Why Workplace Bullying Should Be Legal

by Evil HR Lady on March 23, 2011

Workplace bullying is a real problem, but the solution isn’t new legislation. In fact, laws can protect the bully as well. Here’s why.

Why Workplace Bullying Should Be Legal

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike C. March 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

So have you bothered to actually look at any anti-bullying legislation? The law proposed here in Washington State stated that bullying would be defined as a pattern of repeated behavior that causes actual physical or psychological harm to an individual. You're not in the camp that believes clinical depression is just in someone's head, are you?

I mean look, if we're going to talk about "making it easier to hire", they why don't we get rid of rules against sexual harassment? You said yourself that unemployment is a much greater problem than any sort of employee mistreatment, so are you willing to take one for the team to improve the economy? I mean sure, it's incredibly degrading to have one's boss continually ask you for dates or grope you in the supply closet, but being unemployed is worse, right?

The problem here is that you don't fundamentally understand the problem of workplace bullying. You don't know what it's like to be locked into a job where your every effort to succeed is thrown out, where you are forced to work endless hours of over time and you are constantly being verbally harassed. You don't understand the toll on one's health the stress takes, nor the toll on home and family life.

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Anonymous March 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm

This is the dumbest piece of junk I have read in a long time. Suzanne, not only are you evil and ugly, but you are also a heinous, uninformed, ignorant, plain STUPID HR professional. Why don't you get a job in another field – maybe join the circus for your idiotic comments?

Bullying should not be allowed – period. It undermines company's performance, it wreaks havoc on morale, it creates unnecessary politics, it is the major cause of stress that people should not have. People should worry about performing their job to the best of their abilities, rather than worry about harrassment.

You need to stop making money off this blog, you need to stop writing in general. I am reporting you to the USHRC.

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esra March 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

That’s worked so well with sexual harassment, hasn’t it?

I've been a long time reader and very much enjoyed the sensible blog entries and articles here and at bnet. That said, this article is just dismaying. I feel like it's a sensational entry posted solely to get hits.

I'm curious as to whether you believe we should not have sexual harassment laws. Which is something I didn't think I would have to be curious about. Again, dismaying.

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Anonymous March 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I don't think this person is fit to work in human resources. She's probably just doing this because she needs a job and needs to collect a paycheck to pay her bills. Talk about STUPID, UNINFORMED, DELUSIONAL.

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Anonymous March 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm

The premise of this fallacious argument is written by someone in human resources.

Remember.

HR Professionals tend to be:
-woman
-they tend to be the department with the least amount of intellectual acumen or innovation
-they tend to be self-serving
-they care only about facades and try to prevent bad publicity
-HR does not give a hoot about employees–it's all about the company-
-people in HR came up with cumbersome performance review processes and can put you on the street in an instant

IN conclusion, this blogger is definitely an "EVIL" HR person.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 12:57 am

I DONT THINK OR TOLERATE THAT ANY BULLYING SHOULD BE LEGAL.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THE VICTIM OF BULLYING? DO YOU KNOW HOW STRESSFUL IT IS? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT DOES TO INDIVIDUALS?

BULLYING, HAZING, THREATS SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED IN THE PROFESSIONAL WORKPLACE.

I THINK YOU SHOULD REMOVE THIS POST.

MY BLOOD IS BOILING!

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Charles March 24, 2011 at 2:47 am

I agree with Evil HR Lady here;

Anti-bullying legislation could end up being another well-intentioned-but-bad-consequences set of laws.

We have to sometimes agree that making a law against "such and such" is not always the answer. That doesn't mean all laws should be thrown out. It just means we have to think about how a law will affect people and companies, etc.

Sometimes it seems if we just make something illegal we think that it will go away. The lazyman's way of making change.

Politician's (BOTH Democrats and Republicans, or whatever party where-ever) don't really care if you are bullied; they just want to say that they "helped to protect you from workplace bullies" so that you will vote for them.

