Category Archives: Working at OHSU

Patient Transportation Bans AFSCME Badges, Then Apologizes

AFSCME Local 328 members in patient transportation services were shocked last night when supervisors told them to stop wearing union badge extenders and asked them to turn the badge extenders in to their supervisor.

In an apparent reaction to increased union activity by patient transportation services members, supervisors have engaged in a series of actions which seem designed to intimidate and discourage employees from engaging in protected union activity. Members have been told not to speak with or approach Union staff and stewards while on duty even if the conversation was of the incidental “water cooler” type discussion and not interfering with work.

Union representatives who have gone through proper channels to meet and speak with members on break and lunch times have been denied access to the patient transportation break room and have been relegated to an isolated table away from member traffic areas.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, members were told to remove Union badges and turn them over to management. The OHSU dress code and Oregon labor law protect the right of union members to wear Union buttons and Union insignia.

After consulting with our attorneys on Thursday morning, Union staff members Ross Grami and Kate Baker met with Patient Transportation management. During the meeting management agreed to allow AFSCME members to resume wearing their Union badges.

Management further agreed to issue an apology to the members in Patient Transportation.

Members have the right to wear Union badges throughout OHSU. There are some limitations on badge size. In patient care areas there are some restrictions on the kind of slogans or messages that may appear on a badge or button. However, you are always allowed to proudly identify yourself as a member of our Union.

We want to thank the members in Patient Transportation for standing up for our Union rights.

EVS Progress Report, OHSU Files Complaint Against AFSCME


Significant Progress in Ending Worker Abuse in EVS

A lot has happened since AFSCME Local 328 began our campaign to end employee abuse in Environmental Services (EVS). When our union began the campaign, we insisted on:

  • An independent investigation.
  • An improved complaint policy. (One that didn’t rely on OHSU Human Resources to administer it — due to the inherent conflict of interest on the part of HR representatives who spend their working lives supporting management.)

OHSU has agreed to both of these proposals and we are moving forward with them.

Our union provided information about some specific abuses to OHSU; OHSU has followed up with internal investigations and we have begun to see positive changes in EVS. As we said in an earlier report, we will not be specific about the changes we have seen, for the privacy of the people affected by these changes.

OHSU has agreed to hire a neutral facilitator to conduct labor/management meetings — not just in EVS but also in two other OHSU departments that we believe are problem areas: Food & Nutrition and Patient Transportation.

Through it all, EVS employees have continued to work every day, despite uncertainty and fear of retaliation. They have come forward in increasing numbers to tell their stories. During AFSCME Strong Week, after the Martin Luther King holiday, Local 328 hosted an EVS appreciation event that was well received by EVS employees. At the event, more people began to speak up and express a willingness to talk to the independent investigator once the position is filled. EVS employees have shown exceptional courage in speaking up and exceptional dedication to OHSU and their jobs throughout this difficult time.

OHSU Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaint Against Local 328

Our union’s EVS campaign has not come without a cost, however. Local 328 and OHSU are now involved in litigation, since OHSU filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Local 328 over the rights of union representatives to have access to work areas and non-work areas to meet with workers or attend vigils for EVS. OHSU has alleged several contract violations by the union over the presence of union staff representatives and volunteers in hallways and elevator-access lobbies during our EVS vigils and during AFSCME Strong Week. Like a grievance, a ULP is a means to resolve disagreements — this will get sorted out in due time.

It’s important that Local 328 protects our right to have access to our members at work. It is also important not to overreact and create an unnecessarily adversarial atmosphere — our union needs to be able to work with OHSU effectively on the many joint projects we have in progress and on those committed to in the most recent contract.

We’re Almost There…

Overall, the EVS campaign has been successful in bringing hope to our members that their working conditions will dramatically improve. There has been some fallout over issues of staff and volunteer activities during this period, but we expect to get these issues resolved.

The support of the entire community of AFSCME Local 328 members has been crucial to the success of this campaign.

We expect to extend the positive results we’ve had in EVS to other departments.


OHSU Opens EVS Investigation

When Local 328 first “went public” with the issue of employee abuse in the Environmental Services department (EVS), OHSU’s first response was to show concern about our methods: Why did we go public? Why is this coming out of nowhere? Why aren’t you using “the process”? Why are you holding vigils in our hallways? Some of our members were shocked too. Responses ranged from concern that we weren’t filing complaints with the “proper” authorities, to asking why we didn’t do this long ago.

