Commissioners Won’t Admit Bullying is a Problem

Rep. Dianne Schuett, a member of the SEA's Chapter 1, testifies Wednesday in favor of the workplace bullying bill, which she sponsored.

Rep. Dianne Schuett, a member of the SEA’s Chapter 1, testifies Wednesday in favor of the workplace bullying bill, which she sponsored.

On Wednesday, the Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee held a hearing on HB 591, the SEA member-driven legislation that would prohibit abusive work environments for public employees.

Several current and former state employees testified about their experiences with bullying in the workplace. Among them was the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Dianne Schuett, of Pembroke. She drove home the point that workplace bullying is a very real issue.

“I can tell you that it’s very real and much more prevalent than realized,” Schuett said.

Not all are willing to admit there’s a problem, though. At Wednesday’s hearing, a group of 16 commissioners and state agency heads presented a letter opposing HB 591. Through the letter, which you can view here, and testimony from State Treasurer Catherine Provencher and HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas, the group of 16 greatly downplayed the issue and misrepresented the contents and aim of HB 591.

In his testimony, Toumpas acknowledged there is a problem, citing a 17 percent vacancy rate, large caseloads and fewer people to handle the work, plus cuts in funding to train managers as the root causes of the issue.

Shockingly, Toumpas went on to state that “we have many front line managers, front line supervisors, who have not been trained in the area of management, who have been moved into the area of management because that was the path in order to get them additional dollars.”

Noting that the best workers don’t always make the best managers, Toumpas also blamed workers themselves if they are not “doing that which is expected of them.”

Provencher was more careful, saying she didn’t want to minimize the issue but that a mechanism is in place to deal with bullying.

In fact, New Hampshire has no written policy against abuse in the workplace, nor is there any procedure for employees to follow to address these issues. HB 591 would solve that by having all state agencies create their own policy based on the unique characteristics of each agency.

The commissioners’ testimony and the attorney general’s position make clear there is a problem that needs to be managed and is not being managed.

“In a way, we should be pleased the commissioners are trying to block this legislation,” said SEA President Diana Lacey. “By doing so, they actually are inviting more lawsuits, and employees have more proof that management isn’t doing anything about this problem, except punishing bullied victims.”

This bill, as amended, was passed in House committee by a bipartisan, 19-0 vote, and passed the House with no objections. In the lengthy House process, not one commissioner spoke up against the measure.

We’re thankful for all of the brave members who have come forward to tell their stories, and greatly appreciate all who have reached out to the Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee, but we need to keep the support for this bill coming. Please call or email the members of the committee. You can find their contact info here.

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