Is rampant Bullying in the County being hidden by Personnel 'Confidentiality'
Tue, Oct 29, 2013, El Dorado Board of Supervisors
Supervisor Nutting recommending the Board consider the following:
1) Direct the CAO to bring back a status report on the motion that was approved by the Board on October 18, 2011, Item 11-1184, on the adoption of a policy regarding bullying and workplace violence;
2) Direct the CAO to craft a confidential feedback mechanism, including but not limited to willing/voluntary interviews or surveys with former and current County employees to determine if there is an underlying systemic problem; and
3) If it is determined a problem exists, direct the CAO to bring back a corrective action plan to address this problem.
Although the public have heard of some issues about bullying from stories like those of the Lake Tahoe News relating to the hostile departure of El Dorado County Chief Probation Offices, Greg Sly, for the most part these complaints are hidden behind a cloak of secrecy called, "Personnel Issues." Because of the sensitive nature of workplace harassment charges, all personnel issues like this are automatically made confidential. Often the terms of the settlement even precluded the parties talking about the complaint even after it has been settled.
Most of the information in circulation has come from personal interaction with those that do, or have, worked at the county. With the large number of county employees in a county with a small population like here, it is not surprising that everybody knows several people that work for the county. Many times they are very good friends and confidants.
Several past employees have talked to the Placerville Newswire, but have declined to go public because of the ramifications and stigma of being a whistle blower. Others have come out on an anti-corruption website called www.covac.info including R. Smith, Director, Garden Valley Fire Protection District (Ret.). The site claims that County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn is Creating a climate of fear and intimidation with County employees and Arbitrary and Capricious treatment of local agencies his office is contracted to administer and many others accusations.
Workplace bullying can take many forms:
- Shouting or swearing at an employee or otherwise verbally abusing him or her
- One employee being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
- An employee being excluded from company activities or having his or her work or contributions purposefully ignored
- Language or actions that embarrass or humiliate an employee
- Practical jokes, especially if they occur repeatedly to the same person
There are also some things that are usually not considered workplace bullying:
- A manager who shouts at or criticizes all of his or her employees. While this is a sign of a bad manager and makes a workplace unpleasant, it is not bullying unless only one or a few individuals are being unjustifiably singled out.
- A co-worker who is critical of everything, always takes credit for successes and passes blame for mistakes, and/or frequently makes hurtful comments or jokes about others. Unless these actions are directed at one individual, they represent poor social skills, but not bullying.
- Negative comments or actions that are based on a person's gender, ethnicity, religion, or other legally protected status. This is considered harassment and, unlike bullying, is illegal in the United States and gives the victim legal rights to stop the behavior.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, up to a third of workers may be the victims of workplace bullying. About twenty percent of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment. The New York Times found that about sixty percent of workplace bullies are men, and they tend to bully male and female employees equally. Female bullies, however, are more likely to bully other females. This may be because there is more pressure on females trying to succeed in male-dominated workplace, and more competition between females for promotions.
Regardless of its source, workplace bullying can have serious negative effects on employees, such as:
- Absenteeism and low productivity
- Lowered self-esteem and depression
- Digestive upsets
- High blood pressure
- Trouble with relationships due to stress over work
- Post traumatic stress disorder
Workplace bullying is also bad for business. Some of the ways that companies suffer due to bullying include:
- High turnover, which is expensive for companies as they invest in hiring and training new employees only to lose them shortly thereafter, possibly to a competitor
- Low productivity since employees are not motivated to do their best and are more often out sick due to stress-related illnesses
- Lost innovations since the bully is more interested in attacking his or her victim than advancing the company, and the victims become less likely to generate or share new ideas
- Difficulty hiring quality employees as word spreads that the company has a hostile work environment
Because workplace bullying can be devastating to employees and companies, some companies have instituted zero-tolerance policies toward workplace bullying. In these companies, if an employee is being bullied he or she needs to document the bullying and present the problem to the proper person in the company, usually someone in human resources or upper management. Companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings from time to time to remind employees what workplace bullying is, how to report it, and the consequences for bullying.
In some companies, however, there is a company culture of workplace bullying. Usually companies do not purposefully support bullying, but they may develop a problem with it either through not taking workplace bullying seriously or by developing the habit of placing blame and fault finding instead of solving problems. In these companies, employees who make a case against bullies may find that the bullying only gets worse. In this situation, employees often have to either make the best of the situation or find different employment.
Employees who are or have been victims of workplace bullying should realize that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. If they are suffering negative effects from the bullying they should seek help from a doctor or counselor and, if the bullying is ongoing, from a career advisor who can help them plan a job or career change.
Sources:Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, "Workplace Bullying: What Everyone Needs to Know" [online]
Workplace Bullying Institute [online]
The New York Times, Business, "Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work" [online]
Related Article: Dealing with Bullying >>
Workplace bullying is intentional behavior intended to create an abusive work environment for an employee or employees. Bullying behavior is behavior in the workplace that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and not obviously related to an employer’s legitimate business interests.