We think it’s safe to say that everyone is learning as we go through this process. Our union is learning that while formal processes are important tools, they are not the only tools, and that public opinion and direct member action can get results when the “proper channels” don’t. We won’t speculate on what OHSU has learned, but we can report on how it has responded.

Since the second week of our campaign, OHSU has been constructively engaged with us on the matter of EVS employee abuse. We don’t agree with every step OHSU has taken, but there is clearly a desire to get to the bottom of our union’s claims and to work with us to create a safe process for members to tell their stories.

  • OHSU has agreed that, going forward, some type of independent investigation is needed, though we haven’t yet held detailed talks about what that will look like.
  • OHSU has agreed that we need to work together to reform the complaint process so that future complaints will be dealt with more effectively and we will begin meeting about that, most likely in January.

Signs of Progress

Last week, OHSU took the first steps toward opening an effective and meaningful investigation. In the interest of not compromising that investigation we are being deliberately vague, but we can assure our members that positive and constructive steps are being taken.

We can further assure our members that if the current investigation backs off or if it isn’t aggressive enough, our union will not hesitate to call that out. We sincerely hope there will be no need for that — our goal isn’t to create conflict but to resolve the problem of employee abuse in EVS and elsewhere at OHSU.

We have also been clear that our union views the current investigation as an emergency intervention and not a substitute for a fully independent investigation.

What Next?

There are other work units with similar concerns and our union is not going to end our workplace-abuse campaign until all of them are investigated and corrective action is taken. When we first started this campaign, we thought it would be necessary to call out each department over a period of weeks in order to raise and sustain pressure on OHSU to take action. We are still going to do that, but hope we will be able to do so in the context of reporting on results rather than fighting to have the problem recognized for each department.

This Isn’t Over — You Can Help!

This isn’t over by a long shot, but we are heading in the right direction. More than ever we need members to be engaged and active around pushing this issue to a successful resolution. You can help by:

  • Continuing to support EVS workers by attending a vigil. We meet at the 9th floor fireplace twice each day — you may sign up for a vigil here.
  • Sharing your story with us. You don’t have to be an EVS worker — our union wants to help end worker abuse at OHSU, not just in EVS. Call (971) 271-7832 and leave a message for us to get back to you.
  • Attend the Bureau of Labor and Industries training on worker abuse and discrimination, sponsored by Local 328 – learn more and sign up here.

Thank you for all you have done so far!

OHSU Moves EVS Huddles, Excludes Union — Union Will Continue Public Vigils

OHSU has moved Environmental Sevices huddles to a private area in OHSU’s Patient Transportation department. The effort to exclude our union comes after three weeks of union vigils, soon after EVS employees finally spoke up in the morning huddle, in the presence of union observers, against the use of the cleaning agent OxyCide. Within days, OHSU suspended its use of OxyCide and moved the huddle behind closed doors.

Our union is concerned that this decision will have a chilling effect on EVS workers’ willingness to speak up.

Local 328 is pleased that the use of OxyCide has been temporarily suspended pending further evaluation, but our union remains committed to assuring that the problems of worker abuse in EVS are addressed. Our union will continue to work at getting to the truth.

Local 328 Releases Supervisor Misconduct Report Form

In order to deal with worker abuse, that abuse must be documented and reported. Until now, all reports of bullying and abuse of employees have been made through one OHSU process or another. As a result, all investigations, conclusions and file materials were owned and controlled by OHSU and, ultimately, Human Resource.

Local 328 is going to change this by the introduction of our Notice of Supervisor Misconduct form. The form is simple and easy to fill out, and allows members to remain anonymous if they wish. One copy of the supervisor-misconduct report will go to the supervisor, one will go to OHSU HR and one will be retained in the supervisor’s permanent personnel file at the Local 328 office.

The form will serve as official notification that supervisor misconduct has been observed and reported by an independent, non-OHSU party — our union — and that notice has been served on all appropriate parties. We can’t force OHSU to act on the form, but our union will investigate, will help gather facts and will keep a record of what we find.

This brings us to our next initiative.

