Setting agendas for positive social change

In considering how to create positive change in our society, a simple framework offered by author and entrepreneur Seth Godin continues to profoundly shape my thinking. Here’s what I wrote back in 2010:

In his 2008 book Tribes, Seth Godin identifies three things that organizations and individuals do: React, respond, and initiate.

Reacting to external events is ”the easiest thing.”  It is “intuitive and instinctive and usually dangerous.”  Too many politicians and managers merely react to developments thrust upon them, and often badly.

Responding is “the second easiest thing.”  Responding to “external stimuli with thoughtful action” is “a much better alternative” to simply reacting. A response requires deliberation and planning.

Initiating is by far the most challenging of the three, but it is “what leaders do.”  They see a void or need and act upon it, thereby causing “events that others have to react to.”  They seize and create the agenda. They are the true change agents.

Godin’s framework has been vividly brought to life for me in a cluster of personally important subject areas. Here are a few thoughts on each:

Workplace bullying

When I first contacted Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie about their brand-new Campaign Against Workplace Bullying (now the Workplace Bullying Institute) in 1998, I had little idea that the fledgling initiative would have such a significant and still growing impact on employee relations in the United States and beyond. Now I can look back and see the influence of their body of work, which includes public education, research and analysis, assistance to bullying targets, media outreach, law reform advocacy, and organizational advising.

Today, workplace bullying is a topic of increasing attention at professional and academic conferences, in legislatures and courtrooms, and in corporate meeting rooms, organizational coaching programs and union halls. The messages vary, and at times raise honest points of disagreement, but they unite on this: Workplace bullying is destructive to individuals and organizations alike, and we have to take it more seriously.

Those early conversations with the Namies led to my offer to research the legal aspects of workplace bullying, which culminated a 200o law review article that set the stage for my later drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill, currently under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Earlier this week, I saw the degree to which workplace bullying has entered the mainstream of our discussions about employee relations when I joined many others at the Massachusetts State House in testifying in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill.

In sum, a phrase that was virtually unknown in the U.S. some 15 years ago is now the centerpiece of a growing, cross-disciplinary, and multi-faceted grassroots movement to affirm employee dignity and to make our workplaces healthier and more productive. To me this captures the heart of Godin’s framework: If you see a problem or obstacle, initiate change rather than merely react or respond to it.

Human dignity perspectives on law, politics, and society

For many years my own scholarship was shaped by liberal-leaning, reform-minded thinking that was more implicit than explicit in my actual writings. Though on the political scale I’m clearly more left than right, I’ve tended to resist rigid theories or ideologies, believing that they often serve to constrict our views rather than enlighten them. However, two entities have overcome that resistance by their very flexibility and insight. Together they are helping to advance a societal perspective that embraces and advances human dignity through informed, respectful, and spirited inquiry and thoughtful action.

Therapeutic jurisprudence

Some five years ago I started looking more closely at a school of legal thought known as therapeutic jurisprudence. TJ, as it is commonly referenced, examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law, legal practice, and legal education. I discovered the TJ community as a result of my work on workplace bullying and employment law & policy generally, and I have found it to be a welcoming home for my legal scholarship.

TJ’s adherents do not claim that it should be sole lens through which we view law and public policy. However, it serves as an important complement to prevailing tendencies to view law from the perspectives of either economics (leaning right) or rights (leaning left). I would characterize my TJ worldview this way: How can our laws and legal systems best advance individual and societal well-being?

Toward that end, I’ve expressly incorporated TJ perspectives in recent law review articles on employee dignity, employment law and practice, and the culture of legal scholarship. Here also is a brief report on a TJ workshop I participated in last year.

Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network

It’s no coincidence that around the time I discovered therapeutic jurisprudence, I also became part of a wide-ranging, global assemblage scholars, practitioners, and activists who form the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network. Here’s how HumanDHS describes its mission:

We are a global transdisciplinary network and fellowship of concerned academics and practitioners. We wish to stimulate systemic change, globally and locally, to open space for dignity and mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow, thus ending humiliating practices and breaking cycles of humiliation throughout the world.

We suggest that a frame of cooperation and shared humility is necessary – not a mindset of humiliation – if we wish to build a better world, a world of equal dignity for all.

