Workplace abuse refers to harassment or discrimination that is not triggered by someone’s race, religion, gender, or other legally protected characteristic. Abusers often feel threatened by target’s strengths. Targets tend to be highly competent, forthright, and empathetic.
Workplace abuse is common at most employers: at least one-third of workers in the United States will face workplace abuse during their careers. Workplace abuse is especially common at universities.
Brandeis does not escape this pattern, as we learn from the Ombuds reports. Community members express strong "concern about how people in places of power (supervisors, tenured professors, and leadership) treat staff and students with disrespect, sense of hazing, and many inappropriate ways" (p. 3). Faculty members are definitely targets of abuse, especially junior and OTS faculty members.
Workplace abuse occasionally involves loud arguments and rudeness, but usually it is more insidious. Subtle-but-common approaches to harming someone’s dignity include:
- excluding and ignoring them and their contribution
- overloading them with work
- spreading malicious rumours
- unfair treatment
- picking on or regularly undermining them
- withholding necessary information
- denying training or promotion opportunities.[i]
These subtle behaviors are serious because they usually persist – at universities they persist for years. Persistent workplace abuse is directly analogous to domestic violence: the target is trapped in a relationship that is belittling, insulting, intimidating, humiliating, or disempowering. Targets know that further degradation is always on its way, so their lives become “... miserable. You can lose all faith in yourself, you can feel ill and depressed, and find it hard to motivate yourself to work.”[ii] The severe emotional, psychological, economic, and physical harms include feelings of shame and humiliation, anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypertension, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, heart disease, stress-induced illnesses, suicide, workplace violence and job loss.
Workplace abuse and its impact
Why seek help from the Senate?
Why are those facing workplace abuse recommended to consult the Senate? Because requesting support or protection from U.S. employers normally backfires.
At most U.S. employers, including U.S. universities, most targets who seek protection from workplace abuse do not gain it, and are instead subjected to a new form of abuse known as "organizational bullying," "corporate violence" or "institutional betrayal." [iii] The Brandeis Ombuds reports that Brandeis community members commonly express "concern about policies and retaliation for using formal processes to report harassment" (Ombuds report, p. 3).
Why is it dangerous to follow standard grievance procedures at U.S. employers?
[iii] The idea that targets rarely get protection from their employer may sound extreme, but the research invariably confirms it. This presumably explains why Brandeis created a new group (ODEI) to handle concerns about discrimination and harassment.
[iv] The policy of suppression reflects a common assumption among attorneys: suppression minimizes legal costs. However, this assumption has been belied by empirical analysis. Research now confirms the assessment of informed legal experts: addressing workplace abuse forthrightly and fairly reduces legal expenses and amplifies institutional success