July 29th, 2014

NH workplace bullying bill vetoed by governor

Gov. Hassan Vetoes Workplace Bullying Bill
By Holly Ramer, Associated Press, July 28, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill Monday aimed at protecting New Hampshire state employees from abusive work environments, saying it was well-intentioned but unworkable.

Lawmakers passed the measure after hearing from current and former state workers who said they experienced workplace bullying. It would have required state departments and agencies to develop policies to address harassment.

But Hassan said the legislation’s definition of “abusive conduct” was overly broad and would have made the most routine interactions potential causes of action. For example, workers could claim abuse if they believed they had “unreasonable” workloads, felt co-workers weren’t answering emails in a timely manner or had received constructive criticism from supervisors or peers, she said.

“The bill also attempts to legislate politeness, manners and the interpersonal relationships of co-workers,” Hassan said.

The governor said state employees deserve respect and the opportunity to work in respectful environments, but she argued the legislation would lead to a dramatic increase in lawsuits, which would in turn hinder productivity.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diane Schuett, said she hopes lawmakers will override the veto.

“We all know there’s bullying in school, and just because someone graduates from school, doesn’t mean they stop doing it, and it carries over into the workplace,” she said. “It undermines the efficiency within state government if you end up with one or two employees being harassed on the job, either by another employee or a supervisor, and you end up with the entire agency being aware of it and feeling like they have to pick sides.”

Schuett, D-Pembroke, and other supporters said the state has no written policy against abuse in the workplace nor any office procedure to follow to address such issues. But Hassan said existing state rules give employees an avenue for making complaints.

Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees’ Association, disagreed. She said in the two years since the bill was first introduced, the governor has done little more than have the state personnel division develop an online “Respect in the Workplace” training presentation.

“It just feels like more stalling,” she said. “The governor has the power to issue an executive order to take this more seriously … If the governor wasn’t going to support the legislation, the governor’s office should’ve pitched an executive order and has not done so. So we’re very upset.”

As for the concern about litigation, Lacey said state employees already have been using the courts to seek relief.


The WBI response to the veto.

We regret that any governor would refuse to forbid the abusive conduct of workers. From her decision, one reasonably can infer that the governor believes government agency managers need to have bullying practices in their arsenal without risking complaints.

However, we do agree with Gov. Hassan’s critique that the definition used in HB 591 is too vague with a list of illustrative cases that vary in severity so greatly that opponents need only cite the list.

SEIU Local 1984, the union representing state workers, crafted a bill to serve only its members that borrows the term “abusive conduct” from the WBI Healthy Workplace Campaign and its signature Healthy Workplace Bill. Unfortunately, they wrote an imprecise piece of legislation. HB 591 is not the Healthy Workplace Bill.

The genuine HWB was written by our affiliated law professor, David Yamada, who uses Title VII Civil Rights statutes as the model. We include a high threshold provision in our precise definition and allow for litigation.

Further, a careful reading of the NH bill shows that the Governor is disingenuous when she claims HB 591 would lead to “a dramatic increase in lawsuits.”

Details of bills convey strengths and weaknesses. Sloppy construction leads to weaknesses. Here are the principal weaknesses of bill 591:

No lawsuits may be filed using HB 591 — it is not an option as it is in the real HWB or as the governor contends. For some reason, the union sponsor agrees that employees should shed their right to sue. Litigation is possible when state or federal anti-discrimination laws have been violated.

• Conflict resolution procedures are suggested despite all experts in workplace bullying warning that these traditional processes are inapplicable if misconduct is severe enough to be called “abusive.” When abusive, bullying is violence, not conflict.

• Resolution of complaints about bullying are kept internal. Internal processes are subject to employer confidentiality. The facts and pattern of repeated instances and different individuals targeted never will see the sunshine of public attention. Employers have no incentive to change.

• Trust in policies and procedures, implied by the inordinate amount of attention and verbiage contained in this bill, is misplaced because employers control P&Ps. The idea of creating a new law is to augment employee power. For some reason, this union did not seek to do that.

• If appeals are warranted, the hearing officer will either be the state commissioner of labor or the agency’s HR department. This is simply naive. Ask any bullied target how well those two institutions advocate for worker protections.

• The definition of “employer” taken directly from the bill “means any branch, department, commission, bureau, agency, or agent of the state of New Hampshire, but shall not mean any political subdivisions of the state. Thus, the only workers “protected” by written policies are members of SEIU Local 1984.


In contrast to NH, SEIU/NAGE in Massachusetts has championed the real Healthy Workplace Bill that does hold employers accountable via potential public litigation, precisely defines abusive conduct, requires health harm as consequence, and applies to all public and private sector workers. SEIU/NAGE is a model Union partner with WBI. And SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry stood with WBI and NAGE in public.

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