Sunday, March 10, 2013

Workplace Bullying

Bullying  continues to emerge as a problem in the workplace, and has been identified as potentially the next major battleground in employment law. Growing Push to Halt Workplace Bullying (Sam Hananel at AP). Professor David Yamada's blog, Minding the Workplace, covers this issue extensively, and he recently summarized some of the legislative activity focused on enacting a Healthy Workplace bill in various states. Healthy Workplace Bill: March 2013 Update.  At least one management lawyer, (Michael Fox at Ogletree)  believes The March Towards a Bullying Cause of Action Continues.

In an award arising under an individual employment contract, Arbitrator Tim Bornstein has upheld the termination of the Superintendent of Schools in Groton, Connecticut for behavior found to be, at least in part, bullying.  The Superintendent's contract provided for termination for inefficiency or incompetency, insubordination against reasonable rules or orders of the Board, moral misconduct or "Other due and sufficient cause". According to the award, the Superintendent's termination "was based mainly on allegedly inappropriate conduct towards subordinates."

The School Board's policy provided:

The Groton Public Schools are committed to providing all personnel with a safe and supportive environment in which everyone behaves responsibly and respectfully towards others.
Threats of harm to self or others, threatening behavior or acts of violence ... shall not be tolerated on district property or at activities under the jurisdiction of the school district. Every employee is expected to deal in a nonthreatening way with students, parents and other staff members.

Arbitrator Bornstein concluded that the evidence established that the Superintendent "violated both the letter and spirit of [the policy] on numerous occasions." Finding the policy "patently reasonable", the Arbitrator concluded that by "threatening, bullying and humiliating subordinates" the Superintendent was insubordinate against reasonable rules of the Board within the meaning of his contract. While finding no moral misconduct, the Arbitrator also concluded that the Superintendent "misused his authority as Superintendent by humiliating and abusing subordinates, all Board employees. Not only was his abusive treatment of subordinates itself grounds for discipline, but also it had the institutional effect of undermining the morale in the Superintendent's office."

Based on the evidence presented, the Arbitrator found "due and sufficient cause" for terminating his contract.

GrotonPatch reports on the decision and links to the arbitrator's award here.

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