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Bill Seeks To End Workplace Bullying In Mass.

Is your boss a bully? (jmiller2012/Flickr)

Is your boss a bully? (jmiller2012/Flickr)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever worked for a boss who was a bully. Not just mean, or difficult, but downright abusive. If your hand is up, you’re not alone. According to a recent study from the Chicago-based organization Career Builder, 35 percent of workers say they’ve felt bullied at work.

Now, Massachusetts is considering a legal remedy. It’s called the Healthy Workplace Bill, and if passed, it could allow workers to sue bosses who’ve caused physical and/or psychological harm. The bill is now in its third session in the Massachusetts Legislature, and it raises important questions about how to create a good work environment. We spend so much of our lives at work, why shouldn’t it be as supportive and respectful an environment as possible?

Then again, when it comes to adult interactions, when we say “bullying”, what are we really talking about? Could the bill become an easy way out for disgruntled employees? And if 35 percent of people really do feel bullied at work, isn’t there a deeper cultural problem here?


David Yamada, author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, professor of labor and employment law and director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University

Andrew Botti, business and employment litigator and director of The McLane Law Firm in Woburn. Member of the human resources committee for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.


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  • J__o__h__n

    The Roberts Court will interpret this so narrowly it will be worthless. 

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    Bullying happens every where in every facet of life.  I have food allergies, you would be saddened to know how many times, both in work (which I no longer do) and even in a social setting where someone will expose me to  one of my trigger foods and then claim ignorance to the threat to my health.  The first time is a mistake, the third time is intent.  

  • Bruceferrara

    My experience with work place bullying is with a boss who has a legitimate personality disorder. The level of abuse and dishonesty creates an atmosphere of tension, nervousness and perverse reactions. The abuser is able to get away with this behavior by lying to the owners about people whom he views as a threat. That employee ends up in a confrontation with this person and labeled a malcontent or suffers a breakdown and has a temper fit and fired, walks out. Relating this to outsiders is met with disbelief for the sheer duplicity of the situation.

  • kb

    I worked for a Boston-area company where bullying actually stemmed from and was perpetuated by the owner. His management style was based on fear, intimidation, and humiliation. Some people stay with the company because the job market is still terrible, but it’s mostly a revolving door of employees who leave after a few months of experiencing the company’s hostile culture.

  • ttllrr

    Will this law cover consultants and contractors who work full-time onsite at a client company and whose work life is no different from a regular full time employee?

    Also, will there be a statute of limitations on filing a claim?

    I was the recent victim of a bullying supervisor who was hired in from a big firm (and the company was clearly invested in keeping) who decided she just didn’t like me, systematically undermined me to other employees and did other devious things.  As Mr. Yamada indicated, when I challenged her about her behavior, I was fired within 90 minutes.  HR was no help–and Mr. Botti sounded like a classic party-line human resource person aligned with business and against the employee:  who else would suggest that if your boss throws a knife at you, YOU should find another job?!  I’ve been unemployed going into the third month now and have stress related shingles.  I traded the stress of working for this woman for the stress of being unemployed.

    I would welcome the passage of this bill.  It’s about time.  Childhood bullies grow up to be adult bullies in every aspect of their lives, including work, and nothing will deter them or the companies who turn a blind eye to their shenanigans than being held to a legal standard.  If it’s pain in the pocketbook that gets employers to finally address what’s occurring right under their noses, then so be it.

    • 93A

       I am a union representative in a state agency and we have bullying situations in our organization.  HR is part of the problem because they refuse to take action against the perpetrators.  They, like Mr. Botti, suggest that the best remedy is for the bullied to look for another job.  That’s why we need this legislation.  I hope that this legislation also applies to  state and local government.  Above all, it sends a message to the HR people and their legal counsel, that they have to crack down on this kind of behavior or face litigation .

      • Sciencegeek

        Having been a state employee (and a member of a “protected”class) I had to take my seriously abusive situation all the way through a union grievance and MCAD complaint process because HR defended the abuser (in this case a state agency associate commissioner). I sincerely hope this bill would apply to state agencies because bullying is a serious situation in state government, traditional discrimination laws (e.g., ADA) are not taken seriously, and HR only serves to protect those of the highest rank. No one should have to give up their career to be free of harassment and abuse.

