August 10, 2013

Bad workplace of the week? Bullies with stun guns

Here's a new addition to your Employee Policy Handbook that you might have overlooked: "Don't bring tasers or stun guns into work and turn them on your coworkers." A Texas man has filed a civil suit against Fred Fincher Motors alleging that coworkers snuck up on him and zapped him with a stun gun on at least two dozen occasions over a 9 month period. Even more astonishing - he also alleges that his boss supplied the gun and filmed the incidents, which were later posted on YouTube.

(Alert: the following is a news clip so there may be ads before or after the clip)

Words fail. But we are very much in favor of bullies outing themselves by posting their malfeasance on YouTube (the hubris!) so evidence exists for the targets.

Is this a case of bullying? you be the judge - according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI):

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

In a Business Week article last year, Taming the Workplace Bully, Adam Piore explores the topic of workplace bullying and includes this quote:

“In a lot of workplaces, it’s just considered part of daily workplace culture,” says Joe Grimm, professor of journalism at Michigan State University. “Browbeating, intimidation, cutting people off, and being the loudest in the room with an opinion.” In a recent book he edited, The New Bullying: How Social Media, Social Exclusion, Laws and Suicide Have Changed Our Definition of Bullying, Grimm reveals how bullying has some professionals living in debilitating fear of the office, which may sound familiar for viewers of The Devil Wears Prada, the thinly veiled account of working at Vogue, or the junior analysts at Goldman Sachs (GS) who were once forced to dress up like Teletubbies. “When bullies get out of school,” says Grimm, “they don’t stop being bullies.”

Other egregious behaviors in the news
It's been an active news cycle for bad bosses lately. We're not done processing the shocking sexual harassment charges filed against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner - at our most recent count, 14 women had come forward with charges. The accounts are stunning and one theme recurs: the initial reluctance of the targets to speak out. Among the reasons related for not having come forward before: they were humiliated and felt shame; they feared retaliation; they feared they might not be believed; they questioned if they had inadvertently sent signals that were misinterpreted; and they were concerned that bringing allegations might be more deleterious to their own careers than that of the offender. Some of the targeted women held power positions themselves - yest even with executive status, were reluctant to come forward. It's a living demonstration of how much courage it can take to come forward with sexual harassment charges in the workplace, and the dynamic for making charges of bullying must be similar: humiliation, fear of reprisal, concern that allegations will be made and nothing will be done.

With sexual harassment or discrimination, there is at least some legal recourse for protected classes. For targets of bullying, particularly targets who are not in a protected class, there may be little legal recourse: currently, there are no state or federal laws prohibiting workplace bullying. There are some initiatives trying to change that, most prominent being the Healthy Workplace Bill. Since 2003, 25 states have introduced the HWB. Although no laws have been enacted, 15 bills are currently active in 11 states.

Don't wait for a law or a lawsuit to come calling at your workplace: make sure that you have policies that reinforce a respectful work climate and prohibit harassment, discrimination, bullying, intimidation, violence, weapons, and fighting. Train managers and supervisors to recognize and deal with unacceptable behaviors - in themselves and those they supervise. In addition to policies and trainings. offer stress and anger management resources and enlist the help of your EAP in tackling these issues.


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July 8, 2012

From the Pantheon of Bad Bosses

Someone sent us a link recently to No flush, but two of a kind win in a workplace toilet dispute - a righteous addition to our "Bad Boss Hall of Fame." (You can find past entries in category by the same name in the right hand sidebar) A federal jury awarded $332,000 to two employees who complained to state regulators about the lack of a toilet at their job site -- they were forced to use a bucket in desperation -- and were fired after complaining to state regulators.

Lack of bathroom facilities did not make the cut when Suzanne Lucas compiled a list of 5 signs you're a lousy boss. You can click through to read her detailed thoughts, but here's the quick summary: 1) Your employees lie to you. 2) No other managers want to poach your employees. 3) You always have emergencies 4) You always ask yourself "what can I legally do?" rather than "what should I do?" 5) You steal credit.

But the clueless bathroom-denying bosses did bring to mind a post at Workers' Comp Insider about the near-legendary bad boss, Tiger Mike Davis. We reprint the salient points of the fascinating story below.

