Urge the Labor Committee to move the Workplace Psychological Safety Act forward in Massachusetts
Workplace bullying and mobbing are forms of psychological abuse perpetrated through interpersonal abuse that violate an employee’s inherent basic human right to dignity.
The abuser playbook
- Workplace bullying typically begins when one employee, who is generally insecure and/or jealous, is threatened by the competence or demeanor of another employee. The bully targets an unsuspecting employee to minimize and/or eliminate the perceived threat the employee poses to them. Bullies use persistent psychological abuse to control the narrative. They try to convince the employee they are incompetent. They try to convince others the employee is incompetent.
- In toxic work environments, when employees report psychologically abusive behavior to the proper workplace authorities, those authorities willfully ignore the complaints. Employers are not liable for psychologically abusive behavior, nor do many want to be. The employer misleads the unsuspecting employee to believe they have a legitimate complaint process to remedy the problem.
- The employer fails to alter the employee's work environment. The employer doesn’t remove the stressor. The emboldened bully continues to harass and abuse the target without consequence or deterrent. The complaint process is unnecessarily prolonged.
- The unsuspecting employee voluntarily leaves, dies, or is fired, succumbing to the silent killer stress of the work environment. There is significant physical, mental, and emotional injury as well as severe economic harm. Game over. The bully wins. Her perceived competition is gone. The employer wins. Their perceived threat of liability is gone. The unsuspecting employee had done nothing to provoke either.
- Trauma upon trauma. When the employee realizes the institutional duplicity and complicity of tampering with their health and livelihood, forcing them off the payroll to avoid liability, trauma upon trauma occurs.
- Upon trauma. The employee further realizes there is no legal recourse for any of it.
Who’s picking up the tab for the long-term health care of millions of unemployed citizens and basic needs costs? You are: the taxpayer. And you have been for decades.
The solution: the Workplace Psychological Safety Act, H1882
- There is no current law that protects workers from workplace psychological abuse. Unless you’re a member of a protected class (sex, race, age, etc.) under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — and can prove the abuse is from your protected class membership — you don’t have rights to psychological safety at work under law. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) law requires victims to not only prove the abuser’s intent but also to show severe emotional distress, a near impossible threshold to prove.
- Proving intent doesn’t work with anti-discrimination law — and it won’t work with mistreatment in general. Anti-discrimination law used to work when it focused on impact. The courts’ shift in the 1980s to a focus on intent has rendered anti-discrimination law nearly useless. It’s no secret it’s an epic failure. The WPSA does not require victims to prove their abuser’s intent, so it would strengthen protections for women and non-white workers who can prove discriminatory impact but not intent.
- Workplace psychological abuse is an individual problem and an organizational one. Courts treat anti-discrimination law, which psychological abuse overlaps with, as an individual problem. But it’s a systemic problem often rooted in negative stereotypes and threats to power and control. The WPSA focuses on both individual recourse AND collective recourse to address the problem at the root: Employers control the work environment.
- Oftentimes, employers don’t enforce their own policies or practice what they preach around training — and even retaliate against those who report abuse. There is no law stating employers have to follow their own policies. Tennessee passed a bill incentivizing workplace anti-abuse policies, and California passed a training-only bill. Neither are effective. Policy and training laws don’t work. In addition, workers compensation laws don’t recognize toxic work environments or psychological injury. They are employer-controlled and require employees to waive their right to sue. Employers know there are loopholes in the law and misuse those loopholes to employee detriment.
- Employers need accountability to make our workplaces psychologically safe. The WPSA creates an accountable incentive for employers to prevent and address workplace psychological abuse and uphold psychological safety in the work environment. The WPSA requires employers to do what’s right — and requires the public reporting of attrition rates and law violations to get in front of the health and economic harm to targeted and victimized employees before it can occur.
- We can prevent harm of any kind. No law will eradicate an issue, but the goal is to prevent workplace psychological abuse as much as possible. Prevention means not waiting until harm occurs (not just psychological or physical harm). Sexual harassment law acknowledges a hostile work environment is enough for legal recourse. The WPSA sets its baseline for a legal claim at a toxic work environment, consistent with sexual harassment law.
- A legal remedy must be affordable for all workers. There is no current law that protects workers from workplace psychological abuse. Unless you’re a member of a protected class (sex, race, age, etc.) under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — and can prove the abuse is from your protected class membership — you don’t have rights to psychological safety at work under law. Making abuse illegal regardless of protected class status while giving more protections to members of protected classes — and putting it under its own agency — would lessen the EEOC and state agency backlogs and lessen the burden on the courts.
Why discrimination law is ineffective at protecting workers from bullying and mobbing
- “…anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”
- “…70% of the respondents reported experiencing some form of verbal harassment and 45% reported experiencing exclusionary behaviors [in a survey regarding racial and ethnic harassment].”
- “35% of LGB-identified respondents who reported being ‘open’ at work reported having been harassed in the workplace.”
- “…20% of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or unfair treatment at work because of their disability.”
- “…8% of respondents reported having been exposed to unwelcome comments about their age.” Source: https://www.eeoc.gov/select-task-force-study-harassment-workplace
If you are not in a protected class, you have even less protection in the American workplace when it comes to bullying and mobbing.
What the Workplace Psychological Safety Act will do
- It gives targeted employees legal recourse for employers creating a toxic work environment with a focus on specific, common behaviors that a reasonable person would deem toxic. Right now, it’s perfectly legal to be abusive at work in the U.S., even though it’s illegal in most of the industrialized world. Employers simply have way too much power. Targeted employees will be able to:
- File a restraining order against the employee who violates this Act depending on state law.
- Call for an internal investigation.
- Bypass a rigged internal process by calling for an investigation by OSHA or a similarly charged state commission, with positions funded by employers themselves so they’ll stop passing the costs of employee well-being onto taxpayers.
- Sue the employer and/or individual(s) in violation of this Act directly for economic, compensatory, and/or punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Employees can also sue criminally and choose to anonymously publicly disclose the case outcome, removing employers’ ability to silence them with non-disclosure agreements.
- Adopt and implement policies and training
- Conduct an annual anonymous workplace climate survey to monitor the prevalence of abuse in their workplaces
- Start third-party investigations within five business days and complete them within 30
- Take responsibility if the outcome favors the targeted employee, including minimally issuing an apology, reinstating work, and coaching, counseling, or disciplining the employee who engages in toxic conduct. Discipline may include removing supervisory duties or termination.
Workers deserve psychologically safe work environments.