October 18th, 2012

BNA: Labor Leaders Press States to Adopt Legislation to Curb Workplace Bullying

by Stephen Lee, Daily Labor Report, Bloomberg BNA, Oct. 15, 2012

Union officials, civil rights groups, and formerly abused workers urged states to adopt anti- bullying legislation at an Oct. 15 press conference convened by the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Anti-bullying bills have been introduced in 21 states, including California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.

The bills generally seek to outlaw bullying (defined to include repeated derogatory remarks, threats, intimidation, and humiliation) by allowing courts to provide reinstatement, removal of the bully from the work environment, back pay, front pay, medical expenses, compensation for emotional duress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

But all 21 state measures are expected to die in committee when the various legislatures end their current sessions, largely because of opposition from the business community, Daniel Christensen, a WBI spokesman, told BNA Oct. 15.

“It’s an epidemic, but it’s a silent epidemic, because the corporate world wants to consider it an undiscussable,” WBI Director Gary Namie said at the press conference. “They say, ‘Well, there are already laws to address that.’ . . . Without a doubt, we need more [laws].”

Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said anti- bullying bills may not be needed because their provisions overlap with federal statutes such as the Civil Rights Act and Americans With Disabilities Act.

In addition, he said, businesses are concerned that these bills could open the door to frivolous lawsuits.

Employers with good cases might nevertheless feel pressured to settle bullying claims, in order to avoid damage to their reputation or because they sense they will have difficulty defending themselves against sympathetic employees, Freedman said.

Advocate Calls on Unions

Namie urged the unions to push hard for legislation in the states.

“Labor has always been our supporter in the legislative campaigns in the states, but labor needs to be effective at the local level everywhere in the U.S.,” he said. “Hopefully the message from union leadership today will spur the local presidents to care about it.”

“Unions are the only employee advocate out there,” Namie said, adding that human resources “cannot claim the title.”

Bullying in the workplace can harm workers’ cardiovascular health and expose them to immunological dis- eases and hypertension, as well as psychological ailments such as debilitating anxiety, clinical depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, “which makes the workplace a war zone,” Namie said.

WBI has found that 35 percent of adult Americans experience workplace bullying.

Representatives from the Service Employees International Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Association of Government Employees, and American Federation of Government Employees also spoke at the event, calling not only for unions to address bullying when they negotiate contracts with employers but also for more public education about the dangers of bullying.

SEIU Seeks Agreements in Contracts

SEIU now is seeking, with every employer it negotiates with, an anti-bullying agreement that includes commitments from both management and employees to take part in ending bullying, a comprehensive system to evaluate worksite risks, and clear options to report threatening or abusive behavior, according to Mary Kay Henry, SEIU’s international president.

Namie said Greg Sorozan, president of the SEIU affiliate National Association of Government Employees Local 282 in Massachusetts, has worked to get the first step toward such language—mutual respect provisions—in labor contracts.

“Too often, SEIU members are told that workplace bullying is just a part of the job,” Henry said. “No working person went into their profession . . . with the mindset that bullying or violence was just part of what they did on the job.”

Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy at the NAACP, said studies have shown workplace bullying is often based on race or ethnicity. New technology, such as cell phones and social media, have given bullies new avenues to torment their victims, Shelton said.

Massachusetts, New York Take the Lead

Massachusetts and New York are considered the best candidates for a bill, Christensen said, as both legislatures having shown support.

Namie stressed during the press conference that not all workplace bullying flows from the employer to an employee. In many cases, employees bully one another, and some employees have even been known to bully their supervisors, according to Namie.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2012 at 1:09 pm and is filed under Freedom Week, Tutorials About Bullying, Unions, WBI Education, WBI in the News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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