Boston Globe editorial sees impact of workplace bullying, hedges on Healthy Workplace Bill

This is one where you could say the glass is half full: A Sunday Boston Globe editorial recognizes the serious impact of workplace bullying on individuals and organizations, but sits on the fence as to whether the Healthy Workplace Bill — which provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to take bullying at work seriously — should be enacted into law.

It’s a lengthy editorial covering a lot of familiar ground on the pros and cons of enacting the Healthy Workplace Bill, so I’m not going to excerpt portions here. Rather, I encourage you to read the full editorial and to add a comment or write a letter to the editor. In addition, let me summarize a few points from my perspective:

  • The primary reason why employers are incorporating concerns about workplace bullying into their employee relations practices is the real possibility of the Healthy Workplace Bill becoming law. Without the threat of liability, in the near future or currently, many employers will handle allegations of bullying by ignoring them or siding with the aggressors.
  • Current harassment and discrimination laws do not provide adequate protections. They apply only when the mistreatment is motivated by protected class status such as sex, race, disability, and age.
  • The substance of the Healthy Workplace Bill draws heavily from the Supreme Court’s definition of hostile work environment for sexual harassment and from tort (personal injury) theories concerning severe emotional distress. Thus, it is situated comfortably in familiar American legal doctrine.

I mentioned that the glass is half full concerning the Globe editorial. A decade ago, the prospects of a major newspaper editorial board weighing in on the Healthy Workplace Bill were slim to none. We’ve come a long way toward mainstreaming workplace bullying as an employee relations priority, and we’re continuing to make progress on creating legal protections for American workers.


8 responses

  1. We’ve become inured to the concept of civil rights in the workplace as an incrementalist approach to protecting just certain classes, as opposed to unspecified, fundamental and basic “protection”. Dr. Richard Pimentel has it right: “It’s the new civil rights, you know, protection.”
    Civil rights doesn’t end with protecting historically victimized classes. Workplace civil rights are rights that can, and need to be, extended as far and wide as possible.
    Resting on your laurels that you’re a civil rights activist? What about the New Civil Rights? I like to think that I’m for enlarged and extended and “new civil rights.” Are there any employers who’d like to be identified as being for the New Civil Rights? Or is enough enough?

    See the movie about Richard Pimentel, “Music Within.”

    Posted on November 4, 2012.
    Comcare’s CEO recently interviewed Dr Richard Pimental, a world leader on workplace harm and disability and co-initiator of the ‘Americans with Disability Act’ to get his reactions as to what needs to be done at federal workplaces to tackle the problem of workplace bullying.

