A Safe and Healthy Workplace For All by Mass State Sen. Katherine Clark, Melrose (MA) Free Press, July 4, 2013
Everyone deserves a safe and healthy workplace. Unfortunately, instances of workplace abuse and harassment are far too common, with both physical and psychological health consequences for employees.
By some estimates, more than a third of workers have experienced this type of mistreatment, and I have heard directly from many constituents about their own experiences.
As a state, our economic wellbeing depends on the success of healthy and productive employees. Workplace harassment can have serious costs for employers, including reduced employee productivity, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims.
Last week I testified before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on legislation I have filed to address this challenge: An Act addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment, without regard to protected class status.
Joining me were state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada and several victims and advocates.
In oral and written testimony, workers described repeated and escalating verbal abuse, physical intimidation, retaliation for reporting complaints and harassing behavior designed to compel them to quit.
This bill (HB 1766) does three things. First, it provides legal relief for employees who have been deliberately subjected to abusive work environments. Secondly, it incentivizes employers to prevent and respond to abusive mistreatment of employees by allowing employers to minimize liability. And finally, it includes provisions that discourage weak or frivolous claims.
It is important to understand that this bill is not about everyday disagreements in the office, or someone having a bad day, or a boss providing directives, oversight and feedback. Instead, it seeks to address a regular pattern of health-harming mistreatment at a work environment in the form of verbal abuse, offensive and threatening behavior, or malicious work interference.
Some types of workplace abuse — like sexual harassment — are already illegal with established legal recourse and remedies. But in other cases, employees who have been subjected to abusive treatment cannot establish that the behavior was motivated by race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or age. As a result, they are unlikely to be protected by the law against such mistreatment.
Rep. Story and I have 37 cosponsors on this bill, and we anticipate moving it forward to a vote this session. This bill also has the support of the National Association of Government Employees. Since 2003, variations of this bill have been introduced in 25 states, and a growing number of nations have enacted laws and regulations covering workplace bullying.
The results of this legislation will be direct and indirect. Workers who have been harmed by abusive work environments will have access to legal recourse. And as importantly, it will contribute to a change in workplace culture as employers focus on this challenge, raise awareness and adjust their policies in response.
The change will take time, but this bill moves us forward and establishes Massachusetts as a leader in ensuring healthy and safe workplaces.
State Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, represents the 5th Middlesex District.
The public hearing for Massachusetts bill HB 1766 is scheduled for June 25 by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Follow the status of the Healthy Workplace Bill in MA on the MA State Page. MA residents connect with the citizen lobbyists through the MA Healthy Workplace Advocates — links to MHWA on the State Page. Good luck to MHWA and NAGE lobbyists!
Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202) is the prime sponsor of HB 1179, Pennsylvania’s first-ever introduction of the Healthy Workplace Bill, dubbed the Healthy Workplace Act introduced on April 15, 2013. There are 10 cosponsors.
The bill is the 13th bill to be active in the U.S. in 2013. PA becomes the 10th state to carry a bill this legislative session.
Visit the PA State Page at this website to use our E-Z Emailer to thank the sponsors and to encourage the House Labor and Industry Committee Chairs to schedule a public hearing for the bill.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wrote in a New York Times guest editorial forcefully about her feelings toward (46) U.S. Senators who voted against the gun control package of bills on April 17. Excerpts from her Op-Ed article are below.
We advocates for anti-bullying legislation are told to tiptoe around lawmakers lest we offend them. Meanwhile the business lobbyists lie about bullying and the specifics of our bill. We get crushed by remaining civil and polite. It’s time for a change.
But Giffords reminds us that elected officials work for us and can be fired when they make wrong decisions. When their self-interest in re-election funds overwhelm doing the right thing for public safety and they coddle the NRA and Gun Owners of America and do their bidding instead. Her remarks are not delicate. Candor from this former politician is welcome.
We take her words as inspiration for all who help the campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill. Giffords is a one-issue advocate now, like us. She spares no wrath when telling the truth. We should be so bold.
Here is some of what she wrote:
Maine state Rep. Sara Gideon, along with six House cosponsors and two Senate cosponsors, introduced HP 845. Details found on the Maine State Page. This is Maine’s first bill, making it bill number 12 across 9 states in 2013!
Watch Connecticut State Coordinator, Dr. Kathy Hermes, and citizen advocate Laura Lillian Dickerson (a friend of a bullied target), on Waterford CT community television.
By a vote of 19-0, HB 591 (amended) passed the New Hampshire House Labor Committee. Next step is a House floor vote.
In New Mexico, on Wed. March 6 at 1:30 pm in Room 309 of the capitol, the House Judiciary Committee holds a public hearing on the bill (HB 234) sponsored by Rep. Mary Helen Garcia. Please attend and support the bill if you can. Regardless, please write to the committee chair and vice-chair, urging them to support the bill. This can be done easily from the NM State Page using our E-Z letter writer.
We are grateful for all the support provided the NM State AFSCME union.