Local 328 and BOLI to Jointly Present Training in Recognizing and Reporting Workplace Abuse

Local 328 has contracted with the State of Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to present a six-hour training in how to recognize and report workplace abuse, with specific emphasis on worker intimidation, harassment and bullying. The training will teach members how to report claims to BOLI and what information is essential to making an effective report. The training will examine what worker abuse is and how it differs from illegal discrimination.

The training will be offered to Local 328 stewards and staff on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, at the Doernbecher Vey Auditorium (rm. 11620), from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Lunch and snacks will be provided.

If you wish to attend the training but are not a steward, please use the online registration form. Space will be made available to members who are not union stewards on a first-come-first-served basis. Non-steward attendees would have to attend while off duty (regular day off, vacation day, etc.).

OHSU Must Take Action to Investigate and Prevent Employee Abuse

It’s been a little over three weeks since Local 328 publicly raised the issue of supervisor abuse of employees in the EVS department. We took this step after years of frustration with an ineffective internal process to report and curb abuse by OHSU supervisors and managers.

Today, Local 328 President Matt Hilton sent the following letter to OHSU Vice President Dan Forbes and the rest of the OHSU leadership team which met with our Union two weeks ago today on this issue.

Dear OHSU Stakeholders:

Two weeks have passed since we met to discuss the abuse issues in EVS.

Dan Forbes has agreed to begin the investigative process by interviewing one of our affected members this week. Getting members to agree to tell their story to an OHSU official has been a painfully slow process because of employees’ continued perception that it will not be safe for them to do so. This perception was demonstrated to be an accurate one this week when a member was loudly and publically accosted by a supervisor for talking to the union. Word of this incident spread quickly among EVS staff. We have shared that information with Dan.

We want to be clear that Local 328 believes that OHSU’s current process for investigating employee claims of abuse is fatally flawed. This is not an aspersion on any individual’s character or intentions. We appreciate that Dan agreed to interview our member on this matter, but it is clear that he does not have the time, nor should it be his job, to carry the investigation forward to completion. What Dan is doing is an emergency intervention. We agree that it needs to be done so that employees in EVS have some hope of getting relief soon, but it is a stopgap measure. It is not a substitute for a full and independent investigation — one that is culturally sensitive, one that recognizes the relationship difficulties posed by traumatic experiences, one that our members can trust.

But, securing that independent investigation for EVS is also only a temporary solution. There needs to be a reform of the process by which employee complaints are heard and investigated. We believe that the best intentions of individuals will not overcome an internal structure that serves primarily (whether intentionally or not) to suppress complaints and shield OHSU from liability rather than to solve problems. The fact that the EVS situation has come to this point without any significant intervention or abatement of the abuse over a period of years is the best evidence that the internal complaint process needs dramatic change.

Our union is going to continue to engage our membership on this issue and we are going to continue to try to frame a broader discussion on employee abuse at OHSU. We do value a collaborative relationship with OHSU. There are many issues on which we want and need to work together productively. We hope that this issue turns out to be one of them.

We believe that OHSU is taking this issue seriously.

We propose that:

  • An independent investigation be conducted re: the employee abuse in EVS.
  • An effective internal process be created for handling employee complaints of bullying, harassment and intimidation going forward.

Local 328 is prepared to meet and discuss how we might work together to resolve the issues in EVS and address our concerns. Recognizing that you will need time for consideration, we would appreciate hearing from you on this matter by Friday, Dec. 18.

Thank you,

Matt Hilton
President, AFSCME Local 328


Open Letter To Local 328 Members – OHSU’s Response

Please share your story in the comments.

If you want to talk to us confidentially call 971 271 7832 and leave a message telling us how to contact you, a Local 328 Staff member will call you back.

November 23, 2015

Dear Brothers & Sisters of AFSCME Local 328:

This letter serves to update our membership on our ongoing campaign about supervisor abuse of employees in OHSU’s Environmental Services (EVS) department.

Local 328 Meets With OHSU on Supervisor Abuse

 From 8:00 – 9:30 a.m. today, Local 328 president Matt Hilton, chief steward Michael Stewart and staff representatives Kate Baker, Dennis Ziemer, Corey Nicholson and Frank Vehafric, as well as AFSCME Council 75 attorney Jen Chapman, and met with OHSU vice president Dan Forbes, attorney Darryl Walker, Support Services senior director Pete Hazel, HR mission directors Hollie Hemenway and Joni Elsenpeter and HR business partner Wes Phillips.

