Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Memorial for Vernetta Northcutt, Teacher of Courage for California Healthy Workplace Advocates

“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
― C. JoyBell C.

This quotation by C. JoyBell C. well describes our friend and fellow California Healthy Workplace Advocate, Vernetta Northcutt.  In 2004, over 40 of us gathered in Sacramento to hear Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute speak on the subject of work abuse.  Vernetta was among us.  On that day, she was sprite, happy, and very interactive.  Later we would learn that she was at the beginning of a long, arduous journey that would take all the power and courage this good woman had.  But immediately we could see that power and courage were the essence of Vernetta Northcutt. 

Before our gathering dispersed, about half of us decided to meet two weeks later at a local restaurant to see what we could do to convince our State legislators to recall a previously cancelled bill that would make status-blind workplace bullying illegal and actionable by an injured target. California Healthy Workplace Advocates aka  was formed and Vernetta Northcutt was with us.  As a social science teacher, she knew full well that until the law was changed, egregious acts of psychological violence would haunt the California workforce with no hope for resolution for targets of bullying at work.  She had no fear of this fight, though Vernetta herself was in the middle of an emotionally violent workplace situation while we worked toward our goal.

This was a strong woman who dared to speak her truth.  At each safe legal turn, she would tell us more and more about her long, successful career as a high school history and English teacher who loved her job and the students she would sometimes have to beg, bump, and pull through to their graduation.  She told us there were false claims about her students’ failure rates.  She told us about her inexplicable teaching reassignment and about the perpetrators who failed to follow the legal rules any reasonable person would expect from all her co-workers, especially her supervising educators. 

As time passed and Vernetta became able, she would tell us more and more.  She would speak to cameras and walk with us through the halls of our California Capitol, telling legislators and their staffs about what real teachers were facing in real public schools.  Eventually, she wrote and published the book, A Special Case.  Vernetta’s case was indeed special because this woman dared to take a stand for what she knew was right.  She understood the power of a contract and the need for all to adhere to the letter of the law.  This is what she taught her students and she stood for what she taught.

Vernetta was a target because she was an unintended threat to those who targeted her.  She was smart, pretty, outspoken, articulate, ethical, and had great people skills:  a classic target of workplace bullying.  The stress of this battle wore her down and she was blackballed by the educational establishment.  But Vernetta Northcutt could not have done any different than to stand up for what she believed and to get knocked down for what was right.  The California Healthy Workplace Advocates are better because she joined us.  We can rightfully guess that Vallejo High School is better because of Vernetta Northcutt, too.

The mission of the California Healthy Workplace Advocates is to raise public awareness and to compel our State to correct and prevent abusive work environments through legislation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Healthy Workplace Bill to STOP Workplace Bullying in New York

Which state is going to lead the way and pass the Healthy Workplace Bill to correct and prevent WORKPLACE BULLYING...NEW YORK? Illinois? CALIFORNIA?? See this important press conference to learn more...
Workplace Bullying Press Conference May 2, 2011 ( Albany , New York) The Healthy Workplace Bill has passed the Senate in New York and now awaits 2012 to pass the Assembly. The time has come...the time is NOW. SUPPORT THE HEALTHY WORKPLACE BILL so our workplaces remain safe, sane, and productive.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Workplace Bullying vs Job Creation & Human Rights

Job creation may be based in creating a positive work environment so to attract talented employees who will contribute eagerly to a company’s profit making process. If this is the case, would anyone wish to work in an environment where their competence was being reacted to as a threat? Would anyone wish to be subjected to repeated, health harming treatment that interferes with the companies legitimate business interests? Let’s get on the same page with this.

The Healthy Workplace Bill is intended to “correct and prevent” workplace bullying by compelling businesses to put policies and procedures in place that, when enforced, would hold that business harmless if the egregious behavior in the workplace continued. Most people will STOP the bullying behaviors when told to STOP by someone with higher authority. Those people who won’t STOP the bullying behaviors would become personally liable in a civil court if the person targeted used this law to support their allegations.

For those of you who have been fortunate enough NOT to have experienced workplace bullying, I say, lucky you! I hope your professional experience continues to remain bully free. However, just because it has not happened to you, please do NOT assume it is not going on around you. If we all lived and behaved by the Golden Rule, we would not need any laws at all.

Work shouldn't hurt anyone. How can anyone be productive at work if they are under siege by a bully. Where do you think those schoolyard bullies go when they grow up with no intervention. This is a non-partisan issue; this is a human issue. For all the states that have an active Healthy Workplace Bill in current legislation, I say, Support the Healthy Workplace Bill and you'll be supporting human rights.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memo to Executives: Let the Bully Go, Boost the Bottom Line

To Stop Workplace Bullying — Sponsors Must Cut Bullies Loose

Memo to Executives: Let the Bully Go, Boost the Bottom Line

Bob is the proverbial bully (Bobette when a woman). He operates freely without risk of being punished or terminated. So, every week is Freedom Week for bullies. Since Bob is free 52 weeks a year, dear executive, please use this one week, Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, to end your relationship with Bob that makes life miserable for everyone else except you and Bob. It will take courage, of course. Here’s why and how to do it.

