespectful…skipping over the first two levels of normal discipline…he is monitoring my work as tough I was a new hire, treats one of my subordinates as though he was the team leader, told me I cannot talk with the Agency’s disability coordinator in the office of Equal Rights without his approval, requires reports that aren’t required of others, still drags his feet and won’t approve my accommodations request, assigns me extra work, won’t let me travel for a program tha I designed well before he arrived, and writes to my team telling them to disregard instructions tha I send them. I am a 25 year veteran of the Fedeal government, an emergency manager, and the developer of national programs like the National Urban Search and Rescue Response Ystem, Federal Disaster Logistics Program, National Traffic Incident Management ProgrM and others. I orchestrated the entire logistics response to 9/11, worked in the Murrah building while victims were being estivated, helped set up a displaced persons camp in Panama, worked all national disasters from 1991-2004 and international disasters from 1997-1990. While you were home with your families, I sttod watch on Christmases, new Years and other holidays to respondnif need be I am on outstanding employee and Jacobs never received an oral, let alone a written reprimand. Yes, I am being bullied and it can happen in the Federal government which has very strict rules and regulations on prohibited practices. If anyone would like me to support testimony or to speak about my experiences, I am happy to do so. Call 202-366-1559. Workplace bullying has to stop and, yes, I have even contemplated suicide lately. Dealing with the pain of fibromyalgia, the changes it is making to my life, then bullying on top of it has gotten to be too much. God bless you on your mission. People like me do not feel like we are fighting this fight in isolation. Kim

    • First, let me thank you for all of the service you have provided through all national disasters. We really do rely on your expertise and we are thankful for those of you who give up your family lives for us. Be sure to find someone to talk to when you’re feeling those depression episodes coming on — they could lead to suicidal thoughts and you don’t want to go too far down that path.

      It’s very small comfort – but it is true that bullies generally target people they feel threatened by. You obviously are excellent at your job and command a level of respect that is envied by the person bullying you.

      Living with chronic pain wears a person down. Try to be patient as the wheels of justice grind slowly but in the right direction. I’m sure you have access to your policies and procedures online. Check the information your boss gives you — like not being able to talk to your disability person without permission. I don’t know about government policies but as long as you follow them you are okay – whether you have his permission or not. If he’s correct, then you have to abide by that, of course.

      Keep writing and talking, because you can’t keep it bottled up inside. That’s the thing that will hurt you the most.

  4. Sorry about the errors above…working from my iPad and the print is so small it is hars to see to correct as you type and the iPad self-correcting speller provides amusing options for misspelled words… :-). Kim

  5. I was HORRIFIED when I read the comments below this article in the LA Times! One person didn’t think workplace bullying needed a law and posted such in his comment. Another individual responded by saying he or she hoped a bomb appeared at his door and blew him up.

    I’m saddened that someone (anyone) advocating to end bullying is saying such things online. It gives people who believe in the Healthy Workplace Bill a bad name, and makes the cause even more difficult to win. If we end workplace bullying we have to replace it with some other behavior – and that behavior would be respectful behavior. So let’s all demonstrate the behavior we are advoctating for.

    People are entittled to their own opinion. After all, this is America. If someone disagrees with the Healthy Workplace Bill, then educate them, don’t insult them and don’t bully them, and certainly don’t threaten them.

    • Catherine, as terrible as those comments are, I don’t think that a single online exchange is tarring an entire group of supporters or advocates. It would be different if it turned out to be someone closely involved with efforts to enact the bullying legislation, but my guess is that it’s just another person hiding behind their anonymity to spew forth personal attacks.

      The bigger problem is the death of civility online. What’s on the LA Times website is representative of hateful, attacking stuff that’s posted to newspaper sites everywhere. It’s why I concur with an observation I read recently (can’t place it right now!) that Facebook has it right: Require people to use their own names and reveal their identities, and online discourse becomes more civil.

      BTW, Andrea Weckerle is trying to do something about this broader challenge through her non-profit, CiviliNation.

  6. Hi,
    thank you David for your work against workplace bullying, once again a fantastic article!
    I am currently writing a book on workplace bullying and if anyone would like to share their story, please feel free to contact me on the blog http://upayapsychotherapy.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/share-your-workplace-bullying-story-and-help-others/ or via email at: info@upaya-psychotherapy.com I am a psychotherapist in advanced training and work to strict ethical guidelines, keeping all contributors strictly confidential and unidentifiable.
    Thank you!

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