What we can learn from the evolution of sexual harassment law to address the power structures that benefit white men

We know that sexual harassment law has advanced workers' rights, especially for women. But what has it done — and not done — to move the needle for women? How is it enabling those writing the rules to keep themselves in power to cling onto the status quo?

Let's look to Yale Law School's Reva B. Siegel's short history of sexual harassment from her 2003 book Directions in Sexual Harassment Law to get a sense of what work was like before the Supreme Court interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual harassment as discrimination based on sex in the late 1980s. With each step, we'll look at how the history gives us insights for the need for general workplace anti-abuse legislation, the Dignity At Work Act. Workplace abuse has a discriminatory impact on women, non-white workers, and low-wage workers.

The History of Sexual Harassment 

The Supreme Court's interpretation of sexual harassment as...

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We start today! Check out today’s lineup for the Re-Define Virtual Summit!

Today's the day! The first presentation for the Re-Define Virtual Summit kicks off in 2 hours, and I am SO excited!

Today we're going to learn about:

  • Workplace bullying 101
  • What we’re struggling with when it comes to workplace abuse
  • Inner tools to survive workplace bullying and mobbing
  • Legislating against workplace bullying
  • Stress: what it is and how to manage it
  • What does recovery look like? Rebuilding trust

It's all going to be so good!

Get your free ticket and join us for Day 1!

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3 ways to take your life back after abuse at work

While it may feel impossible to get back up emotionally and mentally, you deserve your attention in rising again and giving life a big HECK yes. Here’s how you can get there:

Know you’re not the problem

I want you for a minute to replay a toxic scenario at work in your head like a film reel. Watch the tactics the bully uses: what the bully says, how the bully says it, and how it makes you feel.

Now replay the scenario with how you wanted the bully to communicate instead and how you wanted to feel. Were better approaches options? Were better outcomes possible?

You see, once we realize what healthy leadership looks like, we realize the toxic behaviors have nothing to do with us and everything to do with the insecurity and need for power and control from the bully (and the employer enabling this behavior).

Learn skills to put yourself first

Once we’ve been abused at work, we realize just how much our needs matter. We realize that it matters less that others approve of...

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We have a fundamental right to dignity at work

The Dignity At Work Act is about granting our fundamental human right to dignity at work. Workplace abuse (or workplace bullying) often involves a person in power, such as a manager or supervisor, taking advantage of a less powerful employee. 

What workplace abuse is

Abuse of power is too often a symptom of implicit bias — a problem discrimination law stopped helping since the 1980s when courts moved from focusing on impact to intent. Intent is a high threshold that makes the law mostly ineffective at addressing bias and disrupting hierarchies at work that create haves and have-nots when those in power “other” people. More than 50 years after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white men still occupy the vast majority of power positions in the U.S. workforce.

Abuse may take the form of:

  • Interpersonal abuse like public ridicule, disrespect, overwork, and overcontrol, including put-downs, screaming, excessive criticism, destructive gossip, false...

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How targets of workplace abuse find justice without a law

When a competent target poses a threat to a deeply insecure aggressor, the target generally feels unfairness and injustice. But how do targets attempt to find justice without a law or without using the legal system, full of asymmetry of power and discrimination, if they have evidence of discrimination?

The sad truth is that most targets of workplace abuse don't find justice. Many simply view justice as consequences (aka job loss) for the abuser and restoring their own employment if they left or were terminated.

But targets can find some justice through:

  • Exposing the abuse — either to senior management or the media. In other words, feeling heard in a situation where they feel invisible and as though their feelings are irrelevant.
  • Advocating for legislation to end workplace abuse, also taking back power by feeling seen and heard.
  • Putting themselves first, often by leaving the job and making their health and career a priority over the toxic workplace.

Hiring an attorney and...

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A lawyer makes the case for workplace abuse legislation

My name is Rebecca Dupras (@redupras). I am a resident of Rhode Island and I currently practice law here. I recently spoke on the passage of the Healthy Workplace Act. Though my experience did not take place in Rhode Island, these types of incidents are happening everywhere in our country. My experience occurred while working for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in California and Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and is well documented in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The New York Times, and Forbes Magazine.

During my time as a Vice President of Development at this charitable foundation, where I managed a team of 10-15 people, I was subjected to consistent harassment, manipulation, and threats by my supervisor. She worked at the organization for over a decade, and I was not her only victim. She would threaten violence towards coworkers, humiliate and embarrass me and others during meetings and in front of other staff, say sexually explicit things, and...

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