Laws lacking in workplace bullying

Sexual discrimination in the workplace is against the law; bullying is not — for now.
TNS Regional News
Jan 20, 2014

 

Workplaces have bullies just like schoolyards, but bullied workers generally have fewer legal protections than school children. State and federal laws do not prohibit bullying in the workplace, as long as it does not constitute discrimination or certain types of harassment.

But calls for legislation outlawing the activity have grown louder since last fall when the topic grabbed national headlines after an NFL lineman accused a teammate of hazing and bullying.

Advocates said more than one-third of U.S. workers experience bullying, and the public is finally beginning to understand its prevalence and harm.

“It’s very serious because it destroys people’s health, jobs and careers,” said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, an educational and research nonprofit in Bellingham, Wash. “It’s a major, major problem, but it’s not illegal, so employers don’t have to deal with it.”

But laws prohibiting workplace bullying would hurt businesses by making managers vulnerable to employment litigation whenever they had to discipline or fire a worker, according to some legal and human resources experts. They said employers — not lawmakers — should be charged with preventing and combating hostile work conditions.

“I think our court systems would be clogged with lawsuits (if workplace bullying laws were passed), and you’ll end up with a workplace where no employer will fire an employee out of fear of some bullying claim coming back,” said Jon Hyman, a partner in the labor and employment group at Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz, a corporate law practice in Cleveland. “The best defense against this kind of legislation (becoming law) is for employers to be proactive about the issue.”

Susan Camp, 49, of Newark, worked for a trucking company in Marysville between 1996 and December 2007, but was fired after being allegedly bullied and mistreated by the branch manager.

Camp said her male supervisor treated her in a degrading and humiliating manner every day, and he cussed at her, put his hands in her face and yelled at her to stop talking, and had strict rules about how she must act when speaking with him.

“He was condescending and he spoke to me as if I were a 3-year-old child or I had an IQ of a slow dog,” she said. “He would speak very slowly and very loud, and it was very disrespectful, not just as a woman, but as a human being.”

Camp said she suffered from stress and anxiety, and she was fired after taking a leave of absence to deal with her mental health issues.

She filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the firm that claimed her supervisor bullied her and treated her differently because she was a woman. The lawsuit was later resolved.

Bullying or discrimination

Sexual discrimination in the workplace is against the law.

Workers who are persistently intimidated, bullied and harassed at work because of their sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age or disability can pursue legal action under federal law, said Roxi Liming, Camp’s attorney and a partner with Adams, Liming & Hockenberry, a Columbus law firm.

But bullying at work is not illegal if it is not discriminatory, Liming said. If Camp’s boss had treated male employees the same way, there would have been no cause for legal action, she said.

“I often get phone calls from potential clients who are complaining about how they are being treated in the workplace,” she said. “Unfortunately, under the law as it is written, bosses are allowed to be total jerks. As long as they are being an equal opportunity jerk, they are allowed to get away with it. I don’t think that is fair.”

Ohio courts have dismissed cases of alleged bullying because the workers said they were being harassed because they were homosexual. Sexual orientation is not a protected class. A Summit County man sued his employer after coworkers allegedly posted notes taunting him, changed his computer’s screen saver to an insult, smashed his cell phone and engaged in other behaviors. The court dismissed the case because the harassment was not definitively based on his race.

Workplace bullying is repeated mistreatment by one or more people that causes health harm and takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation or work sabotage, said Namie, with the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Call for better management

In 2010, more than one-third of workers reported being mistreated at work within the previous six months, according to a study by the institute.

Most workplace bullies are managers and bosses, who justify their actions on the grounds that it will lead to better work outcomes, Namie said.

“The bosses can say, ‘I’m just motivating this person, or I’m just training this person, or I’ve got to make a perfectionist out of this person,’” he said. “But none of this is necessary to make work productive or high quality, and in fact, it undermines and demoralizes. … These petty tyrants are cowards.”

In March 2012, the Journal of Nursing Scholarship published a study about workplace bullying among novice nurses. Peggy Berry, a doctoral candidate at the College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati, was one of the authors of the study.

Berry, who is a Washington Twp. resident, said she surveyed about 200 nurses and found that more than one in five respondents had been bullied repeatedly over a six-month period.

The survey was conducted in 2010. But Berry said she surveyed dozens of those nurses again recently and found that about one-third reported being repeatedly bullied.

“When we see statistics like this, (it’s clear companies) are not managing their workforces effectively,” she said.

Berry said employers who do not create respectful work environments will face more turnover and other employment issues. This occurs because bullied nurses tend to make more errors, take sick leave more frequently, and often they resign or get fired because of stress and reduced work quality or productivity.

Workplace bullying has been around for as long as there have been workplaces, but advocates said awareness of the problem is spreading.

They said support for anti-bullying laws in states nationwide has grown after Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team in October, and allegations surfaced that he was bullied by teammate Richie Incognito.

Incognito allegedly cussed at Martin, called him racial slurs and threatened harm.