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Suzanne Lucas March 24, 2011 at 4:46 am

I find it fascinating that several people who disagree with me are

1. Writing in all caps (the print version of screaming).

2. Calling me names

3. Making sweeping generalities about the incompetence of HR people in general.

Aren't all 3 of these characteristics of bullies? You do realize you're attempting to bully me, don't you?

And if you read the article in question you would see that I clearly state, multiple times, that bullying should not be tolerated. Bullying is bad. Legislation against it will not stop the problem and it will cause additional problems.

As for my feelings on sexual harassment laws, I think they are overbroad. Someday I'll write an entire column on those.

And yes, the comments with bad words were deleted. That's my blog policy.

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Mike C. March 24, 2011 at 5:29 am

@Suzanne

Come on, I didn't call you names. I didn't use nasty language nor did I use caps. How about instead of addressing the folks that can't put a complete sentence together you address the ones that do?

Let's just address the crux of your argument – that the idea of work place bullying is simply too broad. Why didn't you bother to at least put the term "work place bullying" into Google, click the very first link, and find on the front page of a major WPB advocacy group a clear and concise definition of what the issue actually is?

http://www.workplacebullying.org/faq.html

Here, I'll post it for you:

"It is mistreatment severe enough to compromise a targeted worker's health, jeopardize her or his job and career, and strain relationships with friends and family. "

Fine, the second and third parts are a bit hazy though jeopardize a job and career is something we see in legal law already. As for the main part regarding health, come on. The idea of waiting until provable harm occurs is a long held standard of the US legal system and legal systems going back to Hammurabi's Code.

Why do you then go on and make up straw man arguments about bosses offering criticism being seen as "bullying" when proposed laws require provable damage to health? There's no law that's in force that is so vague. You didn't cite anything. You just assumed one thing and ran with it, not even bothering to look at other nations which have similar laws and seeing if the problems you predict actually exist. You just kinda went for it and that was that.

I don't really care if you agree or not, I'm just irritated that you're using fallacies to try and make your point. Your readers aren't stupid, so quit trying to treat us as such.

Finally, you can talk all you want about bullying being bad, but when you advocate to eliminate any way an employee can do something about it short of leaving a job, I just can't take your belief seriously. If I cause you harm, you have a right to restitution. It doesn't matter if I rob your house or drive you into depression at work. Talk all you want about "good management" this and "proper company policies" that, but it's all meaningless until employees are able to negate the power differential between themselves and management. You provide no strategies outside of "we need more jobs". Even if that's the case, it still relies on someone being hurt before they move on to that new job with no recourse for the harm inflicted upon them! They cannot even warn away others, for such actions could be construed as slander or libel.

Incidentally, it's the hundred year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I can only wonder if this blog were here back then if you'd be advocating for the doors to be required to be unlocked, or if you'd be admonishing those workers for not finding work elsewhere.

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Charles March 24, 2011 at 5:43 am

"I find it fascinating that several people who disagree with me are

1. Writing in all caps (the print version of screaming).

2. Calling me names

3. Making sweeping generalities about the incompetence of HR people in general.

Aren't all 3 of these characteristics of bullies? You do realize you're attempting to bully me, don't you?"

So spot on! I guess it is true – bullies don't really think of themselves as bullies.

And good for you, Evil, for calling them on it. That's one of the better ways to stop bullying.

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Suzanne Lucas March 24, 2011 at 5:52 am

Mike,

Sorry I didn't respond to you. I wrote a long response which got eaten by blogger, so this is my second attempt.

The definition of bullying:
"It is mistreatment severe enough to compromise a targeted worker's health, jeopardize her or his job and career, and strain relationships with friends and family. "

I maintain that that is vague. What is mistreatment? If I tell you to pick up the pace or you'll be fired doesn't that jeopardize your career? If you have to work long hours, doesn't that strain your relationships with friends and families? My husband travels 25-50% of the time. That strains relationships too but it's not bullying.

