Forum addresses workplace bullying

June 25th, 2015 6:51 am

First Posted: 7/30/2013

WILKES-BARRE — Attorney Kimberly Borland said there is news — much of it bad and some good — when it comes to the subject of bullying in the workplace.

Borland, a Wilkes-Barre lawyer, told a bullying forum on Tuesday about half the workers in the United States have experienced bullying or have witnessed it.

“Bullying is described as a silent epidemic in the workplace.”

The bad news is, he said, that victims of bullying are left with few options. For example, when victims raise the issue, it rarely works out in their favor.

Fifty-seven percent of co-workers and peers act negatively toward the victim when the target reveals him or herself, Borland said, and, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, 80 percent of targets who speak up lose their jobs.

“To me, that is unacceptable,” he said.

There is a bright side. This year, the Healthy Workplace Act was introduced in the state House of Representatives, a proposal that prohibits abusive conduct in the workplace. The act would “provide legal redress for employees who have been harmed psychologically, physically or economically by deliberate exposure to abusive work environments and to provide legal incentives for employers and respond to abusive treatment of employees at work.”

It was referred to the Committee on Labor and Industry on April 15 and has not moved since.

“There is recognition that this type of conduct exists and needs to be addressed,” Borland said, adding, “bullying is a far greater issue than just in the workplace.”

Attempting prevention

Educational law attorney Jennifer Baker Laporta, Pennsylvania State Education Association representative Sheila Saidman and anti-bullying author Elaine Wolf joined Borland at the Wilkes-Barre JCC to discuss bullying in the workplace with 25 people on Tuesday.

“Little bullies grow up to be big bullies,” Laporta said.

Since being admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1995, Laporta has represented management in labor and employment matters, and she trains employers on fair and equal practices. She said it is important to convince them that bullying leads to problems.

“Bullying leads to a corporate culture where people do not want to stay. Through training, you can get that point across,” she said.

In addition, students are not the only people at school being bullied. As a consultant for the PSEA, Saidman deals with teachers every week who are being bullied by others.

“At least once a week I get a call from a teacher. They are being harassed, what can they do?” she said.

Borland said three quarters of the time the bully has greater power and rank than the target.

Wolf, the author of two novels with anti-bullying themes, “Camp” and “Danny’s Mom,” was bullied herself when she was a teacher.

“There are bullies in all work places and there are adult bullies in schools,” she said.

Literary inspiration

The main character in “Danny’s Mom,” Beth Maller, is a high school counselor who launches an anti-bullying and homophobia campaign. As a result, she is bullied in the workplace, and her marriage and job fall apart.

“As a high school teacher, I was in the trenches like she is,” Wolf said.

She always “went to bat for (her) kids” and was faced with repercussions. She was bullied by the assistant principal who, she said, would give her the worst proctoring assignments, for example.

“I was one of his victims,” she said.

Wolf did not realize she was being victimized by bullying until she wrote “Danny’s Mom.”

“I sucked it up and that was not the right thing to do,” she said.

Wolf, who lives in Northampton, Mass., uses her novels as “a bully pulpit” with hopes of making schools kinder places.

“It is a mission I embrace wholeheartedly,” Wolf said.