Letter to Secretary Chao



February 16, 2006


Honorable Elaine Chao                                    

Secretary of Labor

Washington, DC



Dear Secretary Chao,


Workplace harassment is ugly.  It harms both its targets and its witnesses, as they see that they could become victims, too.   Such psychological abuse also affects people’s productivity and physical well-being.  Sadly, it is happening right here at the Department of Labor and at other workplaces.


On April 10, 2003 you issued policies and procedures for preventing “harassment” in the Department of Labor, but those policies addressed only “harassment” based on race, color, religion, gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation.  Your policies ignored the workplace harassment, bullying, and abuse that were not related to these personal characteristics.  (That policy is now DLMS 4, Chapter 700.)


“Status-blind” psychological harassment and intimidation are outside the scope of DOL’s policies and procedures to prevent harassment in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, etc.  Status-blind, workplace psychological harassment is most commonly called “workplace bullying.” 


Employers, employees, unions, governments, and scholars in the nations of the British Commonwealth and the European Union recognized the problems of workplace bullying several years ago.  They are ahead of us in addressing these problems.  Some American institutions and scholars are already dealing with these problems.  This Department needs to deal with these issues, too.


A 2001 Harris poll in the United States reported that 19% of respondents said “that in the past year, they have witnessed or been aware of bullying - that is, physical or verbal bullying - in their workplace.” (This was a random-sample Harris poll of 750 people.  See http://www.themarlincompany.com/pdfs/2001Harris.pdf.) 


The FBI monograph on Workplace Violence says: "It is the threats, harassment, bullying, domestic violence, stalking, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of behavior and physical violence that, if left unchecked, may result in more serious violent behavior."  (See http://www.fbi.gov/publications/violence.pdf.)  


Apart from the risk that bullying and abuse may lead to physical violence, such abuse undermines employee morale, productivity, and customer service, according to Professors Bennett J. Tepper of Georgia State University, Kelly Zellars of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Michelle Duffy of the University of Kentucky.  (Many other scholars in this country are also writing on this subject.)


You made the same case in May 2005, when you wrote: “As an executive Department whose decisions affect all American workers, the Department of Labor must serve as an example by creating a workplace free from harassing conduct.  Workplace harassment adversely affects the work environment by undermining productivity and professionalism…”  (See http://www.labornet.dol.gov/assets/applets/hc.pdf.)


For these reasons and more, I propose that AFGE Local 12 and the Department of Labor work together to address the problems of workplace bullying.  To aid the proposed joint effort, I am providing a draft Charter for a Labor-Management Committee on Workplace Bullying, an extensive bibliography on workplace bullying, the Quebec statute prohibiting psychological harassment, a selection of academic articles on the topic, and related materials to support the work of such a committee.


The Union is ready to name members who are social scientists, health care professionals, and attorneys, to represent the Local on this joint committee.  We can and we should address this serious problem.








Lawrence C. Drake