I didn't cite any law because there is no such law in place. Legislatures have been talking about such laws since 2003 with none being passed. Therefore, I'm clearly not the only one who thinks this isn't a fantastic idea.

You say "advocate to eliminate any way an employee can do something about it short of leaving a job." This is false. I am not advocating eliminating anything. These laws do not exist yet.

Most bullying is already covered by other laws. The example given in the LA times article is just such a case. The bullying boss threw stuff at the employee. That is assault and is already illegal. The bullying boss locked her in a dark room. That's kidnapping or wrongful imprisonment and is already illegal.

I've provided tons of strategies for dealing with bully bosses. I linked to three different articles that give information on how to handle bully bosses. You chose not to follow the links. I can't address everything in every article. That's why I provide the links.

Your statement about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory shows me that you've run out of arguments. Never have I ever indicated that employees should be forced into unsafe conditions.

And interestingly enough there is an example today of bad sexual harassment laws in Lindsay Novak's column today:

http://www.creators.com/advice/at-work-lindsey-novak/hired-to-solve-noncompliance-fired-because-she-is-on-crutches.html

It's the second one–where the man was accused of and fired for sexual harassment. He claims he was fired without an investigation. Companies are so scared of a lawsuit from the victim that they reject the very real possibility that the "victim" is actually the harasser. This is the area that bullies are experts in. You can bet your britches that bullies will use this strategy if anti bullying laws take effect.

I will say again, bullying is bad. Companies should not tolerate it. But, keep the legislatures out of it.

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Suzanne Lucas March 24, 2011 at 5:56 am

Charles

You said, "bullies don't really think of themselves as bullies."

Yes! I should have said that myself. It's another reason why the laws won't stop the bullying. Good people will be hesitant to do what is necessary to manage relationships in the office (if I stand up to my coworker will I be accused of bullying?), while bullies will continue on their merry way, convinced that they are not bullying.

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Robert K March 24, 2011 at 6:21 am

As a regular follower, AND an HR guy, I'm of two minds. This may not be politically correct, but is a certainly a legitimate discussion topic.

On this, the anniversary of the Triangle Fire, one would be hard-pressed to argue (some republicans in Wisconsin notwithstanding) against how people organized – laws, entire agencies, were created to increase safety. Work is now generally safer, but "absolute safety," devoid of ANY risk(s) can not be accomplished. There is a great quote in "in Search of Excellence" (my copy of which is loaned out) that says something like "the only way to guarantee never to fail is to never attempt to succeed." A Course in Miracles reminds us that "Perception is not a mirror of fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward." Most of us didn't become managers because we did *everything* right.

New laws might add recourse and repercussions to already destructive practices. Such was the case with sexual harassment legislation. Maybe, after a few well-publicised cases, some people, not all, changed how they interact.

There are gun control laws that keep folks who are trying to do everything legally, but seem not to slow criminals from ownership, and don't even get me started about locking a convertible!

In the safety example, quantifiable determinants were identified and included as such in the law. Harassment is not so well defined. Even after Ellison vs. Brady (the reasonable woman standard) problems persist in less quantifiable laws and commandments.

As in the hand gun example, additional legislation may or may not be the answer to effectively address the problem. So what is the real solution? Would laws relating to long vs short-term profit help? What about laws on performance evaluations or promotions? Maybe laws that stipulate that everyone be "nice?"

It can be horrible. Many of us have been bullied at work, and as far as I can tell, nobody (except maybe the bullies) like it. My question would be, "Is this the best remedy," and I'm not positive I know the answer. I doubt that most those of us who have been subjected to bullying or our legislators know either.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 6:52 am

Okay – you make a law. Joe the harassed brings up a bullying case against his boss. Even if Joe can prove it, which is unlikely, he likely won't have the resources to go after the boss legally. And if he does, and fails, he's screwed. And if he does, and succeeds, he'd better win enough money to live a long time, because the word is out that Joe is trouble. And illegal or not, he's not getting a job.

