Advocacy on behalf of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 1072, Sen. Paul Feeney, lead sponsor; link here) is revving up here in Massachusetts.
As I wrote here in June 6, the HWB will be among the bills discussed in a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, on Tuesday, June 25, starting at 1 pm. I will be joining other advocates in testifying in support of the bill. We have also prepared a packet of written testimony for distribution to committee members.
But wait, there’s more!
We also now have a special briefing on the HWB for Massachusetts legislators and staff members scheduled for this coming Tuesday, June 18, at 11:00 am in Room 222 of the MA State House. In that briefing, Senator Feeney will speak about the need for the HWB, and I will give a presentation about the legal and policy mechanics that have informed my drafting of the bill. This recent addition to our advocacy and public education efforts is due to the work of Sen. Feeney and the support of SEIU-NAGE and the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates.
We are building on the organizing successes of the new legislative session. With 107 of the 200 elected state representatives and senators signed on as co-sponsors of the HWB for the 2019-20 session, this is by far the strongest showing of support for the bill among the five full sessions in which it has been active.
You may follow latest developments at the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates blog site (link here) and Facebook site (link here).
For those of you in Massachusetts, here’s a brief heads-up on upcoming events relevant to the workplace anti-bullying movement.
Legislative hearing on the MA Healthy Workplace Bill
The Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 1072, Sen. Paul Feeney, lead sponsor; link here) will be among the bills discussed in a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, on Tuesday, June 25, starting at 1 pm. I will be joining other advocates in testifying in support of the bill. We have also prepared a packet of written testimony for distribution to committee members.
Thanks to our extensive advocacy efforts, we now have 107 of the 200 elected state representatives and senators signed on as co-sponsors of the Healthy Workplace Bill for the 2019-20 session. This is a real breakthrough for us and a clear sign that this legislation is being taken very seriously. Special thanks go to Deb Falzoi (MA co-coordinator), Jim Redmond (SEIU-NAGE legislative rep), and Greg Sorozan (MA co-coordinator) for their first-rate leadership efforts in supporting the legislation.
You may follow latest developments at the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates blog site (link here) and Facebook site (link here).
Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week events — including Dr. Gary Namie!
Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week (link here) is an annual October event sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, the pioneering research, advocacy, and public education initiative co-founded in 1998 by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie.
This year’s Freedom Week promises to be a special one for those in Massachusetts, as Gary Namie will be in Greater Boston for two events:
Saturday, October 19 through Sunday, October 20 — A special edition of Workplace Bullying University, the Namies’ intensive, graduate-level training and education workshop about workplace bullying, offered specially for union members at SEIU-NAGE’s union headquarters in Quincy, MA, just outside of Boston. For more information, go here. (I have had the privilege of attending and participating in Workplace Bullying University sessions, and I can attest that it is immersive, insightful, and interactive, a truly soup-to-nuts educational experience.)
Friday, October 18 — This is more of a placeholder for now, but we will be scheduling an event featuring Gary Namie at my university –Suffolk University Law School in downtown Boston — for that day or early evening. Although it will not be an intensive workshop experience like Workplace Bullying University, it will give attendees an opportunity to meet Gary and to discuss the future of the workplace anti-bullying movement. In a few months, I will be posting more information about it to my New Workplace Institute/Minding the Workplace Facebook page, which you may access and “like” (link here).
The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), which permits targets of severe workplace bullying to seek damages in court and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively towards bullying behaviors at work, is gaining considerable momentum in the new session of the Massachusetts legislature. As of Friday, February 1, lead sponsor Senator Paul Feeney has been joined by 90 legislative co-sponsors in supporting the bill — representing some 45 percent of the Massachusetts legislature.
As readers familiar with legislative processes know, the process of enacting new legislation — especially on cutting-edge subjects — is often a long slog requiring patience and commitment. This is our fifth full session of bringing the HWB to the Massachusetts legislature. We’ve continued to build support for the HWB during every session, and that work is paying off. The current list of co-sponsors far exceeds the previous record of 58 for the 2015-16 session.
For years, the lead sponsor of the HWB was Rep. Ellen Story, and her steadfast work brought us a long way. Since Rep. Story’s retirement, our new lead sponsor, Sen. Feeney, has stepped in to give the HWB his fullest commitment. Like Rep. Story, Sen. Feeney and his staff have worked closely with our advocates to build support for the bill.
