2019 could be a breakthrough year in the fight against workplace abuse.
Workplace abuse in the form of bullying is common, but rarely addressed. Consider these statistics from a 2017 national survey by Zogby International and the Workplace Bullying Institute:
- 38% of workers have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying
- 71% of employers who received complaints about workplace bullying either ignored the problem or made it worse
- 61% of workplace bullies are supervisors
This form of abuse often goes unreported because of the stigma, retaliation, and legal ramifications suffered by targets who suffer in silence. Many of the targets try to hold on to both their job and their sanity, making speaking out virtually impossible.
For years, there have been efforts to create a law that would prohibit bullying in the workplace. Surprisingly, getting a law on the books has been a considerable challenge. The lack of a law makes targeted employees particularly vulnerable. The current civil rights law is inadequate to protect even those in protected categories such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. as described by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC). If a member of a protected class can’t prove the abuse is due to their membership in a protected class, they won’t win damages.
It gets worse because this issue is about the abuse. For instance, if two people both suffer from the same abusive behavior, and only one can prove discrimination, then only that person has legal recourse, even if the behavior and damages were the same. This leaves people with few options. Fighting workplace abuse can be an expensive, lengthy battle for anyone who pursues justice, and in the end, justice may be elusive.
There is Hope in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates is an all-volunteer political group whose goal is to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill. Known as SD 1355 until February 1 when they get a new bill number, the act would make it possible to create a legal claim for abuse targets who can establish they were subjected to malicious, health-harming behavior regardless of protected class status. The bill also provides defenses for employers who act preventively and responsively with regard to abuse and includes provisions to discourage frivolous claims.
The bill now has a docket number in the Massachusetts legislature. That means that through February 1, 2019, the group is working hard to get state legislators to sign-on as co-sponsors of the bill. Citizens are encouraged to contact their lawmakers and ask them to sign on to the measure so it can move forward through both chambers of the legislature and eventually become law.
The good news is that the bill is gaining traction.The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates have gone from getting 13 legislative supporters to currently 58 out of 200 lawmakers. The power of the people who speak up and out on workplace abuse is helping to build increased awareness about the need for legal protections for all employees.
Survivor Turned Workplace Abuse Warrior
Deb Falzoi is one of the co-coordinators of this initiative. A survivor of workplace abuse, she recently shared with me her story.
“I worked at a university, and a higher up was sabotaging people, including me. When I first met the bully, she was charming, and I liked working with her. Then slowly she started to remove responsibility from me and engaged in such destructive behaviors as false accusations and gossip. She even threatened my job,” said Falzoi. “At the time I didn’t know that I was experiencing a form of workplace bullying. It was textbook.”
Deb explains that she and her co-workers reported the bully to administrators and the human resources department, but nothing changed. “I felt isolated and had sleepless nights — typical symptoms of severe workplace stress. I finally found the term Wokrplace Bullying through a professor at Suffolk University in Boston. I couldn’t believe this behavior was legal,” she said.
Falzoi says the biggest challenges facing SD 1355 is getting legislators to sign on with support and push it through the legislature. To encourage lawmakers to sign on by February 1, Falzoi communicates with survivors every day through social media, asking them to contact their leaders and ask them to support the measure. In addition to working on the legislation, she also launched her own online community called Dignity Together to establish a community of survivors who lean on each other through the tough times. “One of the biggest steps that people can take in their healing process is to redefine themselves and take back their power, and I’m here to help them do just that,” said Falzoi.
How You Can Help
There is a national movement underway to stop this form of workplace abuse. For information on SD 1355 and other ways to join the fight, visit mahealthyworkplace.com.