New and Noteworthy Developments in Workplace-Related Corporate Manslaughter Charges and Bullying
The United Kingdom
On July 3, 2012, Lion Steel Equipment pleaded guilty to the corporate manslaughter of one of its employees, only the third company in the UK to be convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act since it came into force in 2008.
Lion Steel, a manufacturer of storage products including lockers, shelving and cupboards based in Cheshire, admitted the charge in relation to the death of 45-year-old employee Steven Berry, who suffered fatal injuries when he fell through a roof panel at the firm’s site in May 2008. Three company directors originally faced charges of gross negligence manslaughter and failing to ensure the health and safety of their employees under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. In addition, Lion Steel faced a charge under Sections 2 and 33 of the HSWA 1974 of failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees.
The corporate manslaughter charge against Lion Steel was set aside or ‘severed’ from the indictment when the trial began on June 12, 2012. The three directors were then tried on the gross negligence manslaughter and HSWA charges and the company was tried on the HSWA charge. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had intended to prosecute the company on the corporate manslaughter charge in a separate trial to be heard following the conclusion of the first case but on July 2, the judge ordered that the gross negligence manslaughter charges against two directors be dropped. The prosecution subsequently dropped all remaining charges against the individuals and the HSWA charge against Lion Steel, and the company entered a guilty plea to the corporate manslaughter charge. Lion Steel will be sentenced on July 19, 2012.
France Telecom and its former chief executive, Didier Lombard, have been placed under investigation over the company's alleged role in a wave of over 35 employee suicides in 2008 and 2009. The telecommunications company, Lombard, and two senior executives face an investigation into tough management practices allegedly amounting to psychological harassment.
Lombard was named chief executive in 2005 and was head of France Telecom when it was hit by a wave of employee suicides in 2008 and 2009 in which more than 30 workers committed suicide in two years, including a man who stabbed himself in the stomach during a staff meeting and a woman who threw herself out of a window. Blamed on workplace stress and a restructuring program that allegedly undermined employees' well being and may have been akin to bullying, the suicides continued in 2010. Between 2008 and 2011, there were 60 suicides that Lombard referred to as a “suicide trend.” Under pressure, Lombard resigned in 2010. He is being held accountable for 35 of those suicides. Investigating magistrates have widened the case to include 80 cases, which include suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns. The company denies it acted illegally.
France’s law against bullying (moral harassment) has been invoked against Lombard. He was detained and released on 100,000 euros bail ($125,000). Normally, the law is applied in cases where the harassment is directly applied. No executive has ever been held accountable for this indirect harassment.
British Columbia: Employers Face New Bullying Rules
Bill 14, or the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2011 came into force on July 1, 2012. The Act expressly addresses bullying and harassment, and amends section 5.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Section 5.1 currently requires that, in order to receive workers compensation benefits for a mental disorder, the mental disorder must have been an acute reaction to an event in the workplace. An employee will have a compensable claim for mental stress resulting from traumatic events in the workplace; a significant work-related stressor; or a cumulative series of significant work-related stressors.
Bullying causes psychological stress and psychological stress caused by the workplace has more frequently become a Workers Compensation condition. Psychosocial factors, which include occupational psychological stress, often have direct and indirect effects on safety performance. There is a large amount of international scientific evidence supporting this claim. Canada will publish standards this year dealing with the psychological health of employees.
Study of Workers Who Witness Bullying:
Findings of a new study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, published in the current edition of the journal Human Relations, found that workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand. Findings from the study of nurses also showed that all who experienced bullying, either directly or indirectly, reported a greater desire to quit their jobs than those who did not.
The study investigated “the simultaneous impact of, and interaction between, being the direct target of bullying and working in an environment characterized by bullying upon employees’ turnover intentions.” The study demonstrated that working in an environment characterized by bullying increases individual employees’ turnover intentions. Further, employees reported similarly high turnover intentions when they are either the direct target of bullying or when they work in work units characterized by high bullying. Results also suggested that the impact of unit-level bullying is stronger on those who are not often directly bullied themselves.
Data used for the study were collected through two surveys of a sample of 357 nurses in 41 units of a large Canadian health authority. Prior research shows that bullying is prevalent in the health care industry, especially among nurses, according to the university. Download a copy of the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business study here.
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