I’ve written about HumanDHS on several occasions. Here, for example, is my brief report on its 2011 annual workshop in New York City, including a video link to a conversation between Human DHS founder Evelin Lindner and director Linda Hartling.

Unpaid internships

Back in 2002, I wrote a law review article positing that the widespread practice of unpaid internships not only was exploitative and exclusionary, but also likely violating minimum wage laws and denying interns protections under employment discrimination laws. The article didn’t get much attention inside or outside of academe until Ross Perlin referenced it in his important book, Intern Nation (2011), the first to comprehensively examine the social, economic, and legal dynamics of the “intern economy.” Soon afterward, Eric Glatt, a one-time unpaid intern for Fox Searchlight Pictures, used the article to inform his decision to file a pathbreaking lawsuit under federal and state minimum wage laws that, just two weeks ago, led to favorable ruling by a federal district court.

During the past two years, groups of (mostly) younger writers, activists, and students have coalesced to form a genuine social and legal movement against unpaid internships. My role in this has been mainly behind-the-scenes, participating in various social media discussions, passing on whatever information and insights I can offer, and serving as sort of a cheerleader and rooting section. From that perch, I have seen these folks make this movement their own.

They, too, have gone beyond reacting and responding. They are now initiating and defining the agenda. A simple message — Pay Your Interns — is buttressed by a conviction that unpaid internships exploit the interns, violate the law, and deny opportunities to those who cannot afford to work for free.

The takeaway point

Societal problems both big and small can seem insurmountable at times, and I won’t pretend to be a beacon of optimism about the way our world is going right now. Nevertheless, in tackling today’s challenges we need to get beyond that exasperating, sometimes crazy-making cycle of reacting and responding. Instead, we need to do our best to initiate and nurture agendas for positive change. Doing so does not guarantee success, but it’s really the only viable way to achieve it.


Related posts

10 ways to make a difference: Advice for change agents (May 2013)

Intellectual Activism (April 2013)


This post draws from a good half dozen pieces that I’ve written over the years, reflecting an ongoing process of integrating my ideas about social change. To long time readers, I beg your indulgence if some of this sounds a bit repetitive!

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill garners support at State House hearing

Photo: Deb Falzoi, MA Healthy Workplace Advocates

Photo: Deb Falzoi, MA Healthy Workplace Advocates

In recent years, I’ve participated in four Massachusetts legislative hearings on workplace anti-bullying legislation, the last three times on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill. If yesterday’s hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development is any indication, support for the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State is reaching a tipping point.

The Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1766 in the current MA session) was among the bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, and the growing support was evident. Here’s a quick summary of who supported the bill:

  • The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates panel testifying in support included co-coordinator Greg Sorozan (President of NAGE Local 282), a former bullying target, and me.
  • Lead sponsors Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Katherine Clark and co-sponsor Rep. Frank Smizik were among the legislators who testified in support of the HWB.
  • Approximately 12 citizens shared individual stories of experiencing bullying at work and why passage of the HWB is necessary to safeguard workers.
  • Many others who appeared before the Committee to endorse other legislation added remarks supporting the HWB.

The only voiced opposition came from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a powerful corporate trade association. In addition, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an editorial opposing the HWB, claiming that existing laws are more than adequate to address bullying-type behaviors.

I’m hardly a disinterested party, but I was struck by how frequently this bill was mentioned during the hearing. Ten years ago, such an event simply was not imaginable. Yesterday, however, workplace bullying was among the dominant topics at a legislative hearing in which many worthy bills were being considered.


Thanks to Deb Falzoi, Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, for some of the information above.

Working notes: Bullied bus monitor update, whistle blowing books, and massive U.S. job dislike

Here are three work-related stories worth a look:

Bullied bus monitor retires and pays it forward

Last year, video of a group of 7th graders mercilessly taunting and ridiculing 68-year-old school bus monitor Karen Klein went viral. The Rochester, NY students subjected her to a humiliating stream of insults and profanities, all caught on tape by a classmate. I wrote about it here, including a link to the video, which still is hard to watch.

