seeks anti-bully ordinance
City Council president wants a measure to combat people who
use foul language, chronically yell and berate others, or
take other hostile actions in the workplace.
-- Everyone has heard of the schoolyard bully.
There has been a lot of government
action in recent years to discourage bullying and more
serious forms of violence in schools.
But what about bosses and coworkers
who are bullies in a workplace?
There are people who chronically yell
and berate others, sometimes using foul language, or take
other hostile actions.
City Council President John J.
Lombardi thinks they are a problem, too. And he has proposed
that the city enact an ordinance that would prohibit
behavior like that in all public and private workplaces.
Wherever it happens, he said
yesterday, it saps employee efficiency and productivity.
A nonprofit organization called the
Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute asserts that the
problem of bullying, or general harassment, in the workplace
is more prevalent than the widely understood and illegal
kinds such as sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
It cites a research study done in
Michigan which found that one in six workers has directly
experienced destructive bullying in the past year. And it
says that half of the workplace bullies are females.
The institute defines bullying as the
"repeated hurtful interpersonal mistreatment of a
person by a cruel perpetrator" and likens it to
Mistreatment can vary from acts of
commission, such as hostile verbal and nonverbal
communication and interference, to acts of omission, such as
the withholding of resources to assure the failure of a
subordinate or coworker.
Lombardi, a lawyer, said he has become
familiar in his law practice with complaints of serious
misbehavior that fall between the cracks of existing laws
that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity,
gender, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation,
or certain other factors.
And it is those between-the-cracks
kinds of situations that he wants to head off.
Lombardi introduced his proposed
ordinance to the council this month and it was routinely
referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration.
"We have the potential of
becoming a nationwide model, creating a safe and non-hostile
work environment," Lombardi told his council
Although he has assembled research
about workplace bullying and similar state legislation that
has been proposed in California, Lombardi has not prepared
preliminary language for a Providence ordinance. His
proposal exists only as an ordinance title -- sometimes
called a skeleton bill -- and he is counting on the city Law
Department to write the ordinance.
He said no particular incident inside
or outside city government prompted his proposal, but that
he wants the council to remain "proactive," as he
said it has been, in addressing issues.
In addition to enacting an ordinance,
the council president said he would like to see
social-service agencies and tutors come to municipal offices
and work sites and educate employees about the need to be
respectful to others on the job.
A proposed state law in California --
Lombardi cites it as an example of what Providence can do --
declares that California's social and economic well-being
depends on healthy and productive employees. It seeks to
prohibit "abusive conduct" and "abusive work
It states that workers' compensation
laws or other laws are inadequate to deter abusers or to
provide redress to victims.
The so-called "Healthy
Workplace" bill says, in part, that abusive conduct is
the conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace
"that a reasonable person would find hostile,
offensive, and unrelated to an employer's legitimate
Examples would include repeated
infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of insults and
epithets; threatening and humiliating behavior; and the
"gratuitous sabotage" of the work performance of
"An abusive work
environment," the legislation says, "is a
workplace where an employee is subjected to abusive conduct
that is so severe that it causes physical or psychological
harm to the employee."
If an "unlawful employment
practice" occurred in violation of the proposed law, a
harmed employee would be able to sue and potentially to
collect a payment of up to $25,000 for emotional distress.
The legislation also carries one or more other potential
In Providence, the council president
said he would like to see the Law Department work with
municipal labor unions, the Personnel Department and others
to craft the best possible law.
"It needs to meet constitutional
muster. That's why everyone has to be around the
table," he said.
He is not sure if the city Human
Relations Commission or some other part of municipal
government would be responsible for enforcing an
"We know it fits somewhere but we
just don't know where it fits exactly," he said.