Edward 'Tiger Mike' Davis was the erstwhile CEO of the now defunct Houston-based Tiger Oil Company. You might expect an oil company to be a bit rough and tumble, but Tiger Mike took things to a new level. He didn't particularly like talking to his employees, he preferred typing memos. ("Do not speak to me when you see me. If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don't want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you sons-of-b*tches.") And fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, his memos have been preserved for the ages. We link to them in all their glory: The Tiger Oil Memos. Please be advised, the memos do include a few cuss words

Now after marveling at his posts, you may be curious to learn more about the man and the company. E&P editor Rhonda Duey shared some readers reminiscing about Tiger Mike. And for those who want "the rest of the story," see this fascinating post on Grifters, Oil Men, Tabloids, The Scrappy Ingenue, The Titans and the Hardass: An American Story - a few links in the post are broken but despite that, it tells a fascinating story, with Tiger Mike as an integral character.

OK, what does all this have to do with workers compensation? We would refer you to #3 and #8 in attorney Alan Pierce's excellent Top Ten List as to Why Injured Workers Retain Attorneys (PDF). Actually, all ten points are worth thinking about. As a successful Massachusetts plaintiff attorney, Pierce should know. We would love to hear his cache of "bad boss" stories.

April 22, 2012

You're fired x 1300

Did you hear the one about the employer who mistakenly issued pink slips to 1,300 employees via email? Oops! They only meant to send the termination notice to one person. We bet the phone lines and Twitter feeds were doing double time in that work community after that surprise.

The big news here isn't the blooper. It's that some employers think using email is an appropriate way to fire people. Call us old-school, but we don't think an important matter like a job termination should be handled by email, phone call, or letter. Unless there are extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances, firing should be a face-to-face meeting -- employees deserve that courtesy. Yet virtual firings do happen, and they happen at all levels of the organization.

In our role as an EAP, we find ourselves working with managers and employees when terminations and downsizings occur. There is no easy way to fire someone, but here's our recommended best practices to ensure that affected employees are afforded the maximum in fairness and dignity.

First, if the termination is based on performance, make sure that the employee has been adequately warned, that warnings have been well documented, and that the employee has been given ample opportunity to rectify the situation. Many employers conduct an administrative referral to their EAP at this stage. Done properly, an administrative referral will resolve and head off more than half of all performance-based terminations. If the termination is part of a downsizing, there should be an announcement ahead of time that layoffs are planned.

If termination is the only solution, whether for performance or for general business reasons, the following steps will prove helpful:

  • Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  • Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  • The employee's manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  • Be brief. Be compassionate. Allow the employee to vent his or her feelings, but do not engage in a negotiation or argument. Plan in advance what you are going to say and choose your words carefully.
  • Extend every reasonable courtesy to the employee. Give the person an opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers. Should the employee become angry or abusive, don't get upset, simply escort the worker from the building.
  • After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Firing someone is always a difficult task, but following these basic rules will help it go better. We don't advocate e-mail as a good termination strategy!

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ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

October 11, 2011

Filed under the Department of Bad Ideas

Everybody has at least one "bad boss" tale under their belt, but every now and then, there is a standout. An Iowa convenience store owner takes the dubious crown this week for an employee contest he ran, inviting workers to "Guess the next cashier who will be fired." As an incentive to play this game, there was even a $10 prize. See a copy of the company-wide memo that announced this "contest."

This story surfaced because one employee who quit in disgust filed for unemployment benefits, which the employer contested saying that she had quit voluntarily. The employee stated that this memo "... created an extremely hostile environment for us and it pitted employee against employee." The judge awarded the employee benefits, calling the contest "egregious and deplorable." As Stephanie Rabiner notes in the first link:

Ordinarily, unemployment insurance is not available to workers who voluntarily leave their jobs. However, many states will grant benefits when an employer causes an employee to quit.
An employee must generally prove that an employer did something so intolerable that any reasonable person would have quit. There may also be proof that an employer intended to compel an employee to leave the job.
Examples include discrimination, retaliation, abject humiliation, and of course, firing contests.

This one gets posted to the Bad Boss Hall of Fame, right up there with legendary Tiger Mike Davis and his infamous memos to his staff. If you've never read the Tiger Mike Memos, do so now. Here's a small sample: "Do not speak to me when you see me. If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don't want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you sons-of-b*tches."

