Saturday, March 13, 2010

Connecticut's HB 5285 moves forward: why that's good for all of us.

HB 5285AN ACT CONCERNING STATE EMPLOYEES AND VIOLENCE AND BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE was voted out of the Labor Committee on the 9th and yesterday it was sent to Government Administration and Elections Committee.  It passed the Labor Committee on an unanimous vote.  That is a very positive sign. This a bill that mandates that the state receive information about complaints of workplace bullying and abusive conduct when it happens to state workers.

The Act defines workplace bullying as:  "Abusive conduct" means conduct or a single act of a state employee in the workplace that is performed with malice and is unrelated to the state's legitimate interest that a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive considering the severity, nature and frequency of the conduct or the severity and egregiousness of the single act. Abusive conduct includes, but is not limited to, (A) repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; (B) verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or (C) sabotaging or undermining a person's work performance; 

The Act therefore largely uses the language recommended by the Workplace Bullying Institute in the Healthy Workplace Bill

While many in the movement are eager for a Healthy Workplace Bill to pass, what Connecticut is proposing--to study the problem--is a first step in establishing what many of us know firsthand: that bullying is a rampant workplace problem. A WBI-Zogby Poll found that 37% of workers reported being bullied at work. Add to that the number of people who have been witnesses to bullying, for whom the work environment also becomes stressful, and about half of all workers are affected by the problem. 

People just want to do their jobs. I was reading a book Employment Law in a Nutshell, 3d (West Nutshell) (Paperback) by Robert N. Covington, Ch. 5, pp. 326 and 327. I was very surprised to come across a discussion of bullying, and even the question of what happens when an employee commits suicide over bullying. The subject came up in a discussion of stress, but in one case, Swiss Company, Inc. v. Dept. of Industry, Labor, and Human Relations, 72 Wisc. 2d 46, 240 N.W. 2d 128 (Wisc. 1976) there was recovery when a bullying supervisor berated and harshly criticized the claimant, who had been working long hours and was under a great deal of stress. People in the 1970s were fighting for things like comparable worth legislation, equal pay for equal work, and so to find this first raised in the 1970s shouldn't be so surprising. But in this employment compensation claim, we see the nascent beginnings of what is now a movement.

The movement is about fairness. Contrary to some claims by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the workplace bullying movement is not anti-business. We value our jobs or we would not be fighting so hard to make the workplaces where we work healthy ones. HB 5285 does not affect private business. It measures instances of abuse of state employees. This bill will ultimately help make our work places, private and public, safer, healthier and more productive just by recognizing the problem.

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