In the interest of allowing participants to speak freely at the meeting, our union agreed not to quote any individuals in our report on the meeting. We think it’s important not to stifle honest discussion by calling out individual comments from either side.

The meeting basically had two points of discussion: OHSU’s complaints: re: union activity and our union’s concerns about supervisor abuse in EVS.

OHSU Complaints about Union Activity 

The meeting began with a discussion about Local 328’s recent actions: holding vigils for EVS workers, handing out leaflets and union “swag” at those vigils and taking photos and video at those vigils, as well as the content of some bulletin board and Facebook content.

OHSU is concerned that our union’s presence violated the contract because we were not there for what they considered a “matter related to employment.” Our union disagrees with this assertion. We will continue the vigils and we will continue leafletting employees. We will let OHSU know the content of our leaflets, but we will not agree that OHSU has any right to approve or reject our leaflets. What we choose to educate our members about is our business.

OHSU was further concerned that some photos we posted were objected to by some of the people photographed. Out of respect for those people, we agreed to take down the photos and video from our Facebook page. Our intent is to show our union in action, not to inadvertently offend anyone.

OHSU’s final concern raised was over a cartoon that was placed on a union bulletin board at OHSU. We agreed to remove the cartoon.


 Union Concerns about Supervisor Bullying In EVS

Our union expressed concern that the abuse of employees by supervisors in EVS is ongoing and that the current process in place is not adequate to address it, as evidenced by the fact that the abuse has continued despite years of employees and our union using the existing process.

We expressed our concern that no investigation conducted by OHSU can be independent, despite the best intentions of HR staff or leadership, due to the structural relationship of HR with the management team.

We told OHSU that it is our belief that a neutral and independent party needs to conduct the investigation. We also believe that community resources, or perhaps professional resources, need to be brought in to help the investigators learn how to work with employees who have been traumatized by the work environment or by their experiences prior to coming to work at OHSU.

We further made clear that there are more departments than EVS that have abuse issues, and that our union is concerned about all abuse, not just abuse by supervisors. If lead workers or other AFSCME-represented coworkers are abusive, they must be held just as accountable as supervisors.

We further explained that going forward, regardless of how the current situation is resolved, we need to reform the current internal complaint processes at OHSU since they obviously haven’t worked.

OHSU Responds

 It is clear from OHSU’s response at the meeting that it is responding to our union’s efforts to shine a light on supervisor abuse at OHSU.

  • OHSU stated that it is committed to ending employee abuse.
  • OHSU stated that is are committed to investigating and disciplining, if appropriate, supervisors and other workers who abuse our union members.
  • OHSU stated that it is committed to protecting our union members from retaliation.
  • OHSU asked for the names of the EVS and Custodial Services supervisors and lead workers our union suspects of abuse. We provided those names.
  • OHSU asked for the list of additional departments our union feels have serious enough systemic supervisor abuse to warrant further investigation. We provided that list.

Note, that we said, “is responding.” We are at the beginning of a process that may well bear fruit. However, despite OHSU’s stated commitments:

  • We have not solved the problem of supervisor abuse.
  • We have not reached agreement on what the investigative process will be.
  • We have not reached agreement on who will be conducting the investigation.
  • We do not have agreement on how we will assure members that an investigation will be unbiased.
  • We do not have agreement on how we will reach out to our affected members so that they have confidence in the process.
  • We have not yet reached agreement on how members are going to be protected from retaliation.
  • We have not reached agreement that once an investigation starts, the supervisors being investigated will no longer have authority over the members making the complaint.
  • We do not have agreement on how our union will be assured that supervisors will be dealt with using the same standards that bargaining-unit members are held to.
  • We do not have agreement on the issue of reforming the current internal complaint process

All of the above issues are still open issues. But we are meeting and talking, and OHSU clearly would like to move forward to resolution. We believe today’s meeting represents progress, and that OHSU is serious about its commitments. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

We need to be sure that the resolution isn’t more of the same processes that haven’t worked in the past.