Laws like this aren't like murder or easy to see crimes caught on camera. They're traps for unwary employees who are too stupid to understand futility. I recommend passive aggression instead. Petty? Immature? Sure. Counterstrike? Yes!

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 6:53 am

PS – HR lady, you are a cold stone fox!

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newresource March 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm

This is such a hot topic, Bullying, that it seems to anger some folks immediately. I don't think you deserved those personal attacks. Your blogs are thought provoking and stimulate conversation. I think some of the anonymous posters should control their emotions better. If they are in HR, then they have to have a thicker skin. Scary to think that if an article can make them so upset that they resort to insults and name calling.

Hang in there.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I guess I just don't have as much confidence in the free market as you do, EHRL. Because from what I've seen, businesses have rarely done one single thing to actually benefit their employees that they weren't forced to do through legislation or perhaps through the efforts of organized labor. And most likely, they were whining about how much profit this was going to cost them the whole time.

In my opinion, if it were up to most CEOs, they'd work us 18 hours a day with no benefits and as little salary as they could get away with. Get sick? You're fired. Complain? You're fired. Wrong gender, race, religion, or orientation? Good luck getting a job.

So forgive me if I'm skeptical that businesses will lift a finger to actually help victims of workplace bullying without the legal equivalent of a cattle prod.

Call me bitter and cynical if you will (and you probably will), but I think I'm realistic.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Well said EHRL – although you're far too kind about all the harassment legislation being 'too broad.' The problem, quite simply, is that it exists, since it takes away the vital business tool you so elegantly summarise as 'fix it or fire it.' Whenever some little whiner thinks they've been harassed, they get to threaten lawsuits and the like, instead of growing a spine (which is to say, fixing the problem). And with current laws, it's difficult to dispose of such non-productive little people. They don't even bother making a business case for action – something along the lines of producing more profit for the company than the alleged harasser. No, it's just reach for the lawyer.

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Charles March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm

What about bullying that is NOT obvious? To the victim it is still bullying.

How about bullying as passive-aggressive rhetorical questions? (Sorry, Mike C – But I consider asking Did you even read it? to be a passive-aggressive technique). Is the law going to cover that?

What if everyone in an office decides to not talk to a certain person? Is that bullying? Certainly the shunned person will think so. Just ask any grade-school girl who suddenly finds herself the object of all the other girls who say "we're not talking to her anymore."

But, wait, what if everyone has decided to not talk to that person because he is arguing with them all the time and not talking to him is their way of dealing with his bullying? Will the bully now be the one crying "I'm a bully victim"?

As Evil has said, the bully has now found a way to make the law work for him.

Anon at 2:35 – Organized labor is itself often a workplace bully – you MUST join the union and pay union dues or you cannot work here. And now Labor Unions in the US are trying to get laws passed that force OPEN voting in th work place. That is, they want to see who voted and how. What purpose would such "openness" serve except for the union thugs (who really are more than just bullies) to know who to go after because they voted the "wrong" way?

BTW, modern workplace bullying is NOT like 19th or early 20th century unsafe workplaces. It is a great disservice to those events to minimize them by comparing them to a boss who is a jackass. I do believe that with a better economy workers will have more options and that companies will have to respond by giving workers better offers or lose workers to other companies. While this "free market" doesn't always work well; it works better than the government trying to run every aspect of our lives by passing laws to dictate one's every move. Sorry, I'm not a fan of the "nanny state." Why am I not a fan? Because the nanny state often becomes a bully itself. That's a different topic though . . .

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Another Evil HR Director March 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Without being too repetitive, the article did state she wholeheartedly agreed that bullying is wrong and should be dealt with appropriately, but that legislation is not the answer. I think one has to remember that an employer is NOT your parent, nor should it be! It is not appropriate, desirable or workable to have a law for anything and everything that someone, or many someones, think is wrong. The employment relationship is a business arrangement (that, granted, has grown into a give and take, with benefits, etc.). However, it is, at its base, an exchange of a service for pay. I really believe people have to get away from the idea that an employer, or the government, is a parent and must take care of you in all respects all the time.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

The point was not that the unsafe working conditions, etc., are equivalent to the issue of workplace bullying now.

