Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vermont Senate Makes Smart Move Toward Workplace Bullying Legislation

By Beverly Peterson,

For years advocates have been trying to pass workplace bullying legislation in Vermont. Last year, SB.52 started as yet another attempt to re-introduce the Healthy Workplace Bill (aka Abusive Work Environment Act). But, this time something happened. Instead of dying in committee, the language was completely struck and totally rewritten to ensure that lawmakers look into all possible approaches before adopting legislation that will impact both employers and employees throughout the state. (After all, isn’t that what our elected officials are supposed to do?) The Senate wants a task force created to determine the best way to provide relief and redress for state residents suffering in abusive work environments. The new version of SB.52 became very active and passed the Senate. If it makes it out of the general committee and is passed through to the Governor’s desk, the task force’s findings could create a landmark moment for those of us who would like to see bullying legislation become a reality.

"The Vermont office of attorney general’s civil rights unit reports that of the 1,200 to 1,300 requests for assistance it receives each year, a substantial number involve allegations of severe workplace bullying that cannot be addressed by current state or federal law or common law tort claims. Similarly, the Vermont human rights commission, which has jurisdiction in employment discrimination claims against the state, reports that it must refuse complaints of workplace bullying because the inappropriate behaviors are not motivated by the targeted employee’s membership in a category protected by antidiscrimination laws.

(5) Sweden enacted the first workplace bullying law in 1993, and since then several countries have taken a variety of approaches to the problem, including the creation of private legal remedies and the prohibition of workplace bullying through occupational safety and health laws."

Read the rest of this article here:


Myth 1: Bullying only happens in the schoolyard

If anyone tries to tell you bullying at work doesn't exist, tell them 25 years of research says otherwise. Academics have been looking at this phenomenon since the first article published on the topic in 1984. Since then, thundreds of research articles have indicated that approximately 50% of the population is bullied at some point in their career. (Though research articles vary in their statistics... some say 30%, and one even says 90%...)

Recently the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that almost 25% of American businesses have some level of bullying - and they found that 11% of the bullying is committed against customers.

Myth 2: Bullying and conflict are the same thing

Conflict is about disagreement and interpersonal differences. It occurs when two people perceive that whomever they are in conflict with is in the way of getting needs met. Workplace bullying, on the other hand, is psychological abuse. You wouldn't tell a target of domestic violence to see a conflict manager, and you shouldn't tell a target of workplace bullying that either.

Myth 3: Bullies are evil psychopaths out for blood

The media loves to portray bullies this way because it makes for better news and it makes targets of bullying feel better about their situation. But most workplace bullies are unaware that their behavior makes others so uncomfortable. While there may be some bullies out there who are indeed malicious, the research does not support this notion that all bullies are purposefully evil.

Myth 4: Bullying is covered under current harassment laws

Harassment and hostile work environment laws in the U.S. only cover protected classes. That means that if the bully is an "equal opportunity bully," and does not bully because of the nine protected classes, including race, color, gender, religious beliefs, national origin, age, familial status, or disability, then the bullying is legal.

Myth 5: Bullying can be solved by implementing an anti-bullying corporate policy

We can create policies until we run out of ink, but unless they are in alignment with the organization's overall vision and leadership supports them 100%, it will be like they don't exist at all. Corporate policies are only as good as management and employee's support for them.

In order for a policy to be effective, it needs to be accompanied by training, performance management programs, and rewards systems. And, leaders have to set an example of appropriate behavior.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Connection Between Workplace Bullying, Health and Home Life

A new study measures how bullies affect families.

The study involved 280 full-time employees and their spouses. Participants were asked how often supervisors behaved badly. In particular, the survey rated responses to statements such as "Puts me down in front of others," and "Tells me I'm incompetent."

Participants also rated statements about their home lives. Examples of the statements measured included, "Our family can express feelings to each other," and "Our family is able to make decisions about how to solve problems." Spouses were asked how often they were "Irritated or resentful about things your (husband/wife/partner) did or didn't do," or "Felt tense from fighting arguing or disagreeing with your (husband/wife/partner)."

Results show that while employees with bad bosses did not report problems with their families, their spouses often did. Employees who had bad bosses experienced more blow-ups between husbands and wives and had families that failed to communicate well. Dawn Carlson, the study's lead author and a professor of management and the H.R. Gibson Chair of Organizational Development at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, explains the fallout of abusive behavior at work. According to Carlson, "It spills over and affects our families . . . . It translates into tensions with your spouse. And that leads to poor family functioning." Linda Carroll, "Your boss may be ruining your marriage," (Dec. 12, 2011).