We need a radical departure from business as usual in order to get at the truth.

Help us keep the pressure on OHSU to keep the commitments it has made and move to an agreement with our union on the issues still outstanding.

YOU are making progress, but this is not over.

In solidarity,

AFSCME Local 328


Open Letter – End Abuse By Supervisors In EVS

November 16, 2015

Open Letter to:

President Joe Robertson
OHSU Board of Directors
Members of AFSCME Local 328
OHSU Community

Subject: Abusive and Degrading Treatment of Environmental Services Employees

For far too long, employees of the Environmental Services Department (EVS) at OHSU have been subject to abusive, degrading, unsafe and unethical treatment by their management staff.

  • Employees are frequently yelled at loudly in front of coworkers.
  • Managers play favorites and give easier assignments to favored staff.
  • Managers appear to use assignments to punish or reward employees based on personal favoritism. For example, a supervisor was heard to say, “I like to play games. I know what to do. Next Saturday she will work her schedule all alone.”
  • Managers are not following the union contract in posting positions, awarding overtime or scheduling holidays. Employees are afraid to assert their contractual rights due to fear of retaliation.
  • Managers call their employees “stupid” or “lazy.”
  • Employees in EVS are being required to use a cleaning chemical that causes burns to the arms and face. Other employees have said the chemical makes their throats and eyes burn.
  • A supervisor was overheard telling an employee that the union couldn’t help them.
  • Employees are denied keys to areas they need to access to dispose of biohazardous waste. As a result, this waste often places others at risk while keys are being delivered or employees travel to the office to get keys — biohazards are left unattended or are transported through the hospital twice before being disposed of.
  • Bedmakers do not have a break room. When they use break rooms in areas where they are working, other staff complain about their presence.
  • A supervisor grabbed an employee by the shoulders and physically forced her to kneel in front of other OHSU employees, including a charge nurse, and scrub baseboards on her hands and knees while she wept. This is not the only time this kind of thing has happened to her.
  • Employees are in fear of unwanted touch, thrown objects, and unwanted physical horseplay by supervisors and lead workers.
  • Managers let positions go unfilled, job bids go unawarded. Employees are so rushed that they are forced to bypass safety protocols to avoid public humiliation for not getting their assignment completed.
  • An employee told a supervisor she was feeling ill with a cough and runny nose and believed she had the start of a cold or flu. She asked to be removed from her regular assignment in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital due to the onset of this illness, because she had been told if you are sick you can’t work in patient-care areas. Her supervisor told her that if anyone asked if she was sick, she was to say it was an allergy. This is a very young member who does not want to lose her job. A patient’s mother noticed the employee’s condition and expressed concern that her child, who was already ill, would be made more ill by the member’s presence.

EVS employees have complained to management about these conditions. They have signed petitions. They have spoken to AFSCME staff representatives.

AFSCME staff have reported these conditions to OHSU Human Resources. Nothing has been done.

AFSCME staff have attempted to meet with Pete Hazel, the department director. Pete Hazel refused to meet with staff, but he did agree to meet with a steward who is an EVS employee. Still, nothing has been done.

Nothing has been done. Not by the department head. Not by Human Resources.

Other avenues of complaint, such as the Integrity Office, simply turf the complaint back to HR, by policy. The Integrity Office at OHSU doesn’t investigate claims of supervisor abuse of employees. Don’t ask us why.

So here is the plan:

The union is going to visibly support EVS employees.

  • We will be in the hallway when they come to work and when they leave for their assignments. (We won’t stop them or interfere in their work in any way, but they will see us.) Maybe some of you reading this will join us.
  • We are going to use social media over the next few weeks to expose specific wrongdoing so that no one at OHSU will have an excuse to be ignorant of the abuse happening to EVS employees.
  • We will issue buttons, stickers and flyers to the OHSU community asking them to support EVS employees.
  • We will train and encourage EVS employees to file complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, since the OHSU Integrity Office is prevented from handling their complaints. Prevented — not uninterested, prevented.
  • We will train EVS employees to call OHSU Public Safety when they are intimidated, bullied, threatened or otherwise made to feel fear while at work.
  • We will render every assistance and support, publically and privately, that we can think of and muster until the EVS department itself gets a housecleaning. We don’t care if you are a department head, manager, supervisor, Aramark mole or, sadly, union lead worker: you will start acting like civilized adult human beings or we will continue until you are gone.

