bullying in the workplace

The James Comey Guide for Bullied Employees and Whistleblowers

As an expert in workplace dynamics, I was struck by how today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with former FBI Director James Comey was really an issue aboutworkplace wrongdoing and a bully boss. While a few of the senators asked pointed questions about the Russian investigation and, perhaps in the effort of obfuscation, Hillary Clinton, the questions centered on why Comey was fired.  Comey’s answers really made me sit up and take notice—they were a master class in what to do when dealing with a bully or the need to become a whistleblower.

1. Trust Your Instincts

When Donald Trump sent the attorney general and the vice president out of the Oval Office in order to talk privately to Comey, red flags popped up in Comey’s head. Additional concerns were raised when Trump changed the reason he had fired the FBI director. This is where the skills of emotional intelligence are vital—understanding the mood and tenor of a situation will let you know when to be on your guard.

2. Keep a Paper Trail

Given the red flags and his solo meeting with Trump, Comey felt compelled to keep a detailed account of every interaction they had. This was unnecessary under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who only spoke to Comey on rare occasions and never improperly. Because he kept a paper trail, investigators can now use the documents to get to the truth.

3. Try Not to Be Alone with the Bully Boss

It‘s important to have witnesses when malfeasance happens. Comey knew that Trump’s request to have a meeting alone was highly improper and went to great lengths to keep it from happening again. This is also why he celebrated the idea that there might be tapes.

4. Go to Independent Investigators Outside Your Company

Comey gave the detailed memos he wrote to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller III for his investigation for a good reason. According to the New York Times: “I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, ‘cause it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation; there might be a tape,” Mr. Comey said, referring to May 15. “And my judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. So I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”

For more information about dealing with bully bosses and protecting yourself if you need to become a whistleblower, please read my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Photo credit: CNN


Issues at Uber Debunks Study that Social Responsibility is Bad for Business

It’s time for Uber to move out of the line of fire or risk losing the company. There’s a reason that I used that phrase in the title of my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. Too often when companies install a culture of bullying and personal harassment they need to get rid of the bullies at the top in order to survive. 

Uber has given me no end of issues to write about recently and today isn’t any exception; the New York Times reports that 20 employees have been fired following a sexual harassment investigation. The outside law firm Perkins Coie was hired to look into 215 allegations of harassment, discrimination and bullying and found reason to take action in 58 cases. According to the Times, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is also looking into workplace culture as part of a larger investigation.

When you add these firings to the massive exodus of top executives, including the company president, the heads of finance and product, the East Coast general manager and high-level engineers, Uber begins to look like a car wreck. This news follows shocking revelations about sexual harassment revealed by a former female engineer and the suicide of an African-American engineer.

Uber’s troubles directly contradicts studies such as the one conducted by Florida Atlantic University College of Business that report corporate social responsibility as bad for shareholders. Consistent malfeasance and bullying in the workplace doesn’t seem to be doing much to bolster Uber. Isn’t it time to set aside the teachings of Milton Friedman and Harvard Business School that only shareholders count and start building psychologically healthy, safe, fair and productive workplaces?

Illustration credit: MMM

Employers Ignore Smoldering Workplace Issues at Their Own Peril

We’ve been riding a wave of senseless attacks recently, but the latest workplace shooting near Orlando, FL had indicators that had they been heeded, might have prevented tragedy.

Yesterday a former employee of Fiamma Inc. killed himself and five former colleagues. I’ve written extensively about the smoldering powder keg that is the emotionally compromised employee in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. Employees who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to bullying at work can be emotionally fragile and dangerous to themselves and/or others if they don’t have an opportunity to receive mental health care and address workplace issues. There certainly were indicators that something was wrong with this individual given that he was arrested in 2014 for workplace violence, even though no charges were filed.  Former colleagues reported other incidents of violence as well, which led to his being fired.

Whether the shooter was motivated by unresolved issues of workplace bullying or had other problems, it was the responsibility of the company to help him find help in order to protect all of its employees. No amount of cost saving or shareholder appeasing should come before the very lives of those who make the company run.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

From Canada’s National Symbol to Canada’s National Shame: The RCMP

There comes a time when a dysfunctional police force puts the very people they have sworn to serve and protect in danger. For the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it’s gone beyond even that—the officers in the ranks and their support staff are suffering from decades of bullying, abuse, harassment and reprisals against whistleblowers. Under this regime, the very notion of upholding the law has become a national disgrace—and a danger to national security. It’s time to completely remake the RCMP.