In the aftermath of her experience, a good samaritan named Max Sidirov used a social media site to raise money intended to provide Klein and her family take a needed vacation. But a rush of pledges totaling some $700,000 poured in, enabling her to take the retirement she thought was impossible in view of her $15,000 annual salary. At the time, Klein said that she would use some of the money to address problems of bullying and suicide.

Today she’s making good on that intention. Carolyn Thompson, reporting for the Associated Press (here, via, details how:

Klein used $100,000 as seed money for the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, which has promoted its message of kindness at concerts and through books. Most recently, the foundation partnered with the Moscow Ballet to raise awareness of cyberbullying as the dance company tours the United States and Canada.

‘‘There’s a lot I wish I could be doing, but I don’t know how to do it,’’ Klein said.

‘‘I’m just a regular old lady,’’ she added with a laugh.

Books on whistle blowing

Sunday’s Boston Globe included Katharine Whittemore’s welcomed review essay on books about whistle blowing, the first time I’ve seen such a piece in a major newspaper. She begins by saying, “When it comes to whistle-blowers, we may be living in a kind of strange, explosive golden age.” Here’s more:

There’s now a self-help book on the topic. Seriously, I give you “The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself”(Lyons, 2011). It’s vastly shrewd and practical, but it also offers an astute long view of American whistle-blowing. Author Stephen Martin Kohn knows about precedents: He’s one of the lawyers who helped procure the biggest whistle-blower reward ever.

Whittemore mixes overviews of the topic with personal accounts:

Then there’s Cynthia Cooper, a vice president of internal audit for WorldCom, who in 2002 harnessed a team of accountants that worked clandestinely to uncover the company’s $3.8 billion in fraud (the biggest in US history up to that time). Her “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower” (Wiley, 2008) jumps (not always successfully) between her WorldCom experience and the moral upbringing that created a whistle-blower “decision by decision, and brick by brick.”

Most Americans aren’t happy with their jobs…and their bosses

Timothy Egan, blogging for the New York Times, writes about “an exhaustive and depressing” Gallup study indicating that American workers are seriously unhappy with their workplaces:

Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs, about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

And while lagging pay and benefits have something to do with this state of affairs, the main culprits are bad bosses, who are costing their organizations plenty in lost productivity:

But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss. . . . The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job. Ever.

“The managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually,” wrote Jim Clifton, the C.E.O. and chairman of Gallup.

Summer reading 2013


During the academic year, much of my reading tends to be work-related, and I have less of an attention span for books read purely for pleasure. While this summer is busy with writing projects and conference speaking obligations, one way I’m trying to remedy my chronic work-life imbalance is by making time for some good books. A core notion about “summer reading” is that instead of being a “must-read” or a “should-read,” it should be an “I-want-to-read.” Here are four I’m delighted to have on that list:

Given that it’s now officially summer, it’s fitting that one selection is a baseball book, Cait Murphy’s colorful and fascinating Crazy ’08 (2007), a vivid account of the 1908 major league baseball season. It is widely recognized as being among the best of the recent books about the National Pastime, and the first few chapters were all I needed to understand why. For a history buff and lover of baseball nostalgia, it’s an enormously appealing non-fiction narrative.


I just finished a binge re-watch of the excellent 2009 HBO mini-series “John Adams,” starring Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams. The mini-series takes us from the Revolutionary era into the early 1800s. It’s based on celebrated historian David McCullough’s prize-winning biography, John Adams (2001), and now I want to read the book. The other day I dipped into the opening chapter, and I could hear McCullough’s rich, distinctive voice as I read.

Good portions of the book’s early chapters are set in Massachusetts, whose colonists (including Adams) were central towards agitating, planning, and fighting for American independence. Many years ago, I went to hear McCullough speak about this era at Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House, which served as a public meeting hall for the rebellious locals. He was so taken by the opportunity to give a talk on that topic in this historic site that he began by opening his arms and happily proclaiming, “Aren’t we lucky to be here?!”


I tend to limit my fiction reading to mysteries, espionage, suspense, and the occasional horror novel. The only novel and new title highlighted here is Stephen King’s Joyland (2013), a coming-of-age tale set in 1973 about a young man who works at an amusement park. King intentionally limited its initial publication to a printed paperback format, his personal ode to a time when good pulp fiction helped to pass the summer.