How it's done so that you are the only one who does not know!

Bullies torment and abuse others with impunity. They do so because they have spent months, even years, groveling at the feet of a higher-ranking sponsor. That is, they torment down the org chart, but ingratiate (brown nose, ass kiss) up the ladder. All of their time is spent managing their sponsor’s impression of them. While targets keep their noses to the grindstone doing the work they love, the nose of bullies hover near the rear ends of their chosen sponsors. That’s how Bob makes himself indispensable.

On balance, several people have tried to tell you about Bob before. You didn’t believe them. They brought you news about Bob you couldn’t stand to hear. It hurt you to hear, but they were reporting the emotional abuse Bob foisted on them. You had several fired for daring bring this information to you. Others quit out of desperation. Bob convinced you that they all were faulty and he alone is competent.

If you ask anyone other than Bob about the talent lost to your organization, you will find that Bob has been lying to you. Good people were driven out or were demoralized and dehumanized, then left. All of this was kept from you by Bob. In his narcissistic world, only he mattered.

Truth is, Bob has been too expensive to keep. You’ve paid dearly to retain him — lawsuits settled, turnover and replacement of key players, and lots of lost productivity. Just ask your Risk Manager or legal counsel.

So, there is no rational reason to keep Bob any longer. You may worry about a lawsuit from him if you begin to suddenly hold him accountable. Worry less. Take advantage of the “employment at will” principle. He’s gone when you say he’s gone. Will he survive? Yes, he will land on his feet. With that instant stroke of moral courage, you will send a message to all others who work with you that you care more about them than you care about the single person whose lips have been firmly planted on your behind.

And while you are motivated to change the work climate for the better, besides removing Bob, consider drawing a line in the sand, defining the boundaries of unacceptable conduct. With that commitment, you will have a behavioral standard to which all the future Bobs (and there will be many emerging in the future — think whack-a-mole) can be compared. When they fail to act in an acceptable manner, cut them before the losses mount.

Finally, in the future, long after Freedom Week ends, believe the employees who report to you that they have been subjected to abusive conduct. They are not the likely liars. Bullies are the liars. Grow a thicker skin and stop showing your neediness to the cruel people willing to exploit you as they subordinate others.

Good employers purge bullies; bad ones promote ‘em.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Freedom Week: The Time to Break Silence About Workplace Bullying

Bullying at work is a dirty little secret. Though it occurs with epidemic frequency (experienced by 35% of all adult Americans), it is a silent epidemic because it is too rarely discussed. Why the silence?

- personal shame by targets (who would brag about being humiliated?)
- coworkers frozen by bullies into not helping their bullied colleagues
- executives covering up for bullies they sponsor/support
- bullying is the American style of managing

Over time, fear paralyzes us all. Overcoming the inertia of inaction is difficult. We know.

But the most successful personal change plans are the ones triggered by events that suggest karma is working — a sign from above, a coincidental omen. That event becomes the excuse, the rationale, for doing something out of the ordinary.

WBI’s Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week is the reason to change how you are dealing with your bullying situation.

- City and County executives can formally recognize Freedom Week by proclamation. At the start of Freedom Week 2011, over 30 municipalities have issued such proclamations. Visit the gallery of proclamations.

- Bullied individuals and their families can take stock of the extent of the psychological injuries sustained from bullying. It sneaks up on everyone. High blood pressure goes undetected until the family physician asks what is stressful in your life. Use Freedom Week as the excuse to schedule an appointment to have your blood checked and to look for the onset of stress-related diseases. Ignoring your personal health is not a good idea. Bullying can kill. Please give your health as high a priority as keeping the salary to keep a roof over your head. If you die, no salary will have been worth it. Family members: please give your bullied partner or spouse the support she or he requires. They can build up credits that can be repaid when the bullying situation ends. Read the book The Bully At Work.

- Managers and executives need to calculate the financial losses attributable to preventable bullying. Bullies are actually too expensive to retain. However, the truth is that you are too loyal to bullies who have conned you over the years. When you acknowledge that “Bob” is a jerk, you are admitting the problem. But when you consider Bob indispensable, regardless of costs to the organization or his effect on others, you are condemning everyone to a living hell. Balance the needs of the business (profit making or budget balancing) with the narcissistic needs of Bob. Do the math. Talk to your Risk Manager. Bob is a liability. Stay friends if you must, but cut Bob loose for the sake of many. Honor your fiduciary responsibility to the organization. Bob will live on (elsewhere). Read the book The Bully-Free Workplace.

