November 29th, 2013
Tulsa World: Bullying at work should not be ignored
By Linda K. Greaves, Tulsa World Business Viewpoint, November 28, 2013
In a time when senseless and random acts of physical violence are occurring in our schools, the workplace, our shopping malls, airports and other public places, a more insidious and pervasive intentional violence is coming to the forefront — bullying.
In recent days, the NFL has been in the spotlight because of workplace bullying. Richie Incognito, a nine-year veteran of the Miami Dolphins was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team” in a flurry of accusations that he bullied teammate Jonathan Martin, using racial slurs and making threats of violence against him. Martin left the team, seeking medical relief from the alleged bullying.
Bullying is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as repeated and unwanted actions by an individual or group intending to intimidate, harass, degrade or offend. It is also an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying is psychological violence.
Legal remedies for bullying in the workplace are limited. If bullying is predicated on a protected class such as Race/Color, Religion, Sex (Gender, Pregnancy, and Sexual) National Origin/Ethnicity, Equal Pay/Compensation, Genetic information, Disability and/or Age, as defined by Title VII and the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act, the victim may have a cause of action against the bully or against the employer who knowingly allows or perpetuates bullying. Other torts such as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress may be available to the victim, as well.
Twenty-five states, including Oklahoma, have attempted to pass some version of the model Healthy Workplace Bill since 2003, but to date, none have passed. This year, 11 states are actively considering enacting the bill, with 16 bills pending in 2013. Depending on each state’s proposed version, it generally gives a cause of action to an individual whose health is harmed by “health-harming cruelty” at work against the individual bully and/or the employer.
Bullying in the workplace not only has the potential for affecting a business through litigation, but it most certainly affects the productivity and bottom lines of companies on a daily basis. Employees who are bullied report stress, lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, digestive upsets, high blood pressure, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result of these physical and psychological symptoms, absenteeism goes up; some employees cut back on work; some consider quitting; some take it out on innocent bystanders; others will steal from the job, sabotage work, damage equipment, damage the personal property of the bully or even contemplate or carry out a violent act.
Employers should be proactive. There are preventive measures that an employer can take. The employer should (1) immediately adopt and enforce a zero tolerance policy, (2) address the bullying behavior ASAP, (3) hold an awareness campaign, (4) stop and seek help if you are the bully, (5) model effective professional behavior, and (6) use facilitation, mediation or design a group for intervention/team building.
Linda K. Greaves serves as of counsel for the Tulsa office of Crowe & Dunlevy in the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group.
Follow the full NFL story in the Category list in the sidebar: NFL: Jonathan Martin
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