The point was that, if it were not for legal sanctions and the efforts of organized labor, businesses would not have lifted one finger to change those unsafe conditions. They don't care about their workers; they care about the bottom line, pure and simple.

So, nothing will be done about workplace bullying until or unless it's forced on them. If that's a nanny state, the business community has only itself to blame.

Frankly, I think the current business climate favors bullies… take a look at who gets ahead if you disagree.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

They don't care about their workers; they care about the bottom line, pure and simple.

What else is there to care about? Trying to accommodate a bunch of spineless whiners is a fool's errand. As EHRL says, if people don't like their working conditions, they should get a different job. If they can't get a different job, then perhaps their time would be better spent reflecting on why their intrinsic value is so low, rather than whining about harassment. Anyone spending time whining is obviously not being productive, and as EHRL constantly and reasonably says, such people should be disposed of swiftly.

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Mike C. March 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Suzanne -

I agreed that the latter two parts were vague, but you didn't address health. This is something that can be evaluated by an independent third party and is done so in other workplace situations, namely those dealing with workers compensation. This is the only context I am discussing bullying in – the context of actual, demonstrable damage to one's health.

Admittedly the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire reference was a bit much, but the comparison was made with regards to the health and safety of employees. People in this thread need to take mental health issues as seriously as physical health issues. Workplace bullying is not an issue of hearing something you don't like from a boss, it's about actual damage to one's own health that is entirely preventable.

Finally, it doesn't matter if it hasn't been passed in the United States. There are plenty of nations that already have such policies (or incorporated such situations into their current laws) such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. Aren't they considered to be competitive nations filled with big, profitable and productive companies? Don't their examples counter your idea that such laws would simply be a hindrance?

Look, I see your point about more jobs leading to more freedom to leave a bad situation. The difference is that I feel you're being too long term without dealing with the situations going on now, and you mostly feel I'm being too short sighted and should have more faith that things will work out in the end. Is this a fair?

@Charles – Union thugs, really? Did you forget that the employee members of a union are the union and decide how the union acts? I'll have to ask my dad and brothers about what it takes to be a "union thug" and if they have training classes or something for it. Maybe it's a new skill I can add to my resume!

@Anon – No one should ever have to make a business case for being treated like a human being. What many in the business world forget is that there are indeed more important things than money.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Suzanne,

THANK YOU! What a great article and you hit the nail on the head (for me anyway) about this ridiculous issue and by association, the complete wussification of this country.

I am afraid though that you are doomed now. CBS will surely say something about “your cold hearted mischaracterization of this sensitive issue”. What a joke.

Bullying has been getting more and more attention and it’s insane. People do not have a right not to be offended! The weepy, touchy feely wimps who are trying to beat you up both here and at BNET will win out thought because society is going to eventually jump on this like every other misguided notion of fairness. If you don’t like the place you are working, find another or suck it up and grow a pair.

Funny how there is more actual bullying going on here than probably in any workplace in our country and it’s directed by HR professionals to you.

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Dan March 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I have nothing of substance to add; my points have all been made. I just wanted to add my voice of support to EHRL for the spot-on assessment of bullying in the work place. I enjoy your thought-provoking articles.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm

No one should ever have to make a business case for being treated like a human being

Come again? If someone's not bringing value to the business, what worth are they? Fix or fire: get rid of the whiners, and the business is better off.

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Mike C. March 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm

@Anon 5:47

I really don't understand your ethics. If you don't like the way an employee is working, you work to change it or lay them off. It doesn't give an employer the right to abuse or harass the employee. We have labor laws and best practices because people have intrinsic value and with that value comes a minimum amount of proper treatment they deserve to receive. This is why we have laws against slavery after all.

