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Whistleblowing, Workers’ Comp and Mobbing

©2011 Gail Pursell Elliott

Mobbing is an organizational dynamic. When mobbing and covert bullying are part of the organizational culture, they can be quietly used as retaliation for whistle blowing and/or to move workers out of the workplace who have become perceived liabilities due to work injury. If you are appalled by this concept, you are not alone. However this does occur and deserves a closer look on the part of ethical human resources administrators and risk management professionals.
The Ethics Resource Center’s 2009 survey reported that fifteen percent of surveyed employees who reported misconduct experienced both subtle and overt behaviors which they construed as retaliatory. When asked to specify these behaviors, the following were reported.

60% other employees gave employee a cold shoulder
62% supervisor or management excluded person from decisions and work activity
55% verbally abused by direct supervisor or someone else in management
48% almost lost job
42% verbally abused by other employees
43% not given promotions or raises
27% relocated or reassigned
20% any other form of retaliation
18% demoted
4% experienced physical harm to person or property*

The majority of these are included in the five categories of observable mobbing behaviors. While statistics are indicative of issues worthy of investigation, it may be helpful to look at some individual cases with which I have had experience within the past year. These situations occurred in a variety of industries as diverse as public works, education and health care. It should be noted that not only those persons reporting misconduct were subjected to this type of behavior but also those who had become aware of such concerns as misallocation of budgetary funding or grants, cutting corners which seriously put consumers or others at risk, not following written procedures, and so forth.
Case 1 is a clear whistleblower situation in which an employee became aware of discrepancies that not only involved funding but potentially impacted the health, welfare and safety of individuals. This person was supposedly protected by law and though no overt retaliation was enacted by the organization, the employee was placed in an unusual situation that resulted in a work injury. Upon returning to work, this person was reassigned to a location to work in isolation from others. It must be noted that this assignment was usually covered by two people and working in this location alone was outside of the boundaries of normal safety. Subsequently, a second work injury put the employee on workers’ compensation for an undetermined time and out of the work environment completely.
Case 2 is a situation involving a professional employee working in an area with partial grant funding. Based on the information at hand the person found that funds which should have been available were not and asked a colleague about it. After that, other associates began distancing themselves from this person while an increased and often inconsequential workload was assigned by the director. These increased assignments impacted the individual’s ability to maintain the level of performance necessary for the main functions of the job.
Case 3 involved an individual who observed behavioral misconduct that directly impacted services being provided and who attempted to report these using the organization’s formal reporting structure. When no action was taken, the person then filed a grievance, once again following policy. After meeting with a representative from upper management, the behaviors once simply observed in the department and reported were then targeted toward this individual while no results from the grievance were communicated. Subsequently, the employee’s official performance review was lowered into the satisfactory range. The prior review had been outstanding.
Many of these situations can be prevented by a zero tolerance approach to retaliation that is consistently acted upon. Follow up is essential as well. Too often there may be a resurfacing of misconduct after situations have supposedly been handled, rather like those hot spots that flare up after putting out a fire. While no organization is perfect, the perceived ethical climate of the organization as a whole by its employees can go a long way towards creating a culture grounded in respect and professionalism.

*Source: 2009 National Business Ethics Survey
The ERC publishes its survey every two years and is for informational purposes. To obtain a copy of the full report, visit their website http://www.ethics.org
* * * * * *
Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Her weekly Food for Thought is read by people around the world. Gail trains employees for corporations, associations and universities, designs sessions upon request to address specific needs and timely issues, and is a featured speaker at conferences as well as a sought after media expert on workplace and school violence. Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.
Contact Gail through her website: http://www.innovations-training.com


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