I’ve been following the toxic culture at the RCMP for more than a decade. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss how the RCMP typifies a dictatorial culture and the damage they are doing to their officers and the public. I’m not alone in my concerns. CBC News ran a report today calling for civilian governance of the police force. The sad truth is that the millions of dollars spent thus far settling harassment suits, and on evaluations and investigations, haven’t changed the dictatorial culture of the RCMP one iota. In fact, things have actually gotten worse. This brings little hope to people working in toxic workplaces. If the full force of the Canadian government, independent commissions and academic scholars can’t improve things—what hope does the average person have when it comes to bullying in the workplace?

As I’ve written before, in order to reform the police the force needs to be taken apart and rebuilt. The recommendations to the RCMP to add civilian governance is a good start, but it requires nothing less than a total transformation from A to Z. Adding a civilian police commissioner is nothing more than applying a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. It might shield our eyes from the ugliness for a time, but it does nothing to save the patient.

Illustration credit: Greg Perry/Toronto Star

How to Leave a Toxic Legacy

Bully bosses are notorious for being short-sighted—most can see no further than their immediate objective. Given how they manipulate and torture people, it might come as a surprise that many want to be liked—even loved. For a perfect example of this look no further than Donald Trump. In spite of his toxic tweets and abusive statements, he often displays the demeanor of a small child who is aching for adoration.

Ada Brunstein explores a similar type of boss in her recent New York Times essay, “In a Law Office, Coping With a Boss’s Toxic Trail.” In it, she discusses the daily abuse she and other young, female paralegals received from the estate attorney who employed them. The lawyer, whom she calls “Mr. S,” couldn’t understand why his employees disliked him and never stayed long. It couldn’t be the blatant disregard for his staff, his incessant smoking in the office, his temper tantrums or name calling, could it? In fact, his inability to retain staff ultimately hurt his business and did nothing for his legacy.

Leaders should ask themselves how they would like to be remembered. Their behavior reflects directly on how employees feel and why they feel that way and any issues on the boss’s part that impacts the workplace negatively needs to be addressed immediately. Leadership is no place for people who don’t understand—or care—how feelings drive organizational behavior.

Andrew Faas is the author of

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK


When the Director of Education is the Bully-in-Chief

What recourse do parents and educators have when the school board’s director of education is the chief bully? That was the dilemma faced by parents in the York School District located north of Toronto. After a parent was the target of a racial slur by a former trustee a provincial investigation found that the school district was guilty of an astonishing number of violations, including:

·       ignoring the incident of racism,

·       using public funds for international travel that didn’t benefit the schools,

·       more allegations of racism and Islamophobia,

·       covert deal making among board members for their own purposes,

·       a lack of evaluation process for the director, who insisted on a “contract for life,”

·       and spying on team members by sending their laptops for forensic testing.

In yesterday’s post I urged potential whistleblowers to seek an external auditor for serious internal issues and this is wisely what happened in this case. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter appointed two independent investigators to review what was going on in the school district including going through more than 280 emails and interviewing 140 people. Their report was a scathing indictment of the board’s behavior, which generated 22 directives and the failure to do so would mean a formal investigation of the board—one step from being taken over by a provincial supervisor, according to writer Caroline Alphonso at the Globe and Mail.

The chief bully behind all of this was Director of Education J. Philip Parappally. The fearful and threatening environment he created caused staff members to spy on one another and compete for rewards based on favoritism. Parents also pointed out that incidents of racism were ignored after Parappally was hired.  Not atypically, Parappally himself would only concede that the board recognized areas for improvement.

It’s shameful that this became such a toxic culture of fear and intimidation that it requires outside intervention, but this isn’t unusual when the person in leadership is the cause of much of the misery.

Photo credit: Toronto Star

Instead of Blaming the Victim; Practical Advice for Whistleblowers

I’m often appalled at the bad advice the media gives to people who are being bullied in the workplace. The latest example comes from the Globe and Mail’s Rob Magazine on Corporate Governess where a reader asked what to do about senior executives who were up to something unethical and possibly illegal. The headline? “Why you probably shouldn’t snitch on your employer.”

After pointing out that Canada has no whistleblower protection laws like the U.S., the magazine’s writer put the onus on the reader. After pointing out that almost any course of action could lead to unemployment, it urged him to keep it anonymous and do his own investigation first.

Suggesting that it should all be up to the employee is absurd. Here is the advice I share in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

1.     Reach out to your company’s external auditor to see if you will be protected if you report wrongdoing.

2.     If it’s safe to do so, make your report to the company’s external auditor.

3.     Keep your report free from emotional response and state just the facts. Don’t embellish, assess or be judgmental.

4.     Don’t become the investigator. The investigation is the responsibility of the organization.

5.     Know the laws where you work. Different states have different protections for whistleblowers and some have none at all.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK 

Brutal LGBTQ Discrimination Leads to Historic Court Ruling

One man’s courage in the face of brutal sexual discrimination has led to a court precedent that may make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation. According to this harrowing article in Slate that describes the abuse he suffered, Matthew Christiansen won the right to sue his employer from the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit. For resisting the horrific workplace bullying he suffered, and taking a stand as a resister, a defender, a protector and an activist, Christiansen is our Revolutionist of the Week.