        • JB

          As a victim of workplace abuse, I completely agree; “no one should have to give up their career to be free of harassment and abuse”.  For the lawyer in this piece to have suggested that the simple solution for the caller who had knives thrown at her head was to find other employment was ludicrous.

  • GladToBeGome

    I worked at the same company as KB..employees have gone out on stretchers w/anxiety & cardiac issues from stress there..employees strategically let go for cancer & other medical issues. Owner had a dislike for heavy people. You paid more for insurance if you smoked. Made senior management woman cry. It was crazy town

    • Ripple-of-Hope

      I ended up in the hospital for 2 days with the mother of all migraines…I’ve had small ones, and it runs in my family, but still…15 hours of active nausea, horrible aura..undoubtedly brought on by the cumulative psychological/physiological stress of being bullied at work.I was in the hospital for so long because they did a lot of tests to rule out other possible causes. Bullying affects the target/victim, but businesses should realize that the lost productivity and increased medical expenses that come with bullying are very real costs to the work organization.  Never mind that others seeing this all go down can be highly affected, even if they aren’t being specifically targeted.  It kills workplace morale and productivity on the part of many when this sh*t goes down.  Bullying, left unchecked, eventually destroys the entire fabric of a work establishment, I strongly believe this is true.

  • Ripple-of-Hope

    We NEED a LAW…no ifs, ands, or buts…I was systematically emotionally mistreated and devalued in my workplace for an active period of 9 months in 2010, it was not “just a bad day at the office”..I have suffered a lot of psychological pain, it’s improved now, but will never be gone. I still love my job, and have always been motivated to do it well, and I  am NOT a ‘whiner’…I am not disaffected. — I’m the voice in the wilderness for justice, I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. I was treated so poorly that people can’t fathom it, so they dismiss it,– “oh, it couldn’t have been that bad…” – Yes, it was THAT bad, and it’s WRONG!  Law gives strength to policy…and we as a society need to stand up for what’s right.  No law is perfect…but as it stands now, targets of bullies are not protected in any way at all.  Two more people after me have been bullied…so there’s a serious lack of leadership and accountability in my workplace, and I don’t see how it can get worse.  There are a lot of reasons why I have stayed — I like my job, I make good enough money, and I am a US Gov’t employee of 22 years and am invested in that way in my career — and a little part of me doesn’t want to give them the satisfaction.  I think it’s shameful that people would poo-poo this bill — it’s clear that pleas for civility don’t cut it, there needs to be a law that will help to hold people accountable, the bullies for their bullying and their supervisors/workplace CEOS for their cowardice and failure to do anything about the truly devastating problem that is workplace bullying.

    • A survivor for 11.9 years.

      You ‘hit the nail on the head’ with “CEO’s for their cowardice”.  Non-confrontational CEO’s who are afraid of the bully’s backlash — that is why there are bullies in the workplace.  The CEO’s have given them Power.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • Bullied in Waltham

    Nevermind bosses, what about coworkers? The worst bullying I’ve experience at work has come from people who were at lateral positions in the org chart. That made it hard for me to speak to them about their behavior with any real authority, and it meant that it was very easy for my bosses to look the other way. This happened at two completely different jobs. Both bullies were women in their 30s. In one case just last year, the bully went over our boss’s head and started complaining to the director on the sly, successfully engineering a departmental reorg that resulted in the elimination of one position: mine.

    • http://www.workplacebullying.org/ Gary Namie

       The U.S. national survey found that 18% of perpetrators are indeed coworkers, peers. Bullying ignores race, gender, age and disabilities. However, the vast majority of perps are bosses (72%). See research at Workplace Bullying Institute, workplacebullying.org

  • SomeGuyNamedMark

    This will just make lawyers rich and further burden everyone with time wasting HR training sessions.  You can’t legislate personalities that you like.

    • Dfalzoi

      Is that how you feel about sexual harassment law? So because there have been claims that have been unproven means that we should go back to pre-1970s and tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace? This bill isn’t about legislating personalities you like. Which incidentally is what many bully bosses are currently doing. It’s ok for them but not for targets?

