Employee Privacy, Discrimination, and Governance

The incidence of workplace violence is increasing globally. In the United States (US) violence has emerged as an important safety issue in today’s workplace. It’s most extreme form, homicide, is the second leading cause of death resulting from job-related injuries, accounting for 1,063 of the 6,271 fatal injuries at work in 1993 (Toscano and Windau, 1994).

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Workplace aggression, or behavior committed by employees with the intention of harming those with whom they work or have worked (Neuman & Baron, 1998), continues to be a significant and prevalent organizational problem. Consequently it has evoked significant attention in both the popular media (Henderson& Juris, 1996) and the organizational behavior literature (Greenberg & Alge, 1998). In this paper we discuss the case of Michael Rahming and Fairwaay Developmental Center from the point of corporate social responsibility.

When there is a case of such violence at workplace, the first question that needs to be answered is who are affected most in case of such an act of violence? Who is responsible for such an act: the employee or the employer? Are there any ethical issues involved in this case? Are such incidents avoidable? These are a few questions that are associated with incidents of workplace violence and need immediate attention. In discussing the aforesaid questions it is of paramount importance to understand what is meant by ‘workplace violence’.

Workplace violence may be defined as “…as the outcome of any act that causes harm to another person… Along a continuum, these acts can range from non-physical, such as abuse of power to physical, including homicide. Violence is not so much the act itself; it is the outcome of a harmful experience…. harmful experiences may include professional, social, economic, or personal harm, such as loss of career, ostracism, loss of wages, or third party victims experiencing third-party violence” (Hockley, 2002a, p5).

This includes both the cases of fatal as well as non-fatal violence. Fatal violence implies incidences of mass killing or fatal assault against peers, superiors, subordinates or others within or outside the organization. Such act of violence includes workplace shootings and homicides (Grubb, Roberts Swanson et al. 2005). Non-fatal violence, as described by Grubb et al., as threats.

Literature on workplace violence shows many health problems experienced by those who have been bullied at work, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress related skin conditions, suicidal thoughts and suicide (Hockley, 2000), can also be experienced by colleagues and family members of the targeted person (Hockley, 2002b). In the case study of Rahming and Fairview, he had been into trouble coping with his colleagues. He believed that he was being “mistreated”.

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Clearly his act of aggression was due to his dissatisfaction towards the organization’s procedural justice climate (Naumann & Bennett, 2000) or the lack of it, in the form of employee mistreatment or a perception that general unfairness is a part of the internal workplace environment. An organization’s procedural justice climate may influence the aggression within that organization (Dietz, Robinson, Folger, Baron, and Sciilllz, 2003).

Unethical behavior in organizations has been viewed as contributing to decreasing work productivity and profitability (Brass, Butterfield, and Skaggs, 1998). The ethical issue that is demonstrated in the case study is that of employee ‘mistreatment’. For example, “bullying,” also known as mobbing, is a type of moral harassment at work (Bassman, 1992). It has negative physical, psychological, economic, and social consequences (American Management Association, 1994).

Was Rahming being “bullied”? The definition of “bulling” provided by Aquino and Bradfield (2000, p. 526): “We define victimization as the individual’s self-perception of having been exposed, either momentarily or repeated, to aggressive acts emanating from one or more persons.” Mistreatment or moral harassment at work, also known as bullying and mobbing, is an important organizational, ethical, and social issue (Bassman, 1992). As such actions at workplace causes moral harassment is a group action, which implies a lack of ethics (Jones, 1991). Moral harassment relates to an individual’s ethical egoism position, in that this position emphasizes pursuit of self-interest (Regis, 1980).

Moral harassment from an ethical egoism position neither requires a management action to be exclusive in reaching out for other team members nor does it require an end-of-action plan. This type of harassment can also dismiss other group members’ positive actions even though they are morally obligatory. Moral harassment implies that management has a very weak ethical foundation. Further, a group of individuals guided by their ethical egoism can ascribe to immoral principles based upon on common beliefs and values that can be harmful to others.

The stakeholders in such a workplace violence case are not only the perpetrator and the victim, but also the co-workers of the victim and his family. As discussed by Hockley, (2002b, p71), third party violence, which includes family members as being affected by such situation. Most of the laws against and for prevention of workplace violence consider the stakeholders for such a situation to be the victim and the perpetrator. Research has shown that workplace violence has social and economic consequences (American Management Association, 1994). When there are economic costs attached, it definitely implies that the shareholders too have to bear the burden of workplace violence. Moreover due to the social effect, the family of the victim faces problems (Hockley 2003).

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In such a situation where the employee is aware of the presence of mental paranoia in the employee, what actions need to be taken? This was Mr. Naughton’s argument. As in case of Rahming, Fairview sent him for psychiatric treatment thrice and every time he had been diagnosed as “paranoid” and still was said to be “fit-to-work”.

But was it the end of responsibility on part of the company towards Rahming? Didn’t the company have a responsibility towards Rahming as well as the other stakeholders of the company to know the reason for his paranoia? Shouldn’t the company have attempted to find solutions to co-worker mistreatment towards Rahming and solve the problem? Empirical results typically show a restricted set of relations, often suggesting links between a subset of the justice components (that is, procedural, distributive, interactional justice) and aggression or suggesting links only for particular targets of aggression (Baron and Neuman, 1999; Greenberg & Barling, 1999).

