Bullying is unacceptable: New policy takes on bad behavior

The 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey found that nearly 30 percent of people have experienced abusive conduct at work. The 1,000 adult respondents pointed to their bosses as the most common offender, and said that more than 70 percent of employers tend to deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or defend bullying behavior. Higher education is not immune to these issues.

To combat such behavior, Colorado State University recently enacted a policy to ensure staff, faculty and student employees feel safe and respected on the job.

According to the Bullying in the Workplace policy, “Workplace bullying is a form of psychological violence that disrupts the peaceable environment and can result in lower workplace morale, greater employee absenteeism and turnover, as well as higher stress and related health issues.”

Bullying is defined as behavior that is repeated, harmful mistreatment by words or actions that are intended to do any of the following to an individual or group:

  • Shame
  • Embarrass
  • Humiliate
  • Degrade
  • Demean
  • Intimidate
  • Threaten
Robert Schur, JD, Office of Policy and Compliance, Division of University Operations, Colorado State University
Bob Schur

Bob Schur, executive director of CSU’s Department of Policy, Risk & Environmental Programs, said  the policy was drafted after studying similar ones implemented at other universities across the country (see sidebar). And he said feedback from our own campus community helped inform the process of designing a new policy.

“After seeing results from the most recent Campus Climate survey, we saw the need for a clear statement about behavior that is unacceptable in the workplace, for supervisors and department heads to be able to respond effectively and consistently when such conduct occurs,” Schur said.

Policy supports a safe campus

Policies like this one contribute to a culture of campus safety and will provide resources for employees and supervisors to use when incidents do occur, Schur added.

The guidelines came together after a tremendous amount of work by a committee, followed by input from the campus community.

“Faculty and staff councils, along with groups like the Commission on Women and Gender Equity and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women Faculty — and many others — were critical in assuring that the policies made sense and had broad-based support,” Schur said.

Stacey Baumgarn, head of the Classified Personnel Council, said the policy is important not just for individuals, but also for the university as a whole.

“Bullying prevents a person from doing their best, compromising a safe and productive environment,” he said. “There is no place for workplace bullying at CSU, but if and when it occurs, it is important and useful to have procedures in place to best protect those who experience it.”

The policy details the steps an employee should take when they feel they are the victim of workplace bullying, and the responsibility of those in positions of authority to whom accusations of bullying are reported, requiring members of the University community to “cooperate with the review process.”

The policy also expressly acknowledges the right to freedom of expression and free speech; it is not intended to limit or restrict a person’s First Amendment rights or rights to academic freedom. The policy goes on to state, however, that “such rights do not include the right to engage in workplace bullying.” 

Strong, supportive signal

Mary Stromberger, CSU professor in the Department of Soil & Crop Sciences and head of the Faculty Council, said the policy sends a strong signal that the University will not tolerate bullying.

“Faculty and all employees deserve to work in an environment free from bullying,” she said. “From a faculty perspective, this policy will help protect faculty from harmful behaviors that hurt our well-being, while still protecting our rights to academic freedom.”

Other employees see a similar benefit. Toni-Lee Viney, head of CSU’s Administrative Professional Council, said that “the policy shows that every employee deserves to be treated with respect and that our employees’ experiences are valued.”

Viney said she hopes that the policy empowers others to step in when they see someone being bullied and also helps people be more aware of their own behavior. “We are all in this community together and have an obligation to support one another, so that every single person has the opportunity to thrive.”

In addition to the new bullying policy, CSU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity has spent the past several months crafting a document called Principles of Community, designed to promote civility, inclusion and respect among all members of the campus community.

Workplace bullying and bad behavior policies elsewhere

Eastern Washington University – The policy describes university standards for managing incidents of bullying, establishes procedures for handling complaints or incidents of policy violation. It applies to university personnel, students, vendors, contractors, consultants, guests and others who do business with the university.

McNeese State University – Bullying behavior will not be tolerated, whether intentional or unintentional. Social bullying or cyber bullying is also discussed in the policy.

New York University – The policy covers students, faculty members, staff and administrators. Establishes framework for response and enforcement, and provides examples of disruptive behavior in academic and administrative settings.

Oregon State University – Bullying is prohibited, and defined as conduct that actually does cause the victim substantial emotional distress. Policy covers staff, faculty and students.

Rutgers University – The policy under the University Code of Student Conduct covers verbal assault, harassment, intimidation, bullying, and defamation.

University of California, BerkeleyWorkplace Violence Prevention policy defines violent behavior, intimidation, bullying and property damage, among other topics, for faculty, staff, postdoctoral, graduate or undergraduate students employed by the university.

University of New Mexico – The policy establishes values for a respectful campus, including personal integrity and professionalism, demonstrating harmony in the work and educational environments and respecting diversity and difference. The policy applies to all members of the university community, including but not limited to students, faculty and staff.

University of Southern Mississippi – The policy covers students, faculty and staff members. Defines bullying and harassing behavior.

University of Wisconsin-Madison – Okayed by UW Faculty Senate, the policy includes language outlining hostile and/or intimidating behavior. Policy covers faculty.