Bullying Bosses: Workers' rights against psychological abuse

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - We've all heard of bullies at school, but the problem is now bleeding over into the workplace. With a tough economy, more people are putting up with bosses and co-workers who bully.

It leaves the question, what rights do workers have?

"Why can't you stupid Americans ever seem to get anything right," said Shannon Blagg of Jackson.

Those are words Blagg will never forget. This summer the owners of an area restaurant hired Blagg as head waitress.

"I was watching as the other girls were bullied," said Blagg.

She said the bullying came from the owners.

"Girls were made fun of and laughed at over the way they wore their hair," said Blagg. "They were followed around and called stupid."

The restaurant had temporarily closed. When it re-opened one long time employee, who wants her identity concealed, expected to return.

"I just never got a phone call." She says it was because of her age.

The head waitress backs up that claim.

"They wanted to hire younger, prettier waitresses," said Blagg.

The woman who wishes to keep her identity private says she put up with bullying, and watched it happen to others.

"You have to treat people with respect and you should get respect back, but for whatever reason they think it's a one way street any more."

Shannon Blagg said, "It affects your health, makes you scared to go to work that you'll do something wrong."

"It can be more than just a nuisance," said Dr. Ken Callis-Psychologist.

Dr. Callis says workplace bullying can cause serious psychological effects.

"To the point of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," said Dr.Callis.

He points to a 2007 and 2010 study by Zogby International. The latest research shows 35% of people surveyed said they experienced workplace bullying. Mostly of the people interviewed said the bullying came from their bosses.

"It may cause sleep disturbance, increased alcohol abuse, and problems at home," said Dr. Callis.

Attorney Daniel Rau said, "I think we are talking about an evolving issue in the law."

While there are laws against discrimination, the laws against bullying are pretty weak.

However, Cape Girardeau attorney Dan Rau said workers do have rights.

"Those are under the Missouri Compensation system for what's called a psychological injury," said Rau. "If that employee is rendered to tears and is suffering damage as a result of workplace bullying that is something that could be compensable under the Worker's Compensation System."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor the unemployment rate stands at 9% with few signs of improvement.

Many who continue to work in a bullying environment feel they have no choice, but to stick it out.

"So it creates a workplace that's more than unpleasant, it's toxic," said Dr. Callis.

It was all Shannon Blagg could take. She stood up to the owners.

"I was just let go right there," said Blagg.

She says she was fired for saying no to bullying.

"I don't at all regret what I did," said Blagg.

She says it was worth it all if there's a chance her actions helped a fellow co-worker.

Heartland News reached out to the owners of the restaurant accused of the bullying.

We were referred to their attorney, who said this story was simply the result of a disgruntled employee who got fired for not doing her job.

Copyright KFVS 2011. All rights reserved.