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Workplace-bullying: California taking a half-step in the right direction

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

California views workplace bullying as a serious problem . . . and is acting like it. Kinda.

Since 2015, the state has required managers to receive abusive conduct (aka “workplace bullying”) training with the goal of creating informed leaders who recognize the detrimental effects of bullying on the person targeted, others in the workplace, overall employee engagement, and productivity.

New in 2019, workplace bullying training requirements are being extended to non-management employees. Will California’s expanded training requirement translate to tangibly preventing or reducing workplace bullying? Last week, I asked California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) a question to solicit their view:

Q: I am seeking information from DFEH on how employers are required to report its training in compliance with AB 2053; specifically, abusive conduct training. Can you point me in the right direction?

A. (DFEH’s response): Employers are not required to report their training to the DFEH. However, they will be responsible for proof of compliance should complaints arise.

That’s about a gap-toothed smile if there ever was one. Mandatory training is a clear step in the right direction. Failure to require reporting is a half-step backward -- and, beyond training and reporting -- more is needed if a healthy workplace is the North Star.

In its June 2016 Report, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace wrote:

"Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a

prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment, and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive. However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top. Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees."

If the intent is to achieve results -- and equip the 25% of workplace members who have reportedly experienced abusive treatment a path to resolution -- it’s time for States to act on what they already know. California is a great place to start. It is the only State in the nation to approve comprehensive legislation (CA Senate Bill 1299) that – due to its content and construction -- will reasonably be expected to lead to a reduction of workplace violence in healthcare.

In part inspired by a last-straw-tragedy that fueled the lobbying efforts of the California Nurses’ Association, California healthcare now has a multi-faceted, multi-disciplined approach to preventing workplace violence, charting new territory in an interactive, transparent way. California healthcare providers are required to create a workplace violence plan that has the input of employees; identify workplace violence risks; mitigate those risks; provide training that is tailored and interactive; report incidents; investigate incidents; and publish results (both with Cal/OSHA and on their websites).

The legislation also includes a mechanism to administer fines and healthcare providers are incented to comply for either “the right reasons” or for expense-avoidance and brand-preservation. Or both.

Many with a sentiment to mitigate reasonably foreseeable risks advocate for adoption of a framework like SB 1299 in the workplace bullying space. Another parallel to borrow from would be the Clery Act which shapes safety/security reporting and transparency in higher education.

It seems like our collective awareness understands school-place bullying . . . but not workplace bullying. While adults may reasonably be expected to have a voice that children do not, factors like influence, intimidation, and manipulation do not end on the last day of adolescence, the last day of high school, or the last day of college.

We know how to do this. I can’t help but wonder what the obstacle is. Political will? Vision? Lack of an action-inspiring tragedy? I do believe we’ll get there and I do value incremental steps. Still. Why walk half-way around the block if you have the energy?

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