April 7th, 2014

L & S: Bullying has to stop

By Jane Mundy, Lawyers and Settlements, April 7, 2014

Craig, a commercial truck driver, isn’t about to take bullying lying down. He believes this type of harassment should be a violation of the California labor law. Unfortunately, this type of harassment is not contrary to the California labor code, but wrongful termination is.

If not for Craig being pro-active, he wouldn’t be able to collect unemployment insurance. His boss, the owner of the trucking company, accused Craig of misconduct and fired him. Initially Unemployment Insurance denied his claim but he went before an impartial unemployment Administration Law judge who sided with him.

“That was one notch in my favor and I was able to collect backpay, but I still haven’t been paid for the week I worked, and even more important, this guy shouldn’t get away with his bullying,” says Craig. “I only worked one week for him and it was probably the worst week of my life.

“I had a delivery to make in Colorado but his truck kept breaking down before I even left. I called him a number of times but he refused to help. I called him several times again to provide tire chains when I encountered snow and ice, but he refused. Clearly it was now up to me to get the truck safe and legal for the road – I am a professional driver and I know what safety measures need to be in place. I bought chains for the truck but he didn’t reimburse me. One notch in his favor.”

When his boss became intimidating and profane over the phone, Craig called the federal Department of Transportation but he could only leave a message. (Someone returned his call – a few days ago – but Craig has yet to follow through.) “I don’t know if he singled me out, I wasn’t there long enough to know anyone besides the mechanic, and I got along fine with him,” adds Craig.

When Craig arrived in Colorado, the truck broke down, again. He called the owner, but instead of helping, he blasted Craig, saying it was his fault. Craig managed to get the truck repaired, again on his dime. “I was late getting to my delivery destination because of this and the traffic was really bad so I missed the pickup,” Craig explains. “Then things got weird. I got a call from my girlfriend. The boss had called her and said I had stolen the truck. I immediately called 911 and they reassured me that the truck had not been stolen. A few days after he fired me for being late, I got a call from a total stranger, saying he was going to cuff me for stealing the truck.

“I believe my constitutional rights were violated because he bullied and threatened me. Since this incident happened, I have been researching bullying in the workplace. I looked into federal and California labor laws and discovered a bullying advocate movement. I just want to work, I am not looking for money and I don’t want to be on unemployment. But I do want this guy to stop bullying. The workers of America don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

Unfortunately, the State of California has no law in place to prohibit bullying – a form of harassment – in the workplace. It is legal to harass an employee or co-worker until the job becomes unbearable and the worker becomes ill. Bullied workers often wind up with post-traumatic stress disorder and worse; occupational stress can lead to physical illness such as anxiety, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.

Other states are leading the fight against bullying, so people like Craig are hopeful that California won’t be far behind. For instance, the National Association of Government Employees Local 282 in Massachusetts has been one of the first unions in the country to include an anti-bullying clause in collective bargaining agreements.

Also leading the charge is Gary Namie, a social psychologist who co-founded the Workplace Bullying Institute in 1997. He says the economic downturn has made bullying even worse and argues that passage of the laws would give employers more incentive to crack down on bad behavior in the workplace.

In the meantime, Craig might attend a rally with the California Healthy Workplace Advocates, who say “We are here because Bullying Breaks Hearts.” Their mission is to “Raise Public Awareness and Compel our State to Correct and Prevent Abusive Work Environment Through Legislation.”

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