Related: The 32 Dumbest Things That Real-Life Managers Have Said

July 9, 2011

News roundup: Bad bosses, Google+, phishing, caregiver resources & more

Pantheon of bad bosses - We haven't seen the risque movie Horrible Bosses yet, but the topic of bad bosses is a universally popular theme. A recent survey of 2,000 workers across the UK revealed that 55% of those interviewed thought their managers were incompetent. In the truth is stranger than anything Hollywood can dream up category, Business Reader offers 10 real life horrible bosses that make Jennifer Aniston look like a pushover.

Caregiver resource - Minding Our Elders is a blog Carol Bradley Bursackby that offers information, support and shared experience for caregivers and seniors on topics ranging from Alzheimer's and dementia to general senior issues. In addition to offering practical tips and advice on day-to-day caregiving issues and challenges, good resources and blogs on related topics can be found in the sidebar.

Google+ - If you aren't yet aware of search behemoth Google's new foray into the world of social media, you will be soon. Google+ is going toe to toe with Facebook. Thus far, it had been rolled out on a by-invitation beta test, but even with that limitation, it is creating a stir. Should your organization jump on the Google+ bandwagon? Not yet, says Google. The company revealed that it is working on a Google+ experience for businesses and therefore suggests that organizations not create profiles yet. Should you jump on the bandwagon? While many of the pioneer users are singing the praises, some reviews suggest going in with your eyes wide open about privacy issues and concerns.

Managing people with personality disorders - Peter Cappelli of Human Resource Executive talks about a recent study which found that about one in five workers have a personality disorder that negatively impacts their career and the workplace. In managing the difficult employee, he discusses the challenge that this poses for organizations, particularly since a diagnosed personality disorder would be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and potentially other state-level legislation. He suggests a few ways of dealing with this issue: "Maybe it means making new and different use of employee-assistance programs to help these individuals identify their problems and seek treatment. Maybe it means helping to redesign their tasks and jobs to find those that truly "fit" what they are capable of doing."

We have met the enemy and he is us - One of the greatest threats for a data security breach that an organization faces comes from the ignorance of its own employees about safe email practices. In a recent phishing experiment conducted by a national security firm, 29,000 employees at 3,037 businesses received a phishing email, and in 500 of those companies, employees clicked on a link in an email, potentially exposing the employer to a serious breach had the mail been real. The best protection? training your employees in e-mail security.

Health care costs - The high cost of healthcare is an issue of concern to employers and employees alike. Workers' Comp Insider features a post on the wide disparity in costs for common medical procedures as revealed in a 2010 Healthcare Transparency Index. How big a disparity? Patients can pay as much as 683% more for the exact same medical procedure in the same town. The post includes a variety of some healthcare education tools / resources to help educate consumers.

Limiting Liability - At Evan Carmichael's Blog, Ari Rosenstein talks about the importance of educating managers to ensure that your organization stays in compliance with labor laws and offers seven steps to minimize liability. He notes that because managers act as a direct extension of the executives and ownership of the organization, any misstep by a manager may expose the entire organization to an employment lawsuit."

Quick takes

February 15, 2009

Short takes: Bullies, leaders, conflict, humor, and more

Bullies - Forbes talks about Corporate Bullies, noting that while some executives may find an aggressive style helps them claw to the top, they often can't sustain their reign. Don't miss the story's sidebar: The bully bosses hall of fame.

Leadership - How to lead through change - an interview with Kevin Cashman, leadership author. The Human Capitalist talks about critical skills that differentiate leading-edge HR executives.

Conflict - a recent Canadian study on workplace conflict identifies the causes and effects of workplace conflict in Canada. While conflict can have crippling effects on productivity, staff engagement and working relationships, the report also found that when properly managed, conflict actually benefits organizations, leading to major innovations and better solutions to problems.
Related: the Vertabase Blog offers a simple trick to end team turmoil - the "say it to my face" policy.

Humor
*If you didn't yet see the CareerBuilder Super Bowl ad, it is indeed pretty funny: If you hate going to work every day....(video)
*A creative new use for those sticky notes (video)
*Having trouble getting up in the morning? the Nanda clock might cure what ails you.

