You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.

X

Welcome to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Growing push to halt workplace bullying


By Sam Hananel

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Margaret Fiester is no shrinking violet, but she says working for her former boss was a nightmare.

“One day I didn’t do something right and she actually laid her hands on me and got up in my face and started yelling, ‘Why did you do that?’” said Fiester, who worked as a legal assistant for an attorney.

Fiester doesn’t have to worry about those tirades anymore, but she hears lots of similar stories in her current role as operations manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, where she often fields questions about the growing issue of workplace bullying.

On-the-job bullying can take many forms, from a supervisor’s verbal abuse and threats to cruel comments or relentless teasing by a co-worker. And it could become the next major battleground in employment law as a growing number of states consider legislation that would let workers sue for harassment that causes physical or emotional harm.

“I believe this is the new claim that employers will deal with. This will replace sexual harassment,” said Sharon Parella, a management-side employment lawyer in New York. “People who oppose it say these laws will force people to be polite at work. But you can no longer go to work and act like a beast and get away with it.”

Many companies already recognize workplace bullying as a problem that can sap morale, lead to increased employee turnover and even affect the bottom line. Half the employers in a 2011 survey by the management association reported incidents of bullying in their workplace, and about a fourth of human resource professionals themselves said they had been bullied.

At St. Anthony North Hospital outside of Denver, human resources director Robert Archibold says most of the bullying incidents he sees are peer-to-peer. In a recent case, one worker got offended by a co-worker’s remark and suggested they “take it out to the parking lot.” The offending worker was suspended under the hospital’s anti-bullying policy, which has been in place for more than a decade.

“Hostile work environments, threats, bullying can come from anywhere,” he said. “You can’t tell by looking at someone who it will be.”

One reason the issue has attracted more attention in recent years is that parents who deal with school bullying realize it can happen in the workplace, too.

Some employers have put into place anti-bullying policies, but advocacy groups want to go even further. They have been urging states to give legal rights to workers who do not already fit into a protected class based on race, gender or national origin.

More than a dozen states have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and compel employers to prevent an “abusive work environment.”

Gary Namie, a social psychologist who co-founded the Bellingham, Wash.-based Workplace Bullying Institute in 1997, is among those leading the charge, along with labor unions and civil rights groups. He says the economic downturn has made bullying even worse and argues that passage of the laws would give employers more incentive to crack down on bad behavior in the workplace.

“People are trapped; they don’t have the same alternative jobs to jump to,” Namie said. “They are staying longer in these pressured, stress-filled, toxic work environments.”

Business groups have strongly opposed the measures, arguing they would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits.

“We would look at a bill like this as overreaching,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said the bill would punish an employer for acts of its employees that it may not be able to anticipate.

But Parella, the employment lawyer, thinks it’s only a matter of time before states begin passing these laws and bullying issues become a major factor in workplace litigation.

“Once it passes in a few states, there will be a chain reaction,” she said, noting that other countries such as England, Ireland and Sweden already have laws addressing workplace harassment.

The management association survey found that 56 percent of companies have some kind of anti-bullying policy, usually contained in an employee handbook or code of conduct. Most said their response to bullying allegations depends on the circumstances but could include suspension, termination, reassignment or mandatory anger management training.

Employers say the vast majority of bullying incidents are verbal abuse, such as shouting, swearing and name-calling, along with malicious gossip, rumors and lies. Bullying through technology, such as Facebook or other social media, accounted for about 1 in 5 incidents, the survey found.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Business

RECALL: Beer company issues recall impacting Ohio
RECALL: Beer company issues recall impacting Ohio

Beer company Sierra Nevada has voluntarily recalled some beers that could have small pieces of glass within the bottles. The company announced recalls after inspections at the company’s brewery in North Carolina found a limited number of bottle were flawed. The flaw could result in loss of carbonation and a small piece of glass could break off...
Speedway to hire 1,000 workers across 9 states
Speedway to hire 1,000 workers across 9 states

Speedway will hire 1,000 workers in nine Midwest states and will host open interviews at each of its stores in the region later this month. The convenience store chain, with a headquarters in Enon, will host open interviews from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25 at every one of its stores in nine states, according to information from the company...
Holiday debt blues? Here’s help getting on track
Holiday debt blues? Here’s help getting on track

John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau. With the holidays behind you, the new year is a great time to get your finances back on track if you’ve slipped a bit. By dedicating yourself to using credit responsibly and sticking to a sensible plan, then you can effectively pay down your debt. According to debt.org, total U.S....
New shopping center proposed at long-vacant Springfield site
New shopping center proposed at long-vacant Springfield site

A new retail development is likely coming to the east side of Springfield at a longtime vacant property, the first major commercial growth there in several years. The Springfield Board of Zoning Appeals approved Wednesday night a variance for the former Roberds site in the 3000 block of East Main Street. City documents filed by developer Springfield...
Gmail phishing scam may lead users to give up login info
Gmail phishing scam may lead users to give up login info

A new phishing scam is allowing hackers to gain access to unsuspecting Gmail users' accounts and target their login credentials, according to recent reports. Mark Maunder, CEO of security service Wordfence, described the scam in detail in a blog post, adding that it is also targeting other services beyond Gmail. Tech Times reported that the scam involves...
More Stories