Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word

Senator Braynon has sponsored SB 308, "A bill to be entitled An act relating to abusive workplace environments; creating the “Abusive Workplace Environment Act.”  This bill seeks legislative recognition that social and economic well-being of Florida is dependent upon healthy employees, and that employee health is threatened by workplace bullying and abuse. The bill notes that employees who feel abused or bullied do not have legal recourse at the present unless they can establish that the behavior was motivated by "race, color, sex, national origin, or age."  The bill seeks recognition that "legal protection" at work should not be limited to those "protected class" types of legal recourse.

This law would provide:
"relief to employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically, by being deliberately subjected to an abusive workplace environment; and incentives for employers to prevent and respond to abusive mistreatment of employees at work."

The bill defines the "abusive conduct" that would be actionable under the law. That is "a pattern of behavior or a single act of an employer or employee in the workplace which is performed with malice and is unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business and which a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive considering the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct or the severity and egregiousness of the conduct." The bill then lists actions that would be actionable. The list is not exclusive, but provides examples.

Repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets;

Verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating;

Sabotaging or undermining a person’s work performance;

Attempting to exploit an employee’s known psychological or physical vulnerability.

Lots of bills are filed each session. Some receive attention and others fall by the wayside as attention is focused on other priorities. This session, like so many recently, may be about the budget and perhaps little else. However, this is a bill to watch as it has the potential to require examination should it be one of the measures that "gets legs" and passes.

It is likely impractical to determine with any certainty how many employees suffer the behavior which this bill describes. However, it is likely that such issues might come to the fore after a work-place injury, filing of a petition and the workers' compensation litigation. Unfortunately, we find that the workers' compensation mediation process is sometimes the first time employers and employees speak with each other about issues that bother each. While it is fortunate that mediation provides that opportunity, it is unfortunate that this communication does not occur far earlier and without the need for litigation.

Have you talked with your employer or employee lately about what may be bothering you? More importantly, and only tangentially on topic, have you complimented your coworkers, employees, employers recently? It is a tough economy, a stressful time, and a kind word or two goes a long way. My advice today is that you pay someone a compliment each day. Use more "thank you," "please,"  and "good job" in your workplace. Recognize that everyone involved in your business has a purpose and brings value to the operation (that is why they were hired). Appreciate the value and try to ignore the distracting personality deficiencies we all have. When we put aside petty differences and work together we can accomplish almost anything.

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