On the advocacy front, special shout-outs go to two co-coordinators of this campaign: Deb Falzoi, whose invaluable efforts in leading our advocacy group and social media outreach have fueled the growing momentum behind the bill; and Greg Sorozan, whose vital work as a union leader through SEIU/NAGE (a major public employee union in Massachusetts) has given us critically useful insider assistance in advocating for the HWB in the legislature.
And at its core, this grassroots legislative campaign is about the thousands of individuals who are calling, e-mailing, and visiting their legislators to urge their support of the HWB. Many have shared personal stories of experiencing workplace abuse. A lot of folks are bravely stepping up to make a difference.
This work is far from finished. When it comes to legislative advocacy, there are no guarantees. That said, having 91 legislative supporters of the HWB in Massachusetts is a major step forward. We have gone from being a novelty, to a presence, and now to a genuine force.
The Massachusetts HWB currently carries the docket number 1355. The permanent bill number for the 2019-20 session will be assigned later. For more information about the Massachusetts advocacy campaign for the HWB, see its website (here) or Facebook page (here).
As some readers may know, the seeds of the HWB were planted in a law review article that I authored (published in 2000 by the Georgetown Law Journal), in which I surveyed the serious inadequacies of existing employment protections for targets of workplace bullying and suggested the parameters of needed new legal protections. I drafted the original version of the HWB in 2002, and in 2003, it was filed for the first time in the California legislature — championed by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie of the pioneering Workplace Bullying Institute.
When I embarked on this work some 20 years ago, I had no idea of where it might lead. But thanks to the efforts of countless individuals, we are now creating growing legislative recognition that the harm wrought by workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse should be subject to legal consequences. At this point, it’s about building public support for legal measures to fill the huge gaps that leave workers so vulnerable to these forms of interpersonal mistreatment.
Here is the current list of supporters. Because the State Senate has a later deadline for co-sponsoring bills, it is very possible that we’ll be adding additional names.
If you live in Massachusetts and support this legislation, then please contact your state senator and state representative and urge them to co-sponsor Senate Docket 1355. We have until Friday, February 1 to add co-sponsors.
The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates have scheduled a January 30 lobby day to help secure co-sponsors. Go here for more information.
With each legislative session, we have continually expanded support towards passage of the Healthy Workplace Bill. We are optimistic for progress in this session. Workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse are receiving increasing media attention, and our growing advocacy group is strong and determined. Building a long list of co-sponsors is an important start.
Writer Jessica Press was caught by surprise. When she posted to social media that she was looking for stories from women about their experiences of being bullied at work, she expected a sprinkling of replies. Instead, as she recounts in the lede to her feature article appearing in Redbook magazine’s October issue, she got a deluge:
My inbox was flooded — overflowing with incoming mail. I’d put out the call to a handful of experts and Facebook groups for women’s stories of workplace bullying. I thought perhaps I’d hear from a dozen women.
Instead, within a week, nearly a hundred stories from around the country and around the world poured in, with a steady stream continuing in the days and weeks that followed. They worked in hospitals, academia, sales, food service — anywhere and everywhere. There were women still living in fear of retaliation. There were those who shared their journeys of deteriorating marriages, depression, anxiety, and PTSD-like symptoms. There were a surprising number who had involved lawyers and were limited in what they could even reveal due to nondisclosure agreements.
It’s a substantial feature article, and I suggest giving it a full read. Among those interviewed was Deb Falzoi, one of the key advocates for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill here in Massachusetts:
“Every day I would come to work feeling like, What is she going to do today? remembers Deb Falzoi. “Now that I know the ways bullies work, I realize she was very textbook. There were false accusations, removal of my responsibilities. At the time I didn’t know what to call what was happening to me. When I finally found the term ‘workplace bullying’ and saw that there was research on the issue, I felt a sense of relief. I hear that same thing from other targets.”
Press also gives a shout-out to our national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill:
[Drs. Gary] Namie and his wife, Ruth, the cofounder of [the Workplace Bullying Institute], along with David Yamada, professor of law and director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, are leading a movement to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill, which Yamada wrote. The bill would give both workers and employers clear-cut rights and clearly defined boundaries, which are of course the basis of any healthy relationship, professional or otherwise. “It provides an incentive for employers to adopt reasonable steps to prevent and correct bullying, which translates to having a policy and faithfully enforcing it,” explains Namie.
