drafting your policy
Because nobody wants to be seen as tolerant of bullying or opposed to respectful conduct, policies of this kind are often written and adopted in haste, with little thought about the actual procedures and provisions laid down. Existing policies against sexual harassment and racial discrimination are sometimes seized upon as models. With a few changes of wording, a new, more general policy commanding employees to be nice to one another is suddenly in force.
The purpose of this webpage is to encourage careful, reasoned thought about alternative principles and provisions such a policy may include. If poorly designed, the policy may end up wasting time and money, worsening workplace relations, and generally doing more harm than good. The best way to ensure that such a policy is effective in fostering a culture of respect and decency is to discuss and debate alternatives ahead of time, to study other institutions' policies and experience, thereby to think through carefully exactly what the consequences of this or that policy are likely to be.
Since 1992, the British organization, Freedom to Care, has been working with employer and employee groups to design policies that work. FTC's Model Anti-Bullying Policy is worth studying carefully. So is the warning given in preface: "No policy or procedure is a substitute for a workplace culture of trust and openness."
There are valuable lessons in the experience of my home university, which created an ethics tribunal with great expectations in 1982, then unceremoniously abolished it in 1998, retaining an ethics policy but leaving enforcement to line managers. See my Documentary History of the University of Waterloo Ethics Committee.
What follows is a practical exercise to
help anybody interested clarify his or her thinking about what kind of
anti-bullying or pro-respect policy might best serve the common good.
The exercise is designed to take about an hour:
I wrote the two alternative policies and created this exercise initially for a workshop on bullying and mobbing on 23 April 2007, for a joint employer-employee committee at The Council in Toronto, the body that oversees Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology. Thanks to all the participants for helpful feedback. If your workplace is a hospital or business, substitute the appropriate word wherever a policy refers to "the college."
Ready for Step One?: Read and study the two policies shown below in parallel columns. Print them on paper or compare them online, whatever works best for you.
Alternative A: Policy on Bullying/Mobbing and Workplace Dignity
Definitions. Different authors and laws define bullying
in various ways, but ordinarily include behaviour that:
Legal precedents. Legislation passed in Quebec in 2004 defines the offense as “any vexatious behaviour taking the form of repeated, hostile and unwanted conduct, comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological integrity and that results in a harmful work environment.”
Similarly, Swedish law forbids “recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community.”
In a similar formulation, the collective agreement at the Opel Corporation in Germany prohibits any conduct “if the relevant action, toleration or omission is subjectively felt to be insulting, vexatious or otherwise demeaning and is recognizably rejected by the person concerned.”
Symptoms. Physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms
that a person is being bullied at work include:
Discipline. In view of its destructive impact on victims’ health and well-being, workplace bullying is hereby designated an offense for which there is zero tolerance. Bullies will be subject to progressive discipline, in keeping with best practice in labour relations, up to and including termination.
Employer's responsibility. The employer hereby accepts responsibility for making the college free of bullying, as part of its duty of care to employees, and shall exercise due diligence in this regard, including provision of appropriate training to all employees in supervisory positions.
Research has shown that bullying most commonly occurs from manager to subordinate, but this policy also prohibits peer-to-peer bullying. It is the employer’s responsibility to enforce the prohibition on bullying of both kinds and to maintain a safe and healthy workplace environment.
Procedures. An employee who believes he or she is being bullied shall first confront the bully and state, orally or in writing, that the bullying must stop. If the victim chooses, he or she may be accompanied for this purpose by a co-worker or union representative.
If the bullying continues, the victim (or the union, on the victim’s
behalf) shall complete the Official Bullying Report Form and submit it
to the employer with detailed documentation.
Within seven working days of receiving the allegation, the employer shall
commence an investigation. There may be a single investigator, if the
employer and union believe this is appropriate and can agree on whom to
appoint. Otherwise, the investigation shall be conducted by a three-person
committee, composed as follows:
Investigator(s) shall interview the victim, the identified bully, and any witnesses or others they deem appropriate, and review all documentation voluntarily submitted by either party, including medical and/or counseling records. The victim is entitled to be accompanied by a support person at the interview. Investigator(s) shall keep all information acquired strictly confidential.
