May 30th, 2013

Pima County Arizona takes a stand against workplace bullying

UPDATE: To write the best workplace bullying policy and enforcement procedures, go here.

On April 16, 2013 the Pima County (AZ) Board of Supervisors approved a new policy to prevent, identify and address workplace bullying. Pima, which includes the city of Tuscon, joins the growing list of U.S. counties (see Fulton County, Georgia) to adopt such measures. You can read the entire policy here.

Bullying defined:

Workplace bullying is intentional behavior intended to create an abusive work environment for an employee or employees. Bullying behavior is behavior in the workplace that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and not obviously related to an employer’s legitimate business interests.

Features of the Policy:

• It can come from any direction — manager, co-worker, subordinate, appointing authority, elected official, vendor, contractor or member of the public.

• Witnesses, not just direct targets of bullying, may complain

• The list of illustrative examples is long, but nicely categorized as follows, bullying: in general, by supervisor, by coworkers, by sabotage and by shunning.

• The examples themselves are excellent. They reflect what really happens to targets.

• Those who believe they are targets of bullying are NOT required to confront their bullies.

• Individuals “exhibiting emotional distress” can be referred to EAP. (Though what transpires there should remain confidential and not discoverable by HR or the County Administrator.)

Weaknesses of the Policy:

• There is a stated requirement that employees and witnesses MUST report incidents. This will help break the silence surrounding bullying, but it also is certain to trigger retaliation for reporting. The policy inadvertently ensures retaliation of workers who might have chosen to remain silent and safe.

• HR is central to implementation of the policy. Managers must report incidents to HR. HR must investigate. HR is instructed to conduct thorough and impartial investigations. Unfortunately, the track record tells another story about HR capabilities.

• The County Administrator (CEO-equivalent) determines fate of alleged bully after HR reports results of its investigation. This is very problematic. The big boss should never have the final say. CEOs are often the executive sponsors for manager-bullies. They have a terrible record of not holding bully-friends accountable. Workers groan knowing that the bully is unlikely to suffer punishment while the target and witnesses are retaliated against.

• Though the definition refers to an abusive work environment where one can infer abuse occurs, the only corrective actions for the confirmed violator are referral to either HR Training (as if a skill deficiency is the only reason for the cruelty inflicted — wonder what training spouse abusers should take?) or to EAP (counseling by employer-paid contractors, the Employee Assistance Program).

• “Appointing Authorities will take appropriate corrective action with any employee(s) found to have violated this policy.” This is deliberately ambiguous which allows each case to be settled without following strict guidelines. One manager may discipline a confirmed offender; another may reward her or him. Adjudication on a “case-by-case” basis opens the door to favoritism, something bullied county workers know all too well.

• A confidentiality clause hypocritically allows the County to gag participants in an investigation while simultaneously mandating that they report bullying incidents. In other words, the mandate is to suffer retaliation only to have HR and the Administrator tell the bullied target and testifying witnesses that they have no right to know either the outcome of the investigation or what consequences, if any, the confirmed policy violator experienced.

Since it’s America, we’re grateful for the County taking these preliminary steps toward a fair way to deal with workplace bullying. The silence has been broken in Pima County.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 30th, 2013 at 6:30 am and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education, Workplace Bullying Laws. 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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