July 19th, 2012

Another County Grand Jury Discovers Workplace Bullying

For the second known time, a California County Grand Jury has investigated and confirmed workplace bullying following multiple employee complaints. On June 15, 2012 the Riverside County Grand Jury (CJ) released its report. The culprit employer was the County Human Resources Department.

[On May 24, 2011 the Ventura County Grand Jury issued a similar report about workplace bullying there.]

Sworn testimony from 7 workers about abuses in the Riverside County HR department prompted GJ action. The complaints spoke of workplace bullying. Specifically problems were identified in the program tasked with hiring temp workers and medical temps (TAP/MAP).

The GJ conducted its own investigation from Nov. 2011 through May 2012. It included interviews with 23 past and present employees and supervisors, more than 50 phone conversations, time sheets, emails, documents and personnel records. The GJ also made an unscheduled visit to the program work site. [A much more comprehensive process than ever done by HR when “investigating” bullying charges within the organization.]

Findings from the Investigation

Employees in TAP/MAP were supposed to have formal job training and written policies and procedures as per a January 2005 Audit Report. In 2012, there was still no training, allowing mangers to overlook mistakes of favored employees and to blame and accuse targeted workers. Current HR management said that policies and procedures are “not a high priority.”

Bullying by managers, supervisors and lead workers is pervasive in the TAP/MAP section of HR. The County has no policy regarding workplace bullying. Managing by fear and intimidation is so commonplace that employees refer to their workplace as the “wild, wild West,” a phrase actually coined by boastful managers.

HR management told the GJ that 7 out of 13 employees were on a punitive PIP plan (performance improvement plan) or a MED/CERT (medical certification) requirement. The investigation revealed an abuse of these procedures. The language in the terms were disrespectful toward the seven workers.

Disciplinary letters to employees from HR management were considered “unduly negative, condescending and accusatory” by the GJ. When supervisors made errors, employees were wrongly blamed.

HR management knew about the bullying at all levels. One supervisor’s cruelty actually violated California Labor Code when denying a worker time off at the end of the day to attend her daughter’s honor roll award at school.

HR managers abused the performance evaluation system by not giving annual reviews for years. Then, suddenly manufacturing an unsatisfactory review coupled with a punitive PIP. The GJ uncovered this routine practice — a major tool in a bullying manager’s toolkit.

The final finding was that County HR managers were not required to attend management training. The courses are provided by HR (see the irony?) to all County departments at minimal cost. It is certain that a great deal of bullying is done by individuals who know no other way to manage people. The abuse is a cover-up for incompetence. At the very least, managers should be taught ways to manage staff in non-abusive ways. Then, if they revert to bullying, they can be dismissed for deliberate cruelty rather than a skill deficit.

A Different Reality

Supervisors reported employees being out of control. But customers actually credited untrained employees subjected to a chaotic and toxic work environment with delivering a high level of quality service.

Key Recommendations to the County Supervisors, HR Department & County Executive Office

– The Board of Supervisors must create an anti-bullying policy and have an independent reporting process. The policy will specifically mention acts discovered by the GJ and defined as unacceptable.

– Apply policies and rules consistently to all employees. Conduct performance reviews regularly. If manager fails to do review, it appears as a negative on their evaluations. Train supervisors and managers.

Read the full report.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 19th, 2012 at 10:24 am and is filed under Rulings by Courts, Tutorials About Bullying, 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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