According to Mark Joseph Stern on Slate, Christiansen has earned the right to sue his employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex stereotyping against employees who do not conform to gender norms. Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote that recent legal developments support a greater interpretation of “sex discrimination” and that Title VII should already protect gay employees from bullying in the workplace. There seems to be growing consensus among federal judges on this matter.

None of this would have come to light without Christiansen’s bravery in the face of relentless cruelty at work. The Chief Digital Officer at his place of employment had targeted him from the very beginning and drew obscene pictures of Christiansen that he shared with colleagues throughout the office, spread rumors about his HIV status, referred to him using homophobic slurs and made crude references to his sex life during business meetings. Christiansen couldn’t take the abuse anymore and reached out for legal advice. When lawyer after lawyer turned him down—and some even questioned if he was to blame—he persevered and finally found an attorney who wanted to empower LGBT employees facing similar prejudice.

Getting help wasn’t easy. Fighting this battle meant that Christiansen had to report to work every day and even accept assignments that were personally challenging, but sticking with it brought surprises. According to Christiansen’s attorney, Susan Chana Lask, “After his name was in the papers, he said, ‘Susan, I’m so freaked out to go to work.’ But when he did, people he didn’t even know came up to him and hugged him. They just said, ‘thank you.’”

I’ve written at great length about what to do if you find yourself the target of bullying in the workplace in my columns, as well as in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. First, and most importantly, do not try to do it alone. It took awhile, but Christiansen found support from his lawyer, and later from his coworkers. My research has shown that organizations that make horrific bullying possible have a systemic problem and there are other victims. By banding together they can offer one another support. Other key tips to survival are:

·       Build your sense of self: Don’t let the bully break you.

·       Don’t become a bully: Don’t let the bully turn you into someone who targets others.

·       Understand the motivation: Learn why you are targeted. It will help you fight.

·       Avoid the Bully’s Trap: Don’t let the bully set you up for a confrontation or failure.

·       Call the bully out: Let the bully know if front of supervisors the harassment must stop.

·       Get professional help: Attorneys and therapists are equipped to help you.

·       Become a revolutionist: As someone who has called out bullying, you are now in a powerful position to change things for the better. Accept this challenge to build a better workplace and a better world.

Christiansen hasn’t yet had his day in court, but we will be watching to see how it goes and cheering on this brave revolutionist.

Photo credit: Susan Chana Lask

For Bullied Mountie, Favorable Judgment Comes 12 Years Late

For Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Peter Merrifield, the February 28 judgment in his favor took 12 years to arrive. Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee found that the RCMP had serially harassed the decorated investigator “beyond all standards of what is right and decent” according to an article in the National Post. He was awarded $141,000 to compensate for his emotional distress, which caused significant mental health issues, and the ruin of his professional reputation.

Law enforcement organizations are particularly vulnerable to becoming dictatorial cultures. By their very nature they require a rigid chain of command and an ability to confront difficult situations. If abuse of this power structure is allowed to set in, a dictatorial culture replete with bullying, harassment and abuse can be the result—as is the case of the RCMP. The organization has been the subject of numerous accusations due to their toxic dictatorial culture, which I discuss in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Despite the judgment, Merrifield told the National Post that the abuse by the RCMP still continues, which is why he’s become a vocal advocate for RCMP unionization. While that might be a good first step, nothing short of a systemic, organization-wide review followed by extensive managerial housecleaning will change such a deeply embedded dictatorial culture.

Credit: Toronto Star

How a Bully Boss Turns Subordinates into Bullies: White House Edition

There is a classic workplace bullying dynamic at work in the White House. As Donald Trump bullies his subordinates, they become bullied bullies and bully others. Trump communications specialist Omarosa Manigault was guilty of this recently when she tried to intimidate veteran White House reporter April Ryan, according to a report in the Washington Post. Just steps from the Oval Office, Manigault physically intimidated Ryan, made verbal threats and asserted that Ryan was among reporters on whom the Trump administration had “dossiers” of information. According to Ryan, the physical behavior was so extreme that it almost warranted Secret Service intervention.

In my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I deal extensively with how people who are bullied become bullies themselves. For many it is a way to cope and survive in a toxic environment, for others it gives them a license to get results through fear.

I keep pointing out the work of Stanley Milgram in The Perils of Obedience where he observed: "...ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority." My book is a resource so employees don’t become "agents in a terrible destructive process by resisting authority."