Your policy of "get rid of the whiners" is what leads to whistleblowers keeping their mouths shut and others getting hurt. It leads to people losing their jobs for pointing out serious safety issues. You need to recognize that there is a difference between "whining" and "reporting actual problems". The fact you can't see this difference and take a hard line regardless of circumstances worries me greatly.

@Anon 4:17

So you think that mental illness such as depression is simply a case of "wussification"? People just need to "grow a pair"? Are we in middle school again?

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm

If you don't like the way an employee is working, you work to change it or lay them off.

That's exactly what I've been saying. Tell the little people who call things harassment to grow a spine, or live in a bubble elsewhere.

This is why we have laws against slavery after all. What's that got to do with the discussion? No one is suggesting slavery – merely that if people can't cope with working, they should find other opportunities more in line with their limited abilities.

Your policy of "get rid of the whiners" is what leads to whistleblowers keeping their mouths shut and others getting hurtAre the productive ones the ones who are getting hurt?

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Just wanted to say that EHRL's response to the concept of workplace bullying legislation is spot on.

One man's bully is another woman's effective leader; you can't make laws that tailor consequences to how something makes someone feel, as there is no way to prove a causal relationship. While I agree that a lousy boss can make you ill, I don't agree that it's the government's job to legislate decent behavior.

The next thing you'll know, we'll see laws introduced prohibiting anything that makes anyone feel bad and then everyone who insulted EHRL while disagreeing with her will be hauled off in handcuffs. She's been very respectful of your viewpoints while disagreeing with them; common courtesy demands no less from you.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

@Mike C. Yes, I believe we are in middle school again if you can’t stand up for yourself at work and need big Mamma Government or the Bully police to come to your rescue anytime someone is confrontational or contradictory to you. Is your answer to everything to tell the teacher? Can anyone give me a simple real world example of how someone got bullied in the traditional sense of the word? Who has been beaten up at work? Who here has ever been given a wedgie at work? Has someone hidden your gym outfit in the girl’s locker room? What normal self respecting adult in this conversation is getting their lunch money stolen? Maybe this happened to you Mike.

How in the world do you make the leap from Bullying to mental illness? Are we talking about bullies picking on people with Mental Illness here? Or are bullies giving people depression? Now someone else is comparing bullying to slavery?? Where is the common sense anymore?

People like Mike seem to be extremely passionate about this so I can only assume that either you are now living without the benefit of milk for your government lunch program or you are an attorney who wants desperately to make a fortune off of the myriad lawsuits coming to your town over this issue. This is a simple blog post, but you have responded at least 4 times! That also speaks volumes about you. This is a trivial issue, it is not worthy of this much heated debate and I have to further assume that since you have so much time to waste commenting on blogs that you are also out of work or will be shortly when your boss figures out how non-productive you have been today.

If this issue causes so much consternation and angst then I do assert the people whining about this are in fact wusses and need to go back home or hide under some form of social dependency program because they are obviously too fragile to act as a responsible ADULT in society.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm

If this issue causes so much consternation and angst then I do assert the people whining about this are in fact wusses and need to go back home or hide under some form of social dependency program because they are obviously too fragile to act as a responsible ADULT in society.

Exactly. As EHRL argues, this and all of the other 'harassment' legislation gets in the way of people acting like reasonable adults. If employees don't like something in their work place, they have two simple choices (as expressed by EHRL herself): put up with it, or leave. Suing is for cowards and losers.

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Mike C. March 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

If you want a real life example of workplace bullying at work, look no further than the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127096084&ps=rs)

Quote:

Peters testified that her son-in-law was essentially trapped in his job, despite the safety concerns. Jones' son has cystic fibrosis and other medical problems that require constant care and good medical insurance, she said.

"He continued to work in that mine even though he knew it was unsafe," Peters said. "And he was afraid of being fired [and] losing his health insurance coverage."

The Friday before the blast, Jones told Peters and other members of his family that he had complained to his supervisors about inadequate airflow where he and his men worked. Shifting the ventilation in a mine often requires evacuating miners and shutting down production.