I read a lot of Stephen King’s earlier books years ago, but only recently rediscovered him. While I haven’t consumed even a majority of his works, I regard him as one of the most gifted popular storytellers of our time.


Finally, there’s Bruce D. Schneider’s Energy Leadership (2007). (I guess I can’t completely escape work-related reading!) Starting with the story of how a struggling, low-morale company was rescued and transformed, Schneider writes about how the personal energy we bring to our work can change organizations for the better. As long-time readers of this blog are well aware, I spend a lot of time examining how to respond to the personal damage done by toxic organizations. This book considers the possibilities for staging turnarounds.

With the exception of the Schneider book, it’s a Book-of-the-Month Club-ish list, isn’t it? What can I say — I’m a middlebrow type of guy at heart. I’m willing to wade through some difficult stuff for work purposes, but for personal reading I like to be entertained even as I’m being educated. These aren’t the only genres that attract my attention, but they consistently have occupied my bookshelves for pretty much my entire adult life.

What makes someone a potential workplace bullying target?

This question is raised often during Q&A sessions of panel discussions and presentations about workplace bullying: What makes someone a potential target?

The answers, usually offered somewhat off-the-cuff (including by yours truly), vary:

  • A high performer who incurs the resentment of a supervisor or co-workers;
  • A marginal performer whose job security is shaky;
  • Whistle blowers who threaten an unethical status quo;
  • A socially popular employee who incurs resentment;
  • A socially unpopular employee who incurs scorn and isolation;
  • A person who doesn’t quite “fit in”;
  • A physically attractive person who incurs resentment;
  • A physically unattractive person who incurs disapproval;
  • Someone with a characteristic associated with cultural or individual bias: sex, sexual orientation, social class, race, color, age, disability, etc.;
  • A psychologically or situationally strong person whom an aggressor wants to break;
  • A psychologically or situationally vulnerable person who attracts those in search of prey;
  • An individual who voices unpopular opinions;
  • And so on…

The short answer: They stick out

Folks, it’s all of the above.

Indeed, after considering all of these legitimate possibilities, for me it boils down to this: Potential workplace bullying targets usually stick out in some way to potential aggressors. By some characteristic or behavior, they unwittingly trip a wire that unleashes abusive behaviors.

Profiling targets

I’ve thought a lot about this in light of attempts by some researchers and theorists to engage in target profiling. It usually starts with a hypothesis that targets are weak and vulnerable individuals who cannot defend themselves from the verbal and non-verbal onslaughts of workplace bullying. On occasion it leads to the disturbing implication that we can “end” workplace bullying by not hiring likely targets.

It’s true that some bullying targets may project a vulnerability that attracts aggressors like moths to a flame. (Or, perhaps “sharks to prey” is the better imagery…) But over the past decade, I’ve become familiar with so many workplace bullying stories that this profile simply doesn’t hold up as the sole or primary scenario. I’ve also seen too many instances where even the strongest of individuals have their breaking points. Under the wrong circumstances, any of us can be rendered awfully vulnerable.

The indiscriminate aggressor

Of course, we also know that some aggressors appear to be indiscriminate in terms of their targets. Perhaps it’s the boss who routinely bullies any individual unfortunate enough to be his administrative assistant. Or maybe it’s someone who carries so much hostility and resentment, or is so psychologically damaged, that acting abusively toward others is standard behavior.

In such circumstances, virtually anyone is a potential target.

A class photo: “How would I have handled this differently?”


Here’s a human interest story making its way around the Internet:  A mom eagerly opens the envelope containing her disabled son’s grade school class picture, only to be heartbroken to see that he was physically separated from his classmates in a very noticeable way. Eventually the photographer returned to retake the photo, with the boy taken out of his wheelchair and supported on the bench by a caregiver.

As one might guess, some folks are posting angry things about the photographer and the teacher, basically accusing them of being so negligent in their jobs that they should be pilloried. I’d say let’s pull back on that heavy criticism. After all, there’s no evidence to suggest an effort to hurt anyone’s feelings or a deep-seeded antipathy toward disabled individuals. Instead, let’s use this as a lesson in applying social intelligence at work.