The NFL is investigating the incident, but many experts believe it is a classic case of workplace bullying and locker room hazing. No workplace bullying laws have been introduced in Ohio.

Losing good employees

The Incognito incident led to intense media coverage and a national discussion about bullying, but new laws are not needed because most employers already have workplace rules that forbid harassment, intimidation and hostility, said Bob Bethel, state council director for the Ohio Society of Human Resource Management State Council.

“Anti-harassment policies have been in place for many years, while workplace violence policies have been added in more recent years, mostly as a result of violent outbursts in companies,” said Bethel, who also works with the Employers’ Association. “Employers also realize that bullying results in good employees leaving, just like Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins.”

Last year, an employee of the Greene County Board of Elections accused the agency’s director of bullying and harassment. A month-long probe by Greene County Personnel Department and the elections board resulted in the director being required to attend a training seminar on supervising employees as part of a disciplinary measure, according to documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Good managers will make sure workers are abiding by policies that prohibit them from making threatening remarks and using aggressive or hostile behaviors that cause emotional distress, Bethel said.

Many companies hold annual training for employees and supervisors so they understand that bullying will not be tolerated and know how to properly report incidents.

Businesses need to stamp out abusive and bullying behaviors, otherwise more stories like the Incognito incident will surface, which will increase the likelihood that lawmakers will take action and create bad laws, said Hyman, the Cleveland attorney.

“Ultimately, this would lead to state legislators stepping in to craft a legislative solution to something that businesses really should be able to take care of themselves,” he said. “If someone is going to be a jerk, I don’t know how you legislate that away.”

Legislation outlawing bullying would have a chilling effect on the ability of managers to effectively manage their employees, he said. Workers who are fired or disciplined often believe they are being treated unfairly and they would be likely to sue their employers for mistreatment and bullying, he said.

Employers can take steps to combat bullying by creating policies that forbid it. But a lack of oversight means managers can choose to ignore or selectively enforce the rules when violations occur, said Jason P. Matthews, a Dayton attorney who specializes in labor and employment law.

“The problem becomes, when a violation happens, whether it’s enforced and how it’s enforced,” he said.

———

By Cornelius Frolik - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

Visit the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) at www.daytondailynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

truckin

1 out of 3 workers?? come on, not buying it.
What's next?
My eyes hurt because so many ugly co workers..why am i forced to look and work beside ugly people or vice-versus. My boss is punishing me.
What then??

truckin

I just really see this as another tool in the handbook for LAZY people!

billybob80

And how might they feel workin' next to you? (I don't know you, maybe you have model potential?) And are you not a trucker? How hard do you work? Do you have to unload? Looking at your previous rants, you probably are a bully on the roadto? You sure like to blame lazy people all the time. Are you jealous of them because they get assistance?

methodman

truckin is a true specimen of a man. I sexually assult him in my mind everytime I see him. If worshipping hims wrong, I don't wanna be right. Real hot when his thong pokes out the top of his pants.

truckin

You are one sick pup. did you really THINK before commenting?.
"sexually assault me in your mind" ??? you think of sexually assualting other men???
and learn to spell??
WOW where do some of you reside from.. ?? and yes i do not like bums..

methodman

Lol. Just you baby. So sexy. Vice versa maybe?

truckin

I did say "or vice versus" ..
i swear some of you only read part or understand half of a post than form your own opinion of the rest and eagerly comment..
and no i don't mind if someone who needs a helping hand or a nudge along.. But with it comes some personally responsibility...which has long been a thing of the past in many minds.

J Cooper

Great comment truckin!

doNOTlistenHEAR

I can soo relate to this artical . There is a ginger at my place of employment and every morning a small group of us get together and poke sticks at it and throw loose change at it. Before reading this artical i thought i was just geting my jollys but now i see the whole situation from another angle.

doNOTlistenHEAR

Pssst nice thong . Carpet match the curtains?

Kottage Kat

Truckin was that you walking on S.Main?
I was the blue van. Saw you come off your so I thought it might be.

Kottage Kat

Sunday morning. Hope you got your car fixed.
Kat

JACKEL

How many more friggin laws can these nuts dream up.? This is all about those corrupt politicians having job security ! We had a man quit and get unemployment because some one called him Buckwheat and one because the man next to him wore a aftershave that made him sick .

propman

Today kids can not fight back at school or they get punished as much as the bully.
This is just continuing the elimination of personal resonsibilty.
Let the kids fight back before their feel there is no other way then using a weapon and really getting in trouble. Then they'll learn how to deal with bullies properly.

citizen4change

So what are you suppose to do when your being bullied by your supposed front line supervisor???? 2nd shift supervisor at the railroad in Willard Westbound needs to take a look a his leadership style and think to himself, is me treating the people who work for my like crap worth my career??????????? He's gonna curse at the wrong person one of these days and that person is gonna ended up owning a good percentage of that company. You would think he'd want to make his subordantes happy since they are the ones who make him look good. NOPE not in this case. I don't even work for the railroad and heard this from someone who does and it UPSETS ME. I could only imagine how the people feel who he's doing this too.