Stay informed and ready to meet both everyday challenges and long-term planning and policy-making goals, with focused news, practical information, and strategic insights on all HR-related developments.
Some bosses are jerks.
When they’re nasty to all their employees, they’re “equal opportunity jerks,” said Natasha Bowman, president of Performance ReNew in New York. A boss’s boorish behavior could lead to liability for the employer and decreased workplace productivity, she told a conference audience March 13.
“Salary alone does not make employees happy,” Bowman said. The “tone of the workplace” is highly significant. She said human resources professionals should “talk to your senior leadership” about “civility in the workplace.”
Sometimes the problems flow from a “high-value employee”—a high performer, a rainmaker, a world-renowned expert—who thinks he “can treat the staff any way he wants,” Bowman said.
Some companies rationalize star employees’ bad behavior toward their subordinates with comments like “he’s not paid to be a nice guy” and “he’s great at what he does, so he’s worth it,” Stephen Bergstein, a partner at Bergstein & Ullrich in New Paltz, N.Y., told Bloomberg BNA March 16.
Bowman said frequently a company’s HR department doesn’t “feel empowered” to handle this type of situation, so it allows the behavior to continue. However, HR professionals have an obligation “to advocate for our employees,” she said. “We can’t let this high-value employee continue to create this toxic environment.”
HR should investigate every complaint so it can identify troublesome managers, Bowman said. Next, HR should “look at the totality of the evidence” to “make a business case” for reining in the problematic high-value employee.
Show company leadership the “monetary impact,” Bowman advised. The threat of a mass turnover of employees can be a big motivator for company leaders to get rid of an oppressive manager, she said.
Where there is mistreatment, there will be resentment, and employees can become “actively disengaged,” Bowman said. There could be more use of sick leave, more workplace injuries and less productivity. Claims could increase under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and workers’ compensation statutes.
Workers also could sue the employer for discrimination. Discrimination laws don’t apply in cases in which everybody is mistreated, though, because discrimination refers to treatment that is different for people in protected categories. “If you’re doing it to everybody, you’re not discriminating against anybody,” Bergstein said.
Even when a boss’s bad conduct doesn’t amount to discrimination, however, it can lead to liability. Bullied workers sometimes sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress instead of or in addition to discrimination. Intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claims are “very hard to prove,” Bowman said. “You have to prove that the conduct was extreme or outrageous” and that a connection exists between the conduct and the severe emotional harm.
An employer could try to fight a distress claim by arguing that the employee’s personal issues, such as an impending divorce, caused his symptoms. Damages are much higher for intentional infliction of emotional distress than for discrimination claims, though, so they’re often worth pursuing.
Some states are more hospitable to emotional distress claims than others. “New York takes a dim view of infliction-of-emotional-distress claims, especially if it looks like you’re trying to pump life into a failing discrimination claim,” Bergstein said.
There also could be state or local statutes that govern workplace bullying. “More and more states are addressing an equal opportunity jerk,” Bowman said.
“There are certain state laws that prohibit bullying in the workplace,” and some state legislatures are considering passing legislation on this subject, Jose Behar, a partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym in Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA March 16. “Just because you don’t have a federal lawsuit doesn’t mean you don’t have a state or a municipal lawsuit.”
A discrimination claim may be viable even when managers bully all their employees, if “their bullying tends to be more frequent or extreme to a particular employee or group of individuals,” Behar said. “In those situations, depending on the pervasiveness, that could rise to be a violation of federal law.”
To monitor the tenor of the workplace in hopes of solving or preventing problems, employers can use internal engagement surveys and read online surveys, such as those by Glassdoor, Bowman said.
Employers also can question employees who quit their jobs, but departing workers are “not always truthful” in exit interviews, Bowman told Bloomberg BNA. They may hesitate to make negative statements because they hope to return some day if the organization gets rid of the problematic manager, she said.
Employers should treat exit interviews as “one piece” in the “heat map,” Bowman said. “Organizations make a huge mistake relying on one set of data” instead of looking “at the totality” of information they have.
“It’s all about the culture,” Bowman said. “Being able to lay in bed on a Sunday night and be excited” going back to your job the next morning is priceless.
Bowman spoke at a conference hosted by the Society for Human Resource Management.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at email@example.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)