STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING!, Testimony Provided at CT State Senate Hearing, 2/26/08


Connecticut Healthy Workplace Bill


STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING!, Testimony Provided at CT State Senate Hearing, 2/26/08


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STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING! Connecticut Healthy Workplace Bill

Katherine Hermes, J.D., Ph.D.

Connecticut State Coordinator

For the Workplace Bullying Institute


Trustee, the Living Trust of Marlene A. Braun

P.O. Box 1765

Torrington, CT 06790

Just a little more than two and a half years ago, the term “workplace bullying” meant nothing to me. I am a history professor with a law degree from Duke and a Ph.D from Yale. My best friend was a scientist who worked as the manager of a national monument. Her name is Marlene Braun, and she is the reason I am standing before you now.

On May 2, 2005, Marlene’s employer called me to tell me that was dead. I had no idea then what I came to know later: Marlene’s boss, who had bullied her, found out from an email she sent that she intended to commit suicide. He sent two men on a 2-hour drive to the remote monument. He did not call 911. When the men he sent called dispatch and got the U.S. Forest Service, the bully boss forbade the Forest Service to attend to Marlene because she might have a weapon. Indeed she did. She had used it to shoot herself. And she lay there for hours, still breathing, before anyone arrived. She shot herself at 9:30 and died at noon. In her suicide note to me, she said her boss had made her life “utterly unbearable.” He made her death pretty miserable too.

Marlene’s journal recounted the story of her bullying day by day, from the times in the office when he would scream at her, to the time he handed her a suspension out of the blue, the first black mark she had in a career of 13 years in government service, to the time he blocked her with his truck on a narrow road in the middle of nowhere and got out and physically threatened her, telling her she had “brought this” on herself.

Marlene, who had a rational and scientific mind, became confused, anxious, depressed. She lost 40 pounds in little over a year. When she asked for a medical leave, the first one she had ever asked for, and presented him with a doctor’s note, he told her the note was not good enough. She needed to fill out the long form, the one used for employees who abused the sick leave policy.

He saw what was happening to her and he did not care. Even when she was dying, he did not care.

This bully wanted Marlene destroyed and he succeeded. This man was not a jerk. He was not an inept boss. I am a historian and I do not know what a psychologist might diagnose him with. My diagnosis: He is the bully we are trying to stop today, the one who is maliciously harming the health of his employee by humiliating her, sabotaging her work, inflicting on her as much pain as he possibly can. Today Marlene’s bully still has a job with the same agency, because like many employers, his agency did not know what to do with him. So they promoted him up and out.

I tell you Marlene’s story, because it is the story of targets and bullies. Targets are frequently over-achievers who love their jobs and won’t leave them—and that makes them perfect targets. They will be in there for the long haul, the bully presumes. They exceed the bully in competence. The bully begins to isolate them from their peers and colleagues outside the system. I got a phone call from a young woman this morning who decided she was too fragile to testify. Everything I have told you about Marlene, even down to some of the particulars, is true of her situation also. I could tell you similar stories from every target who ever contacted me. Every single one of them just wants the bullying to stop. If it stopped this minute, you would not have a single lawsuit.

For targets, this bill is about sending a message that bullying will not be tolerated, hoping that employers forward that message across their workplaces. The law is necessary, because past experience tells us most employers won’t act on their own.

This law addresses a common problem which for years has had no name. It is a fair and just bill. It does not allow someone to sue a bad boss and it especially does not allow someone to sue a good boss. As someone with legal training but who is not a legal practitioner, and as someone who believes strongly in fairness, what impresses me about this bill is its equanimity. The threshold for plaintiffs is high: they have to prove the behavior of their bully was malicious and they have to show it harmed their health. This is a hurdle that is high, but it will provide redress for targets. There is an affirmative defense for employers. If they have acted in good faith to stop the bullying, they are not liable for what the bully does.

This legislation is the impetus for the creation of better workplaces all across Connecticut. When bullying stops, people can get down to work. Businesses can be productive. Work life can get less stressful and more rewarding. My friend Marlene thought the best job she ever had was working at the monument. She never stopped loving her work. She would have been happy to do it for many more years to come, until life itself became so unbearable. Because of a bully she couldn’t imagine returning to work, or even spending another day on earth.