- Insurers and attorneys should warn your employer clients to prevent and correct costly bullying for their own self-interest and cost savings. Whether or not the employer has employment practices liability insurance (EPLI), bullying is costly. Premiums rise when liability increases. Bullies pose increasingly costly risks. Attorneys: you have been writing in recent years how your clients need to squelch bullying even though no specific laws exist. Continue this advice. Use Freedom Week to bolster that message. Visit The Work Doctor website to assure clients that something can be done about bullying.

- State lawmakers should enact legislation to curb bullying in the workplace. The Healthy Workplace Legislative Campaign has been around since 2003. It exists to help sympathetic lawmakers of all political parties to address health-harming abusive conduct at work (no need to call it workplace bullying). The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has been introduced in 21 states. In 2011, the HWB is alive in 11 states, including Massachusetts and New York. During Freedom Week, Wisconsin state Rep. Kelda Roys and Sen. Spencer Coggs are introducing the HWB in both legislative chambers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2011: October 16th to 22nd

“Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week,” an annual observance sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, runs from October 16 through 22. It is an important opportunity for supporters of the workplace anti-bullying movement to educate the public and rally others to the cause.

In the U.S., this movement is reaching the point where workplace bullying is a recognized phenomenon. Although there always are new audiences who haven’t named or labeled this hurtful and destructive behavior, these days we’re having to explain ourselves a little less than before. Within wider circles, the term “workplace bullying” is used and understood. Our educational work is far from over — the need will endure — but we’re seeing progress in terms of public comprehension.

For today, I want to center our attention on action. Toward that end, I’m re-posting my article “Ten ways to stop workplace bullying,” from December 2010:

Ten ways to stop workplace bullying

When people talk to me about workplace bullying, they often ask, what can I do to help? The following list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a starting place:

1. Don’t — Don’t be a workplace bully. It starts with each of us.

2. Stand up — Stand up for someone who is being bullied. Silence equals permission.

3. Support — Similarly, support friends, colleagues, and family members who are experiencing bullying at work. Validate their concerns and, where appropriate, guide them to coaching, counseling, and legal assistance. (For some resources, go here.)

4. Ask — Ask your employer to educate employees about workplace bullying and to include an anti-bullying policy in the employee handbook.

5. Post — If you read an article on workplace bullying, post a comment to it online, voicing your support for taking this problem seriously. Help to generate momentum for the anti-bullying movement.

6. Talk — Yes, just talk about it with others. Without making a pest of yourself to your friends, family, and associates, discuss bullying as part of the workplace experience for many employees.

7. Law reform — Support anti-bullying legislation. For readers in the U.S., get active in the grassroots campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in states around the nation (link here). (Full disclosure: I’m the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, so I do have an interest in seeing it enacted!)

8. Unions — If you are a member of a union, lobby your union leaders to educate members about workplace bullying and to negotiate an abusive supervision clause in the collective bargaining agreement, as discussed here.

9. Faith — If you are a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque, encourage your congregational leaders and fellow members to include workplace bullying among their social action concerns.

10. Connect — We must connect workplace bullying to other forms of interpersonal abuse, such as school bullying, cyber bullying, and domestic abuse. There are many unfortunate similarities between them, and helping others to understand this will serve as a powerful consciousness raising mechanism.

Words of caution

Some of these actions carry personal risks. There is something very threatening about this topic to certain individuals and organizations. Furthermore, when someone is suffering due to workplace bullying, they may be in a difficult place psychologically. Thus, please consider:

1. Those who stand up for bullying targets may find themselves next on the firing line. This is a very real possibility.

2. A bad employer may consider you a troublemaker simply for asking that the organization oppose these behaviors.

3. Posting a comment online about workplace bullying may lead to some people to ridicule your concerns.

4. Providing homebrewed psychological counseling or legal advice is not only unwise, but also illegal if you are not licensed to provide such assistance.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

October 16-22 Proclaimed Freedom From Workplace Bullies in City of South Lake Tahoe, CA


South Lake Tahoe



WHEREAS, the City of South Lake Tahoe has an interest in promoting the social and economic well-being of its employees and citizens; and

WHEREAS, that well-being depends upon the existence of healthy and productive employees working in safe and abuse-free environments; and

WHEREAS, surveys and studies have documented the stress-related health consequences for individuals caused by exposure to abusive work environments; and

WHEREAS, abusive work environments can create costly consequences for employers, including reduced productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and employee health-related expenses; and

WHEREAS, protection from abusive work environments should apply to every worker, and not limited to legally protected class status based only on race, color, gender, national origin, age, or disability;

NOW, THEREFORE, the Mayor, Hal Cole, and Council of the City of South Lake Tahoe hereby proclaim October 16 – 22 “Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week”.