By the numbers
*Three mistakes to avoid when cutting jobs
*5 must-use social media tools for HR & recruiting professionals in 2009
*5 more must-use social media tools for HR & recruiting professionals in 2009
*10 mistakes trainers make

May 11, 2007

Friday fun: bad bosses on film

Employment law Hollywood style—Take the Labor Law in the Movies Trivia Quiz. There are ten questions about films that featured employment law issues. Here's a sample question:

In the 1980 film, 9 to 5, sexual harassment and sex based discrimination were the normal operating procedure. Name the trio who kidnapped their boss. Extra points if you can name his character and the actor who portrayed him.

Answers can be found here —scroll down the page about half way.

And while we're at the movies—Here are some nominees for Worst On-Screen Bosses Ever. And here are 10 more movie bosses—which one do you work for?

TV bosses aren't much better—You don't need to go out to the cinema to find bad bosses—just flip on the TV. Here's a list from John Challenger about the top tyrants on TV. Take the TV Bosses from Hell poll to vote for the boss you would least like to work for. Surprisingly, the Pointy Haired Boss didn't make either list.

And from the "bad bosses in real life" file—This British company is our nomination for bad employer of the week. That's a pretty cold way to deliver hot news.

And since we mentioned the law—If bad bosses or shoddy employment practices force you to seek legal assistance, this little ditty will explain a lot about what you can expect from your attorneys. (YouTube and sound alert.)

September 29, 2006

The bully boss takes a toll

In a few weeks we will all be celebrating National Bosses Day! Of course, this holiday in mid October is more an affectation of the greeting card companies than an act of congress. And since the number one reason employees leave their jobs is unresolved conflict with a supervisor, one wonders just how many bosses will be getting flowers on October 16th. Bosses have been bullying employees since the beginning of work but this "management style" takes its toll on workers and the organization. Intimidated employees are not loyal and productive. Pure employee frustration sprouts Bad Boss Contest websites where a "can you top this" race ensues with bad boss stories posted and winners selected. Or employees can take the "Is Your Boss a Psycho" quiz to see just how bad things are. While these sites relieve stress with a bit of humor, they do nothing to stem the practice.

One of the main reasons bullying continues in the workplace is that workers are intimidated and threatened with their livelihood and won't speak up for themselves. But the most egregious reason it continues is that organizations tolerate it. On the surface bullying bosses may be good producers or they keep a work team in order. Bullying can humiliate and degrade but it also gets results. What does it matter that employees are sick and dejected if they produce?

Stories we hear from HR managers support this theory. Bad behavior is tolerated until it gets to a certain level and then the EAP is called to help a supervisor manage his or her anger. Here are some examples we've run into:

Sally a sales supervisor, blew up at a client last week stomping her feet using language that was insulting and intimidating. When asked if this was rare, the manager said, "No, Sally is a great employee a top producer. She is like that all the time with her team, but never a customer...we can't put up with this"


Harold lambasted and ridiculed an employee in front of her work team. When she walked away to compose her self, Harold followed her into the ladies room and continued screaming about her incompetence...the CEO heard the exchange. "Was this out of character for Harold?" we asked. "No" HR said, "Harold has a long history of volatile behavior but this is the first time he followed anyone into the rest room. We think he crossed the line"


Chris works long hours often staying past 8:00 PM. He penalizes any employee on his team that leaves the office before he does. Employees who leave to attend to their personal lives are scorned for days and given the silent treatment. Their questions are not answered and their work criticized. If employees leave, Chris stays later the next day. Management thinks Chris has a dedicated team, when complaints of intimidation were lodged; the EAP was called in to help team members learn to work more collaboratively.

Pat told his employees that he kept a shot gun in the trunk of his car. If things got out of hand or employees complained about their work, he could always get the gun and take care of things. Several employees complained but HR didn't really think Pat was serious, they were checking with the EAP to see if this was illegal!

Consistent progressive discipline with abusive and volatile bosses is essential. Employees can also learn ways to deal with ongoing harassment. But management must step up and take responsibility for colluding with and condoning bully behavior. The message sent to the organization is that the individual is expendable and dehumanizing behavior is tolerated.

There are all kinds of economical reasons to address this pervasive problem but creating an environment where human respect and decency is paramount is the only important one.

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