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'Workplace Bullying' May Be the New Sexual Harassment

Illustration for article titled Workplace Bullying May Be the New Sexual Harassment

"Workplace bullying" is a growing issue, according to the AP, which reports that "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."

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Adults are supposed to take care of bullied children, not struggle with bullying themselves. But half the employers in a 2011 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management reported bullying in their workplace, and around a fourth of human resource professionals themselves said they had been bullied. If adults are being bullied (and bullying), who polices it?

"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."

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Some advocacy groups want to go beyond anti-bullying policies and give legal rights to workers who don't already fit into a protected class; more than a dozen states have recently considered anti-bullying laws that would allow people to seek lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and mandate that employers prevent an "abusive work environment."

In Massachusetts, the National Association of Government Employees Local 282 has been one the first unions in the country to include an anti-bullying clause in collective bargaining agreements:

"From a labor perspective, we want there to be remedies in place for corrections to be made, not to yell, scream, threaten or treat the person basically like a slave," said Greg Sorozan, president of NAGE, which represents about 12,000 public employees.

In 2008, Sorozan succeeded in placing "mutual respect" provisions in labor contracts with the state that say harassment, abusive language and bullying behavior will not be tolerated in the workplace. It allows workers to raise concerns with managers and file a grievance if not satisfied.

But will people really accuse top-level executives of non-specific bullying? "It might be a little bit difficult to discipline the CEO," said Fiester, the human resources adviser. "You are really walking a tightrope." In related news, Madeleine isn't responding to my Gchats, and I'm thinking of suing her for abandonment.

[AP]

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DISCUSSION

I've had several bosses who could be called bullies. Their behavior ranged from yelling and shouting to asking inappropriate personal questions to making mistakes and then frantically searching for an underling to pin them on. Some of them were actually decent bosses despite this behavior, some of them were awful.

But by far the worst boss I've ever had could never be called a bully. She was passive-aggressive, manipulative, and cowardly. She would never say anything that could be considered negative to anyone... well, not to their face. She regularly lied to both her bosses and her team, and she ultimately left after attempting to stage a coup that almost lost her entire team their jobs in order to facilitate her desire to obtain a teaching position at our affiliated graduate program.

Seriously — there are worse things than someone who is outwardly mean to you. It's great when you encounter a boss who can be kind and encouraging and friendly while also maintaining high standards, getting everyone to do their jobs, and hitting all their targets. Kudos to anyone who accomplishes that. But I'd settle for an effective boss who I don't particularly like any day, if the alternative is a "nice" person who doesn't know how to do his job. Sometimes giving up on nice is what makes a boss effective.