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October 19, 2015 by Peter Schmidt 

Report Details High Cost of Bullying in an Academic Department

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has spent about $78,000 on outside advisers to deal with accusations of bullying in its chemical-engineering department, yet some faculty members there see the conflict as far from resolved, according to The Boston Globe.

The newspaper describes the department’s strife as having begun several years ago and as continuing despite the university’s expenditure of a separate $98,000 last year on bullying-prevention training for all of its employees. That training was part of an exceptionally ambitious and comprehensive anti-bullying campaign mounted by the university’s administration and employee unions.

As described in detail by The Chronicle, the campaign assumed workplace bullies could be taught not to treat others badly — an idea debated by behavioral experts — but also provided for the disciplining of employees found to have bullied others.

Three professors who have been disciplined by the Amherst administration in connection with the chemical-engineering department’s strife are regarded by some there not as bullies but as people who sought to expose the bullying problem, according to the Globe.

Of the $78,000 the Amherst campus spent to try to resolve the department’s problems, it paid $17,000 to an investigator whose impartiality was questioned and who ended up destroying his notes without ever issuing a report on his findings, the newspaper says. Some $61,000, it says, went to an outside mediator who spent 32 days trying to resolve the department’s strife, which involved accusations of “screaming at faculty meetings, a rigged department election, vindictive annual reviews, and an attempt to block a tenure bid.


By Nick Otto  O 

Workplace bullying costly, often unnoticed

Biff, the bully from the Back to the Future movies, is in every way an iconic symbol of the big, bad bully some teens dealt with in school. For employers, the workplace bully can just as easily be receptionist Sally, and she may very well be costing the company thousands of dollars.

Workplace bullying happens frequently but many HR managers may be in the dark. About one-in-three (35%) of employees admitted they've had an office bully and more than one-quarter of HR managers say they think workplace bullying happens at least somewhat often at their company, according to recent research from the staffing firm OfficeTeam.

“Bullying can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars each year due to absenteeism, presenteeism and lost productivity, stress-related issues, and more,” says Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist and vice president of EAP and work/life services at Health Advocate. “When employees are distracted or upset due to bullying, they are not able to perform at their best, so bullying causes companies to lose potential income while negatively impacting employee morale.”

In addition to lost productivity, low employee morale and a toxic company culture, office bullying can lead to higher turnover – increasing money spent on recruiting and training new talent. “And if the bully remains employed with the company while a high-performer departs, there is a high likelihood that the cycle will continue repeating,” says Alicea.

According to similar research released earlier this year from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 37 million U.S. workers reported being subjected to “abusive conduct.”

Some employers implement separate training for both supervisors and employees. “By making sure that managers can quickly identify potential issues and take steps to respond and intervene early on, it’s possible to protect employees and stop the behavior,” says Alicea.

Having a solid procedure in place, and adequate upfront training, is imperative to make sure bullying problems are nipped in the bud.

Training for all employees is “essential,” Alicea notes. And during training, encourage employees to report incidents as soon as possible so situations can be handled within an appropriate time frame, he adds.

A written complaint form is also essential to document the incident and protect all involved, he says, while advising employers to have, if possible, several neutral people employees can report to. At a minimum, this form should include:

  • A place to note the names of those involved.
  • The place and time of the incident.
  • An explanation of what happened.

Also, he adds, be sure to have an option for anonymous reporting. While harder to investigate and verify, bystander intervention is “critical” he says, as 40% of victims do not report bullying.

Who is the bully?

According to the WBI study, conducted every three to four years, the vast majority of bullies are men (69%). Male perpetrators seem to prefer targeting women (57%) more than other men (43%).

Female bullies were less “equitable” when choosing their targets for bullying, the study notes. Women bullied other women in 68% of cases.

“For employees, bullying frequently takes place via social media, email and other online communications,” says Alicea. “Because of this, employers are introducing specific training to combat cyber-bullying and raise awareness of appropriate online etiquette.”

Another benefit of providing anti-bullying training is it can also offer some legal protection for organizations if an employee files a lawsuit due bullying, he says.

“Training also ensures that all supervisors and employees fully understand the reporting procedures involved should an incident of bullying take place,” he adds. “This will help employers’ HR departments investigate and resolve issues more efficiently.”



Daniel Weintraub: Where you work can be bad for your health

OCTOBER 12, 2015 


News: National Bullying Prevention Month: Workplace Bullying 

Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow

Story by Cynthia  McIntyre

“Workplace violence: Any act of violent behavior, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, bullying, verbal or non-verbal threat, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at or outside the work site.” – DoDI 1438.06, Jan. 16, 2014

BARSTOW, Calif. - Bullies have been a fact of life for many, and it doesn’t help that many bullies are considered popular or likeable, even by supervisors who look the other way and blame the abusive behavior on “personality differences.”

The Workplace Bullying Institute ( states that bullying “is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; sabotage which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.”

While 61 percent of the targets of bullying lost their jobs, only 15 percent of the bullies did. A WBI survey also found that three-quarters of employers “deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend” bullying.

Characteristics of workplace bullying:
- Bullies enjoy feeling powerful, especially when the target doesn’t speak up.
-Bullies are threatened by the potential success of others, and don’t want their target to outshine them or reveal their shortcomings. They may downplay or deny the target’s accomplishments, take credit for the work of others, and intimidate with insults and verbal put downs.
- They may engage in direct harmful action or covert sabotage, such as withholding resources necessary to do one’s job. Bullying may also escalate to involve others who side with the bully, and they may be encouraged to stop working, talking, or socializing with the target. These actions jeopardize the mission when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
- Who is the target? Generally it’s someone who poses a threat to the perpetrator, whether real or imagined. The WBI study “confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup.”

The website continues, “Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target’s work. Targets are often those who have ‘a desire to help, heal, teach, develop and nurture others.”

