Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Erica Loberg on Bullying In The Workplace

bullying in the workplaceWith our current economy, none of us are in a position to lose our job.  So – what – does this mean we have to put up with endless psychological nightmares at work?  When does bullying in the workplace become worse than waking up with no job?
The current economy puts us in a situation of being victims at our job, and in our lives.  This is a terrible situation that demands attention and guidance.
I once had a toaster oven thrown at my head.  It was my first job out of college and I didn’t know the rules and boundaries of the workplace, and what’s acceptable and not acceptable.  I was working for a producer (about 90% of industry jobs are fueled with inappropriate behavior: verbal, mental abuse runs ramped) who mentally tore me down every day. I lost weight, I lost my hair, I lost myself.
But a toaster?  I’d take a toaster over a passive aggressive or verbally abusive boss any day of the week.
Bullying in the work force gets little coverage or attention because we don’t want to lose our jobs, especially when we love what we do but hate the people above us.  And it’s not only superiors that are a problem, sometimes our peers in the workplace are bully’s.  I’ve found a majority of jobs to be an extension of high school.  Cool people are bullies and others aren’t, so they become isolated from the pack, left to feel alone and rejected, lowering ones self esteem and pride.
We have two types of bullying: bosses and co-workers.  Both are terrible in their own right.  As a former, and sometimes present, victim of bullies in the work force, I’d like to share a few stories:
When I started out in the work world I worked in the movie industry; it was bullying on crack.  In fact, I was so shocked and disturbed by the treatment of assistants that I made a documentary.  I’ll never forget a story told to me by a guy that worked for some major producer that demanded he had a specific energy bar on his desk everyday at 4:30 pm.  The assistant was so paranoid that he put the bar on his boss’s desk at 4:25 pm just to make sure it wasn’t late.  The boss called everyone into his office for a meeting and half way through the meeting, he saw the energy bar on the corner of his desk and stopped:
“Why is this energy bar on my desk?”  And the terrified assistant, living in fear every day, replied, “You said you wanted it on your desk at 4:30 pm so I put it there to make sure it wasn’t late.”  And the bully’s response was, “The kitchen is two degrees cooler than my office, so if you put it there before 4:30 pm it gets melty.”  (“Melty” isn’t even a word, probably my most favorite line of this ridiculous story). “You’re fired.” And that was the end of him.  But, having said that, I’d rather have some ridiculous circumstance over an energy bar then a mentally abusive situation.
Being yelled at or put down is worse.  Mental abuse in the work place resides in your brain when you go home.  You wake up dreading going to work, and sit at your desk all day feeling as though it may come under attack at any given moment.  It’s also very difficult to prove mental abuse, and sometimes impossible.  Since society barely acknowledges mental abuse in the work place to begin with, it leaves us alone, and more or less at a dead end.   It is the worse kind of abuse, not because you can’t document it, but because it affects your psychosis.

My next job was a government job.  My new boss came from the corporate world.  (I have some experience in corporate America, but bullies in this environment have more to fear since the threat of a lawsuit is always looming).  What I learned at this job is that, if it’s not sexual harassment or verbal harassment that can be documented or proved through emails, you’re dealt a terrible card.  An abuse that you can’t prove with concrete data, but feel exposed to on a regular basis, is the worse kind of abuse.  You get an anxiety attack when an email comes from your bully, or when you see their number pop up on your phone and know you have to answer it.  It is truly a terrible situation.  Government jobs have unions to address this type of behavior, but in my experience, don’t do much to remedy the situation.

Since bullying is psychological, you have to turn the tables and play the game right back in your bully’s face.  Set some boundaries, slowly.  Stand up for yourself in a savvy fashion, which will gain respect from your bully.  They can’t get away with everything so pick your battles and stand strong with confidence.  Make the bully look ridiculous in a soft psychological fashion; it’s a tight rope to walk, but a starting point to redirect the relationship to a place of balance that involves less threatening bullying throughout your day.

Then we have the co-workers.  Co-workers bully all the time without even realizing it.  They’re not your “boss,” so they really don’t have the right to inflict pain (bosses don’t have the “right” either but have clout to get away with it).  This type of bullying isolates you from the pack and makes you dread work.  Sometimes our workplace is a terrible high school cafeteria.  Are you in the “in” crowd?  No.  So what do you do?  Keep a low profile.  Not being the loud mouth, the funny one, the lame co-worker that thinks they have all the answers, is just fuel for your coolness.

