April 12th, 2015

Minnesota Union and State collaboratively create Workplace Bullying policy


Minnesota leap frogs Tennessee with respect to having a state policy to thwart workplace bullying. First a bit of background. In 2014, Tennessee passed a law (Public Chapter 997) that assigned policy writing to a state commission (TACIR) comprised of elected officials with technical support from WBI-affiliated professionals. The group did produce a model policy. However, several lawmakers refused to allow the policy’s implementation. The workplace psychological safety of public employees in that right-to-work state remains unresolved, treated as a political game.

Thus, the first state to implement a workplace bullying policy for all state workers is Minnesota. The successful story begins with the state employees union MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) becoming aware of bullying-related problems for members in January 2012. Discussions of bullying surfaced in contract bargaining sessions. In February 2013, some bullying managers were removed in partnership with the union. Education accelerated in May 2013 when MAPE held a seminar for stewards with lessons gleaned from a public session sponsored by the Minneapolis Bar Association at which Dr. Gary Namie spoke.

Audio report:

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By August 2013, MAPE had produced videos of their bullying experiences. In September, results of a membership survey revealed that 1 out of 4 members were either directly bullied or they had witnessed it. State. The state Department of Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, signed an anti-bullying petition to ensure safe, retaliation-free reporting of bullying.

MAPE lobbied for HF 2157 in 2014 which called for the state to create a “workplace bullying policy” in collaboration with labor. The bill led to representatives of the state agency Minnesota Management & Budget and MAPE leaders forming a task force to develop the statewide workplace bullying policy. On April 10, 2015, the collaboratively created policy for state workers was released on time before the May 1 deadline —

The Respectful Workplace Policy

Features of the policy:

• The legislation launching the policy writing process explicitly stated that a “workplace bullying policy” be promulgated. WBI: American employers loathe the term “workplace bullying,” preferring the much milder phrases “incivility” or “disrespect.” For those deep in denial, employers like policies to bear positive titles even though policies should prohibit very narrowly defined categories of misconduct. Bullying or abusive conduct is the problem. Disrespect, or bullying-lite, is acceptable, but you can see the state won the naming negotiation by settling on “Respectful Workplace.” There is an American to naming problems directly. If you don’t honestly name the problem, it rarely gets fixed. The indirect misnaming method leads to oblique solutions, incremental approaches and years of preventable misery for those afflicted. Hey, but it’s a “start,” as we say.

• Respect is defined in the policy as “Behavior or communication that demonstrates positive consideration and treats individuals in a manner that a reasonable person would find appropriate. WBI: This eliminates from appropriateness negative conduct. Good, strong beginning.

• “This policy solely addresses communications and behavior that do not involve protected class status.” WBI: This plugs the hole in nondiscrimination laws and policies which are typical of bullying (same-gender, same-race incidents). It explictly differentiates itself from sexual harassment and other forms of illegal discrimination covered by other policies.

• There are four employee responsibilities articulated. Two of the more important ones are (1) (to) “Participate fully and in good faith in any informal resolution process or formal complaint and investigative process for which they may have relevant information” WBI: this is directed at silent coworkers who are historically too fearful to intervene or provide known information, and to (2) “Report incidents that may violate this policy.”

• Managerial responsibilities include: (1) informing all employees about the policy, (2) maintaining compliance, and (3) take timely action on reported bullying WBI: which effectively should eliminate the supervisors’ excuse to not take action when bullying is reported to them by saying “work it out between yourselves,”

• A unique feature of the policy is that if managers fail to comply with the policy or fail to act appropriately, they face discipline up to and including termination.

• Retaliation is prohibited against complainants, witnesses or anyone involved with investigations. WBI: This will be tested regularly. Fear of retaliation is the reason that witnesses do not help with investigations. Under threat of discipline, witnesses must now participate. However, if retaliation persists, the person retaliating should be terminated. It is the only way to reduce the threat. Once the process is proven to be safe, the silence surrounding bullying will be shattered.

• There is a section in the policy declaring several activities that are not violations: performance reviews, work direction, performance management, and disciplinary action provided they are conducted in a respectful, professional manner; Disagreements, misunderstandings, miscommunication or conflict situations where the behavior remains professional and respectful.

• “Unintentionally disrespectful and/or unprofessional behavior may still violate this policy.” A short list of illustrative examples is given. WBI: This is an incredibly wise statement. Intentions or motives are too hard to prove. Perpetrators are rarely aware of the underlying reason for their destructive actions.

• One of the illustrations of policy violation is “Use of this policy and procedure to make knowingly false complaint(s).” WBI: Again a wise inclusion. Bullies are the first to attempt to use the policy. They want the employer to consider them victims. Then, if a target reacts, always much too late and much too ineffectively, the bully claims retaliation for filing the complaint.

• Informal resolution steps outlined include mediation, but it is not mandated thankfully. There is some care taken to acknowledge that contacting supervisors who may be the perpetrators is not a safe thing to do. The mere inclusion of Informal Resolution is an improvement on nearly every policy written today.

• The terms “timely, fair and objective” precede all informal and formal complaint steps. WBI: Deadlines define reasonable timeliness. This section of the policy is prone to misuse and distortion. It appears that complaint handling, as now practiced, is sufficient. But we have to remember this policy and set of procedures is a negotiated product of management and MAPE.

From the news release about the Policy …

Kathy Fodness, a business agent for MAPE, said the policy acknowledges that a problem exists and spells out steps that state workers can take to have any concerns addressed. “We’re excited about this,” she said, “because we, for the first time, feel like there is a partnership between the state of Minnesota and the public sector unions, both in recognizing this and eradicating it.”

Among those who served on MAPE’s workplace bullying task force is psychologist Randy Wills, who says he experienced a hostile work environment at the CARE St. Peter chemical dependency program. “It greatly affected productivity, staff morale, absenteeism – and then, you know, ultimately that doesn’t channel into the best quality of care for the clients,” he said. “And so hopefully, this is going to lead to a better workforce and just better employees.”

While Fodness called it a major step in the right direction, she noted that MAPE will continue to press to ensure that Minnesota’s state workplaces are professional and respectful. “We have uncovered some pretty egregious situations, and we need to make sure that our members are treated justly and fairly, even under this new policy,” she said. “So, we’re going to be even more involved in making sure that work environments do become and remain healthy.”

According to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than one in four workers in the United States reports being bullied by a coworker or boss.

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MAPE has created Regional Leads to ensure the state managers’ compliance with the new policy. In May 2015, those Regional Leads, the union’s policy implementation monitors receive additional training.

The MAPE-MMB collaboration is a model for other unions and state agencies to emulate. But more important is the record of action that MAPE took when they realized the their members were being harmed simply because they worked for the state. More unions need to experience a sense of righteous indignation and return to the model of unions as advocates for employees.

MAPE is extraordinary and deserves much credit.

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Simultaneous activity in Minnesota — the WBI anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (SF 1932) sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz.

In 2012, Hennepin County passed an anti-bullying ordinance.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, April 12th, 2015 at 1:30 pm and is filed under Bullying & Health, Good News, Unions, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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