Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2015: Working with change agents


I spent a good chunk of today and yesterday hosting a workshop on workplace bullying at Suffolk University Law School here in Boston. The goal of the workshop was to give feedback, advice, and suggestions to a group of individuals who are devoting time and energy to responding to workplace bullying through public education initiatives, publications, and law reform advocacy. Although I had high hopes for the gathering based on the list of participants, I wasn’t quite sure what the collective chemistry would produce.

I am pleased to report that it was a very stimulating, intense, and moving experience, infused with genuine fellowship and even moments of humor. We covered a lot of ground during our conversations, and the interactions and exchange among our participants made for an honest and gently respectful learning environment.

Serving as discussants were Eunice Aviles, Torii Bottomley, Deb Falzoi, Denise Bartholomew Gilligan, Henry Jung, and Greg Sorozan, all of whom brought plenty of experience and wisdom to our discussion. We also were joined by Katie Fedigan, who helped her father Jay with some of the filming.

For several participants, being a part of this gathering called upon them to dig deep into wells of courage, for their own experiences of being bullying targets were part of our conversations. We specially thank them for their contributions to our understanding.


Related post

This workshop only bolstered my enthusiasm for smaller, in-person gatherings that encourage genuine dialogue and exchange. For more on that, see my earlier post from this month, “The power of face-to-face dialogue for change agents.”

Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2015: Entering the mainstream


Observances such as Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week serve as an invitation for reflection and assessment. Recently, a written feature about my work concerning workplace bullying published on my University’s website referred to my “two-decade battle against bullying on the job.” The writers took a slight liberty there; my fateful initial contact with Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute was made in 1998, so I’m not quite at the 20-year mark. But even 17 years is a long time, and during this stretch I’ve seen a term that once barely appeared on the radar screen of American employee relations now entering its mainstream.

Indeed, we are moving past the point of having to spend 10-15 minutes simply explaining what workplace bullying is and how much harm it can inflict. Instead, we can devote greater attention to preventing, stopping, and responding to abusive behaviors at work, while connecting bullying to other forms of worker mistreatment.

Along those lines, some readers may have noticed an editorial shift on this blog concerning workplace bullying-related commentary, whereby I’ve been devoting more time to discussing potential new understandings, responses, connections, outreach, and solutions. I imagine that evolution will continue.

Similarly, here in Boston we’ll be observing Freedom Week with a workshop at which we’ll be giving feedback, advice, and suggestions to a group of individuals who are devoting time and energy to responding to workplace bullying through public education initiatives, publications, and law reform advocacy. It will be a wonderful opportunity to explore this topic in a small-group setting that promotes conversation, shared insights, and fellowship.

I give a short personal history of my involvement in the workplace anti-bullying movement, and some of the accompanying lessons I’ve learned about legal and social activism, in my forthcoming law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice), a draft of which may be downloaded without charge. I hope that readers who want to learn more will find it interesting.

Working Notes: Progress for HWB in Massachusetts (and more!)


MA Healthy Workplace Bill moves to “Third Reading”

After being reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill has been moved to a procedural stage called “Third Reading,” which means it is now eligible for a full vote by the House of Representatives. As reported by Deb Falzoi on the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:

BREAKING NEWS: The Healthy Workplace Bill, HB 1771, has been ordered to a Third Reading in the House. This step is the furthest point the bill has gone in Massachusetts in previous sessions, but this session we’ve reached it much earlier in the session. Progress!

Without a doubt this is good news and increases the likelihood for a favorable result during the 2015-16 Massachusetts legislative session.

MA Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee recommends support of Healthy Workplace Bill

The Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, an office appointed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court “to enhance and protect the rights of persons with mental health concerns in key areas most closely related to their ability to live full and independent lives free of discrimination,” has submitted written testimony in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill. MHLAC senior attorney Susan Fendell, stated in her testimony that “(t)his bill, if passed into law, will profoundly improve people’s daily lives by creating positive and consequently more productive work environments.”