Commentary and Checklist

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recognizes job stress as an area of growing concern in occupational safety and health. Job stress can trigger various stress-related disorders including depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, fatigue, tension, aggression, lack of concentration and memory problems.

In addition, according to the new study described above, the stress of workplace bullying can take a toll on marriages and family life.

Employers wishing to curtail bullying must create an atmosphere where bullying is not accepted and provide a means for employees to report bullying without fear of retaliation for doing so. In the employment relationship, managers and supervisors are the persons in power and are the most likely to bully employees.

However, just because a manager is strict or demanding does not necessarily mean that he or she is a bully. High but reasonable expectations, when communicated respectfully and fairly, do not equate to bullying. Workplace bullying involves abuse or misuse of power. It creates feelings of defenselessness and injustice and undermines morale, productivity and health.

Here is what you can do as a manager to stop bullying:
  • Never abuse your power. If you bully your employees, you injure yourself, your employees and your employer.
  • Watch for bullying. Verbal mistreatment of employees in front of other employees or customers is a common form of bullying.
  • Look for the signs of bullying. A common sign of bullying is a higher turnover rate of employees reporting to one manager than for those reporting to other managers.
  • If your position at your employer permits you to do so, confront bullies under your management. Specifically address what actions you believe were an abuse of power and why.
  • If you are not in a position to address bullying on your own or you feel uncomfortable doing so, you should make your human resource department aware of bullying as soon as possible.
This informational piece was published on January 11, 2012.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Teacher's suicide stuns school, spurs colleagues to speak out

This story from the Chicago Tribune highlights the importance of making complaint procedures very clear to employees. It appears, of course based solely on the news report here, that Mary Thorson was frustrated, scared, and unhappy... but the district leaders had no idea. Perhaps if Mary had a stronger understanding of what avenues to take to express her feelings and to whom she should express them, she would have felt comfortable making her feelings known.

It's easy to say, "well she should just go to her immediate boss, or the principal!" But, in a culture of fear and intimidation, the answer's not that simple. School district leaders must focus on building a culture of civility and respect, and again, providing clear instructions on who to talk to when problems arise. If a teacher fears the principal, the teacher should have a list of other people to talk to.

Let's hope this school district explores implementing an anti- workplace bullying program.

By Becky Schlikerman, Chicago Tribune reporter

On Thanksgiving, a grade-school gym teacher parked on the shoulder of Interstate 80/94 in northwest Indiana, got out of her Mercury SUV and walked in front of a moving semi truck.

The 32-year-old's suicide shocked the tiny Ford Heights school district where she worked. In the days afterward, tension grew amid conversations by co-workers about what had happened and questions from the Army veteran's parents. The turmoil peaked during a crowded meeting in December, when some teachers and school board members clashed.

The suicide note that Mary Thorson left centered on frustrations at the school, and her death spurred some of her co-workers to speak out at the public meeting.

Teachers described an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the two-school district, where little things snowballed over time.

"We don't feel like we can speak out because we have been intimidated," teacher Rose Jimerson said at the meeting. "We have signs all over the building about anti-bullying. … Our staff gets bullied."

Co-workers and friends said in interviews that Thorson was deeply upset by her job and was worried she was on the verge of being fired. She had been suspended in April after allegedly striking a student and again a week before her death, records show. The second suspension was for allegedly cursing at a student, a co-worker said.

Even some of those close to Thorson acknowledged that it's difficult to pinpoint why anyone commits suicide, but her death opened wounds in the district. School district officials have vowed to work on healing with new channels of communication.

School board members and the administration expressed sorrow over Thorson's death but also surprise at the way some teachers described the work atmosphere.

At the meeting, board members denied the allegations and asked why no one had come forward with such concerns.

"If you guys would have come and brought allegations and we didn't address it, then you would have every right to say what you need to say," Board President Joe Sherman said.

Thorson, known as Coach T, left behind a handwritten, six-page note in her SUV. Other than one paragraph in which she apologized to her parents for the hurt her death would cause, the rest of the note was exclusively about Ford Heights School District 169.