    • Ripple-of-Hope

      That’s really a cop-out, dude.  If the justification for not having a law is that it may not be fully efficacious and/or that people will find ways to misuse it, then why have any law?  Sometimes it’s just about standing up for what’s right, even if there are unintended consequences. We can’t legislate personalities, but we sure as heck can and should legislatively try to prohibit purposely hurtful behavior.

    • http://www.workplacebullying.org/ Gary Namie

       Blaming personalities is the all-American excuse for every wrong committed. Good people can be turned into torturers in short order when the rewards make it so. The same goes for abusive conduct at work. When it is euphemistically called “being strong” or “passionate,” we excuse abuse. We did it for centuries with domestic violence. Today, the “Marks” probably want the good old days back when wife beating was legal. Bullying at work is the final form of abuse in the land that has not been made taboo. The Mass. law is just one piece of the solution puzzle. It will help prod employers to do what they currently do not do voluntarily.

  • AC

    Yes, there needs to be a law, not only for restitution but for HR managers to be forced to follow limits beyond protected classes as to harassment – we are all in this together.  And yes, there is a much deeper problem – bullying is a cost cutting measure to force an employee to react, either by leaving voluntarily if financially able to do so (thus eliminating unemployment benefits costs) or otherwise for fodder for future attacks or termination once the abused responds out of emotional torture.  For me, it was relentless and never ceased until finally being forced out the door when I confronted and asked that it stop after numerous incidents of intense verbal attacks and cruel behavior.  

    From my experience, there is a purpose in it from a dysfunctional, immoral, unethical, short term budget perception.  My situation, and many more like me at the law firm where I worked for 30 years, was for the purpose of getting rid of the higher salaried, efficient and experienced employees to decrease expenses and increase income through multiplying billable hours.  When billing time to a client, four inexperienced, lower salaried employees taking a week to figure it out versus one experienced employee taking an hour to accurately complete the task is increased income from a short term quarterly perspective, although the clients end up leaving once the bills are quadrupled.  The young are cheaper as to healthcare costs, although I had no health issues until the bullying attacks, and have lower salaries than a long term experienced employee who has spent decades earning it.  So many are being bullied to get them out the door, starting at the highest levels of the once most highly respected.  Sloth is valued at this firm now, and has replaced ethics, work quality and accomplishment of goals.   Those who in the past were perceived as having integrity, honesty, a focus on the goal, etc., are the targets.

    This is likely a large factor in the increase in the over 50′s age category who are forced to go on unemployment benefits, thus draining our economy even further. Regulatory guidelines with an avenue of restitution is THE only way to stop this corporate epidemic.  Then, the HR managers would be forced to take action beyond those incidents involving a protected class member instead of blaming the victim to please those in power to keep their own jobs.  The current laws are beyond antiquated to deal with this new management style that is destroying people’s lives.

  • Advocate

    I support the proposed law to make employees-both supervisors and employees-who bully their subordinates and fellow co-workers.  My supervisor, MGill, enjoyed bullying me at work by forcing to repeat her directions back. We got along for six months after she was hired and then she suddenly changed by bullying me at work during the summer of 2009.  When I was terminated for a charge that MG orchestrated to get me fired, she had a big smile on her face when Human Resources gave me information for unemployment.

    • Ripple-of-Hope

      Truly despicable…:( While ever hopefully holding out for legislation and justice,  I also believe the karma  on its own will do its thing – someday, somehow, and I may never see it.  I am not being vengeful — speaking the truth about horrible bullies and their enablers is not libel/slander, and I don’t and won’t forgive people who don’t want my forgiveness — I just want people to held accountable for their behavior.    It eases my psychological pain, believing that however it happens, that bullies and their enablers will get their just reward, if at the pearly gates, so be it.  And yes, I will do a jig when the smirks are wiped off their faces…if that’s vengeance, well, so be it on that score, too.

  • Adam Sinclair

    I’ve had Bosses who were very vocal about their political views to the point where I felt intimidated by the conversation.  I felt afraid to express my opinions because this was my supervisor or even the company owner expressing their VERY strong held beliefs to me.  