Learn, don’t trash

It starts by putting ourselves in the story: How would I have handled this differently? For example:

  • How can I be more aware of situations like this?
  • If I was the photographer, how could I have suggested regrouping the kids so that the boy in the wheelchair was not isolated in the photo? Keep in mind that you’re dealing with set piece photos, benches, and a pretty substantial wheelchair.
  • If I was the teacher, would I have even noticed how the photo might look? If so, how could I have suggested to the photographer and the other students that maybe we could regroup the kids, and do so in a way that made the boy feel included rather than singled out?
  • What words and tone of voice would I use to take a potentially awkward situation and turn it into a positive one for all?

It’s not that easy, is it? Our antennae have to be up, and then we have to find the right way to suggest doing something a little differently. I ask myself: Had I been the young teacher responsible for a whole class of kids, or perhaps the busy photographer assigned to take multiple class pictures, would I have comprehended this situation?

Hmm, that very easily could’ve been me overlooking it.

Empathy + soft skills = social intelligence applied

I happen to be trained in a profession (law) where so-called soft skills involving human interactions often are neglected as essential parts of our toolkits. Perhaps that’s one reason why this situation struck me as a learning opportunity about applying social intelligence at work. It’s easy to criticize the adults involved, but, in reality, handling the situation more deftly would require just the right touch with perhaps a bit of courage mixed in.

One little picture, so many lessons.


Photo and article link: Yahoo! Shine On, Jordana Divon, author

Why workplace cyberbullying is likely to get worse

It’s likely that workplace cyberbullying will become more prevalent, and the main reason is generational. Here’s why:

Effects of cyberbullying

First, some background. Last November, I wrote a post on the effects of cyberbullying at work, prompted by a study of British workers:

A new study of British university employees concludes that targets of workplace cyberbullying often fare worse than those who experience traditional bullying. Victoria Revay reports for Global News (link here):

In three separate surveys, 320 British university employees were asked to document their experiences with cyberbullying. The study results showed that victims of cyberbullying tended to have “higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction” as compared to traditional bullying.

According to Revay, human resources professor Aaron Schat of McMaster University in Canada, interpreted the results this way:

He says the challenge with cyberbullying in the workplace may be that it lacks a so-called safe haven, or a physical area where the victim can take refuge to avoid the bully. He says this may also be the reason why victims feel more emotionally distressed.

In other words, the personal impact of workplace cyberbullying mimics what we’re seeing with bullying of children in the digital age. You can’t just close your office door or retreat to your cubicle. It pops up on your computer screen at work, and it follows you home and wherever you’ve got access to a home PC, tablet, or smartphone. And if you’re in a job where you’re expected to check your messages even while “off duty,” then you may not have the option of going off the grid for a weekend.

Fast forward

Folks weaned on the Internet are entering the workforce in large numbers. More than any previous generation, many rely heavily on their electronic gadgets to communicate on just about everything. It logically follows that when they engage in bullying behaviors at work, keyboards and smart phones will be their likely forms of transmission.

Connect the dots: More cyberbullying at work, creating deeper levels of stress and anxiety.

The only mitigating effect I can think of right now is that people may be wary of leaving an e-trail of bullying behavior if it implicates their job security or triggers a potential legal claim. But so long as most standard-brand workplace bullying remains legal, those disincentives are milder than we’d like.

Working Notes: On the trauma of job loss, retaliatory e-mail surveillance, and Costco as the good company

Dear readers, here are three articles worth your attention:

Experiencing a layoff

In an unusually personal piece, Carey Goldberg, health writer for WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, blogs about her experience of being laid off six years ago by the Boston Globe:

I went back to visit my old parking lot at The Boston Globe this week. For more than six years, I commuted to the Globe along the crawling traffic of the Southeast Expressway, travel mug in hand. But what I remember most about that parking lot is crying in it.

It was 2009. The Globe was in a major financial crisis, like much of the country. Brian McGrory, then the Metro editor, had just called me in to his office to warn me that I was almost certainly about to lose my job.

I held it together in his office, but then when I came out into the parking lot to call my best friend, I felt a wave of shame and insult engulf me. I knew better, but for just that moment, I felt — worthless.