Attorney Fendell’s testimony shared the story of a client with a learning disability who was subjected to severe physical and verbal abuse by a new supervisor. The client filed a disability discrimination claim, but because he was not able to show that the mistreatment was grounded in his disability, he did not prevail. MHLAC offered this story as an example of the gap that needs to be filled by the Healthy Workplace Bill.

MHLAC’s welcomed statement of support highlights the potential power of the Healthy Workplace Bill to safeguard the mental health of all citizens.

Recognition by Americans for Democratic Action

Recently I was informed that Americans for Democratic Action, the veteran progressive political and policy advocacy organization, will be honoring me with the Winn Newman Lifetime Achievement Award at its annual banquet on September 16, in Washington D.C. The award recognizes my work in support of the workplace anti-bullying movement and other workers’ rights initiatives.

I’ll be sharing honors that night with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and U.S. Representative Rosa Delauro, two outstanding members of Congress. I’ll have a few minutes to offer remarks, during which I’ll definitely be talking about the Healthy Workplace Bill and our ongoing efforts to prevent and stop bullying at work.

I served on ADA’s national board for many years and served as its chair for a term. I am very grateful for this honor and look forward to the banquet.

(For a personal story about meeting one of my intellectual heroes, ADA co-founder John Kenneth Galbraith, go here.)

Voices heard: Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill gets committee approval

Advocacy can make a difference: The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771; Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, co-sponsors) has been reported favorably by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. This necessary and important step, which occurred on the heels of last week’s committee hearing at which numerous HWB supporters stayed until the early evening to testify, puts us closer to eventual floor votes by the House and Senate and final signature by the Governor.

This is the third straight legislative session in which the HWB has been favorably reported by this committee, so what’s different this time? Legislative sessions run two years, the current one covering 2015-16. This is by far the earliest the HWB has been moved favorably out of the committee. Previously, the HWB received committee approvals in the second half of the respective sessions, making it harder to move the bill forward within the limited time remaining.

Our voices are being heard. At last week’s public hearing, it was evident that even though it was late in the day, committee co-chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak were attentive and sympathetic to the personal accounts of bullying and abuse shared by workers who testified.

The next steps for the HWB within the Massachusetts legislative labyrinth have not been settled, but this is a very positive development. I’ll be providing updates here, and those who want to actively support the bill can check out some of the links below.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here.


Healthy Workplace Bill: Courage prevails at Massachusetts State House hearing

Massachusetts State House (photo: DY)

Massachusetts State House (photo: DY)

Supporters of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) gathered yesterday at the Massachusetts State House for a legislative hearing to voice our support for this badly needed legislation. While the immediate fate of the HWB in Massachusetts (designated as House Bill 1771 in the current session) remains a work in progress, those who shared their stories with legislators and who appeared at the State House to offer support were the clear winners of the day. When this bill becomes law, their courage will be among the primary reasons for that success.

Legislative hearing

The occasion for this testimony was a legislative hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the committee to which the HWB has been assigned. Our goal is to persuade the Committee to give the HWB a favorable report, a critically important step toward eventual floor votes in the House of Representatives and Senate and, then, presentation of the bill to the Governor.

I testified on a panel with Greg Sorozan, co-director of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates and a local president for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and Torii Bottomley, a public school teacher who experienced horrific, ongoing retaliatory bullying and lost her job as a final result. Torii, who has gone public with her story, shared her account of how an outstanding, dedicated educator can be targeted for extinction because she stood up for the best interests of her students.

Many other individuals also testified, and they shared similar stories of terrible workplace abuse that often drove them out of their workplaces and sometimes their careers. I’ve opted not to share their names here because, unlike Torii, they have not gone as public with their stories, but let me attest that each one of them exhibited great courage in coming forth to ask the legislators to pass this law.

In addition, others who have experienced workplace bullying joined us to provide moral support. Their presence made a big difference.

I do not use the term courage lightly here. To share one’s story of abusive treatment in a public setting, and then to sit and listen to similar stories over and again, is an act of bravery. Even for those who didn’t testify, being present to lend support required a lot of fortitude.