  • NoVanGoghs

    I also worked at the same Boston-area company as “kb” and “gladtobehome”. From my Vantage point, the culture of intimidation was very much like an abusive relationship, where those who had been employed there for over a few years had reached a level of Stockholm-Syndrome, allowing themselves to be manipulated by the owner and believing in their own lack of self-worth. He could break down grown men and women alike. This effect spread, traveling from position to position regardless of performance. If he learned your name, you were done for. Glad to be out. No one should have to feel trapped in a position like that due to a recession or other reasons. 

  • Just Quit

    This is so very important.  Wrongful treatment is such a confusing thing to feel as an employee.  SO many factors prevent someone from addressing their discomforts until these behaviors snowball into full time habits.  I recently witnessed someone leave their job, and in my opinion, was treated so horribly by a superior that only a filed complain and internal investigation could possibly lend way to a solution but I think we all know how that goes, you just quit and walk away empty handed.  Thankfully after a patient year, 365 days of torture, this person did finally quit.  The company was supposedly one of Forbes top 500 to work for, who care when one person can make or break your life.  People like that just inspire more entrepreneurs, a good thing.  I say quit immediately if you fight a power differential and passive aggressive AH’s.  Life’s too short!  I fully support this bill.  

    • Ripple-of-Hope

      It’s just not that easy, as I explain below…but in the end, I’ll be damned..that’s exactly what they want me to do.  I’d rather stick around and fight the war against injustice…indeed, it’s what I have to do.  When you go through something horrible (or see it happening to someone else, for that matter) you ask, why do bad things happen to good people?  You search for a reason to help us make sense of it and make something good come out of it. The reason for me is therefore to be that LOUD, never-shutting-up, thorn-in-your-side voice in the wilderness relentlessly pointing out how WRONG bullying is, so that even if I prevent it from happening to just one other person, that is a victory.  This does not come without additional emotional investment that can be hard, and many battles are still be lost along the way, but I believe that there will come a day…and this legislation is a big part of it..when the war will be mostly won…we can never legislate morality, but we can sure as heck make it difficult for people to behave immorally. 

  • lpvgv

    I worked for a biotech start-up once a few years back. One person was really out of control with her abuse and harassment and bullying. She directed it at many people: those perceived as her enemies or those in a different minority than she was or those who didn’t cowtow to her, even to those who being from the same national origin as she was, nevertheless chose to speak English. Many people lodged complaints with HR but nothing was ever done. One reason given was that there was no law against bullying and HR felt there was no strong legal defense.

    This law might actually give HR departments some teeth to take control of the bullies. I think that is the intent of it…not that everyone ends up in court, but that there are grounds to do so, which is often enough to bring about change.

    How (soon) can we get this law passed?

    • Dfalzoi

      Not soon enough.

  • Enough2014

    I recently left my job as an educator in a western Massachusetts urban school district. Bullying and intimidation of employees is not only known about or accepted as a run of the mill occurance. The union makes excuses for the bullies and not only that defends them, in my opinion. 
    The reason that HR does nothing is that you have to be a member of a protected class. So, people are hospitalized, ill, whatever and it continues. It is actually open season on employees.
    This is a crisis, a complete and utter crisis. People have killed themselves over bullying and truthfully, it is disgusting to see politicians still dragging their feet.

    • mobbed

      Must Read:  Breaking the Silence, Joseph Blasé….although written a decade ago…seems the silence still exists.  

  • Cortrightrebecca

    Thank goodness I haven’t been bullied at my workplace, bullying a person can’t do any good to the company. Although if I experience this, I don’t think I could last long on my work, probably find new job and then just quit as soon as possible. If this bullying situation could take longer, you might suffer from anxiety or depression w/c is not good for your health and your well being. If you want to review your workplace or supervisor whose been bullying you for so much longer, this site could let you rate them anonymously: http://takethisjoborshoveit.com/

  • Mobbed

    I found the comment disturbing, “…the person who gets upset about their boss screaming at them a few times.”  While this is not a persistent, planned, strategized behavior that constitutes bullying, it is telling that screaming is acceptable  in the workplace culture to this gentleman who represents employers.  

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