Many targets seek counseling for the emotional damage they suffer. “Abuse fosters anxiety, clinical depression and, often posttraumatic stress,” states the WBI. “Belief in one’s competency has been shattered. The lies told about targets can lead to undeserved self-blame.”

Often, bullies are liked by their bosses and are rewarded for their behavior instead of being punished. “Bullies must experience negative consequences for harming others. Punishment must replace promotions.”

Ultimately, it is the boss who is responsible for workplace bullying. “They put people in harm’s way and they can provide safety by undoing the culture which may have inadvertently allowed bullying to flourish,” states the WBI.

To add insult to injury, complaints can result in retaliation or reprisal, such as taking away rights or status.

Unfortunately, bullying is only illegal if it can be defined as harassment.

According to the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Dealing with workplace bullies:
*Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
*Don’t blame yourself. It’s not about you; it’s about the bully.
*Do your best work – the bully’s behavior will seem more justified if you aren’t doing your best work.
*Build a support network and seek help through the Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program. DONCEAP will pay for a private counselor who will keep your conversations confidential.
*Document everything but don’t leave it in the office. Write down what happened and who witnessed it. Keep emails and notes. Educate yourself about workplace law.
*Do your best to manage the situation. You may need to seek employment elsewhere, or be prepared for a difficult fight with the bully and your employer.

For more information:




Bringing news of the workplace anti-bullying movement to the nation’s capital

Honored at ADA Annual Banquet: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), and your blog host

Honored at ADA Annual Banquet yesterday: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), and yours truly

Last night I received the Winn Newman Equality Award for my scholarship and advocacy on workplace bullying and workers’ rights at the annual awards banquet of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington D.C. I was one of three featured honorees, joining U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut).

ADA is a venerable political and policy advocacy organization that has long championed workers’ rights and interests. I was on its national board for many years and served a term as its board chair.

Last night’s event gave me an opportunity to share with a well-networked D.C. audience the work we have been doing in various states to make the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill a reality. It appeared that my remarks were informative and well-received. We also were treated to wonderful speeches by Senator Brown and Representative DeLauro, whose support of working people in this country is second to none.

I was joined at my table by a group of dear friends, many of whom have been active in workers’ rights and workplace anti-bullying efforts for years, including Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute and Greg Sorozan of the National Association of Government Employees. The dinner also gave me a chance to reconnect with friends from ADA. In fact, I’m pleased to report that I’ll be rejoining the ADA board as an at-large member.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________      July 22, 2015  

The New Workplace Institute Blog, hosted by David Yamada

Healthy Workplace Bill: Courage prevails at Massachusetts State House hearing

Supporters of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) gathered yesterday at the Massachusetts State House for a legislative hearing to voice our support for this badly needed legislation. While the immediate fate of the HWB in Massachusetts (designated as House Bill 1771 in the current session) remains a work in progress, those who shared their stories with legislators and who appeared at the State House to offer support were the clear winners of the day. When this bill becomes law, their courage will be among the primary reasons for that success.

Legislative hearing

The occasion for this testimony was a legislative hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the committee to which the HWB has been assigned. Our goal is to persuade the Committee to give the HWB a favorable report, a critically important step toward eventual floor votes in the House of Representatives and Senate and, then, presentation of the bill to the Governor.

I testified on a panel with Greg Sorozan, co-director of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates and a local president for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and Torii Bottomley, a public school teacher who experienced horrific, ongoing retaliatory bullying and lost her job as a final result. Torii, who has gone public with her story, shared her account of how an outstanding, dedicated educator can be targeted for extinction because she stood up for the best interests of her students.

Many other individuals also testified, and they shared similar stories of terrible workplace abuse that often drove them out of their workplaces and sometimes their careers. I’ve opted not to share their names here because, unlike Torii, they have not gone as public with their stories, but let me attest that each one of them exhibited great courage in coming forth to ask the legislators to pass this law.

In addition, others who have experienced workplace bullying joined us to provide moral support. Their presence made a big difference.

I do not use the term courage lightly here. To share one’s story of abusive treatment in a public setting, and then to sit and listen to similar stories over and again, is an act of bravery. Even for those who didn’t testify, being present to lend support required a lot of fortitude.

Ready to play ball

My part in this hearing was a comparatively minor one. As the author of the HWB, I reiterated to Committee members our desire to answer questions, criticisms, and concerns about the legislation, and to work with them in any way we can.

This is the third full session in which we have filed the bill, and as long-time readers know, we have amassed growing support for it inside the State HouseLegislative advocacy is a game for the restlessly patient, and for me, the restless side is manifesting itself. Most major legislation requires several sessions before it becomes viable. We’re at the point now, and I want to see some results.


Our wonderful, long-time lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, testified on behalf of the HWB, and her chief assistant Brad Dye spent several hours talking to and offering advice to those who were there on behalf of the bill.

Members of the Committee who sat through a very long hearing day that stretched into the early evening deserve our thanks. Co-Chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak showed great attention, patience, and respect to those who testified on all the bills before the Committee, including ours. I also appreciated words of support from Representative and committee member Danielle Gregoire, who several moons ago was one of my students at Suffolk University Law School while she worked as a legislative staffer.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here



April 12th, 2015

Minnesota Union and State collaboratively create Workplace Bullying policy


Minnesota leap frogs Tennessee with respect to having a state policy to thwart workplace bullying. First a bit of background. In 2014, Tennessee passed a law (Public Chapter 997) that assigned policy writing to a state commission (TACIR) comprised of elected officials with technical support from WBI-affiliated professionals. The group did produce a model policy. However, several lawmakers refused to allow the policy’s implementation. The workplace psychological safety of public employees in that right-to-work state remains unresolved, treated as a political game.