Thank you for your consideration.

Considering Revised Bill, Lawmakers Hear Stories Of Mistreated Employees

Taking On Workplace Bullies

| Courant Staff Writer

Sarah Ford was fresh out of high school when she took a job as a server in a restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., a 19-year-old eager to show she could make it on her own.But within weeks, Ford found her spirit all but crushed by a verbally abusive boss who chastised her in front of customers and other employees. On one occasion, she recalled Tuesday, her boss leaned into a cabinet full of pots and pans and swiped them all on the floor, then ordered her to pick them all up and organize them.”It was so demeaning. I was down on the floor on my hands and knees in front of all these people,” said Ford, who testified at a hearing before the state legislature’s labor and public employees committee in support of a bill that would crack down on so-called “workplace bullying.”

Ford, who two years later works happily at a Starbucks coffee shop in Bristol, said it was hard for her to overcome the emotional trauma she endured on her first job. She said she hopes the legislation being considered — which, if adopted, would be the first law of its kind in the country — will make abusive bosses and co-workers think twice about how they treat their employees.
The bill, which has the support of committee chair state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, is actually a revised version of a similar bill that failed to reach a full vote of the assembly last year because of concerns about how it might affect businesses. In particular, opponents worried that the bill, which would allow workplace bullying victims to sue their tormentors, could expose employers to potential damages even if they had consistently tried to create a safe environment for workers.
The new legislation aims to protect employers who have acted in good faith by making them exempt from liability if they can show they took steps to prevent bullying behavior on the part of individual employees or supervisors.
Katherine Hermes, who is the head of the Connecticut chapter of the national Workplace Bullying Institute, testified that a national survey conducted last year showed that 34 percent of U.S. workers, or roughly 54 million people, said they had experienced workplace bullying of one kind or another in their lifetimes.

Hermes said her best friend, Marlene Braun, a manager of a California national monument area, killed herself two years ago because of constant harassment and intimidation by her boss. Yet although the majority of bullying cases involve instances of bosses bullying their employees, Hermes said the survey showed that an increasing number of cases are being reported in which employees have bullied either fellow employees or, in some cases, their bosses.

“It’s a nuanced thing, and sometimes the subordinates have the power over their bosses,” she said. “It’s not always top-down.”

Hermes said the survey also showed that, although the majority of bullying victims are women, an increasing number of men have reported being bullied as well. And the majority of people who have been identified as bullies, more than 58 percent, were women, Hermes said.

“It’s a changing dynamic,” she said, adding that academic studies are now being done to understand the phenomenon.

After Ford tearfully testified about her experience with workplace bullying, Prague said the proposed bill will be put to a committee vote in the months ahead and, from there, would probably need to clear the judiciary committee before making it to the assembly floor.

“It makes me very angry that someone would do this to you,” Prague told Ford. “But in the end, he’ll get his.”

Contact Matt Burgard at

3 Responses

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  2. I am so glad I found your site. This is full of great information and links. I am also on a crusade to stamp out the abuses of the workplace bully. I have a site dedicated to educating the abused and the ones that want to help them. Workplace Bullying is just one part of it but a very important part. I have been a Target and continue to be so and see it going on around me everyday. My site is in the infant stages and I am adding on everyday. Thank you for creating this wonderful resource for the many people out there who are looking for help. ~ sweetcardomom


  3. I was mobbed by a fairly large group of fellow employees after working at the same company for several decades. My mobbing was apparently done just for the fun of it. Pretty sick if you ask me. A co-worker, apparently with some serious mental issues, made up, then spread around some disgusting gossip about me at the office. When I figured out what was going on I reported it to management and they told me to “Drop it, if I knew what was good for me”. In the end dozens of people were involved. Many involved knew me for years. Fortunately I was getting to leave on my own anyway. If that wasn’t the case I don’t know what I would have done. My mobbing showed me the darker side of what many people are like and it is pretty disturbing.


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