Sentinel & Enterprise

Why we need the Workplace Psychologi­cal Safety Act

- By Randy Juardo Ertll

In October, the Massachuse­tts state legislatur­e heard testimony from hundreds of activists in support of the Workplace Psychologi­cal Safety Act ( WPSA), an anti-bullying bill that could set a new national precedent. The measure — which was first put forward in Rhode Island earlier in 2023 — would hold employers accountabl­e for psychologi­cal abuse committed on the job. Advocates for the bill define psychologi­cal abuse as “bullying and mobbing that violate an employee’s basic human right to dignity.”

With bullying affecting nearly 80 million U.S. workers (roughly one in two overall), according to a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, there is an urgent need to counteract such abuse being tolerated or committed by employers, many of whom rely on loopholes in current laws to avoid facing penalties. The WPSA lays out a more stringent system for workers to seek recourse from, among other things, “common behaviors that a reasonable person would deem to be toxic.”

While there are plenty of laws designed to protect employees from racism and discrimina­tion in the workplace, these laws are far from perfect — and many do not account for abuses that are less blatant. As a profession­al credential­ed teacher, I’ve seen colleagues being yelled at, intimidate­d and talked to condescend­ingly, none of which would, at present, be legally considered workplace abuse.

Teachers are among the workers who need this act’s safeguards the most. There is no cookie- cutter approach to teaching. Every day is unique, challengin­g and exhausting. And expectatio­ns — especially for new teachers — are extremely high. Some students have different learning ability levels, language barriers, social- emotional and various other challenges. On top of these pressures, teachers face the threat of displaceme­nt.

Put simply, displaceme­nt is a bureaucrat­ic method to get rid of teachers. A school can justify displaceme­nt for reasons such as low enrollment or favoring teachers in certain subjects over others. But sometimes, administra­tors simply displace teachers because they don’t get along with them personally or profession­ally. One could say that displaceme­nt is a form of bureaucrat­ic psychologi­cal abuse.

Conditions that displaced teachers face can cause psychologi­cal issues like anxiety, depression, hypervigil­ance and post-traumatic stress. Newer teachers are often the ones displaced, and they are mainly placed in schools that they have not selected.

It is time for unions and civil rights organizati­ons to stand up and declare displaceme­nts unacceptab­le. Regardless of years of experience, all teachers must be treated with dignity and respect. Students will only benefit from having an effective, longterm teacher who is not being micromanag­ed or harassed.

We must get the WPSA signed into law in all 50 states. We must stand up for the rights of all workers to be treated fairly and with respect. The WPSA can serve as a legal protection for new teachers who, at times, may feel that their labor union may not advocate or represent them in relation to the issue of displaceme­nt.

Teachers throughout the United States have an opportunit­y to organize, advocate for and demand that their school board members support and adopt the Workplace Psychologi­cal Safety Act.

By implementi­ng the principles of the Workplace Psychologi­cal Safety Act, school board members can set the example that bullying and psychologi­cal harassment of teachers is unacceptab­le and no longer tolerated.


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