"You load coal," Peters said Jones was told. "[The supervisor] told him he would fire him" if Jones closed down that section. "He said, 'You pack your bags and leave.' "

"No one felt they could go to management and express their fears or the lack of air on their sections," recalled Stewart, who was heading into the mine when the explosion occurred. "We knew that we'd be marked men, and that management would look for ways to fire us."

Ah, so we have a situation which has now resulted in federal indictments where employees were bullied into ignoring safety regulations which ultimately resulted in the deaths of themselves and their coworkers.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Ah, so we have a situation which has now resulted in federal indictments where employees were bullied into ignoring safety regulations which ultimately resulted in the deaths of themselves and their coworkers.

And how difficult was it to replace them? EHRLs entire point is that government willingness to intervene does not establish any sane case.

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Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Regarding the mine incident: shouldn't the concerned employees call OSHA and notify them? They'd have been all over it at least as quickly as a governmental anti-bullying task force.

(Oh, and if I found a potentially lethal situation at my workplace and management told me to ignore it, I'd choose my life over my livelihood every single day. And I say that as the person who is the sole breadwinner in my family. To do otherwise is insane.)

EHRL is still correct: just about every behavior that constitutes bullying is already, and more clearly, covered by another statute. This kind of legislation would not help anything.

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Anonymous March 25, 2011 at 1:35 am

I have wondered why Britain made laws about bullying and workplace stress. Is it because they have nationalized health care and can't get rid of the responsibility to deal with the resulting health issues, whether the worker can prove a workplace cause or not? How do they deal with the issues you raised, EHRL, with respect to employees accusing innocent but results-oriented managers of bullying?

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Mike C. March 25, 2011 at 3:22 am

Well considering that OSHA offers no real protection to whistleblowers, why would you call them? That assumes that they actually show up and given funding cuts and what not, they might actually not be there until something dire happens. This assumes that things aren't covered up in the meantime, one of the reasons there was an indictment in the first place.

(Source: http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/Report-Slams-Labor-Dept-Program-to-Protect-Whistleblowers)

Furthermore, the poster who decided that they would simply quit, you forgot the part where he needed health insurance for his kid with cystic fibrosis. So what do you choose? Take a risky job so your kid remains healthy or take that chance that you can find another job with enough benefits to cover the expenses?

I just have to ask folks – how big of a pair did each of these 29 need to grow to take care of their safety problems?

I can't believe I forgot this – it's a much better example and one that's been featured here before:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/419/petty-tyrant

"In Schenectady, NY, a school maintenance man named Steve Raucci works his way up the ranks for 30 years, until finally he's in charge of the maintenance department. That's when he starts messing with his employees. Teasing them at meetings. Punishing them with crummy work assignments. Or worse things, like secretly slashing their tires in the middle of the night."

This encapsulates my entire argument. It shows how what starts as teasing becomes vandalism, stalking and worse. It shows what it means to "have a career ruined", and it shows the health effects that others suffer at the hands of this man.

Look, just try to tell me that the employees working under this guy simply needed to "grow a pair" or were just "unproductive".

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Suzanne Lucas March 25, 2011 at 6:02 am

Mike,

The story you reference is horrible. Anti bullying laws would not have changed the story.

The company was behaving in an illegal manner. It's not like people who are willing to jeopardize the physical safety of their employees will suddenly become angels when anti bullying legislation passes. If they are not scared of employee death and OSHA, they won't be scared of another government agency.

Bullies (as you've so nicely demonstrated) frequently break other established laws. We don't need new ones.

Another classic bully case, which I wrote about previously, http://evilhrlady.blogspot.com/2010/11/petty-tyrant.html
was about a maintenance man who reigned with terror over a school district. He was fire bombing people's houses, for goodness sakes. Anti bullying legislation would not have stopped him either, nor would it have given his victims a solution. If you're not willing to go to the police, why would you be willing to go to another government agency? And the police can arrest. The gov't agency will be able to investigate and take to court.

