Vermont Senate Makes Smart Move Toward Workplace Bullying Legislation

For years advocates have been trying to pass workplace bullying legislation in Vermont.  Last year, SB.52 started as yet another attempt to re-introduce the Healthy Workplace Bill (aka Abusive Work Environment Act). But, this time something happened.  Instead of dying in committee, the language was completely struck and totally rewritten to ensure that lawmakers look into all possible approaches before adopting legislation that will impact both employers and employees throughout the state.  (After all, isn’t that what our elected officials are supposed to do?) The Senate wants a task force created to determine the best way to provide relief and redress for state residents suffering in abusive work environments. The new version of SB.52 became very active and passed the Senate.  If it makes it out of the general committee and is passed through to the Governor’s desk, the task force’s findings could create a landmark moment for those of us who would like to see bullying legislation become a reality. Continue reading

Our Top 2011 Posts on Workplace Bullying

This year our most popular posts continue to cover a wide range of topics and issues related to workplace bullying.  We  continue to focus on our mission to critique and offer new voices and alternatives to the current dialogue.   Two 2010 posts ( about Mediation & OSHA ) are still extremely popular.  Here’s a recap for 2011: Continue reading

Bill 168: Workplace threats lead to dismissal for just cause

Ontario’s new workplace violence legislation applied to city employee’s threats against co-worker

by Norm Keith (reprinted with permission)

The first important decision arising from the Bill 168 amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) has determined verbal threats of workplace violence constitute violence under the new law, which came into force on June 15, 2010. Continue reading

Top 10+ Personality Traits of Bully Bosses (and workers too?)

“It is estimated that half of all executive careers end in failure. “

The dark side” of a supervisor’s personality can impact their ability to manage.  The angel on their shoulder can make them a leader.  The devil can derail a business.  No one asks to be abused at work nor should it ever be excused.  And, victim/targets currently struggling with the dehumanizing experience of bullying can hardly be expected to look for the charming aspects of their boss. But, and this is a big BUT, the rest of us need to have the ability to admit that it’s not just bosses who have these traits.  How often have you had to deal with a co-worker with “attitude” who uses these same tactics toward the boss – or even you?  Continue reading

Are Women Bosses Really Meaner?

Here’s what Abby L. Ferber had to say in this excerpt of her Huffington Post article about the issue:

So why do women most often bully other women? Because they are rarely in positions of power over men. According to the article [NY Times, Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work:

“After five decades of striving for equality, women make up more than 50 percent of management, professional and related occupations, says Catalyst, the nonprofit research group. And yet, its 2008 census found, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 percent of directors were women.”

In addition, women are more likely to work in careers and workplaces that are primarily populated by other women. Men, on the other hand, wield power in the workplace over both women and other men.

Instead of examining the larger dynamics of power at work here, the article focuses on women as a group, asking why they bully other women.

We are left with numerous problematic conclusions:

Women’s relationships with each other are problematic and women need to learn to better support each other.

Women are the problem themselves, and they are becoming too much like men as they move into positions of power.

Bullying itself is not a gendered phenomenon, men bully men and women bully women, so we are all affected by it.

Bullying by men is natural, and not in need of examination. We should expect that kind of behavior from men.

Looking at the exact same data, however, informed by an understanding of how the dynamics of gender and power operate, a very different story can be told.

The reality is that:

Bullying is about power, and people bully those they have power over.

Bullying increases when people feel their power threatened.

Our unequal gender system contributes to the problem of bullying because it reinforces the idea that some people should naturally have more power than others; that men are by nature more aggressive, and women should be more nurturing and supportive.

And bullying in the workplace contributes to economic inequality between men and women. As this study makes clear, bullying is a very serious problem, with real consequences: 40% of the time, the target ends up quitting her job (remember, most targets are women). So bullying is a tool to maintain inequality.

The way in which the story of the data is told by the New York Times ends up hiding the real problems and blaming the victims. If our analyses are not informed by research and analyses of gender and power dynamics, we end up contributing to the problem, rather than developing real solutions.

Workplace Bullying: Where’s The Beef?

I believe that if we’re honest with ourselves we can learn some hard lessons from Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week – an event that has been around for at least 4 years.  This year I decided to join in the effort and sponsor Take Action Screenings and offered free DVDs as part of our new initiative to use film to create change.  I’m delighted that the videos were used by advocates in a dozen states – and Australia – in a wide variety of venues.   But, I also recognize that this is a drop in the bucket for what needs to happen on a broader level.  Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week has been in place nearly half a decade.  And, while we applaud the efforts of others scattered around the country who worked hard to garner signed proclamations in 38 cities and one county, it’s important for us to heed this as a wake-up call.   As near as I can tell there are some 30,000+ cities in the US.  That’s not to denigrate any of the work others are doing – it’s merely meant to raise the bar.  Ironically, workplace bullying was more prominently covered by the media in the months leading up to the event.  So, the real question is: why hasn’t this effort really resonated beyond a small cadre of people into a true coalition?   Is it time for a new approach?  Here’s an article from WhenTheAbuserGoesToWork.com that asks just that. Patricia Barnes asks that we start to look in new directions.  In keeping with our mission to foster open and frank discussion, you don’t have to agree with her or me but you do owe it to yourself to become part of the discussion.  READ ON:

Labor Secretary Sleeping on the Job?

With America’s workplace anti-bully movement seemingly stuck in the trenches, perhaps it is time to follow the example of America’s neighbor to the North.

The Canadian province of Quebec amended its Labour Standards Act in 2002 to ban non-discriminatory workplace harassment and bullying. The law, which went into effect on June 1, 2004, also imposes a duty on employers to prevent and stop bullying.

According to one observer, the law was the result of a sustained campaign by Quebec unions, as well as by a non-profit advocacy and resource group for non-unionized workers, “Au bas l’echelle” (in English, “Rank and File”).

This effort resulted in the establishment in 1999 by then Minister of Labor, Diane Lemieux, of an Interdepartmental Committee on Psychological Harassment at Work. The committee in 2001 recommended the government take legislative steps to prohibit psychological harassment.

It is time for unions and workplace anti-bully advocates to call upon U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis to empanel a commission to study the problem of workplace bulling in the United States and recommend new legislation to Congress.

There is overwhelming research that the problem of workplace bullying is epidemic in the United States, affecting at least one in four workers, and that workplace bullying destroys lives and costs American employers billions every year.

Efforts began in the United States almost a decade ago to pass a so-called Healthy Workplace Bill on a state-by-state basis. Thus far, no state has adopted the bill, which is much weaker than Quebec’s legislation.

Meanwhile, the worsening economy has left more and more workers vulnerable to bullying. Not only are there fewer jobs, but the nature of the workforce is changing. More workers today are categorized as “independent contractors” who receive no benefits and low pay. These include home-workers, tele-workers, piece-workers.

Even if one state does step up and adopt a workplace anti-bully bill, it will take decades, if ever, before all of the states do.

*** See Debra L. Parkes, “Targeting Workplace Harassment in Quebec: On Exporting a New Legislative Agenda” (2004) 8 Empl. Rts. & Employ. Pol’y J. 423.