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Warn staff: Bullying can bring criminal charges

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Having trouble persuading employees that workplace bullying has dire consequences and convincing managers to take the problem seriously? Then add this warning to your next training session:

Employees who harass and abuse co-workers—and supervisors who turn a blind eye to bullying—may end up facing jail time.

Consider this recent example of bullying gone horribly wrong. It resulted in the arrest of a Dairy Queen manager who now faces murder charges.

Kenneth Suttner, a high school student, worked part-time at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, Mo. Just 17 years old, Kenneth had been bullied at school for years, according to his friends. He probably didn’t expect it to happen at the DQ.

But it did, and on Dec. 22 last year, Kenneth shot and killed himself, according to a coroner’s inquest.

Now Kenneth’s manager, Harley Branham, has been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter caused by bullying that allegedly pushed the boy over the edge.

The inquest jury that brought the indictment found that Kenneth “came to his death by: felony, involuntary manslaughter, due to harassment …. We find that Harley Branham was the principal in the cause of death.”

Among the jury’s findings: That Branham allegedly repeatedly ridiculed the teen and made him do tasks she didn’t have others do, including making him lay down on the floor and clean it by hand. She allegedly threw food at Kenneth when he prepared it incorrectly. Witnesses said she repeatedly called him names.

Significantly, the inquest jury added, “We further find that Dairy Queen was negligent in training their employees in harassment prevention and resolution.”

Advice: Cover bullying in your anti-harassment training sessions. Address it in your employee handbook. Make sure managers know that they have an affirmative responsibility to put a stop to bullying when they see it happening.

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