She segues from her own experience to input from experts on the trauma of experiencing a layoff. It’s a thoughtful, informative post that all too many people will find validating.

E-mail surveillance as a form of retaliation

Ohio management employment lawyer Jon Hyman, blogging for Workforce Management, raises a thorny legal question. Most employers have the right to inspect employees’ company e-mail accounts. But what if an employer starts to do so with an individual employee only after she has filed a complaint or lawsuit, such as a claim of sexual harassment? Here’s part of his read on this:

Could the email surveillance, in and of itself, be an adverse action sufficient to support a claim of retaliation? The legal standard for an adverse action sufficient to support a claim of retaliation is very broad. Anything that “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,” qualifies as a retaliatory adverse action. If you don’t regularly review employee email accounts, and only start examining an employee’s electronic activities after that employee engages in some protected activity, might that dissuade others from engaging in protected activity?

Hyman’s wise advice to employers is not to engage in such surveillance in a targeted manner.

Costco’s enlightened labor relations practices

Brad Stone, in a feature article for Business Week, examines Costco’s approach to labor relations and the management philosophies of its new CEO, Craig Jelinek, and his predecessor, company co-founder Jim Sinegal. Here’s the lede:

Joe Carcello has a great job. The 59-year-old has an annual salary of $52,700, gets five weeks of vacation a year, and is looking forward to retiring on the sizable nest egg in his 401(k), which his employer augments with matching funds. After 26 years at his company, he’s not worried about layoffs. In 2009, as the recession deepened, his bosses handed out raises. “I’m just grateful to come here to work every day,” he says.

This wouldn’t be remarkable except that Carcello works in retail, one of the stingiest industries in America, with some of the most dissatisfied workers. . . . In its 30-year history, Carcello’s employer, Costco, has never had significant labor troubles.

The Great Recession has triggered some brutal treatment of workers. That’s why it’s extra important to highlight companies that are taking a different approach.

Unpaid interns win lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures

A federal district court has handed two former unpaid interns for the Fox Searchlight Pictures production of “Black Swan” a big win, holding that the company owes them back wages under U.S. and New York minimum wage and overtime laws. The court also certified a class action for the other unpaid interns working on the production.

In Eric Glatt, et al., v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., the Honorable William H. Pauley III, Judge of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, held that Glatt and co-lead plaintiff Alex Footman were employees for purposes of federal and state labor standards laws and thus entitled to compensation. Judge Pauley also granted plaintiff Eden Antalik’s motion class certification under New York labor standards law and granted conditional class certification under federal labor standards law.

Media coverage

Steven Greenhouse, reporting on the decision for the New York Times, noted its potentially wide-ranging impact:

The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.

Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, an estimated half of which are unpaid, according to Intern Bridge, a research firm.

In the ruling, the judge said unpaid internships should be allowed only in very limited circumstances.

. . . Some employers have asserted that they have free rein not to pay interns as long as the interns are receiving college credit. But Judge Pauley said receiving academic credit was of little importance in determining whether interns should be paid.

Eriq Gardner, reporting for the Hollywood Reporter, saw the implications for the entertainment industry, which frequently hires unpaid interns:

In a ruling that is likely to be well read throughout Hollywood and maybe Corporate America at large, a federal judge on Tuesday has handed a couple of the interns suing Fox Searchlight a victory on summary judgment and also certified a class action over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group.

Appeal planned

This case is far from over. Fox Searchlight Pictures has indicated it will file an appeal of the ruling, which will be heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Until recently, the question of whether unpaid internships violate federal and state minimum wage laws has been largely untested in the courts. The Second Circuit is among the most influential of the federal appeals courts, and its decision will have a significant impact, legally and in businesses across the country.

Good news

But for now, this is very good news for those who have questioned the often exploitative, exclusionary practice of unpaid internships. Judge Pauley’s decision is one of first impression, and until an appeals court rules on the case, it stands as the most authoritative judicial pronouncement on this issue.


For more

The full court decision may be accessed here.

Intern Labor Rights has compiled an excellent list of resources on unpaid internships.