Thus, the first state to implement a workplace bullying policy is Minnesota. The successful story begins with the state employees union MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) becoming aware of bullying-related problems for members in January 2012. Discussions of bullying surfaced in contract bargaining sessions. In February 2013, some bullying managers were removed in partnership with the union. Education accelerated in May 2013 when MAPE held a seminar for stewards with lessons gleaned from a public session sponsored by the Minneapolis Bar Association at which Dr. Gary Namie spoke. 

By August 2013, MAPE had produced videos of their bullying experiences. In September, results of a membership survey revealed that 1 out of 4 members were either directly bullied or they had witnessed it. State. The state Department of Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, signed an anti-bullying petition to ensure safe, retaliation-free reporting of bullying.

Representatives of the state department Minnesota Management & Budget and MAPE leaders form a task force to develop the statewide workplace bullying policy. On April 10, 2015, the collaboratively created policy for state workers was released — 

The Respectful Workplace Policy 

Features of the policy:

• Respect is defined as “Behavior or communication that demonstrates positive consideration and treats individuals in a manner that a reasonable person would find appropriate. WBI: This eliminates from appropriateness negative conduct.

• “This policy solely addresses communications and behavior that do not involve protected class status.”WBI: This plugs the hole in nondiscrimination laws and policies which are typical of bullying (same-gender, same-race incidents). It explictly differentiates itself from sexual harassment and other forms of illegal discrimination covered by other policies.

• There are four employee responsibilities articulated. Two of the more important ones are (1) (to) “Participate fully and in good faith in any informal resolution process or formal complaint and investigative process for which they may have relevant information” WBI: this is directed at silent coworkers who are historically too fearful to intervene or provide known information, and to (2) “Report incidents that may violate this policy.”

• Managerial responsibilities include: (1) informing all employees about the policy, (2) maintaining compliance, and (3) take timely action on reported bullying WBI: which effectively should eliminate the supervisors’ excuse to not take action when bullying is reported to them by saying “work it out between yourselves,”

• A unique feature of the policy is that if managers fail to comply with the policy or fail to act appropriately, they face discipline up to and including termination.

• Retaliation is prohibited against complainants, witnesses or anyone involved with investigations. WBI:This will be tested regularly. Fear of retaliation is the reason that witnesses do not help with investigations. Under threat of discipline, witnesses must now participate. However, if retaliation persists, the person retaliating should be terminated. It is the only way to reduce the threat. Once the process is proven to be safe, the silence surrounding bullying will be shattered.

• There is a section in the policy declaring several activities that are not violations: performance reviews, work direction, performance management, and disciplinary action provided they are conducted in a respectful, professional manner; Disagreements, misunderstandings, miscommunication or conflict situations where the behavior remains professional and respectful.

• “Unintentionally disrespectful and/or unprofessional behavior may still violate this policy.” A short list of illustrative examples is given. WBI: This is an incredibly wise statement. Intentions or motives are too hard to prove. Perpetrators are rarely aware of the underlying reason for their destructive actions.

• One of the illustrations of policy violation is “Use of this policy and procedure to make knowingly false complaint(s).” WBI: Again a wise inclusion. Bullies are the first to attempt to use the policy. They want the employer to consider them victims. Then, if a target reacts, always much too late and much too ineffectively, the bully claims retaliation for filing the complaint.

• Informal resolution steps outlined include mediation, but it is not mandated thankfully. There is some care taken to acknowledge that contacting supervisors who may be the perpetrators is not a safe thing to do. The mere inclusion of Informal Resolution is an improvement on nearly every policy written today.

• The terms “timely, fair and objective” precede all informal and formal complaint steps. WBI: Deadlines define reasonable timeliness. This section of the policy is prone to misuse and distortion. It appears that complaint handling, as now practiced, is sufficient. But we have to remember this policy and set of procedures is a negotiated product of management and MAPE.

From the news release about the Policy …

Kathy Fodness, a business agent for MAPE, said the policy acknowledges that a problem exists and spells out steps that state workers can take to have any concerns addressed. “We’re excited about this,” she said, “because we, for the first time, feel like there is a partnership between the state of Minnesota and the public sector unions, both in recognizing this and eradicating it.”

Among those who served on MAPE’s workplace bullying task force is psychologist Randy Wills, who says he experienced a hostile work environment at the CARE St. Peter chemical dependency program. “It greatly affected productivity, staff morale, absenteeism – and then, you know, ultimately that doesn’t channel into the best quality of care for the clients,” he said. “And so hopefully, this is going to lead to a better workforce and just better employees.”

While Fodness called it a major step in the right direction, she noted that MAPE will continue to press to ensure that Minnesota’s state workplaces are professional and respectful. “We have uncovered some pretty egregious situations, and we need to make sure that our members are treated justly and fairly, even under this new policy,” she said. “So, we’re going to be even more involved in making sure that work environments do become and remain healthy.”

According to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than one in four workers in the United States reports being bullied by a coworker or boss.

MAPE has created Regional Leads to ensure the state managers’ compliance with the new policy. In May 2015, those Regional Leads, the union’s policy implementation monitors receive additional training.

The MAPE-MMB collaboration is a model for other unions and state agencies to emulate. But more important is the record of action that MAPE took when they realized the their members were being harmed simply because they worked for the state. More unions need to experience a sense of righteous indignation and return to the model of unions as advocates for employees.

MAPE is extraordinary and deserves much credit.______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 


Unemployed at midlife, “faking normal”…and sometimes bullied, too

Screenshot from Next

Screenshot from Next (Photo: DY)

In a plaintive commentary posted on Next Avenue earlier this year, Lizzy White writes about professional, middle-aged women who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet as they search for work:

You know her.

She is in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight.

She is 55, broke and tired of trying to keep up appearances. Faking normal is wearing her out.

