With bullying in the workplace considered an overlooked problems in the country, state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) is trying to do something about it.
She is urging passage in Albany of the Healthy Workplace Bill. The measure would require employers to take action and eliminate abuse at the place of employment. It would also provide victims of an abusive work environment the opportunity to seek civil damages from the employer.
If passed, workers would be awarded compensation for wages, medical expenses and for emotional distress.
Since 2006, New York legislators have introduced more versions of the measure than any other state. Last year, it was on the verge of passing, but the Assembly voted to hold the bill until this year. So far, no state has passed the bill.
After hearing her constituents voice their concerns about safety in their jobs, Huntley realized it was time to take action. She said that people should feel safe at work and not have to constantly look over their shoulder in fear of being fired or harassed.
“I was really in shock that people are going through this at the workplace,” Huntley said.
Victims of abuse at the work are not only worrying about being fired, but about their state of mind and livelihood, she said. If such rampant abuse hadn’t taken place, then some people may still be alive today, she added.
“It’s a bill that should be passed,” the legislator said. “It’s not an easy thing to fix.”
One organization that helps such victims is the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates. Studies done by the organization show that 1.4 million people are victims of workplace bullying on a regular basis.
Additionally, the FBI and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recognize harassment and bullying as a form of workplace violence.
Mike Schlict, the NYHWA state coordinator, is pledging his support for the bill. He said it is important for the legislation to be passed because many people are abused at work and often overlooked.
“Most people don’t realize that they are being bullied,” Schlict said.
He and his colleagues have been abused at work, therefore they understand what takes place with a bully and a victim on the job, he explained. In most cases, the victim is set up to fail, can feel isolated and work may be sabotaged, he explained.
“It has been overlooked,” Schlict said. “There is no remedy to stop this type of violence.”
When bullying takes place, the victim can become distraught emotionally, become sick, or even commit suicide. “If an employee has a problem with another employee, fire them or let them go, but antagonizing them at the office is inexcusable,” Schlict said. “Those are not the things that should happen to employees.”
Schlict recently met with the new chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, Joseph Robach (D-Rochester), and feels confident that the measure will pass.
“There’s no doubt that it will pass once it hits the floor,” he said.
One person who knows firsthand about bullying at the workplace is Maria, a Howard Beach native who later moved to Lindenhurst, LI. For more than 20 years she worked as a nurse representative at a nurses union in New York, where she was highly regarded and enjoyed most of her time there, she said. However, her last two years at the job changed her life drastically when a new associate director was hired.
“He had a pencil-pushing agenda,” Maria said.
The new director made her feel unwanted and useless, she explained. Maria said he would micro-manage, question everything she did and laugh at her constantly.
“He would make my assignments so unreasonable,” she added.
Maria filed numerous complaints with human resources, but they were ignored and nothing was done. Eventually, the harassment and abuse took a toll on her, causing her to take an eight-week leave of absence from work due to cardiac problems.
“They created such a hostile work environment,” she said.
After her medical leave, Maria returned for four months, was removed from her director’s team and placed under a new supervisor, where she thrived at her job again. But, things again got worse, as her new boss was fired and Maria was transferred back to her old boss’s team.
When she was transferred, she begged and pleaded with HR again and even contacted the CEO, but no one cared, she said. She became ill again, was in the hospital, took another medical leave and never returned to her job. Due to the harassment she was put through, Maria was suicidal at times and has been under supervision of a psychiatric center the last two years.
“I was targeted because I was outspoken,” she said. “I wanted to retire with dignity, now I have nothing.”
Maria spent thousands of dollars taking her former employer to court, but the judge dismissed the case because of lack of evidence and because no law was broken. She said if it wasn’t for her husband and two daughters, she might not have overcome this terrible ordeal.
“I think the bill should be passed so people don’t abuse their authority,” Maria said. “They should pass this bill so good people don’t have to go through this.”