Thorson's parents agreed to share the note with the Tribune. In it, Thorson wrote, sometimes rambling, about the plight of children in the poor school district and the lack of resources and discipline. She also wrote about the school's leadership and said teachers were not taken seriously.

"We must speak up about what's going on!" The note concludes: "This life has been unbelievable."
Thorson had started her teaching career after an eight-year stint in the Army Reserve, where she attained the rank of specialist and served honorably, said Army spokesman Mark Edwards. She joined in 1998, just out of high school, to help pay for college, said her father, John Thorson.

Thorson was the first in her family to graduate from college, getting a diploma from Western Illinois University in 2005. She worked at schools in Chicago and Bellwood before taking a job in Ford Heights at Cottage Grove Upper Grade Center in 2008.

The students "loved her," said Walter Cunningham, who taught physical education with Thorson. "She treated them like a daughter or son. They all gravitated toward her."

Like many of the teachers there, Thorson used her own money to buy students school supplies or warm clothes if she saw a need, Cunningham said. More than 98 percent of the 520 students in the district are considered low-income, according to state records.

In April, Thorson was suspended for two days after allegedly hitting a child, though Thorson said it was a playful tap, according to personnel records provided by her family.

Thorson had complained about feeling targeted by school administrators, said her father. "She was worried about keeping her job there," he said.

Her parents said they urged her to find a job closer to her hometown of Moline, Ill., or to go to graduate school, but she was attached to the children of Ford Heights. In the note, she spoke of her love for the children and her pain at their daily trials.

"They were her life," said her mother, Shari Thorson. "She did not want to leave."

A week before her death, Mary Thorson suffered what she thought was a crushing blow to her career, Cunningham said. On Nov. 17, she was suspended with pay, records show. The suspension was for allegedly cursing at a student, Cunningham said. She was to have a meeting Nov. 22 to discuss the incident, according to records, but colleagues and family said Thorson skipped it.

"She was so distraught," Cunningham said. "She was convinced they were going to fire her."
Sherman said the board had no intention of firing Thorson.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Study finds most paramedics are victims of abuse in the workplace

More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job

TORONTO, Ont., Dec. 29, 2011 –More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job, new research has found.

Verbal abuse by patients and their friends or relatives, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) co-workers or bystanders, was the most commonly reported, followed by intimidation and physical abuse, the study found.

"EMS providers can experience violence in the workplace as they perform their jobs in unpredictable environments and near people in crisis," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator.

"Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research. More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."

Bigham is an advanced care flight paramedic for York Region EMS and Ornge, and an associate scientist at Rescu, based at S. Michael's Hospital. Rescu is part of the Resuscitations Outcomes Consortium, a large, multinational research collaboration of 10 sites across the United States and Canada, studying how promising new tools and treatments can improve survival rates among people who suffer cardiac arrest or life-threatening traumatic injury outside of hospitals.

The study, published in the January issue of Prehospital Emergency Care, found:

  • Verbal abuse was reported by 67.4 per cent of EMS workers surveyed, perpetrated by patients (62.9 per cent), patient family or friends (36.4 per cent), colleagues (20.8 per cent), and bystanders (5.8 per cent).
  • Intimidation was reported by 41.5 per cent, perpetrated by patients (37.8 per cent), patient family or friends (27 per cent), colleagues (45.3 per cent), and bystanders (3.4 per cent).
  • Physical abuse was reported by 26.1 per cent, perpetrated by patients (92.3 per cent), patient family or friends (11.1 per cent), colleagues (3.8 per cent), and bystanders (2.3 per cent).
  • Sexual harassment was reported by 13.6 per cent, perpetrated by patients (64.7 per cent), patient family or friends (18.4 per cent), colleagues (41.2 per cent), and bystanders (8.8 per cent).
  • Sexual assault was reported by 2.7 per cent, perpetrated by patients (88.9 per cent), patient family or friends (7.4 per cent), colleagues (14.8 per cent), and bystanders (2.7per cent).

EMS workers in Ontario and Nova Scotia were invited to participate in this study while attending a continuing education seminar in 2011 and 90 per cent responded. They were asked if they had directly been the victims of various forms of violence within the previous 12 months. Of the 1,381 paramedics surveyed, 70 per cent were male with a median age of 34 and 10 years experience in EMS.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael's Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

For more information, please contact:
Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
Phone: 416-864-6094
St. Michael's Hospital
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