 Let’s be clear: OHSU knows about this treatment and tolerates it. EVS employees are good workers. They represent many races, cultures, languages and faiths. They work together and they work hard. They don’t deserve to be treated this way. No OHSU employee does.

We are watching and we will not let them down.

AFSCME Local 328

Workplace Bullying — Part 2: Digging Deeper


Why Does Workplace Bullying Happen?

In 2012, the Workplace Bullying Institute did a poll asking why workplace bullying happens. The majority of people experiencing bullying blame the bully who is responsible, which is a totally normal response. However, the poll also found that 56 percent of responses to why workplace bullying happens  were about the workplace environment and culture. Let’s dig deeper into what some of those issues are.

A big part of solving any problem is recognizing what has caused it, but most companies and organizations have no direct policy on workplace bullying. What does that mean? It means that many workplaces do not even recognize bullying as an issue. Employers often respond to accusations of bullying by relying on “code of conduct” policies. As you may be aware, these policies are often fluid, (more like guidelines); for the most part, they are not legally binding. In addition, while companies like to say that everyone plays by the same rules, these policies are administered by bosses who can manipulate them however they like. So, a boss who is a yeller might just be labeled a “hard motivator” or someone who brings a lot of “intensity” to the job. Until employers attempt to address bullying behaviors through contract language or hard policy, a lack of recognition of the issue will continue to plague workers and allow abuse to continue.


In our first article in this series, we noted that the workplace bully is most often an employee of a higher status, and likely a boss. When a boss is the bully, it’s fair to say many people will look at that situation and think, “Oh, that’s how you get ahead here” or “The boss is doing this — it must be okay.” In fact, one of the top responses to the WBI survey on why bullying happens, was that “bullies are not punished, they thrive.” Not only do most companies not have enforceable policies on bullying in the workplace, most people polled think bullies are the ones who thrive in a workplace.

Can you guess how many states have laws making workplace bullying illegal? If you guessed zero, you are correct. Not a single state in the nation currently has any laws against workplace bullying. (There are laws about the harassment of workers in protected classes, but those are different and do not provide the universal protection that is needed against workplace bullying.) Not only do few workplaces recognize bullying as an issue, not a single state has given workers protections against it.

Power, by its very nature, can be a corrupting force in any workplace (and elsewhere). As long as organizations are run as top-down enterprises, there will almost always be an element of those with some power and control abusing that power. Sadly, in the short-term, bullying can be an effective management strategy to control the workplace. However, the long-term cost to workers’ mental and physical health and to organizational integrity is usually not worth the short-term gain.

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

 Much worksite bullying looks like a slightly grown-up version of the playground variety. There tend to be two kinds of bullying: overt and covert. Overt bullying includes yelling, screaming and pushing, in a manner that doesn’t really hide the behavior. Covert bullying is a bit slyer — manipulating a work group, making hurtful jokes, giving an employee an assignment that’s impossible to complete and otherwise playing mind games. In general, dealing with an overt bully is far easier — the bullying behavior is often out in the open, so it is harder for someone to deny that it’s happening or for an organization to look away. Covert bullying, on the other hand, is obviously much tougher to identify and, therefore, harder for an organization to deal with.

The Australian Human Rights Commission compiled the follow list of workplace bullying behavior:

  • Repeated hurtful remarks or attacks or making fun of your work or you as a person
  • Sexual harassment (particularly unwelcome touching, sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable)
  • Exclusion or or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relate to your work
  • Mind games, ganging up on you or other types of psychological harassment
  • Intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)
  • Assignment of pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
  • Assignment of impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided
  • Deliberate alteration of your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you
  • Withholding of information you need for getting your work done properly
  • Physical abuse: pushing, shoving, tripping or grabbing you in the workplace
  • Attacks or threats with equipment, knives, guns or any other object that can be turned into a weapon
  • Initiation or hazing (where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team)

This is not a “be-all and end-all” list, but it is a good starting point.

How Does Bullying Impact Workers and Society?

 The impact of workplace bullying on the victim and on society as a whole is serious, but the economics are fundamentally hard to calculate. Let’s focus on the impact to the individual first and begin to draw the larger connections from there.

