WBI-LC Media Story

New Employment Law Alliance Poll:
Nearly 45% Of U.S. Workers Say They've Worked For An Abusive Boss

64% Say Bullied Workers Should Be Able To Fight Back in Court

News Release from Employment Law Alliance
A resource for Employers
March 21, 2007


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (March 21, 2007) The grade school bully may have grown up to become the office oppressor, according to a new nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance released today, which found that nearly 45% of American workers say they have experienced workplace abuse.

Stephen J. Hirschfeld, ELA'S CEO and an employment lawyer with the California-based law firm of Curiale Dellaverson Hirschfeld & Kraemer, LLP, said the poll results reflect a growing recognition that abusive bosses are more than just an annoyance, but a very real problem and that employees will increasingly demand protection, if not from employers then the courts.

The poll addressed abusive behavior by supervisors not typically regarded as serious enough to warrant special legal protections afforded to racial, religious, or gender discrimination, commented Hirschfeld. "But when almost one half of the workers surveyed say they have personally been the victim of, seen or heard about some form of abusive behavior by bosses, such as being rudely interrupted or taunted about job performance in front of co-workers, it is not surprising that 64% say there should be specific legal recourse for the victims," said Hirschfeld.

He noted that the survey comes at a time when nearly one dozen state legislatures are considering laws to specifically prohibit bullying in the workplace (bullybusters.org), based on the work of the non-profit think tank, The Workplace Bullying Institute which is regularly featured in national and global media as it promotes workplace victims rights.

In reacting to the poll results, Dr. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering, and Co-Director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization said, "This national survey adds to the growing mountain of evidence showing that abuse of power is a rampant problem in the American workplace. It is time for senior management to realize that this conduct damages their people and is costing them a fortune. Demeaned workers respond with a reduced commitment and loss of productivity, and they run for the exits to find more humane bosses. And these costs will keep escalating as more victims realize that they can fight back in court."

Hirschfeld, whose members comprise the largest international network of employment lawyers, said that an aware employer is a prepared employer when it comes to focusing on preventing incidents and avoiding costly litigation.

"Only an employer in a state of denial would ignore the poll results and not re-examine their personnel policies, supervisor-employee relations and management training", he said. "One of our Canadian members, Montreal-based lawyer, Manon Savard from Ogilvy Renault, reports a recent case, still under review, where an employer was ordered to pay $5,000 as moral damages for inflicting psychological abuse under Quebec's anti-psychological harassment law. That law provides a right to recover damages for any vexatious behavior that affects an employee's dignity or psychological or physical integrity."

The poll, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Theodore Reed, President of the Philadelphia-based Reed Group, was based on a survey of a representative sample of 1,000 American adults within the past two weeks. Detailed interviews were conducted with 534 full or part time workers. The confidence interval for this sample size is +/- 4.24%.

Complete poll results are linked here. Highlights of the poll include:
  • 44% said they have worked for a supervisor or employer who they consider abusive.

  • More than half of American workers have been the victim of, or heard about supervisors/employers behaving abusively by making sarcastic jokes/teasing remarks, rudely interrupting, publicly criticizing, giving dirty looks to, or yelling at subordinates, or ignoring them as if they were invisible.

  • 64% said that they believe an abused worker should have the right to sue to recover damages

  • Southern workers (34%) are less likely to have experience with an abusive boss than are their Northeastern (56%) and Midwestern (48%) counterparts.

The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest integrated, global practice network comprised of premier, independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in all 50 U.S. states, every Canadian province and over 75 countries.

Read the charts and graphs from the poll results. (.pdf format)