Using Union Contracts To Protect Teachers From Bullying

The NEA (National Education Association) published this article showing how union contracts can protect employees from bullying. Most interesting is the section on Massachusetts and the fact that Workplace Violence laws currently in place arguably offer protection from bullying:

nea logoAccording to the NEA’s Office of the General Counsel, there currently are no federal or state statutes that directly address the unique behavior associated with workplace bullying (apart from bullying on the basis of a protected characteristic, which is prohibited under existing civil rights laws).

Strong contract language or workplace policies can provide protections against harassment/bullying of employees. The remainder of this document contains provisions that locals can consider to protect their members from being subjected to bullying, harassing, or disrespectful behavior on the part of supervisors, parents, co-workers, or students.

Most of these provisions are contained in existing NEA affiliate collective bargaining agreements and the appropriate locals are cited. If an affiliate is not identified, the examples are based on an analysis by David Yamata, J.D. of the Suffolk University (MA) School of Law.

General Respectful Environment

The examples below provide broad protections regarding the right to a respectful workplace environment.

The School District and the Union agree that mutual respect between and among managers, employees, co-workers and supervisors is integral to the efficient conduct of the school. Behaviors that contribute to a hostile, humiliating or intimidating work environment, including abusive language or behavior, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Employees who believe they are subject to such behavior should raise their concerns with an appropriate manager or supervisor as soon as possible, but no later than ninety (90) days from the occurrence of the incident(s). An alleged violation of the provision is subject to the existing impasse procedures.



7.3.1 In order to provide a safe, caring and orderly environment, the School District of Hillsborough County expects civility from all who engage in school activities. Mutual respect, professionalism and common courtesy are essential qualities that all need to demonstrate in promoting an educational and work environment free from disruptions, harassment, bullying and aggressive actions.


C. No employee of the Board shall be subject to harassment, abusive language, and/or upbraiding by parents, other citizens, students and/or other Board employees.

Protections from Inappropriate Behavior from Supervisors, Co-Workers and Parents

These examples protect members from being subjected to inappropriate behavior from supervisors, co-workers, or parents.

Workplace Bullying Policy: For the purpose of this policy, workplace bullying is defined as, but not limited to, unwanted, offensive, humiliating, undermining behavior towards an individual or groups of employees. Such persistently malicious attacks on personal or professional performance are typically unpredictable, irrational and often unfair. The abuse of power or position can cause such chronic stress and anxiety that people gradually lose belief in themselves, suffering physical ill health and mental distress as a result. Workplace bullying will not be condoned in our District. Employees who engage in bullying conduct toward fellow employees or students will be subject to disciplinary action, which may include dismissal.

NEA Affiliate Model Contract Language: Washington, WA-ARTICLE III.7 – EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

7.5 Further, no employee shall be coerced, intimidated, discriminated against, threatened or receive a negative or downgraded evaluation if he/she refuses to take any action which the employee knows to be in violation of any federal, state or local law, rule, regulation or policy.

7.6 Employees shall have the exclusive right and responsibility to determine grades and other evaluations of students. No grade or evaluation shall be changed without the approval of the employee.

7.7 No Board or administration pressure shall be applied to any employee regarding grading or evaluation of students.


Section 2.05 – Inappropriate Behavior Prohibited

(a) Employees shall not be subjected to harassment, inappropriate behavior or interference by a parent or any other person in the performance of the employee’s duties. Employees shall not be expected to remain in any meeting in which prohibited behavior occurs.

(b) Inappropriate behavior includes chronic and continuous badgering, as well as verbal abuse. Verbal abuse includes abusive language, screaming, yelling, insults, threats, profanity and upbraiding.

(c) Administrators will take appropriate steps to ensure that employees are not subjected to harassment, inappropriate behavior, or interference as described in this Section.

(d) Administrators shall not be considered in violation of this Section when providing input during a performance assessment meeting unless the Administrator engages in harassment or inappropriate behavior as described in this Section.

Academic Freedom/Freedom of Speech

These provisions protect employees’ rights to freedom of speech and personal expression in the classroom. Affiliates have also developed language that protects an employee’s confidentiality if a complaint is filed against him/her.

NEA Affiliate Model Contract Language: Idaho; ID – ARTICLE V – ACADEMIC FREEDOM

5.1 Guarantee of Academic Freedom

Academic freedom shall be guaranteed to employees, and no special limitations shall be placed upon study, investigation, presenting and interpreting facts and ideas concerning people, human society, the physical and biological world, and other branches of learning subject to accepted standards of professional responsibility.

5.2 Classroom Presentations and Discussion

Employees shall be guaranteed full freedom in classroom presentations and discussions may introduce politically, religiously or otherwise controversial materials, provided only that said materials are relevant to course content.

5.3 Personal Opinion

Employees shall be guaranteed full freedom in expressing personal opinions on all matters relevant to course content, provided, however, that where they do so they shall make every effort to indicate that they are speaking personally and not on behalf of the school, its administration, or the Board.

5.4 Censorship

Employees shall not be censored or restrained in the performance of their teaching functions on their teaching functions on the ground that the material discussed and/or opinions expressed are distasteful or embarrassing to those in authority in the school system or detrimental to school system public relations.

5.5 Alteration of Grades

Grades given a student by an employee shall be final and not subject to alteration unless fraud, bad faith, incompetency or mistake can be shown on the part of said employee.

5.6 Personal Expression

No teacher shall be prevented from wearing pins or other identification or symbolism in expression of membership in the association, religious orders, political systems, or sympathy with social causes or traditions.

5.7 Monitoring and Observation of Teacher

All monitoring or observation of the work performance of a teacher shall be conducted openly and with full knowledge of the teacher. The use of eavesdropping, public address, audio systems, and similar surveillance devices shall be strictly prohibited.

NEA Affiliate Model Contract Language: OREGON – ARTICLE 5 – E – CRITICISM

E. Criticism

Any criticism of an employee by a supervisor, administrator, or other agent of the employer shall be made in confidence and never in the presence of students, parents of students, other employees, or at public gatherings. All critiques shall be confidential.

NEA Affiliate Model Contract Language: North Dakota, ND ESP COMPLAINTS (EMPLOYEE RIGHTS)

19.5 Complaints

Any complaint made against an employee or person, for whom the employee is responsible, by any parent, student, or other person will be promptly called to the attention of the employee. Any complaint not called to the attention of the employee may not be used as the basis for any reprimand, discipline or discharge.

Workplace Violence/Harassment

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not specifically cover workplace violence or psychological harassment. However, in 2002, Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift signed Executive Order No. 442, “Establishing a Policy of Zero Tolerance for Workplace Violence,” which applies to all state offices and employees. The policy established a Commonwealth policy of “zero tolerance for workplace violence in any form.” Employers are required to establish policies and procedures concerning workplace violence and to respond promptly to reports of workplace violence. In the definition of workplace violence, the phrase “other disruptive or aggressive behavior that causes a reasonable person to be in fear of their own safety or that of a colleague or that causes the disruption of workplace productivity” arguably covers some forms of workplace bullying.

In addition, some school districts have included protections against physical or verbal violence into their health and safety provisions.

NEA Affiliate Model Contract Language: Cherry Creek School District No. 5 Greenwood Village, Colorado



1. The District and the Association agree that schools need to be orderly, peaceful environments where high quality education can take place without the fear of physical and verbal violence.

2. In order to meet the goal of having safe schools for employees and students while protecting the integrity of the learning environment, there must be policies and procedures that address the various aspects of school safety.

3. It is not the intent of this policy to discourage individuals or groups from providing teachers with feedback, either positive or negative, regarding parents or their children’s concerns about the quality of instruction, classroom atmosphere, discipline, or interpersonal communication, or other relevant issues.

4. The integrity of the instructional process should be paramount in the school system. In order to maintain that integrity, conferences, meetings, discussions of concerns, etc. should be scheduled outside of the scheduled instructional day. Teachers should not be required to meet with parents during class time. If parents attempt to address concerns regarding their child with a teacher while class is in session, the teacher may direct the parent to either call to set up an appointment or to contact an administrator.

5. When concerns are shared in a hostile manner through the use of abusive language, insults, threats, or loud discourse, the teacher is not obliged to continue.

6. Harassment/intimidation exists if an individual or group: directs personal insults (whether transmitted in writing, orally, or by electronic means) that are likely to incite an immediate adverse response from the person(s) being addressed threatens the employee with physical harm or actually harms a person damages, defaces or destroys private property of any person commits an act of harassment or intimidation (as defined by statute) places a person in position of feeling at risk of emotional or psychological harm.

7. Staff members, who believe they have been the subject of intimidation, or who have witnessed intimidation, will report the incident immediately to the principal or designee. The results of the investigation will be reported to the complainant and further action as deemed appropriate will be taken (which may include reporting the incident to law enforcement authorities).

NEA Model Affiliate Language – B.6 OHIO, AKRON ESP

A. No employee is ever required to tolerate any act of gross or flagrant misconduct, including derogatory, abusive or vile language, acts of violence, threats of assault or insubordination. Any case of assault, verbal or physical, suffered by an employee shall be reported in writing at once to the immediate supervisor on the verbal/physical assault report form. The immediate supervisor shall acknowledge receipt of such a report and shall report this information to the Coordinator, Support Staff; Director Student Services and the Local Union President. The immediate supervisor shall complete the back of the form indicating the action taken.

B.2. Verbal assault is any threatening or abusive language directed at a member by any individual. Abusive language includes, but is not limited to, harsh, coarse, or insulting words that are injurious, improper, hurtful, offensive, or reproachful. They may include the degradation of a person based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or handicap.

Filing Complaints

Protections can be general or more specific. See the examples below.

NEA Model Affiliate Language – Delaware – Brandywine EA

Making a Complaint of Harassment or Bullying

1. Harassment/Bullying by An Employee

a. Any employee who believes that he/she is being harassed/bullied by an employee of the District may advise the offending person that the conduct is offensive and request that the conduct be stopped immediately.

b. If the employee does not wish to address the behavior with the offender or if the conduct in question is not discontinued after the offending person is asked to stop the behavior, in order for the District to address the harassing/bullying behavior, the employee/volunteer must make a complaint to his/her immediate supervisor or to the Department of Human Resources within 10 work days of the alleged incident of harassment/bullying. If the immediate supervisor is the alleged offender, the complaint should be made to the alleged offender’s supervisor or to the Department of Human Resources.

c. The complaint may be verbal or written and must specify the nature of the harassment/bullying and, if possible, the date(s) upon which the harassment/bullying occurred. If the complaint is written and/or made directly to the Department of Human Resources, the complaining party must identify himself/herself. The District will be unable to act upon an anonymous complaint.

d. Persons taking an oral complaint must reduce the reported complaint to writing and verify the accuracy of the written complaint with the complaining person.

e. The Director of Human Resources must be notified of all complaints of harassment/bullying prior to the complaint being investigated

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