Workplace bullying, the Healthy Workplace Bill, and the “poster case”

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

On many occasions during my years of drafting and advocating for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, I’ve been asked, so, what’s your poster case?, or something along those lines.

This is an important topic, even if the term is somewhat coarse.

First, a bit of vocabulary: “Poster case” is a modification of the term “poster child,” the latter defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a child who has a disease and is pictured in posters to solicit funds for combating the disease.” Merriam-Webster then offers a secondary definition closer to what we’re talking about in this context: “a person having a public image that is identified with something (such as a cause).”

The substitution of the word “case” clarifies that we’re talking about a legal or legislative setting. Accordingly, a poster case instance of workplace bullying and mobbing is one that neatly and compactly captures the essential dynamics of severe work abuse and clearly shows the need for stronger legal protections in the form of the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Phoebe Prince

A decade ago, Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts, was so mercilessly bullied by fellow students (in person and online) that she took her own life. This tragedy galvanized public attention to school bullying, and it played an influential role in reviving a school anti-bullying bill that had been languishing in the state legislature. The bill suddenly picked up great momentum and was enacted into law.

Over the years, legislative staffers and others close to the policymaking process have quietly told us that passage of the Healthy Workplace Bill would be hastened if we had a “poster case” like that of Phoebe Prince — in other words, a deeply sympathetic individual who died by suicide associated with bullying at work.

In addition…

Those of us who have been advocating for law reform are acutely aware of suicides associated with workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. Surviving family and friends of these bullying targets are among the readers of this blog. Their stories are heartbreaking and outrageous, and they are sometimes invoked in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill. For various reasons, no single instance has captured public attention sufficient to push the bill over the top, in the way that Phoebe Prince’s story gave decisive impetus to the school bullying law.

In any event, we must continue to broaden our focus, to include, but go beyond, these tragic suicide narratives. Countless numbers of bullied and mobbed workers are living with their experiences every day. Their experiences must always be given voice as well.

Here in Massachusetts, the Healthy Workplace Bill is once again before the state legislature, filed by Senator Paul Feeney for the 2021-22 session. Please go here to see the bill, currently designated as Senate Docket No. 2426. And if you live in Massachusetts and are so inclined, please contact your state senator and state representative (link here) and ask them to co-sponsor the bill.

7 responses

  1. This artwork says it all for me. Some days I did not leave my house, my bed. I tried to sleep all day, every day. I could not believe what was happening to me, at a place I called my second home. How people can behave so merciless and with such hidden malice towards others is something I am happy I can not understand. I support your work and happily supply any testimony to my story for your benefit. Thank you for all do to make workplace bullying against the law.

  2. I am pained by the astonishing fact that the “Healthy Work Place Bill”, on the books in California, is nothing more than a paper tiger, dismissed by management, union reps and employment attorneys with derision and scorn. If allegations of “sexual harassment”, which basically consist of purported remarks that made some women in his employ “uncomfortable”, could torpedo the career of the most powerful politician in New York State, when approximately 15% of targets of workplace mobbings, which are perfectly legal, commit suicide, than, there is no cause for optimism.

    • The California law is not the full Healthy Workplace Bill. It’s a very watered down law, without any creating any rights, penalties, or damages. It’s a start, but far short of what’s needed.

  3. I experienced long term workplace abuse at verizon in Albany NY. My boss told me they were coming for me, he was right. Another one told me I had a target on my back, another truth. Then one of my buddies told me that I was the “Poster Child” for workplace bullying and he wasn’t kidding! I’m still wounded, but “making progress everyday.” (An old verizon advertising slogan). I purchased Dr. John J. Pepi Sr.’s recently released book titled The ABC’s of Public Education; Abuse, Bullying and Corruption. Two different industries but the same agenda ….destroy the target! Our stories are strikingly familiar and of course a painful read for anyone who has been targeted with workplace bullying and mobbing. On the other hand, it is validating to others damaged by this psychological war technique called zersetzung / character assassination.

  4. David – I’m thinking we almost need something like France’s France Telecomm trial. That was sort of a “poster child” for organizational level mobbing. We had something with the USPS – but that was decades ago, of course. Now we have Harry and Megan’s stories about being a royal. And the #metoo movement. We need something like for workplace bullying and mobbing. But sigh – we have so far to go in building awareness that this is not about “weak, complaining” victims…

    On Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 16:58 Minding the Workplace wrote:

    > David Yamada posted: ” On many occasions during my years of drafting and > advocating for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, I’ve been asked, > so, what’s your poster case?, or something along those lines. This is an > important topic, even if the term is somewhat coarse. ” >

  5. Hi, I have reached out to Will Brownsberger in Massachusetts about the Bill. (I live in his District.) I sent him a letter back in February. He responded with a handwritten note indicating that he does not think the Bill is a good idea. Any ideas on next steps? He shared his number and offered a conversation.

    • Hi Susan, thank you for your comment. To our disappointment, Sen. Brownsberger has opted not to support this legislation for now. You might contact him and share your own relevant experiences. Conversations with those in his district, plus assurances that this is responsible, not reckless, legislation, may help to persuade him to change his mind.

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