Ready to play ball

My part in this hearing was a comparatively minor one. As the author of the HWB, I reiterated to Committee members our desire to answer questions, criticisms, and concerns about the legislation, and to work with them in any way we can.

This is the third full session in which we have filed the bill, and as long-time readers know, we have amassed growing support for it inside the State HouseLegislative advocacy is a game for the restlessly patient, and for me, the restless side is manifesting itself. Most major legislation requires several sessions before it becomes viable. We’re at the point now, and I want to see some results.


Our wonderful, long-time lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, testified on behalf of the HWB, and her chief assistant Brad Dye spent several hours talking to and offering advice to those who were there on behalf of the bill.

Members of the Committee who sat through a very long hearing day that stretched into the early evening deserve our thanks. Co-Chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak showed great attention, patience, and respect to those who testified on all the bills before the Committee, including ours. I also appreciated words of support from Representative and committee member Danielle Gregoire, who several moons ago was one of my students at Suffolk University Law School while she worked as a legislative staffer.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here

Free blog subscription

For a free subscription to Minding the Workplace, go to “Follow this blog” at the top right of the home page, and enter your e-mail address.

Advocacy for the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

Many of those familiar with the challenges of legislative advocacy and the realities of the legislative process know that until a bill is actually enacted into law, progress is measured in terms that may not be evident to the general public, but that nonetheless constitute important, tangible steps forward. The history of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts illustrates this point by way of steady, painstaking, sometimes halting moves ahead.

Growing legislative support

Massachusetts first considered the HWB during the 2009-10 session, when a solitary state senator filed the bill. Support grew during the 2011-12 session, when 13 legislators sponsored or co-sponsored the HWB. The number of sponsors and co-sponsored tripled to 39 during the 2013-14 session. During the two most recent sessions, the HWB proceeded through the committee process to where it was moving toward a full floor vote in the state House of Representatives. The HWB has been re-filed for the 2015-16 session, and this time 58 senators and representatives have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors.

Greater public attention

In the midst of this growing support within the legislature, the HWB attracted greater attention from the local media, especially during the 2013-14 legislative session. Examples included a lengthy lead editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe, ultimately recommending a cautious approach to enacting workplace bullying legislation; a Globe feature article on HWB activists; and extended radio and television interview segments. The HWB has also attracted active support from labor and worker advocacy organizations, including SEIU/NAGE, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and the Boston Teachers Union. SEIU/NAGE has served as the point organization for building support within the State House, including tasking its veteran lobbyists to advocate for the bill among legislators and staff members.

Little things

At times, the little things reveal growing support for, and interest in, proposed legislation. For example, when MassCOSH, a major catalyst for workplace safety and health policy in Massachusetts, endorsed the Healthy Workplace Bill and invited advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill to be part of its annual legislative lobbying days, it sent a clear message that the HWB had become a presence within the State House and that workplace bullying was now part of the discussion on worker safety.

2015-16 legislative sponsors

Furthermore, when the initial list of sponsors and co-sponsors for the HWB for the 2015-16 session appeared short (fewer than ten) amidst considerable change in the composition of the legislature and the election of a new Governor, concerted efforts by the bill’s main sponsor, Representative Ellen Story, and key grassroots supporters resulted in 58 legislative sponsors and co-sponsors, a surprising increase of 19 from the previous session. The ability to build the sponsorship list in a short period of time confirmed that this is no longer a novelty bill.


As developments in Massachusetts and other states show, the overall movement in the United States is gravitating toward the enactment of workplace bullying legislation. In this sense, America is gradually catching up with many other nations that have enacted workplace anti-bullying laws, primarily during the past 15 years. Workplace bullying has not quite entered the mainstream of American employment law, but the potential for doing so is now very real.