The list includes my 2002 Connecticut Law Review article, “The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns,” freely downloadable here, that discusses many of the legal issues surrounding unpaid internships.

And here’s a post I wrote last year on the emerging intern rights movement.


June 13 update

Here are two stories I was interviewed for about the decision, which is getting a lot of media attention:

Associated Press piece by Sam Hananel (via U.S. News)

ProPublica piece by Blair Hickman and Jeremy Merrill — ProPublica is a public interest investigative journalism center that is launching a project examining America’s “intern economy.”

The Outten & Golden law firm, which represents plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, has announced the filing of a class-action lawsuit against Conde Nast, claiming unpaid wages for interns.

“Total Worker Health” vs. “Wellness” vs. “Well-Being”: Framing worker health issues

l to r: Larissa Barber, David Ballard, Lois Tetrick, Matt Grawitch

Organizational psychology experts discuss worker health at “Work, Stress and Health”: Larissa Barber (Northern Ill. U.), David Ballard (APA), Lois Tetrick (George Mason U.), and Matt Grawitch (St. Louis U.) (photo: DY)

What should be our primary framework for thinking about worker health?

Last month’s “Work, Stress and Health” conference in Los Angeles featured the theme of “Total Worker Health.” This important biennial event is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP). On its webpage, NIOSH defines Total Worker Health this way:

Total Worker Health™ is a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being.

As conceptualized by NIOSH and others, Total Worker Health engages both legal mandates and pro-active measures to promote worker health and safety.


Another term often invoked at this conference was “wellness,” usually in association with employer-sponsored programs that promote smart health habits, such as good nutrition, exercise, weight control, smoking cessation, and mindfulness practices.

Wellness programs are designed to contribute to healthier and more productive workforces and to save organizations money through lower health insurance premiums and less absenteeism and turnover.


A third term that recurred at Work, Stress and Health was “well-being.” The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examine well-being in the context of a concept they label “Health-Related Quality of Life.” They define well-being this way:

Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well. Good living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) are fundamental to well-being. Tracking these conditions is important for public policy. However, many indicators that measure living conditions fail to measure what people think and feel about their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions and resilience, the realization of their potential, or their overall satisfaction with life — i.e., their “well-being.” . . . Well-being generally includes global judgments of life satisfaction and feelings ranging from depression to joy. 

More than word salad

Okay, so you might be thinking, “Total Worker Health” . . . “Wellness” . . . “Well-Being” . . . blah blah blah. Just a toss of word salad among terms that you basically can mix and match.

Maybe so, at least from a distance. But these terms do carry subtle distinctions and connotations within the world of employment relations, especially in the fields of occupational safety & health and organizational psychology.

In a Good Company blog post, Dr. Matt Grawitch (St. Louis U.), an organizational psychologist who plays a key role in the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, reflected upon how these terms were invoked at the conference and cast his vote for well-being as the best framing concept:

For organizations, this means you have to have a strategy, one emphasizing the development of a workplace that fosters (or at least does not detract from) overall worker well-being. It should not start with the implementation of a wellness program; it should start by taking a long hard look at the culture, structure and business practices of the organization to identify where those important contextual factors are enhancing or detracting from worker well-being. It should include an assessment of a range of well-being factors (including health). And it should result in a multi-faceted approach that leverages a host of psychologically healthy workplace practices to effectively improve worker well-being.

Exercise can be a good way to relieve stress that we experience from an abusive supervisor, work-life conflict or poor working conditions. But wouldn’t the organization and its employees reap greater rewards if abusive supervision, work-life conflict and poor working conditions were eliminated? Then, exercise could be used to enhance health rather than to simply maintain it (or keep it from deteriorating even more).

I’m happy to cast a concurring vote. I confess that I had not given this any attention before. But at the conference, my thought process was first triggered by a sidebar conversation with Dr. Tapas Ray of NIOSH, who shared with me how his research is centering on measures of well-being. By the end of the conference, further informed by other discussions and panels, I had became a convert. Indeed, I realized that well-being, within the context of workplace health and safety, is a very good fit with broader questions about human dignity and employment law that I’ve been raising for several years.

I’m sure that I’ll be exploring these conceptual links in future posts.

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