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Anonymous March 25, 2011 at 6:33 am

Suzanne,
I'm usually a great supporter, but in this case I think your logic is flawed. I'm hearing the same arguments against bullying legislation as I did about sexual harassment legislation 30 years ago. But when it passed they didn't quit hiring people, and there were some landmark cases along the way, and now companies actually take sex based harassment seriously. And it is MUCH better for women than it used to be!

You assume a free market, but that is rarely the case with bullying. I know that the one time I was bullied I couldn't leave my job. I was the only provider for my entire family during a major medical crisis. When I tried to transfer out of the department, the bully blocked it. Then I was falsely accused (multiple times), then I received bad ratings. All of a sudden 25 years of high performance ratings was wiped out and I was deemed "unemployable" and "untransferrable". If it wasn't for a former Manager and a VP friend who finally pulled me out I would have been fired – with HRs blessing. Now that I'm out I'm again a high rated employee. Two years after the fact the corporate HR group investigated and they fired people (and I got a promotion). But I will never trust my company EVER again, because of HRs support of what was going on.

Suzanne, this isn't mere nastiness. It is being forced to work from 8 am until 2 am for fear of losing your job. It is being constantly accused and threatened on a daily basis – for years – until you no longer trust yourself to make decisions. It is being publicly humiliated in front of your team day after day after day. And you become physically exhausted, and after that you start to lose your psychological resiliancy. Bullies use the same techniques as brain washing. And they always make sure their victims can't walk away.

If there were legislation then HR might not ignore it. Just like HR used to ignore sex based harassement – until the laws had teeth.

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Another Evil HR Director March 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Whether in this particular thread, or many others I read, people often blame HR for ignoring this or that, or for "making" this policy or that policy. Are you aware that HR does not always make policy? Or at least make it in a vacuum? Are you aware that HR is often not where the final decision regarding hiring and firing lays? I only wish I had the power many of you assume HR has. And rememer, we're employees, too; we're subject to the same policies and procedures as everyone else.

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Mike C. March 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Suzanne -

I feel the reason they didn't go to the police is because of the lack of laws against it and the attitudes of many of the posters here. "Oh, did you get teased you sissy? Grow a pair!" is an attitude I keep seeing again and again.

Look, you're right that what happened was covered under other laws – harassment, stalking, firebombing are all illegal. All of his actions, with the exception of sabotaging the energy efficiency expert's career.

The problem is that few people either believe that it's a problem or are afraid of others who will belittle them if they go to the police. We have posters in this very thread who would simply fire anyone who complained for "being a whiner". I don't think you or any other reasonable person would call any of those employees "whiners". It's clear that many people simply don't take this issue seriously despite the fact that you've pointed out several times that the actions are harmful and illegal.

If not new laws, then at least new clarifications under old laws which explain that these sorts of actions are illegal and are actionable and shouldn't be tolerated in the workplace. After all, if the laws themselves were working, it wouldn't be a problem.

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Evil Babysitter March 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

At what point do we recognize that Suzanne acknowledged that laws do help in the right circumstances? She also mentions that under many of the circumstances there are laws in place to deal with the issues. There does come a point when you have to remember the nursery rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

There are laws that cover assault, there are laws that cover harassment (which by the way is different than just plain bad manners), there are laws that cover safe work environments, etc.

I personally work for a company where the negative verbal barrages start at the top. In most morning meetings you will find the owner of the company calling someone a name. As our Attorney continues to remind us, that is immature and poor manners, but not against the law. The behavior does unfortunately roll downhill, and Managers then find themselves saying those things about their employees, and employees say them about each other. As the HR manager (or Daycare worker) I wish I could stop it. I point out in Harassment trainings that it is unprofessional, promotional of negative feelings, etc, however; it is not illegal.

Perhaps what needs to be regulated (not legislated) is the Company culture that we as HR professionals try to create in our work environments. Promote communication skills, and educate Management on how to recognize areas that need to be improved.

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John November 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Would Suzanne take that kind of stick from the CEO, grabbing her in the HR office.

Would she hell ?

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