Within 20 working days, the investigator(s) shall provide a confidential
report to the employer, the union, the identified bully and victim, making
specific recommendations for how to stop the bullying. These may include
mediation (if both parties agree), a requirement of written or oral apology,
referral for counseling or psychiatric examination, or specific disciplinary
measures. Implementation of the recommendations is the employer’s
Outcomes. Whether or not discipline is imposed on the bully, the report of the investigator(s) shall be retained in his/her file for five years, to establish a record in case of subsequent offenses.
Intentionally false or vexatious allegations are not allowed, but no
reprisals shall be permitted against employees making complaints under
Alternative B: Policy on Workplace Dignity and Personal Aggression
Exclusions. Exchange of information and opinion among employees – managers, teachers, and support staff – is essential to the achievement of the college’s purposes. Dissent from policies and decisions, honest feedback, discussion, argument, debate, even occasional harsh words and bruised egos are normal aspects of college life. So is feeling pressured to get work done. So are the identification of inadequacies in employees’ job performance and differential distribution of rewards according to quality of work. This policy is not intended to inhibit the healthy expression of critical opinion, nor the joking and teasing that ease the stresses of work and life.
Definitions. Distinct from everyday banter and disputes
is intense personal aggression wherein one or more employees grind a targeted
employee into the dust, making his or her work a living hell. The object
may be elimination of the target or sheer pleasure in his or her humiliation.
Such aggression may be unidirectional, one party delighting in putting
an innocent victim down, or mutual, two parties being at each other’s
throats. The aggression is commonly called bullying if the perpetrator
is one individual, or mobbing if it is a clique or cluster of individuals.
Aggressors and targets may be managers, subordinates, co-workers, or any
Target’s responsibility. The target of personal
aggression should neither suffer in silence nor retaliate in kind but
act decisively toward recovering personal dignity and healthy workplace
relations. Voicing concern privately and politely to the apparent aggressor(s)
is often sufficient. If it is not, reporting the concern to higher authority
or to the union is the appropriate next step. Informal efforts to rectify
the problem should precede formal ones, but from the start, any employee
who believes he or she is targeted should keep a written log or diary,
recording by time and place the specific events that have caused concern,
and retaining relevant documentation. If all else fails, unwarranted personal
aggression may be the subject of a formal grievance in the case of unionized
employees, as well as a human rights complaint, court claim, or appeal
to ministry or press.
Managers’ responsibility. Managers have a special
responsibility to stop any observed or reported personal aggression and
to restore the kind of healthy workplace relations that serve the college’s
goals. They should investigate the matter thoroughly, with ingenuity and
skill, toward identifying the nub of the problem and finding a win-win
solution that, so far as possible, humiliates nobody. Managers should
familiarize themselves with print and online resources on bullying and
mobbing, and be aware of the complexity of these workplace pathologies
(for instance, that an accusation of aggression is itself an aggressive
act). Intervention may involve
Prevention. More important than remedy of personal aggression
is its prevention. Accordingly, all employees are expected to observe
the following principles in their relations at work:
Ready for Step Two? Make Your List of Differences
At first glance, one of these policies probably appeals to you more than the other. Asking yourself why this is so is a good way to begin identifying differences between them. The reasons you write down for why one is better than the other are the beginning of your list.
Another way to notice differences is to ask yourself which policy you would prefer were on the books, if you found yourself bullied or otherwise disrespected. Which policy would be more helpful for rectifying the situation? Why so?
Then put the shoe on the other foot. Which policy would you wish for if you were accused of bullying or disrespecting somebody else? Which policy would better help you correct your behaviour if you were guilty, or free you of false accusation if you were innocent? Why?
Try putting yourself in the shoes of a manager deeply committed both to achieving organizational objectives and to a decent, respectful workplace environment. Which of the alternative policies would such a manager prefer to have in place, and why?
These questions are all intended to help you notice what are in fact quite fundamental differences between the two policies. Take your time, think of other questions, make your list of differences as detailed as you can.
Do not rush this step of the exercise. We humans learn best by racking our own brains. When your list of differences is as long as you can make it, click here to go on to Step Three, comparing your list of differences with mine.