May 2nd, 2010
Banishing Bullies by PAUL GIANNAMORE, Business editor, Steubenville (OH) Herald Star, May 2, 2010
Retired auto dealer joins Healthy Workplace Bill movement
STEUBENVILLE – It’s not as long a journey from automobile dealer to citizen advocate if one is committed to a cause. The switch in John Smurda’s life came as a result of reading a book and considering what he’s seen in his own family over the years. Smurda, a city resident, is now a volunteer citizen advocate for Ohio to pass a bill offering legal remedies to targets of workplace bullying.
Smurda said he read a book by Dr. Gary Namie, who, with his wife, Dr. Ruth Namie, has written “The Bully at Work.”
The Namies are professional educators – he with a doctorate in social psychology and she with a doctorate in clinical psychology. Ruth Namie experienced bullying in the workplace firsthand in the mid-1990s. She and her husband founded the Workplace Bullying Institute in the late 1990s as the Work Doctor website, now found as www.workplacebullying.org.
They have led efforts across the nation to have states enact anti-bullying measures to protect people who aren’t covered by the usual sexual harassment or anti-harassment policies and laws.
Smurda said he’s seen the effects of workplace bullying twice within his own family. He said he was fortunate never to have had to deal with the issue when he was one of the principals of the former J & J auto dealership in Toronto, which closed in late 2008.
“We had 25 employees,” he said. “They were a big family. It was the greatest group you could ever hope for. We all cared for other people. And that’s why this knocks me out.”
Smurda said he got in touch with the Namies and was asked to become an advocate for an anti-bullying Healthy Workplace bill in Ohio. So far, according to the healthyworkplacebill.org website, 17 states have introduced such bills since 2003. Smurda said hopes are that Ohio will be the 18th. No state has passed such a bill.
“Current laws do not apply when a person fails to fall into one of the protected classes,” he said.
Federal anti-discrimination and harassment policies focus on preventing harassment that is based on race, sex, religion or national origin, but offers no legal remedies when harassment is not based on those characteristics.
It’s also not about physical violence, which is prohibited by laws. Smurda said that’s where a healthy workplace bill helps.
“It’s the same in every situation. The bullies take aim at their targets. The bullies believe the world revolves around them and have a way of manipulating others into helping them,” he said. Smurda said the treatment involves blame for errors, criticism of ability and insults. It can be evidenced in slamming doors or exclusionary treatment in the workplace.
Businesses have policies against such treatment, but Smurda said targets often don’t want to report they’re being bullied because of fear of reprisal or job loss. Co-workers don’t get involved, he said, because they fear being shunned or becoming targets themselves. A Healthy Workplace bill isn’t about outlawing people who are merely jerks with bad behavior. For claims to be brought, the target has to prove actual health or psychological impact resulting from the maltreatment from a boss or co-worker.
The Healthy Workplace movement includes protections for employers. Smurda said he wouldn’t be involved in placing greater burdens on business as a businessman himself. “It protects the employer and punishes the bully,” he said.
Targets in every case that would find legal remedies under the law have become ill as a result of the bullying, experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. Targets leave their jobs or some commit suicide.
The Workplace Bullying Institute commissioned the Zogby polling organization, through a gift by the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention to survey Americans on workplace bullying.
The findings of the online survey of 7,740 adults, released in 2007, find 37 percent of workers say they have been bullied. Most bullies are bosses and about 60 percent of the bullies are men with 57 percent of the targets being women. The survey also found 71 percent of the female bullies target other women and 54 percent of male bullies target men.
Bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal discriminatory harassment, the survey found.
The survey found that, when employers are made aware of bullying that does not fall into the illegal discrimination category, some 62 percent did nothing. Some 18 percent of the respondents said the employer actually made the situation worse for the target.
Respondents said verbal abuse and threatening, intimidation, humiliation and hostility were most often the tactics, with abuse of authority and interference with work also prevalent.
The Workplace Bullying Institute did a non-scientific update with 422 respondents in 2009 in response to claims in the business press that employers were weeding out bullies as part of cuts made to respond to the recession. That survey found 31.3 percent of the bullying targets who responded lost their jobs by layoff, termination or quitting, while another 12.3 percent were off because of psychological injuries. In most cases, the employer had done nothing after learning of the bullying.
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