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ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT FOR EMPLOYERS: Will Florida’s Anti-Bullying Law criminalize workplace bullying?

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Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate
mangicaro829@aol.com

 

Currently, Florida has one of the best-written and most comprehensive anti-bullying laws in the nation.   In 2008, Florida’s legislature unanimously passed the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” (Fl. Stat. section 1006.147), and it was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 10, 2008.

Named after bully victim Jeffrey Johnston, the education law requires every Florida school to develop anti-bullying policies that include punishment and counseling for students who bully their peers.   In 2005, Jeffrey killed himself after enduring three years of bullying via the internet and phone by a classmate.  After his death, Jeffrey’s mother Debbie, herself a Florida elementary school teacher, became a strong advocate for state legislation to prohibit bullying and cyber-bullying under Florida law. She led an effort spanning three years to get anti-bullying legislation passed in Florida.

In a further effort to call attention to bullying being escalated by electronic devices, earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 609), expanding the scope of the law to include “cyberbullying”.  Under the July 1st, revisions, school administrators now have the authority to reach beyond school grounds.  If cyberbullying “substantially” interferes with or disrupts the educational process, administrators may now regulate and punish it — even when it originates on a computer or device off campus.

To the best of my knowledge, Florida lawmakers failed to provide our schools with additional funding to support proactive bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs in our schools.

Because of the spreading epidemic of alleged bullying among students, our lawmakers are currently considering a law that will criminalize bullying.

Rebecca’s Law,  named after 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick who committed suicide after alleged victimization by bullying, will provide legal consequences for those who are found guilty of bullying.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen sponsored the bill that will provide criminal penalties for someone who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or “cyberbullies” another person, which would be a first degree misdemeanor.  If a credible threat is determined to have taken place it would be considered aggravated bullying, a 3rd degree felony.

Our lawmakers have a narrow focus on making bullying behavior among our youth a crime, while failing to consider bullying is an ongoing problem among adults as well.

Florida citizens should consider what impact the criminalization of bullying will have in other settings.

Employers must consider the potential legal actions that may be taken where there are accusations and evidence of workplace bullying.

If you are an employer or please consider the information and resources provided by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).

“The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) is the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying.  WBI combines help for individuals, research, books, public education, training for professionals-unions-employers, legislative advocacy, and consulting solutions for organizations to prevent and correct workplace bullying.”
Click here to visit the WBI website.

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According to reports, 35% of the U.S. workforce report being bullied at work. 

March 2nd, 2012

LA Times: California physician assistant wins $168 million in harassment suit

 

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2012

Ani Chopourian told of sexually inappropriate conduct, bullying and retaliation at a Sacramento hospital. The award is believed to be the largest for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

Ani Chopourian lost track of how many complaints she filed during the two years she worked as a physician assistant at Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital.

There were at least 18, she recalled, many having to do with the bullying surgeon who once stabbed her with a needle and broke the ribs of an anesthetized heart patient in a fit of rage. Another surgeon, she said, would greet her each morning with “I’m horny” and slap her bottom. Yet another called her “stupid chick” in the operating room and made disparaging remarks about her Armenian heritage, asking if she had joined Al Qaeda.

Managers from Mercy General, a unit of Catholic Healthcare West, told a Sacramento trial court that it was Chopourian who was guilty of professional misconduct, which was why they fired her and tried to deny her unemployment benefits.

But in a stunning rebuke of the hospital’s side of the story, a jury Wednesday awarded Chopourian $168 million in damages, believed to be the largest judgment for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

“They were just shocked by the whole workplace environment,” said Lawrance Bohm, Chopourian’s attorney during the three-week trial in which witness after witness depicted a culture of vulgarity and arrogance they said humiliated female employees and put patients at risk.

Click here to read more at WBI.

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