Workplace bullying legislation: Keep your chins up parents

Workplace bullying legislation is making its way through multiple state houses. No more, hopefully, will parents have to convince their kids not to fear the school bully while struggling with a workplace bully. 

Associated Press
Margaret Fiester is no shrinking violet, but she says working for her former boss, who subjected her to abusive tirades, was a nightmare. She doesn't have to worry about the tirades anymore, but she hears lots of similar stories in her current job, where she often fields questions about the growing issue of workplace bullying. Now an operations manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, here she poses for a photograph in Alexandria, Va.

Some bullies never grow up, they just transfer their search for dominance from school to the workplace and other venues like the Internet. As parents we have a game plan for helping our kids cope, but what are we to do when Mommy gets bullied at work and comes home carrying the weight of that stress?

In the work place, bullying is like a vampire that drains victims of morale and self-confidence, sapping away their productive energy and increasing employee turnover. Which is pretty much what it does to our kids when it happens in the schoolyard or on the bus.

According to The Associated Press: “Half the employers in a 2011 survey by the management association reported incidents of bullying in their workplace, and about a fourth of human resource professionals themselves said they had been bullied.”

The website explains bullying as, “purposeful attempts to control another person through verbal abuse — which can be in tone of voice or in content such as teasing or threats — exclusion, or physical bullying or violence, which the victim does not want.”

The site adds, “Cyber bullying can take many forms: Sending mean messages or threats to a person's email account or cell phone. Spreading rumors online or through texts and posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages.”

"It's usually the manager or senior executive who's just a complete out-of-control jerk," Margaret Fiester, who experienced workplace bullying, told the AP. "Everyone's going to be walking around on eggshells around somebody like that. You're afraid to make mistakes, you're afraid to speak up, you're afraid to challenge."

More than a dozen states have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits, and medical expenses, and compel employers to prevent an "abusive work environment," according to the AP report.

Unfortunately, while we wait for legislation, we still face the bully every day and then come home to our kids and look them in the eye and tell them and ourselves, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

As Poet Shane Koyczan's “To This Day” video project showed the world last week, the scars of bullying don't fade, they deepen. Workers get gun shy, feel less valuable, and perhaps even fall into the same patterns they had if they were bullied as children: shrink, fade, try to be invisible in order to survive another day at the office.

Bullying that comes to you upon your daily route to earning a living is no less distracting and harmful than when it happens to you as a child. Our kids know that school is their job and they have no alternative to getting on the school bus where a bully waits or going to recess where bullies make their lives a misery.

When I was bullied in the workplace, in a non journalistic setting, by a man who physically towered over me and routinely shouted at and demeaned workers to get his way. I ended up quitting my full-time job and moving my workplace to cyberspace.

However, I discovered this week that the issue of bullying can get even worse when you have an online job, such as being a journalist, and run into the occupational hazard of cyber-bullies.

Unlike a tangible work environment where I would have a chance of either standing up to the bully or reporting the person to a higher authority, Internet Trolls lurk in the shadows, using false names, dummy email and social media accounts, and have a legion of equally invisible, hostile, untouchable cronies behind them.

I learned this week there are few effective laws in place to try to fight people we can't see or even put a name to. Unless the bully actually threatens physical harm or openly tells others to do something destructive, you pretty much have to sit back and ignore it until it plays itself out.

I have been instructed not to respond to emails, tweets, and an entire web page and YouTube video recorded by cyber bullies trying to harass, defame, and intimidate me out of my profession and volunteer work with African American children. The group zeroed-in on the religion of my ancestors and the fact that the children I help through a chess program are largely African American.

Free speech is essential and something that makes our nation great, until someone generates hate out of thin air and on a thinner premise.

I'm a mom, though. Moms find solutions, work-arounds. I'm also a chess player and we like to look at the board and our opponent from all angles, so I tried to look at the board from my opponent's side. On the other side of the board from me is someone who's still thinking like a child. A bully.

This adult knows the rules, or lack thereof, and uses them to their advantage to bully with impunity. I can get behind that kind of strategy. Knowing it's completely legal to generate hate means it is just as legal to spread love and tolerance.

So I'm facing my bully in the workplace right here and now, where we first met, to tell him a few important things:

“I don't hate you. I'm not angry or frightened. I understand you feel the need to promote your mission to build a level of fear, intolerance, race, and religion hating and that's your constitutional right. I am sorry that I have to continue to make you angry and frustrated by being the daughter of a Jewish man. It's just not something I can control, nor would I ever hide it. Women still take their husband's name when they get married. Also, my great-grandfather was the magnificent Yiddish “Poet of the Ghetto” Morris Rosenfeld and I am incredibly blessed and proud to be part of his legacy.

I understand my belief, that race, skin tone, and religion are not something by which we should judge others in the year 2013, is making you grind your teeth. On the bright side, my being here to rage against has given you something to make profitable YouTube videos about and so that kind of makes me part of your income stream. It makes me very happy knowing that you need me much more than I need your bullying.”

I'm not going to lie, the last two paragraphs felt gorgeous.

I was driven from one job by a bully and will not make that mistake again. It's a recession out there folks and if you are in a job with a bully for a boss or co-worker it's time to take back your confidence, pride, and power by supporting anti-bullying legislation. Until it comes through you have to remember the person you are at home with your kids and take that feeling to work with you.

As my husband is fond of saying, “When the Mom's not happy, nobody's happy.” Time for the bullies everywhere to know that too.

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