    Paul O’Connor (POC): Dr Richard Pimentel, welcome to Australia and thanks for talking to Comcare about 2015.
    POC: Richard, you’ve talked about workplace bullying with us during your time at Comcare, visiting with our people and visiting with members of the Comcare community. How bad is this problem and what can we do to tackle the big problem of workplace bullying?
    RP: It’s becoming more and more a serious problem. It’s the, it’s the new civil rights, you know, protection. Bullies destroy the best employees you have in the workplace. Bullies target people who don’t have the skills – who have skills that they don’t have. So they’re going to target the competent ones, and they’re going to make you think they’re incompetent so they can destroy them. What we need to do, well you could say well let’s make a law against it, let’s put them in jail, let’s fine the employer, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well, that only works after the damage has been done.
    What every company needs to do is have a meeting with every single one of their employees and explain what workplace bullying really is. How the bully does it. How the bully recruits other people to help them do it. What lies the bully tells to their own supervisors to make it justifiable to hurt this person. How the bully makes the person that they’re bullying believe it’s not happening, or even worse, that it’s their fault. Bullies in the workplace are cockroaches, and the way you get rid of a cockroach is to turn on the light. If we shine a light on what these bullies do and then we empower everyone in the workplace. If you’re being bullied, it’s not your imagination, it’s really happening. If a bully asks you to help them bully someone – and they do – don’t do it. If you’re observing someone bully but you don’t want to say anything because you’re afraid you’ll be the next one – say something. Tell the person being bullied that it’s really happening to them, it’s not their imagination. And if we all take responsibility – not just to not bully – but if we take responsibility to have a bully-free environment and top management supports your actions in this, you can stop bullying overnight. You really can. If the people feel – if they’re knowledgeable enough to recognize it when they see it, and they feel empowered enough to do something about it when they know about it.
    POC: So we need to create an environment where it’s safe for people to speak up and stop the bully?
    RP: Absolutely. Because most people who don’t say anything are afraid that they won’t be believed, and that the bully will find out, and that they will be the next person being bullied, and it becomes a terrible cycle. But you can stop it now by just being open, explaining the psychological dynamics and the management dynamics of bullying. Here’s something you didn’t know about bullies – bullies in the workplace are exactly like bullies in school. They’re cowards. All bullies are cowards. And if you take all their armament away from them, they don’t have enough nerve to do it alone. Take – take everyone away from them, and the average bully will not have enough nerve to do anything at all to anyone.
    POC: What can senior leaders be doing to – often they’re blind – so how can they create the right environment and what could they be doing by their own actions to stamp this out?
    RP: Strong statement that it will not be tolerated. Training people so they really know what it looks like. Bullying is not throwing a pastry at someone when they come in late to a meeting. Bullying is telling them the meeting is at 9 o’clock when it’s really at 8 o’clock and then chastising them for being an hour late. Bullying can be very subtle. And so what senior management needs to do – bullies tend to go to senior and middle management to say ‘Well, this person’s very weak, you know, we’ve got to get them out of here, and you know…’ And what the management has to do is say, ‘Is this really true? Or am I being set up to be someone helping a bully?’ And so you have to say, what is really, what is really happening here.
    And what senior management has to do is if someone comes in and says ‘I’m being bullied’, please take it seriously. If a co-worker comes in and says, ‘This person is bullying this person’, take it seriously. Find out the facts. If you think you’re being bullied, keep a diary. Everything that happens, everything that’s said. Keep a diary so you have something to say. Some of this bullying can be very, very subtle, and very hard to prove. The worst bullies are the ones who do it so cleverly that they almost leave no trail at all. That’s why to make it a crime doesn’t work. Because the only people who get caught there are doing – they’re doing blatant things physically and loudly and that. The danger is bullies are right under the radar.
    POC: So we have to, as senior leaders, encourage people to speak up and to have the conversation and confront what’s really happening at the workplace?
    RP: Absolutely. And train them so that they – just like you train someone to recognize a safety hazard – you train someone to recognize bullying when it’s happening.
    POC: Dr Richard Pimentel, thanks for coming to Australia, thanks for sharing your experience, and thanks for your service to communities around the world to make a real difference.
    RP: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

  2. David Yamada is far and away the most intelligent and best attorney in America. He’s got a great idea for a progressive experiment in workplace civil rights. My background’s in the sciences. How the heck do you find stuff that works in the sciences? You experiment. You’ve now got a couple of states experimenting with pot after years of robotic drug war ideology. Are they going to find out a bunch about what works drug policy wise? Hell yes!

    Healthy Workplace Bill is a great idea for experimenting with civil rights for all in the workplace. Employers, Chamber of Commerce, stop with your self-serving alarmism regarding its possible implementation. Experiment with it. Make it sunset legislation or whatever if you’re afraid and paranoid.

    Just maybe you’ll have happy, empowered workers who finally feel that they can stand up to fat-cat, blow-hard, bullying co-workers and employers.
    Believe me, I feel no one’s suffered more from workplace bullying than me, probably like a lot of people. We need our stories validated and open to the public. If you only knew.

    Embrace workplace justice experimentation!

  3. Pingback: Boston Globe editorial sees impact of workplace bullying, hedges on Healthy Workplace Bill | Beat the Bullies

  4. I have not been able to create an account on the Boston Globe site so that I can leave a comment. The only options I have found are the log-in and subscribe tabs. Does anyone else have this problem?

  5. Pingback: Boston Globe editorial sees impact of workplace bullying, hedges on Healthy Workplace Bill

  6. The log on issue is typical of Boston politics- manipulation, smoke and mirrors, myth making. If no arguments are made, it will be argued few, if any are interested. Bottom line on this issue for me – Anyone in opposition to this legislation is a bully, covering up for a bully or in someway benefits financially from supporting a bully.

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