Wednesday 23 June 2010

There should be a zero policy in hazing in the workplace

Hazing are all too common events across college campuses but such events also happen in workplaces. It often times goes uncovered and ignored until a tragedy occurs. Hazing has a variety of rituals and other activities involving harassment; physical and sexual abuse and humiliation which are used as a way of initiating someone into a group. These activities are used to promote group loyalty and friendship by giving the initiates an experience of a shared suffering. It's a regular part of initiation to gangs, sport teams, military units, college fraternities and sororities and on occasion, workplaces. In Russia, hazing was so bad in the military, soldiers were committing suicide to avoid being hazed.

I remember when I was 16, I was a counselor-in-training in a children’s camp and escaped being stripped and blackballed with shoe polish by counselors by convincing them that I would report them to the director if I had to undergo what the others had been put through. Later when I directed three children’s camps in Canada, I made it very clear that if any staff member hazed another, he would be fired on the spot. There was no hazing in those camps when I directed them.

A college sophomore, Arman Partamian, 19 was found dead after binge drinking episode, a part of hazing at a fraternity at State University of New York in Geneseo. It was reported that he was drinking all day, and his blood alcohol level was seven times the legal limit. Fraternity members admitted they gave him so much beer, champagne and vodka during a three-day hazing that he died of alcohol poisoning. Following Arman's death, two students were prosecuted and punished: Alex Stucki, 21, was later expelled, and Devin McClain, 22. Devin pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a felony. Stucki also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tampering with evidence by removing a pledge t-shirt from Arman after discovering his body in a bedroom at the fraternity house.

If the case had gone to trial, their sentence could have been four years in prison; however, the two pleaded guilty. As part of the deal, the two received four months of weekends in jail and 500 hours of community service. Livingston County prosecutor Thomas Moran agreed to the deal because the defendants' showed remorse and Arman's parents wanted to be spared the anguish of a trial. Also as part of the plea deal, the misdemeanor hazing charges were dropped.

Separate from the criminal charges, Arman's father Hagop Partamian, is suing a group of college students and the two co-owners of the fraternity property. He accuses them of giving his son so much alcohol during hazing that it caused his death. Mr. Partamian is suing them based on a wrongful death claim and is seeking $2.5 million in compensation.

If hazing is illegal, why is it so common? Most hazing activities the workplace are generally are secretive in nature. In addition, there is a long-term acceptance of it. Abuse has included "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females.

Hazing is considered a felony in several states. Matt's Law was developed in Carrington's memory to eliminate hazing in California. In many states hazing is not a crime, and even in states where it is a crime, it's a common activity that organizations continue to use and turn a blind eye from.

Hazing per se is not a crime in Canada but any physical harm inflicted upon anyone no matter how slight; is a crime.

In Mississauga, Ontario, employees in Mississauga's transportation and works department were tied up with duct tape, spanked until they were bruised and humiliated at the behest of one of their supervisors. This was done in the form of hazing.

Workers in the department allege they saw employees beaten, humiliated and physically punished in various ways for years and that the mistreatment was sanctioned and encouraged by the department supervisor, Domenic Galamini.

Some of the bizarre abuse was videotaped and shown to an independent investigations company hired by the city when the “inappropriate incidents” came to light. Martin Powell, the department's commissioner confirmed that the supervisor who instigated the physical and mental humiliation is still employed by the city is still an employee of the department. He admitted that there was not just the supervisor involved, there were other employees also involved.

Reached at her home, Mayor Hazel McCallion said she would be following up on what happened. She said, “I'm aware of the situation. I'm asking for all the reports — to be debriefed on all the reports — and then I will be able to comment.” But will she act and get that supervisor off the city’s payroll?

Powell says the investigation began when an employee brought a cellphone video to the department's human resources managers showing two employees being duct-taped. The tape showed two employees facing each other with their legs, hands and bodies taped up.

One frame taken from the video obtained by the CBC shows what appears to be a man bound and lying in a fetal-like position. Duct tape is wrapped around his torso and legs. After having seen that video, Powell said, “Based upon that we made a determination that we wanted to hire an external investigator. We did a very thorough investigation, interviewed many employees and there was substantiated inappropriate conduct going on.” He confirmed a CBC report that said bruising, spanking, whacks to the groin and mental humiliation had occurred weekly and for years.

Powell said, "The city does have a policy that when incidents like this happens that we look at the seriousness of it, the history of the employee, then take appropriate disciplinary actions." He added, “I would just like to state that there was inappropriate behaviour that is not condoned by the city. There was significant discipline taken.”

The supervisor was not fired. I hardly think that was significant discipline. He should have been fired. Garbage like that man should be thrown out. Perhaps the stink that has arisen since his actions have been published will force the city to get him out of that workplace before the stench becomes unbearable.

The victims of this hazing can sue the supervisor and the city. The police are now investigating the hazing. They can lay charges against the supervisor and those who hazed their fellow workers where their fellow workers were injured or confined. The charges could be; bodily harm if blood flowed, (even from a small cut) and unlawful confinement if the worker on the back of the truck was forced to under go the trip through the car wash and those who were bound by duct tape and placed on the table. The water balloon attacks were so minor; a charge relating to them would never reach the trial stage.

Don’t these stupid people like Domenic Galamini realize that there have been in some instances, workers who have returned to their workplaces to kill those people who caused them physical or emotional harm?

Millions of employees in Ontario began receiving more protection in workplaces on June 15, 2010 under new legislation created to stamp out violence and sexual harassment.

Amendments to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act require companies to develop and implement written policies to deal with incidents that could cause injury to a worker by someone engaging in harmful comment or conduct against an employee.

The policies must also include measures by employers for immediate help in an incident of violence, or probable violence, and by workers who are obliged to report incidents.

Among other provisions, a company must take action to protect an employee if it becomes aware of a threat of domestic violence that could expose a worker to injury.

Furthermore, employees have the right to refuse work if violence is likely to endanger them.Companies that do not comply with the new rules could face fines of up to $500,000.

My concern is, “What is going to be done to the thugs in Mississauga's transportation and works department who acted like buffoons when they hazed their fellow employees? Probably nothing other than a slap on the wrist. Maybe they will even get a kiss on their butts. That’s the way it always was in the past. Perhaps with this new legislation, thugs like Domenic Galamini will get the boot and victims won’t have to endure hazing from those of his ilk.

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