To look at her, you wouldn’t know that her electricity was cut off last week for non-payment or that she meets the eligibility requirements for food stamps. Her clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good times when she was still making money.

To be sure, the effects of the economic meltdown that began some seven years ago continue to be felt by men and women in almost every income level and vocational category. But those of my generation (late Boomers in their 50s), and notably unmarried women within that group, have felt its impact especially hard, with livelihoods and careers interrupted or ended at what should be periods of peak earning potential. White continues:

She lives without cable, a gym membership and nail appointments. She’s discovered she can do her own hair.

There are no retirement savings, no nest egg; she exhausted that long ago. There is no expensive condo from which to draw equity and no husband to back her up.

Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated her credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script, expressing polite sympathy for her plight — before demanding payment arrangements that she can’t possibly meet.

White provides more facts and figures to document the income disparities and disproportionate caregiving responsibilities that often put women in a less advantaged position than their male counterparts. It’s an important piece, and the comments posted below it are worth reading as well, including those who rightly point out that middle-aged men who have experienced job losses are facing these circumstances, too.

The bullying effect

This topic intersects with workplace bullying, because middle-aged workers endure a lot of it. When work abuse culminates in their termination or departure, they often face multi-level challenges in trying to pull themselves together and obtain new employment.

Two years ago, I summarized Workplace Bullying Institute instant poll results showing that workers in the 40s and 50s are frequent bullying targets. The poll asked visitors to the WBI website who have experienced workplace bullying to respond to a single question, “How old were you when the bullying at work began?” WBI collected 663 responses and reported the following:

The average age was 41.9 years. Targets in their 40’s comprised 30% of all targets; in their 50’s were 26.4%; under 30 years of age were 21.3%; those in their 30’s were 18.9%. The prime productive years are also the prime years for being [targeted] for bullying.

Five years ago, I suggested that unmarried women may be specially vulnerable to being bullied at work, especially if they have kids:

Let’s start with the observation that truly abusive bullies often have a knack for sniffing out vulnerable individuals. Then we look at potential targets: Demographically speaking, is there any group more vulnerable than single women raising kids? They already are juggling work and caregiving, their schedules seem timed down to the minute, and not infrequently they are struggling financially — especially if there is no father in the picture.

Unmarried women without children may not be as economically desperate to hold onto their jobs, but they can be very vulnerable as well. Women in general remain underpaid compared to male counterparts. Those who came out of busted marriages may have re-entered the workforce later in life. In any event, they are less likely to have someone to fall back on if bullied out of a job.

Over the years, I’ve encountered many women in their 50s who have been bullied out of their jobs and then face the daunting challenges of recovering from the experience in terms of psychological well-being, employment, and personal finances. For those individuals, “faking normal” may require wearing a mask that feels like a heavy weight, in addition to carrying the burdens of their situations generally.

Sad, disturbing stuff

This makes for pretty unpleasant and unsettling reading, especially if you’re on the north side of 50. These challenges are hitting my generation of late Boomers especially hard.

Decades ago, many of us entered the workforce in the heart of a severe recession. At the same time, employers were cutting back or eliminating pensions and other benefit plans. For those going to school, loans were supplanting need-based grants and scholarships as the primary form of financial aid.

And now this group has experienced an even more severe economic downturn during the heart of what should be its peak earning years.

It distresses me greatly that we have not summoned the collective will to make this a major political and public policy issue. What will it take to make it so?


This Time, It’s Personal

Will legislation to protect employees from workplace bullying stifle demanding managers?

Mar 31, 2015 By Steven Yoder 

Carrie Clark, 63, says bullies aren’t confined to playgrounds. Sometimes, they run the whole school. 

In 1995, Clark directed an English as a Second Language program in West Sacramento’s Washington Unified School District. An influx of foreign students was forcing her staff to work ever-longer hours. She wrote several reports to the district superintendent documenting the extra load and asking for more help. She got no response, she says. So her teachers union representative suggested she put together a petition signed by program staff.

That got a reaction, but not the one she wanted. The superintendent took Clark off of the school’s committee of department chairs and canceled and consolidated classes. Clark says he called her house and left an odd, garbled message, and one day after a meeting, he followed her into an empty hallway. Towering over her, his face a foot from hers, he screamed that he wanted “no more petitions!”

Scared, Clark quit a few weeks later. She developed tremors in her right side, which she still has, started having heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep. Today, when she talks about what happened, her speech slows to a crawl and her voice quavers like a warped record. A Sacramento occupational medicine specialist diagnosed her with a post-traumatic stress disorder related to her job. After a 20-year teaching career, she’d never set foot in a classroom again. In 2002, she won a $150,000 workers’ compensation claim against the district.

There’s evidence that the superintendent targeted others who crossed him. He took a job in a district near Yuba City, and in January 1999 the teachers association president there told The Valley Mirror that the superintendent verbally threatened her and that she’d asked a court for a restraining order. She also told a reporter that she was having panic attacks for the first time in her life. (The superintendent, now retired, keeps an unlisted phone number and didn’t respond to a certified letter sent to his address requesting an interview.)

No state offers workers legal protections against intimidation on the job, but advocates around the country have turned up the heat and are demanding new laws. But critics say legislation would stifle managers and open the floodgates to lawsuits. All sides agree that if businesses ignore the issue, new legislation could well force them to change.

The Push for a Healthy Workplace

Bullies do more than demand that work get done. They threaten, humiliate or intimidate for reasons unrelated to job performance. The Society for Human Resource Management, which represents human resource professionals nationally, describes workplace bullying as a pattern of behaviors that include persistently singling out someone for criticism, shouting in private or public, slinging personal insults, ignoring or interrupting people in meetings or assigning menial tasks that aren’t part of an employee’s normal responsibilities.