Sometimes when I shop for wine and have zero knowledge of wine, I ask the cashier, “Do people like this?  I’m a follower so…”  It’s an inside joke I play with myself cause I’m most definitely not a follower and you must keep that in mind when dealing with the crowd of bullies, or even one bully, in your work force.  We’re not in high school anymore.  Unfortunately some never left high school, so laugh at it.  Be nonchalant.  That attitude will beat your bully and give you the mental freedom you deserve.

Try to take on bullies in the work force with hard pride and confidence.  You’re better than that, and as far as your nightmare boss is concerned: he or she is a sad, unhealthy, pathetic person, dealing with demons that unfortunately you have to live with in the hours you work.  Switch your perspective.  Pity them and know that YOU are a rock star and will do your best to mentally rise above it all, everyday.  And you will end up stronger at the end of your day, everyday.

Bill protects employees from workplace bullying

By Andrew Carden
Staff writer


Savino, Englebright push bill to fight workplace bullying


Harassed Brooklyn Teacher Theresa Reel Wins $450,000

Brooklyn teacher who says she was sexually tormented by students wins $450,000 settlement

Theresa Reel says students and staff at High School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg 'treated her like dirt.' She says students flung condoms at her and rubbed against her breasts



Theresa Reel shows how a student repeatedly elbowed her in her breast.


Former High School for Legal Studies principal Denise Morgan defended her handling of Reel's complaints.


Lawyer Joshua Parkhurst says the settlement, 'allows our client to get on with her life.'

A high school teacher who said she was sexually tormented by her students and then punished for complaining has scored a $450,000 settlement from the city.
Theresa Reel, 52, who quit her job when she signed the deal, said the knowledge that she never has to set foot in the High School for Legal Studies again is just as sweet.
“I wasted six years of my life being treated like dirt — less than dirt,” Reel told the Daily News on Thursday. “I can’t put into words how happy I am.”
The Mississippi native started working at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, school in 2005 and within a month, her job was a nightmare.
In a lawsuit she filed three years later, she described how students called her filthy names, flung condoms at each other and even touched her breast.
Her pleas to school bosses were met with accusations that she showed too much cleavage, she charged.
When she told then-Principal Denise Morgan that she made a student leave the class for sexual comments, the official’s response was: “And how does that threaten you?”
Morgan defended her handling of Reel’s complaints.
“I am very comfortable with the professional manner in which I responded to this teacher’s concerns,” she told The News.
After Morgan was replaced at the troubled school, the new principal, Monica Ortiz, gave Reel unsatisfactory ratings.
And a 2008 letter from the Department of Education chastised the social studies educator for “inappropriate attire,” described as a “low-cut, V-neck lace top.”
“It made me feel like I was worthless, like my own supervisors believed that I deserved to be treated like this,” Reel said at the Woodside, Queens, home she shares with her cat.
City officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“The settlement was in the Department of Education’s best interest,” said Lawrence Profeta, a city attorney.
Reel’s court papers detail the barrage of X-rated insults she faced in the classroom and corridors.
One boy allegedly told her: “I’ve got rubbers — want to party?” Another student accused a classmate of performing a sex act on Reel for good grades, she said.
She recalled one male student crossing a hallway so he could graze her breast with his elbow and then “smirk” at her.
“I was screaming,” Reel said.
She said the harassment made it impossible to function some days.
“Sometimes I’d break down on the subway,” she said. “I would go home, sit in front of the TV and cry.”
At one point, she said, she was suicidal.
“I had a plan in mind,” she said, without elaborating. “It got so black and bleak I couldn’t see it getting any better.”
The city tried to get the federal discrimination suit tossed out, arguing Reel did not prove the school was a hostile environment, that she was singled out for her gender, or that she faced retaliation.
On each count, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to let a jury decide and set a trial date for Sept. 10.
On Aug. 31, the city agreed to pay Reel $450,000 and remove the poor ratings from her record if she resigned.
“We think she had a very strong case,” said lawyer Joshua Parkhurst of Cary Kane LLP. “We ultimately agreed to settle because it allows our client to get on with her life.”
Reel has been on an unpaid leave of absence for a year, spending down her pensions savings. She’s been looking for a new job, but was even turned down for a cleaning gig.
DOE had no comment on the case.
Morgan, the former principal, is now an assistant principal at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Ortiz is still the head of Legal Studies, a D-rated school which had less than 60% of its students graduate in 2009.
Legal Studies made headlines in 2010 when teachers were caught taking a lavish, taxpayer-funded junket and students were busted for using cell phones to film brawls and sex acts.
Reel wasn’t the only person at the school who thought pupils were out of line. In a 2010 city survey, only 49% of the students said kids treated teachers with respect.