Clearly Rahming had lost faith in the organizational justice system of Fairview and assorted to aggression of extreme nature. Was mere psychiatric treatment enough to solve this problem? Evidently no. there were factors that were responsible for such a paranoia. The company failed to investigate into those problems. The reasons behind such violence at work is an important area of the subject as it will help to ascertain how the can be prevented.

Aggression has multiple causes and is learned in multiple contexts (e.g., Guerra, Eron, Huesmann, Tolan, &: van Acker, 1997). Societal violence on workplace aggression would come as no surprise to macro theorists (e.g., DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Scott, 1992, 1995) who for many years have emphasized the impact of external environments on organizations.

Because an organization is embedded in the social and cultural frameworks of its environment and hence, at least partially, reflects features of the environment (Scott, 1992), Davis and Powell (1992) suggested that researchers should include an organization’s environment in their studies of organizational behavior. On the basis of Scott’s argument that the informal, normative aspects of an organization can have their roots in its environment, it is plausible that external norms regarding the acceptability of violent behavior may transcend organizational boundaries and, hence, affect workplace aggression. Societal factors that ignite violence at work are as follows:

  • Changing society with violence common on television and in music (e.g. “gansta rap”) (Robinson, 1996)
  • Violence as an accepted means of problem-solving
  • Accessibility of handguns
  • Overstressed populations
  • Lack of appropriate parental and other role models, and other societal variables too numerous to list in this article.

An alternate perspective on workplace aggression is that it results from an organization’s procedural justice climate (Naumann & Bennett, 2000) (or the lack thereof) in the form of employee mistreatment or a perception that general unfairness is a part of the internal workplace environment. Organizational behavior research has repeatedly addressed the relationship between workplace justice and workplace aggression (e.g., Greenberg & Alge, 1998; Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). There can be several factors that can be attributed to workplace violence due to organizational factors. The reasons are:

  • Lack of informed management
  • Managers who do not respect workers, e.g. a “sledge hammer” approach to the organization’s human resources
  • Supervisors who have not been trained to recognize signs of a troubled/escalating employee
  • Lack of appropriate internal/external resources and counseling for employees
  • High stress levels and chaotic work environments
  • Lack of conflict resolution skills in managers and staff
  • Differential application of policy
  • Downsizing, resizing, rightsizing, combined with a mentality of “do more with less”
  • Organizational culture characterized by autocratic leadership, polarization between supervisors and staff, lack of effective procedures to address grievances, and stifling of new ideas
  • Organizational culture that excludes employees from the decision-making process
  • Mergers and restructuring.
  • Lack of a formal violence prevention program.

One of most important organizational policies is a zero tolerance policy for employee and other workplace violence however, to be effective, the zero tolerance policy must be linked to a comprehensive violence prevention program that has been implemented throughout all levels of the healthcare organization. To reiterate: OSHA’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a) (1) 3 requires that employers provide a safe work environment free from violence. This was not present at Fairview. So in the case of Rahming, Fairview failed to see that he was a potential threat to the organization and could imbalance the equilibrium of the worklife for other employees as well as disturb the “third parties” involved.

Violence, fatal or non-fatal, is a social problem. Hence is the moral duty of the corporate to curb these violent actions of its employee through proper actions to prevent such occurrences. A few of the reasons with such violence should be stopped by the corporate:

  • Cost benefits: The effects of workplace violence in the workplace are associated with direct and indirect costs that are related to victims and batterers. These costs include decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, absenteeism, employee errors, employee turnover, and time spent away from work to deal with issues associated with the violence (Stanley, 1992; Friedman, 1987).
  • Enlightened self-interest: Prior handling of such issues would lower turnover and absenteeism, increase productivity, decrease healthcare costs, enrich the culture of the workplace, and help create safer communities where their employees work and live and where the employer has a presence.
  • Workplace safety: Workplace safety is a concern for all employers. Federal and state occupational health and safety laws require employers to make sure that employees work in safe environments. Under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers must provide a workplace that is free from recognized safety hazards. This clause may be interpreted to mean that employers are responsible to take reasonable steps to protect workers from hazards such as acts of violence in the workplace.

Violence is a process that extends over a period of time which varies (brief/extended). The key to violence prevention is an awareness that violence seldom occurs without warning. According to Dietz et al. (2003) organizational intervention in the cases of pre-empted and identified cases of (possible) violence can be controlled by adopting the following measures: First, managers, who treat cases of workplace aggression individually, might be more successful in eliminating workplace aggression if they recognized the necessity for strong actions at the organizational unit level, such as rigorous company policies or unit wide training.

Second, if, the observed spillover effect reflects role modeling, learning, or normative influences on organization members by the community at large, organizations may need to engage in countercultural actions to offset the influence of external forces. Such countercultural actions might include the use of salient role models engaging in constructive behavior, symbolic management, and other mechanisms that reinforce positive organizational norms. (Dietz et al., 2003)

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