If recent polls are any guide, many organizations tolerate such behaviors. In a 2011 SHRM survey of 400 randomly selected human resource professionals, more than a quarter reported having been bullied themselves at work, 73 percent said they’d seen verbal abuse on the job and 5 percent said they’d seen physical assaults. In a Zogby poll that last year asked 1,000 randomly selected people whether they’d ever experienced a pattern of “abusive conduct” at work, more than a quarter said they had. Another Zogby poll of 315 U.S. business leaders in 2013 reported that 170 of them identified workplace bullying as “a serious problem.” Both polls were commissioned by the nonprofit Workplace Bullying Institute, which trains organizations and in 2011 began a campaign to promote anti-bullying laws nationwide. Their proposed Healthy Workplace Bill was first introducted in California in 2003.  

Related: How To Make an Anti-Bullying Policy Work

Bullying hurts businesses and workers alike. Companies with ruffians have higher absenteeism and turnover, decreased morale, diminished trust among coworkers and lower productivity, according to a host of studies. Workers who are targeted experience a range of negative health outcomes, including sleeping problems, emotional exhaustion, PTSD, hypertension and autoimmune disorders. Most targets end up leaving their jobs; WBI research indicates that 80 percent end up quitting, getting fired or being transferred.

“Other forms of mistreatment, like child abuse and domestic violence, are societal taboos now,” says WBI founder Gary Namie, a social psychologist and author of two books on the topic. “This is the last form of abuse that society tolerates.”

As advocates have come forward to demand protection, workplace bullying has become the hottest area of employment law. Variations of the WBI’s Healthy Workplace Bill have been introduced in 28 states, though no legislature has yet enacted one. Such a bill would allow targets to sue perpetrators and, in some cases, their companies. At least 80 California cities and towns issued proclamations last October declaring a “Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week.” Several countries, including England, Sweden, Australia, France, Canada and Germany, already have laws banning workplace oppression.

Last September, California became the first state to require employers to train their workers on the problem. As of January, all companies with 50 or more employees must include information on preventing “abusive conduct” in their biannual sexual harassment trainings.

The new law, Assembly Bill 2053, offers no remedy to targeted employees, and Namie says it’s not a substitute for the Healthy Workplace Bill. But it could be an opening. Amelya Stevenson, president of human resource consulting firm e-VentExe in Granite Bay, is confident stronger state legislation will pass in a year or two.

Wiggle Words

Skeptics argue that trying to outlaw bullying won’t work. Michael Kalt, government affairs director for CalSHRM, the state SHRM chapter, doesn’t dispute the seriousness of the problem. But too much will be in the eyes of the beholder, he claims. “What if a boss yells at his employees when there’s a deadline? Some might consider that stern. What about micromanaging? Some would call that just great attention to detail. Can you discipline an employee for making mistakes?” Kalt asks.

Kalt concedes that none of those examples would be enough to subject an employer to a lawsuit under the Healthy Workplace Bill. The bill’s language exempts any action an employer takes as a result of documented poor performance or misconduct by an employee. Still, Kalt claims it would unleash a torrent of lawsuits.

Poll: Are Workplace Bullies a Real Thing? 

“There are lots of wiggle words that could end up in legislation,” says Kalt. “And then we’ll spend years litigating what those mean.” Training like that required by AB 2053 will help employers change their work cultures, he argues.

But Stevenson says most companies aren’t paying attention to the issue. None of her clients have asked her to help them develop an anti-bullying policy. Employers are waiting for guidance from lawmakers on what needs to go into such a policy, she says: “When the law explains what managers can and can’t do, that will help HR managers [craft a policy]. That’s what tends to happen,” she says.

Getting Ahead of New Legislation

Kalt wants companies to go beyond AB 2053’s requirements to preempt a stronger law. At a minimum, businesses should be updating their codes of conduct to proscribe bullying and train supervisors on the new rules, he says. They also should create complaint procedures, ensure that employees know about them, and start disciplining offenders based on the new policy.

One manager has made stopping bullies a top priority in her organization. Ann Wrixon saw plenty of managers bully staff when she worked in Silicon Valley — it eventually drove her out of the tech field and into social work. She’s now executive director of the Concord-based non profit Independent Adoption Center.

In 2011, a few staff told her that malicious gossip was dividing her team. So she pulled together her top managers and with Namie’s help built an antibullying infrastructure. Today, a dedicated team handles only complaints about workplace abuse. If someone thinks they’re being targeted, they can talk in confidence to a team member who will approach the accused person to get their side.

If no resolution results, the team member sits with both parties to discuss solutions. If either still leaves unsatisfied, the case goes to a higher-level team member, who writes a report that goes to Wrixon for a decision about appropriate steps. During orientation, new staff get a one-on-one meeting with their managers to discuss the policy and the complaint process.

The center has had to use the new system for only one bullying case so far. The offender was reprimanded and later resigned. Wrixon thinks just having a policy and training program prevents malicious behavior from emerging in the first place. She also says the impacts on employee morale and the work atmosphere have been positive and dramatic — staff report being happier and are getting more done than before, with little or no gossip.

Of the managers she worked for in the tech field, she says, “They thought they got brilliant work out of their people, but I always thought they got brilliant work despite their bullying, not because of it.”  


Visitor Joyce Cunningham (not verified)19 hours ago 

My daughter's boss slapped her face, something no one in her life had done. After a session crying in the bathroom she went to human resources to report it. The HR response was, "What do you think we can do? He is the president!" She quit of course, but it was a well-paying job that she really needed.

Angelique (not verified)11 hours ago 

I am so sorry to hear that.That is assault and should be reported to the police department.As I have read and experienced HR works for the company not the individual.I know this all to well...

Marilee (not verified)15 hours ago 

Management in my unit are all peace officers. I have never in my life have been subjected to the outrageous, double standard, arrogant, and abusive conduct as I am right now. There is no semblance of fairness in the playing field. When it comes to your rights this regime will do and say whatever they want ultimately denying you justice or the right To file a complaint.