Forthcoming law review essay

The commentary above was adapted from a draft of my forthcoming law review essay, “Workplace Bullying and the Law: U.S. Legislative Developments 2013-15,” to be published in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal. You may access a pdf of the draft, as well as copies of many of my other scholarly articles, without charge from my Social Science Research Network page.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here

Free blog subscription

For a free subscription to Minding the Workplace, go to “Follow this blog” at the top right of the home page, and enter your e-mail address.

Advocacy and anger in the workplace anti-bullying movement

Recently, one “Hope Springs” posted a commentary to the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, urging supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill to take a rhetorical high road in advocating for law reform, without referring to specific aggressors in angry, overly disparaging ways. With Hope’s permission, I’m sharing it here in its entirety:

Hello, supporters of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill.

I’d like to bring up the issue of “message discipline” and the importance of “acting politically” in promoting this important bill and winning reluctant parties to our side.

Occasionally, I have come across a post on this forum and others in which a victim of workplace bullying uses disparaging language and abusive names in calling out specific perpetrators. Some of this language has involved cursing and the bitter celebration of a perpetrator’s downfall, which -given the terroristic actions of workplace bullies- is perfectly understandable.

But, I think we have to be careful to maintain the high road at all times.

It seems important to carefully and strategically “name” the behavioral patterns of workplace bullies in a measured way and to persistently equate those patterns with adverse economic outcomes for organizations and for society at large. We have to continue to make a persuasive argument and not allow opposing forces to discredit targets of workplace bullying as “angry”, “bitter”, “difficult”, “mean”, “victim-mentality”, “adversarial” and other such epithets.

Name-calling and expressing personal bitterness towards perpetrators makes it easy for opponents to suggest that personal rivalry was involved in these situations (rather than the REALITY that victims were intentionally targeted with malicious intent by a perpetrator).

While recent research has suggested the widespread prevalence of workplace bullying (or “social violence” in the workplace as a colleague of mine puts it), people are reluctant to sign on mostly for economic reasons. Who wants to put their name on a movement that demands accountability and legal liability for managers, bosses, and politically powerful co-employees? Not too many.

So, I think we need to step back every so often and examine the messages we are sending. More and more people are getting behind this movement, because it’s based on a shared reality for a great many people. But, the momentum can easily be stopped if the general public perceives the chief proponents of this bill to be vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind.

I hope that posting my concerns in this forum has not alienated people. I sincerely want this movement to succeed, and I believe as many do, that it’s only a matter of time.

But, unfortunately, it’s up to us to maintain the discipline of not resorting to the same mean-spirited tactics of those who routinely harm others in pursuit of their own egocentric need for triumph.

Yes, those of us who have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying have the right to be angry, bitter, depressed and hungry for triumph over evil. But, it might be more helpful to form support groups where we can explore these natural feelings so that they can be healed, transformed, and processed.

With the freedom that comes from the private act of processing the evil done to us -and by seeking support for our healing- we can roll up our sleeves and remember to act politically in the public sphere.

If we win, the nation wins.

Difficult stuff

Workplace bullying is a severe denial of one’s dignity, an offense that tramples over livelihood and personhood. The impulse or temptation to publicly accuse, and rage at, the perpetrators can be powerful. Furthermore, based on what we know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a condition dubbed Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, many of these feelings are natural responses to severe mistreatment and injustice.

Lawmakers and policy makers need to understand that we are talking about a form of interpersonal abuse. I believe that message is coming through, and usually not via “vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind” described by Hope, but rather by individuals who are more likely to have turned their suffering inward and are now summoning the strength to share their stories and experiences for the sake of the greater good.

In any event, I understand where Hope is coming from on this. A movement associated primarily with emotions of anger and bitterness faces an uphill battle, even if those feelings are entirely justifiable. In addition, we want to avoid fueling cycles of anger and abuse. The world offers too many reminders of this dynamic, in numerous settings and on all scales.

I wish that we didn’t have to face these issues. But we live in a society that discounts or dismisses those who have been tagged as embittered or angry, sometimes to the point of giving a free pass to those who committed the wrongful actions in the first place. Against this reality, we must hone our message at times, concededly not without some struggle.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,243 other followers

%d bloggers like this: