Pima County Puts Witnesses of Workplace Bullying On Notice

Seal of Pima County, Arizona

[12/6/13 Update] Last night the Tucson JCC screened my documentary, What Killed Kevin, followed by a panel discussion that included Mike Tully, one of the primary authors of the Pima County workplace bullying policy. He is genuinely committed to making this legislation work. His work will become an invaluable test case of how to address investigating and implementing a policy like this. It also emphasizes the difficulty of how to find a definition of workplace bullying. Faced with this dilemma, Tully chose a list of behaviors that could be pointed to as unacceptable and enforced.

[Original post from April 24, 2013] Last week Pima County, Arizona implemented policy D.23.1 Preventing, Identifying and Addressing Workplace Bullying for their County employees. [D23-1 ]  New rule: witnesses along with anyone who was made aware of behavior that may satisfy the definition of workplace bullying must now report the incident/s.Many of us who have suffered the damage of working for an abusive boss have dreamed of the day that our co-workers would step in to help. However, this policy is missing the necessary contextual discussion that helps employees understand the important distinction between conflict and bullying. Only two of the 27 examples of bullying included in the policy reference the fact that bullying must be repeated and none recognize that bullying takes place over time.  These actions need to be part of a pattern of abuse.

Why should target/victims of abuse care if a bunch of disrespectful bosses get caught in a net that’s cast too widely?  Think of the bullying or mobbing victim struggling to keep their cool 24/7 under a bully who is adept at subtle abuse. It’s not uncommon for the bully to throw up smoke screens by accusing others of the very tactics they are using. And, watch those Facebook gripes! Don’t forget what happened at Hispanics United of Buffalo when an employer’s harassment policy was flipped against employees complaining that a co-worker was unfairly accusing them of laziness [see previous article].  Pima’s policy is broad enough to include “use of the County email systems, computers, internet access, or any other County electronic communication systems or devices to engage in bullying activity. Any employee violating this policy will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.”

But, fear not. Right at the top of this policy everyone is given a get out of jail free card because the definition states that workplace bullying is “intentional behavior intended to create an abusive work environment for an employee or employees.” Good luck proving an alleged bully intentionally intended to create an abusive work environment. Sexual Harassment was rife back in the day, and sadly still exists to a lesser extent. Was the intention of the vast majority of male employees guilty of sexual harassment really to create an abusive work environment? Or, were a heck of a lot of them ignorant and unfeeling about the ramifications of their actions? Pima’s employees need a policy that educates employers, targets, and witnesses about the true complexities of defining workplace bullying rather than a laundry list — and more importantly — without intentionally raising the bar too high for targets to use. Recognizing the repeated nature of abuse that takes place over time would be enough to put bullies on notice and give targets the power to fight back with a witness by their side.

2 thoughts on “Pima County Puts Witnesses of Workplace Bullying On Notice

  1. I think this is a great step. You point out that Workplace Bullying is defined in the new legislation as “intentional” and share your suspicion over the likelihood of injured workers being able to enjoy the protections the law is meant to provide. Speaking from my experience the evidence that supported my bully’s malicious intent was abundant and included her own straight forward statements to me and others that she intended to have me fired or compel me to quit. Though in my case back in 2006 it was getting to a point where I could actually give up on the assumption that all situations could be worked out with a win-win and realize there are people who may be quite literally out to get you. Thanks to the wider discussions of bullying and psychological abuse other than domestic violence and specific policies that address workplace bullying people are less likely to founder as I did for lack of language or conceptual framework to identify and communicate what I was enduring. So I guess I don’t think that intent creates an unreasonable burden of proof for victims seeking relief under the new policies. Quite the opposite it assists not just adjudicators but workers themselves in accurately naming and claiming their experiences of bullying and confidently distinguishing the abuse they face from any legitimate coaching or management style.

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    • Thank you for joining the dialog on this topic. I’m sorry that you too had to deal with intentional bullying and I can understand the basis for your point of view. HOwever bullying is often “subtle” and covert and done behind closed doors and when you look at the broader picture there are many in the same boat who can’t prove intention for a variety of reasons — one may be that the bully is a serial bully (not uncommon) and that they have bullied several people in a row. Their defense is that it’s not ‘intentional’ at all and merely their management style and they were unaware that it was a problem – I’ve been there too so this is grounded in reality and there is plenty of case study in harassment cases to back this up. Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to speak with numerous employment attorneys and legal experts and they point to “intent” as an unnecessary hurdle. Remember the employer has insurance and therefore deep deep pockets — the employee is unprotected. Prof Yamada says that he wants his bill to only apply to the most severe cases of bullying — the newest template actually includes the term “outrageous” and that means that you must stay in that job until you have a case that would already meet the standards of IIED laws already in place in most states. To me that doesn’t make sense.

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