What’s the significance of Redbook doing a feature piece on the bullying of women at work?
I think it’s another important sign of the mainstreaming of workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors as topics worthy of our close attention. After all, Redbook is a long-time, monthly lifestyles magazine marketed primarily to women, with a circulation of some 2.2 million. That’s a sizable readership.
These articles are an important form of public education about work abuse. And especially for those who are targeted by these behaviors, they serve an informative and validating purpose that helps them understand what they’re experiencing. I hope we see a lot more coverage like this.
In April 2017, union local president Greg Sorozan and I testified in support of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill at a hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development of the Massachusetts state legislature. Until recently, I didn’t know that Greg’s union, the National Association of Government Employees, had posted a video of our testimony on their YouTube page. It runs for just under six minutes.
I’m happy to report that the HWB, filed in Massachusetts as Senate Bill No. 1013 for the current 2017-18 session, has been favorably reported out of the Joint Committee, putting it an important step closer to a full floor vote in the Senate. As the author of the HWB’s template language, I am hoping that Massachusetts will become the first state to enact the full version of the HWB. Several other states have enacted workplace bullying legislation that draws upon the model language but falls short of creating a legal right to file a legal claim for damages.
Workplace bullying, not sexual harassment, prompted this week’s termination of popular Boston public radio program host Tom Ashbrook by his employer, Boston University, which owns the WBUR-FM radio station. From the station’s report:
BU reached this decision after an independent review verified claims that Tom had created an abusive work environment. Over the past two months, while Ashbrook was off the air, two firms investigated allegations made by 11 former On Point producers. A law firm looked into the sexual harassment allegations and found that Tom’s unwelcome conduct was not sexual in nature, and did not constitute sexual harassment under university policy. A consulting firm looked into broader workplace culture issues at On Point. It concluded that Tom consistently overstepped reasonable lines and created a dysfunctional workplace. The investigators talked with about 60 people, including Tom and management.
In December, sexual harassment allegations against Ashbrook surfaced publicly, and soon it became evident that bullying-type behaviors were also part of the alleged misconduct. He was suspended by WBUR pending an investigation.
That month I was invited by WBUR to do a segment on the legal differences between sexual harassment and workplace bullying. On December 14 I was interviewed by Deborah Becker; you can read the transcript or listen to the 6-minute interview here. I used the term “abusive work environment” to describe how my proposed workplace anti-bullying legislation — known as the Healthy Workplace Bill — characterizes workplace bullying. I found it interesting that WBUR used the same term to describe Ashbrook’s conduct, distinguishing it from sexual harassment.
The Ashbrook situation raises several important points:
First, as we are seeing with other public allegations of sexual harassment, workplace bullying is often part of the picture. Accused serial sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein, for example, has also been tagged as a bullying boss. As reported last October by Brett Lang for Variety:
In an industry known for attracting its share of screamers, few raged as violently as Harvey Weinstein. “There was a lot of pounding his fists on the desk and a lot of yelling,” said one of his former employees. “There was an anger inside of him that was jarring and scary.”
Another onetime staffer says that in recent years Weinstein had reined in a penchant for physical altercations but had not lost his talent for berating employees. He was particularly cruel with assistants and executives who didn’t push back when he tore into them.
Second, Ashbrook’s termination indicates that some employers are starting to get it about workplace bullying and its destructive effects on morale. Although it must be said that Ashbrook’s behavior was apparently no secret within WBUR for some time, when things did go public and the station ordered an investigation, they fired him despite a finding that there was insufficient evidence to support claims of sexual harassment. Rather, they cited the bullying behaviors as the main reason for the decision.
Third, this doesn’t mean that everyone is satisfied with a decision to terminate a well-known radio host for workplace bullying. Looking at social media comments, several posters accused Ashbrook’s co-workers of being “snowflakes” who couldn’t take his rough communication style. Based on my knowledge of folks who work in media settings, I would take issue with such characterizations. The electronic and print media are not vocations for the feint of heart, and I doubt that many folks at WBUR, if any, fit into the category of being “oversensitive.” But this is among the responses we can anticipate as more employers respond to workplace bullying.