Visitor (not verified)5 hours ago 

My bully was a very powerful former dean in the School of Public Health at UCB. She was a serial bully that targeted individuals in the financial analyst position in her research unit. Her method was to overwork and underpay and to start fights among the staff--all the while being charming. But she went through at least 9 people that I know of in at least 15 years. The school did nothing to help, and most middle managers at Cal look the other way and are a part of the problem. The only reason I am being so open about this is that she has passed on (thankfully.) I was never able to get another job after working for her because she badmouthed me for 9 years after I quit. Even though I went on to get a PhD in organizational psychology, no one would hire me because of her. Bullies have a variety of tactics at their disposal and there is a range of behaviors. This is what makes the problem so pervasive and hard to solve.  


Utah mandates Abusive Conduct training for state workplaces!

Utah HB 216, sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton, sailed through the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. The training mandate law drew its definition of abusive conduct from the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill:

“Abusive conduct means verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of an employee to another employee that, based on its severity, nature, and frequency of occurrence, a reasonable person would determine is intended to cause intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress or results in substantial physical or psychological harm as a result of intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress; or exploits an employee’s known physical or psychological disability.”

The law requires state agencies to train supervisors and employees about how to prevent abusive conduct. Biannual training must include the definition of abusive conduct, its ramifications, resources available and the employer’s grievance process. In addition, professional development training will also cover ethical conduct and leadership practices based on principles of integrity. The law takes effect July 1, 2015.

Trace the bill’s route through the legislative process. WBI thanks the sponsoring Representative, Sen. Ted Weiler who ushered the bill through the Senate, the Governor, and State Coordinator Denise Halverson and citizen lobbyists who participated in committee hearings.

Utah is the second state to pass a training-only law to begin to address abusive conduct in the workplace. Utah’s bill is superior to Calfornia’s training-only bill of 2014. 



What To Do About Your Jerk of a Boss Before You Get PTSD

Millions of workers are suffering from anxiety, depression and even PTSD because of bully bosses.

Photo Credit:


Editor's note: The following is the latest in a new series of articles on AlterNet called Fear in America that launched this March. Read the introduction to the series.

There’s something dangerous happening to millions of Americans nationwide. It is happening in places where many people spend at least 40 hours a week. It is causing severe physical and mental illness. It runs off fear and manipulation. But its victims are not talking it about. 

So what is it?  Work abuse.

Look around the average American workplace and it’s not too hard to find. Twenty-seven percent of all adult Americans report experiencing work abuse and an additional 21 percent of Americans report witnessing it, meaning some 65 million Americans have been affected. 

“Anything that affects 65 million Americans is an epidemic,” said Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. “But it’s an un-discussable epidemic because employers don’t want this discussed.”

Not talking about work abuse has, in turn, normalized the violence, fear and power structure inherent to the phenomenon.

As Namie said, “Work abuse doesn’t shock Americans anymore.”

He continued, “We, as a society, treat it as domestic violence—we try to rationalize both away. ‘Oh you should have just got up and left it.’ Really? You’re just going to get up and leave your job and think you’ll find an equivalent? And you’re a single mom and you can just do that right? Or worse, ‘there must be something about her that provoked him.’”

While we try to explain away work abuse, its victims are quietly suffering anxiety, depression and even PTSD. In one extreme example, Carrie Clark, a former teacher and school administrator, developed such severe PTSD she suffered permanent brain damage that left her with a speech impediment.

“It’s shameful when you’re being targeted at work. It’s such an embarrassment. That had never happened to me before. I loved working. … I had quite the career,” Clark said of the months she was targeted by her boss.

As work abuse has become such a widespread employee health epidemic, it’s important to ask: Why is it so rampant? How can workers survive work abuse? And perhaps most importantly, is there any way for workers to put an end to it?

Why Bosses Abuse Workers One of the most important things to understand about work abuse is that it’s not inevitable, but subsists within a culture that supports abusive interaction, says Judith Wyatt, a San Francisco therapist who, with her husband Chauncey Hare, is the coauthor of Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It. 

“Bullying does not exist except in the context of a work system, a work culture that supports and demands bullying, rewards bullies and gets something out of bullying, which is an authoritarian, controlling environment,” Wyatt said.

In their book, Wyatt and Hare, who was a work abuse victim, call the majority of workplaces (95 percent) “authoritarian work organizations.”

“These are places that have, to some degree or another, a slave-to-slave-owner mentality operating,” Wyatt said. “In an authoritarian work organization, the people at the top have absolute power and they can do whatever they want to the people at the bottom regardless of the needs of the people at the bottom. We say that we live in a democracy in this country, but [we have] top-down organizations like that that people belong to everyday.”

These organizations also benefit from an unstable job market that supports their culture of fear.

“In a culture like the one we’re in now, the whole U.S. culture, jobs are scarce, and because it’s becoming normative to underpay people and have a job market where there are fewer jobs, it conditions people to feel like, ‘My god, a hundred people could apply to my job tomorrow, I have to accept whatever shit is coming down to me,’” Wyatt said.

Some companies have taken advantage of this fear by artificially creating instability in the workplace. Until 2013, Microsoft enforced a rank-and-yank system in which employees were ranked by performance every year, and the bottom 10 percent were fired.

Despite the fact that research finds abusive, unstable work environments actually decrease productivity, Wyatt says cognitive dissonance comes into play, and managers are more concerned about control than efficiency.

“There’s a culture of over-control and authoritarianism built into managerial school in this country,” Wyatt said. “So the idea is you have to have that power.”

