October 19th, 2014

Tuscaloosa Alabama city council approves Workplace Bullying policy

Just in time for WBI’s Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, James Woodson, Tuscaloosa Senior Assistant City Attorney introduced and the city council passed its first-ever workplace bullying policy (Ordinance No. 8144, Oct. 14, 2014). As documented elsewhere at the WBI site, a policy is necessary but not sufficient to comprehensively prevent and correct bullying. But it is a good preliminary step by any employer. Tuscaloosa will follow with training for staff and managers. We commend Mr. Woodson and the council. Woodson told his local TV station

“It wasn’t that many years ago that employers were adopting for the first time sexual harassment policies, then that became anti-harassment policies, and I think this is a natural extension to bullying, to essentially catch all of the inappropriate workplace behavior.”

[Earlier in 2014, Tennessee became the first state to encourage government agencies as employers to adopt policies to address abusive conduct.]

Here are the policy’s strengths and shortcomings.


the spirit of the ordinance — that is was drafted and approved speaks volumes about this southern U.S. City

statement of policy: Bullying in the workplace 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. [WBI: a fairly good draft but words that open door to subjective interpretation are “offensive” and “not obviously” many of the terms are borrowed from the Healthy Workplace Bill]

sources of bullying: department head, manager, supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, appointing authority, elected official, vendor, contractor or member of the public … group bullying, peer to peer bullying, supervisor to subordinate bullying, and situations when a subordinate employee subjects a supervisory-level employee to bullying. [WBI: fantastic (& rare) to include elected officials and public, but very hard to enforce and wise inclusion of multiple perpetrators option]

listing of bullying examples categorized as “in general,” “by supervisor,” “by co-workers,” “by sabotage,” and “by shunning.” [WBI: the good list includes acts of commission and omission, covert & overt, both brazen & subtle]

confronting: targets are are not required to confront the alleged bully

mandated supervisor action: When a supervisory level employee is notified about possible workplace bullying behavior (as defined herein), the supervisor must immediately notify their department head or the Human Resources Department.

non-retaliation clause: This policy prohibits retaliation against employees who report potential workplace bullying or participate in the investigation of the complaint. Any employee bringing a complaint under this policy, or assisting in the investigation of such a complaint, will not be adversely affected in terms and conditions of employment, nor discharged because of the complaint. Anyone who engages in retaliatory action will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination. Retaliation is defined as activity that may dissuade a reasonable person from exercising his or her rights under this Policy. [WBI: very complete]

referral to counseling: for employees “exhibiting emotional stress from the incident” [WBI: it is commendable to seek to mitigate stress, demonstrates awareness of impact of bullying]


no purpose or origin cited: the answer to why the ordinance was drafted, either to be proactive or corrective, does not appear anywhere

complainants: allowed to be third parties, not the intended targets [WBI: opens the door to retaliation of target even when target chose not to complain.]

reporting: the employee must report any and all incidents immediately to a supervisory level employee, to include their department head, their supervisor, the supervisor of the alleged bully, or to the Human Resources Department. [WBI: mandated reporting ensures retaliation and look to whom they must report] also mandates reporting by witnesses.

HR: department is considered the safest place to report bullying behavior [WBI: defies research evidence to the contrary]

investigation parameters: “thorough and impartial” and HR will “prepare a report” of findings and recommendations to bully’s department head and/or mayor [WBI: no provision for informal resolution without formal complaint, no timeframe, no deadlines, no directions for nature and extent of investigation, no feedback to complainant or corroborating witnesses, no feedback to alleged bully]

mandatory cooperation: All employees, supervisors, managers, and agents of the City of Tuscaloosa shall cooperate with any investigative process or resolution, whether informal or formal. Any City employee who fails to cooperate and/or attempts to undermine and/or discourage participation in an investigation will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination [WBI: assumes nefarious interference or obfuscation with the investigative process if a person is reluctant to corroborate what was known or witnessed, underestimates real fear of participation out of fear of retaliation]

confidentiality: To the extent feasible, information provided in the complaint and investigation process at both the informal and formal level will be treated as confidential. However, the City will disclose information if deemed reasonably necessary to investigate and take appropriate corrective action, or to defend such corrective action, and/or if required by law. [WBI: it is suggested, then withdrawn in next sentence if legalities demand (most — nondiscriminatory — bullying is legal that does not compel compliance with laws; what should be offered is anonymity, not confidentiality)

for counseling: refer to Employee Assistance Program [WBI: unfortunately, employer-contracted and paid EAP is not the most appropriate group of professionals who can provide support for bullied employees]

Read the Policy


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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 19th, 2014 at 5:00 am and is filed under Freedom Week, Good News, Tutorials About Bullying, 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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