Herald-Star: Towns promote ‘Freedom from Workplace Bullies’

October 14, 2012
Staff Reporter- The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE – Area communities are marking “Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week” with proclamations reflecting the need to protect men and women from abusive work environments.

City councilmembers in Steubenville, Toronto and Weirton have all issued proclamations in honor or Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, which runs today through Saturday.

Mayors in all three communities point to the need to promote the social and economic well-being of all employees and citizens, noting that individual well-being “depends upon the existence of healthy and productive employees working in safe and abuse-free environments.” They cite studies and surveys that “have documented the stress-related health consequences for individuals caused by exposure to abusive work environments,” and said protections should apply across the board, regardless of race, color, gender, ethnicity, age or disability.

John Smurda, state coordinator for the effort to get a healthy workplace bill passed in Ohio, said bullying is defined as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career and your job.”

While it’s a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence, he said studies show it has emotional and stress-related consequences.

“With all these problems going on, people don’t realize what bullying is or what workplace bullying is. We’re trying to to get a bill introduced in Columbus to fill in loopholes in current laws,” Smurda said.

Workplace bullies may insult other employees, undermine a co-workers work product, create a hostile work environment or consistently draw attention to someone else’s flaws, ignore their suggestions or otherwise humiliate that person in front of others.

Since 2003, 21 states – including West Virginia – have adopted a healthy workplace bill, which defines an abusive work environment, establishes requirements for proof of health harm by licensed health or mental health professionals and protects conscientious employers from vicarious liability risk when internal correction and prevention mechanisms are in effect.

It also gives employers the ability to terminate or sanction offenders, requires those accused of workplace bullying to obtain their own attorney and plugs gaps in current state and federal civil rights protections.

For workers, it provides an avenue for seeking legal redress for untenable situations at work, allowing victims to sue their tormentor individually. It holds employers accountable, and compels them to prevent and correct future instances.

It does not involve state agencies in enforcing any of its provisions, nor do states which adopt the measure incur additional costs.