December 16, 2013
By Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt, State Coordinators, nyhwa.org
The image of a target of workplace bullying is not usually a 300+ pound lineman for the Miami Dolphins but is instead your average tradesman, nurse, service worker, or other professional. Yet this shows how prevalent the problem of workplace bullying is. Jonathan Martin a NFL lineman was fortunate in some ways that he could afford to walk away from his job; ninety-nine percent of us cannot.
Workplace Bullying is defined as: repeated, health-harming mistreatment in the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and work sabotage that undermines business and services.
Targets of workplace bullying are not whiners but employees who are bullied because they bring positive attributes to their employer and work environment. They are employees who are productive, talented, educated and team players. Workplace Bullies are threatened by these traits so they make the workplace environment abusive and toxic in hope that the person they are targeting will leave. When this doesn't happen, the stakes rise and more egregious and aggressive tactics are used to impair the employee’s effectiveness that typically assure the employee will develop health issues as a result.
Workplace Bullying is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment and employees have no recourse in state or federal law but to quit their jobs. In today’s weak employment market, quitting one’s job is not a viable solution for most people.
Employees will stay as long as they can in an abusive work environment incurring mental and physical health ailments in order to provide for themselves and their families. Targets of workplace bullying may even take their own lives or strike out in acts of workplace violence. Some of the health issues resulting from workplace bullying include: depression, anxiety, strokes, heart attacks and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Employers also incur costs from workplace bullying. Studies continually show that workplace bullying reduces productivity, incurs higher sick leave and health insurance costs, turnover and talent flight. Sadly, most employers do not fully comprehend these costs, and even if they wanted to reprimand, transfer or fire a bully for these specific actions, they can possibly face a wrongful termination suit.
Employees often seek out the services of Human Resources believing that this department will help, only to find that in most cases HR does nothing or makes the situation worse. A recent survey found that thirty-one percent of Human Resources personnel are also bullied in the workplace. If HR professionals can't help themselves, it is an indicator and indictment that nothing can be done about workplace bullying under current law.
In New York State we have a proposed remedy to address workplace bullies and employers who harbor a culture such as we are seeing in the NFL that allows them to flourish. This remedy is called the Healthy Workplace Bill (S3863/A4965). This bill addresses abusive work environments that result from “status-blind” harassment. The legislation has 82 Assemblymembers and 19 Senators and numerous unions and professional organizations supporting it. The time to pass this bill has arrived.