The Workplace Bullying Institute’s Namie agreed that a lack of appropriate managing skills is one of the causes of work abuse. “There’s going to be a certain proportion of managers who don’t know an alternative way to manage, and I blame the employer for that [and] for cutting back on training because it’s very hard to know how to manage well,” Namie said. “Then there’s another sub-group doing the bidding of someone up higher. Then there’s a portion of the managerial group that’s just sadistic. They’re narcissistic and sadistic and quite cruel.”   

The latter, according to Wyatt, is the usual case. She said that like many people, bosses and managers have childhood traumas. But certain traumas can make for disaster when their victims are put in positions of power.

“The usual situation is that they are narcissistically wounded, in a way where the worker under them doesn’t understand how deep their wounding is,” Wyatt said. “And the worker doesn’t understand that they are triggering the boss—that the boss is somehow threatened by them. And if a narcissist is threatened by someone, they go into a rage and want to destroy them.”

Bully Bosses, Their Targets, and the Effects of Work Abuse

There are two kinds of abuse, according to Wyatt. One is the chronic neglect, over-control and over-work that occur in nearly every authoritarian work organization. The other is scapegoating, in which the boss has one or more targets he or she puts in a horrible position. 

Bully bosses and their targets cut across all demographics. Namie said people from all income levels are victims of work abuse. But there are some trends, especially when it comes to gender. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 national survey, a majority of abusive bosses are male (69 percent), and a majority of their targets are female (57 percent). When bully bosses are female (31 percent of the time) the majority of their targets are also female (68 percent). When it comes to race, Hispanics (56.9 percent) are most likely to experience and witness bullying, followed by African Americans (54.1 percent), Asians (52.8 percent), and whites (44.3 percent).

Namie said bully bosses tend to fall into four categories: The rare, over-the-top manager who screams at his targets in front of others; the character assassination manager who is out to destroy his targets’ reputations; the withholding manager who makes sure her targets don’t have what they need to succeed; and the constant critic who, through a series of infractions, leads his targets to doubt their own confidence.

In terms of the latter, Namie said, “They’re trying to convince you you’re stupid, which is a lie, but with prolonged exposure, your memory loss actually makes you appear that way. So you will be objectively less competent over time. We can say it’s a self- fulfilling prophecy now that we know what’s happening in brain.”

The effects of work abuse on mental health are severe. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 80 percent of victims had debilitating anxiety, 49 percent had clinical depression, 30 percent had PTSD, 29 percent contemplated suicide and 16 percent had a plan to commit suicide.

Carrie Clark developed enduring disabilities as a result of severe work abuse. After suffering through 10 months of bullying and punishment at the hands of her superintendent, Clark developed PTSD. “He called my home drunk, stalked me on campus, waited for me outside the ladies room… invaded my personal space, and accosted me with fists,” Clark said.

Fighting Work Abuse in Congress

After she left her job, Clark attempted to sue her school district, but was unsuccessful.

“I didn’t realize at the time that it’s perfectly legal to harass, break and destroy a human being in the workplace so long as that poor target can’t prove some form of discrimination as a member of a protected class,” Clark said.

Clark joined Namie and the Workplace Bullying Institute in fighting to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in states nationwide.

Currently, the United States is the only Western nation without a law forbidding bullying-like conduct in the workplace. U.S. anti-discrimination laws only protect workers from abuse in 20 percent of cases. Victims of work abuse must be a member of a protected class to claim a hostile work environment, sexual harassment or racial discrimination. On top of that, Clark said the Supreme Court has made it difficult to prove discrimination, sometimes requiring that other members of the protected class come forward.

The Healthy Workplace Bill would allow workers to sue their work abusers for harming their health. Employers would be held financially accountable for the abuse, creating an incentive to prevent abusive behavior. The bill would also require employers to write an anti-bullying policy and conduct trainings.

The bill has been introduced in five states this year and 28 states since 2003. It has yet to pass in any state.

“The hardest part is directly getting in to talk to a legislator. We don’t have money,” Clark said, adding that the Chamber of Commerce is a fierce opponent of the bill. “Grassroots is pitched from a lot of the legislators when they’re running for office, but in actuality, they don’t really want grassroots people bugging them, they want people with money.”

Surviving Work Abuse

While the struggle continues for better workplace laws, workers are left to find their own ways to navigate work abuse. Namie said that over time, there is not much employees can do to escape the harmful mental health effects of workplace bullying.

“Psychological injuries have very little to do with strength,” he said. “They just have to do with the frequency and the duration of the perpetrators and their actions. You don’t say some Marine is weak because he or she developed PTSD. It’s a wound because someone launched an attack.”

Wyatt emphasized that because it’s nearly impossible to escape authoritarian work organizations, where there’s always some kind of abuse, workers should learn some safeguards. The first step is developing a deep understanding of the norms of your workplace as well as acknowledging that you ultimately adhere to these norms. 

“We like to think that we just walk through the world as individuals, especially in this country, but in fact, we all adapt to the organizations that we have to belong to for our survival,” Wyatt said. “You have to adapt psychologically, mentally, emotionally to the point of view of the organization as created through the norms. Your whole perception of reality shifts.… It’s like a hypnosis that happens.… You have to be a member. Or else you’re going to be at war with yourself every day, and people can’t survive like that. They have to make it through.”

Once workers understand this, Wyatt said, they should find a way to join the self-interests of the people whose support they need. Wyatt said she tells her clients to figure out what’s most important to those above them and what they are most afraid of. Then workers can get more of their needs met by talking to their bosses in a way that meets the boss’ needs as well and in language that’s going to get through to them.

“We try to teach people to be warriors because they can’t expect justice,” Wyatt said. “The hardest thing for people to accept in breaking through their denial about the workplace is that there’s no justice. It’s not about justice. If you want this job, if you want to stay there, you have to comply with the norms. Period. If you want to leave, you can. But you have to know what you’re up against.”

