In August, a Boston paper provided a stunning expose of potential workplace bullying related to South Hadley teacher Deb Caldeiri in a story titled "A humiliation complete." The reporter wrote, " ... The persecution and humiliation of Deb Caldieri, the teacher who responded to the suicide of Phoebe Prince with a compassion so utterly lacking elsewhere in South Hadley High School, is complete. She was fired last week." Though, of course, there are two sides to every story, the reporter potentially exposed a common condition that has become more prevalent due to current economic conditions — the assault on human dignity in the workplace.
In Massachusetts, the spectre of infringement on dignity by employers is coming to a head with legislation written by Suffolk University law professor David Yamada. Hopefully, it will also come to an end. The Healthy Workplace Bill was the subject of a Statehouse hearing in which Caldeiri testified. The bill was also discussed by members of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development this past summer. The Ways and Means committee will begin evaluating it in detail this month. House bill 2310 and Senate bill 916 can potentially become law by this spring.
The bill is well supported by a dedicated group, the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, that contends that the human and economic costs are real, well-documented and supported by research. There is a legitimate basis in certain circumstances, where employees who are not of a protected class (i.e., sexual harassment) should be afforded vital protections when they are mistreated for reasons not related to job performance.
The basic premise of the bill is to create a legal claim for bullying victims who can establish that they were subjected to malicious, health-harming behavior. It also provides defenses for employers who act preventively and responsively with regard to bullying.
The tragic circumstances related to Phoebe Prince generated a worldwide call for anti-bullying controls to protect students. Interestingly, the ensuing story of a dedicated advocate of justice embodied in Deb Caldeiri has the potential for similarly generating a response to correct injustices in the workplace. The greatest surge in human dignity legislation in the United States — the 1964 Civil Rights Act — has provided, in part, inspiration for advanced legislation in this area in several countries around the world including Canada, Britain, Australia and Sweden.
It's time that during the most difficult jobs environment since the Great Depression — conditions that incubate discriminatory business practices — this issue is addressed head on and the ongoing assault on dignity is reversed.
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Joe D'Amore of Groveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.