An employee being bullied in the workplace is dealing with an incredible amount of stress. Unfortunately, people who are under high stress are more susceptible to a variety of health issues, particularly mental health issues. Those under prolonged stress can experience damage to memory and emotional regulation. Again, the Workplace Bullying Institute surveyed those who have been bullied at work and found reports of the following health issues:

  • Debilitating anxiety (80%)
  • Panic attacks (52%)
  • Clinical depression (new or exacerbation of a previously controlled condition (49%)
  • Post-traumatic stress from deliberate human-inflicted abuse (30%)

Workplace Bullying — Part 1: The Facts

When you hear the word “bully,” an image almost certainly pops into your head. Whether it’s a cinematic version of the classic school-yard bully torturing his preteen peers, the popular kid in high school who tortured you about a bad hair day in the fifth grade or a hulking senior who made you and your lunch money his personal ATM on a near daily basis, the image of a bully is almost universal in our society. It is also mostly associated with adolescence — like the examples above or the very real issue of cyberbullying — and many would like us to think it’s not something we’ll have to deal with once we escape high school. However, as many folks know, nothing could be further from the truth. Bullying takes place at every level of society and the workplace is no different. This article series will address the topic of workplace bullying.

What Is a Workplace Bully?

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct such as:

  • Threats, humiliation or intimidation
  • Work interference/sabotage that prevents work from getting done
  • Verbal abuse

If the above statements apply to your normal workday, then you are probably either watching workplace bullying happen or having it happen to you. Some may say, “Yeah, I’m sure it happens some places or to a few people here and there, but it’s not that big of an issue, right?” Wrong.

A 2014 survey by the WBI revealed that 27 percent of workers had direct experience with bullying at the workplace and 72 percent of workers were aware of workplace bullying happening in their worksites. However, disturbingly, 72 percent of employers denied, discounted, encouraged, rationalized or defended workplace bullying. Lastly, 47 percent of workers said they were negatively affected by bullying, either as the victim or a witness. When one looks at these numbers, it’s hard to argue that this country doesn’t have a problem with worksite bullying.

Who Is the Workplace Bully and Who Is the Target?

We know what workplace bullying is and that it’s a big problem. What we don’t know is who is doing it. Again, our friends at the WBI provide some insight. The majority of workplace bullying comes directly from bosses — 56 percent, in fact. (Only 11 percent of bullying is directed from workers to bosses.) That leaves us with a third of bullying happening from peer to peer. This is a somewhat flawed number, as it does not account for the social hierarchies of the workplace; for example, a nurse bullying a CNA would be considered peer-to-peer bullying, even though a nurse typically has more power in the workplace than a CNA. One thing to remember about workplace bullying is that individuals across class lines may take part in it, but the culture of a workplace is always set by the bosses, not the workers.

The WBI’s research also shows that workplace bullies tend to be men far more than women (69 percent compared to 31 percent). A lot of societal and cultural factors account for this number. The one that is easiest to understand is that more men hold positions of power in worksites than women. This matters, because if you hold a position of power over someone, you are more likely to exploit it. While the majority of bullies are men, the majority of victims are women. Women are 50 percent more likely to be targeted by workplace bullying than men. Again, there are a lot of reasons why this may be the case. For one, men typically do not report bullying at the same rate as women and instead use a “tough-it-out” approach. Additionally, if you break the numbers down along racial/ethnic lines, the impact of bullying on people of color is sadly higher than it is on their white co-workers.

By now you must surely be thinking, “Why don’t people just report it, or get a lawyer and sue?” That’s a great question. The reason is that 80 percent of workplace bullying is not illegal. Only bullying related to protected classes is illegal. So, for example, if your manager bullies you about being gay or for having a disability, you can seek some legal protections; if s/he bullies you just because they saw you as an easy target, no law has your back.

Workplace bullying is real; in fact, it’s an epidemic problem in this country. However, there are people and systems that see a short-term benefit to its prevalence. What benefit is that? Well, it’s all about power and control.

In the second part of this article series, we will explore why workplace bullying happens, what it looks like and how it impacts working people. If you want to know more about workplace bullying or the data mentioned in this article, visit the Workplace Bullying Institute at