That doesn’t mean workers should lose their perspective. Wyatt suggests workers talk to someone inside the workplace they trust or their family and friends outside of work. She also recommends that workers bring a token to work that reminds them of who they are.

“You have to rise to the ability of becoming a very sophisticated warrior with an analysis of the norms and an analysis of how they are affecting you and everyone around you,” Wyatt said. “We tell people to have personal symbols of your own strength and your own sense of self around you at all times.”

Building a Movement

Wyatt said at the time she and Hare wrote their book in 1997, they would tell their clients to look for work in the few workplaces they called “collaborative work organizations”—places where everyone has input and conflicts are resolved through open dialogue.

“Anybody who has had any experience in working in a collaborative organization—it’s like having your heart open,” Wyatt said. “It’s so inspiring. It’s what we all long for, but we’ve had so little experience with that in our lives, most of us, that we don’t even know what it would look like.”

Because those organizations are so few and far between, Wyatt primarily focuses on helping her clients survive the workplace. She said that if people truly want to reverse the increasingly authoritarian trend in workplaces, much more collective effort is needed.

“I hate to say it, but there’s less hope now than when we wrote the book,” Wyatt said. “It’s going to boil down to moving from authoritarianism to collaboration. The people who have the power don’t want to do that. They’re moving in the opposite direction politically in this country. … That’s why there was Occupy Wall Street. That’s why people were taking on the whole system. If you want my honest opinion about it, I think there would have to be a huge political movement about rights in the workplace. … I would love to see it in my lifetime. … That would be the way to go, to talk about it and create a movement.”Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.    Follow @alyssa_fig  ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Anti-Bullying Laws in California and Tennessee Could Be the Start of a New Trend

While there are no current federal laws that prevent workplace bullying in the private sector, “Healthy Workplace” bills have been introduced in 26 states since 2003.  Tennessee recently became the first state to pass the “Healthy Workplace Act,” a law designed to encourage public sector agencies to create an anti-bullying policy that addresses “abusive conduct” by making the agencies immune to bullying-related lawsuits if they adopt a policy that complies with the law. 

More recently, California passed a workplace anti-bullying law for private-sector employers that became effective on January 1, 2015.  California’s A.B. 2053 requires employers with 50 or more employees that already provide training on preventing sexual harassment to include new training on preventing “abusive conduct” in the workplace to supervisory employees.  It is likely that other states will follow suit and pass their own “Healthy Workplace” bills in the coming years as anti-bullying continues to trend in the news and become a focus in the workplace.

Statistics show bullying in the workplace may be a real problem, with 65.6 million U.S. workers being affected by it.  According to 2014 National Survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of U.S. workers reported that they had experienced abusive conduct at work and 21% of U.S. Workers have witnessed abusive conduct of others at work.

The 2014 National Survey uncovered that most employees do not think that their employers do enough to address workplace bullying:

• 25% of employees’ surveyed asserted that employers deny that bullying and harassing conduct takes place and fail to investigate complaints

• 16% asserted that employers discount bullying or describe it as non-serious

•  15% asserted that employers rationalize it by describing the bullying as innocent

• 11% asserted that employers defend abusive conduct when the perpetrators are executives and managers

Only 12% of employees’ surveyed found that their employers took steps to eliminate bullying by creating and enforcing certain policies and procedures.  The perceived failure from employees and state lawmakers that employers are adequately addressing workplace bullying may be one reason for the recent passage of anti-bullying laws in Tennessee and California and the introduction of similar bills in other states. 

Under Tennessee’s Healthy Workplace Act, “abusive conduct” is broadly defined as acts or omissions that would cause a reasonable person, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct, to believe that an employee was subject to an abusive work environment, such as: (A) Repeated verbal abuse in the workplace, including derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets; (B) Verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature in the workplace; or (C) The sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance in the workplace.

California’s A.B. 2053 similarly defines “abusive conduct” very broadly.  “Abusive conduct” means conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.  It may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.  The Act recognizes that a single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.

While California and most other states do not provide a private right of action for an employee to sue for workplace bullying, bullying at the workplace – that goes unchecked – can result in negative consequences, such as decreased productivity and efficiency, increased absenteeism, loss of morale, increased resignations or transfer requests, and increased hotline calls and internal complaints.   It may also result in employees suing their employers for harassment or a hostile work environment based on a protected class, such as race and gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or for tort liability claims, such as negligent hiring or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Thus, employers would be well-advised to manage this risk and develop a stronger workplace conduct policy now.  To address the potential for workplace bullying and the possibility that states will follow Tennessee’s and California’s lead in regulating workplace bullying, employers should analyze the workplace culture for incidents or prevalence to bullying and develop a workplace bullying prevention program.



Helping workplace bullying targets get beyond rumination

….what consumes your thoughts controls your life”

Creed, What If

I don’t listen to a lot of hard rock, but when I heard these lyrics from What If, a song about hatred, oppression, and vengefulness by the group Creed, I thought immediately about the experiences of many people who are dealing with severe workplace bullying.

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a click and read.

For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing. For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006 study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’ narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.

As I’ve written before, we are still in the early stages of developing effective counseling, therapeutic, and coaching protocols for helping targets of workplace bullying. Too many practitioners remain unfamiliar with workplace bullying and its effects on individuals. Among other things, we need to enable those engaged in these helping modalities to help more people move out of that state of obsessive rumination and toward better places in their lives.

Related post

For more about the Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts study referenced above, see my 2009 post, “Workplace bullying as psychological torture.”


Lynne Shallcross, “Grown-up Bullying,” Counseling Today (2013) — Includes extensive commentary by therapist and coach Jessi Eden Brown, who for many years has been affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute and is one of the nation’s most experienced and knowledgeable practitioners in working with targets of workplace bullying. 

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