OLR Research Report


November 14, 2008

 

2008-R-0623

BULLYING AND THE STATE ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY FOR WORKPLACE VIOLENCE

By: John Moran, Principal Analyst

You asked for a summary of the state's zero tolerance policy for workplace violence and whether it addresses workplace bullying.

SUMMARY

In 1999, Executive Order No. 16 outlined a new violence in the workplace prevention policy and directed all state agency personnel, contractors, and vendors to comply with it. In addition to prohibiting violence and the use of weapons, the order prohibits employees from threatening harm to any individual in a state worksite.

It further requires (1) employees who feel subjected to or witness violent, threatening, harassing, or intimidating behavior in their workplace to immediately report it and (2) managers and supervisors to contact their human resources office and take other appropriate steps. If an investigation determines there is a violation, the employee in question can be disciplined up to and including discharge from state services. It appears the policy covers much of what is considered workplace bullying.

Since the executive order was issued the Statewide Security Management Council, which includes representatives of state agencies, the governor's office, and two union representatives, has developed a comprehensive Violence in the Workplace Policy and Procedures Manual that provides details for (1) preventative actions state agencies must take; (2) what constitutes violence or other inappropriate behavior; and (3) what steps must be taken to address incidents of violence, threats, or harassment.

Recently, Department of Administrative Services (DAS) legislative liaison Andrea Keilty indicated that reports of violence, threats, or harassment have been treated seriously and some investigations resulted in employees being disciplined and even fired.

OVERVIEW OF STATEWIDE VIOLENCE IN THE WORKPLACE POLICY

On March 6, 1998, a disgruntled employee, returning to work after a leave to treat stress, went on a shooting rampage at the Connecticut Lottery Office and killed four people and then himself.

In the aftermath, the state announced a comprehensive statewide security initiative to review security measures at all state buildings and establish security standards.

The following year, the legislature enacted PA 99-220. It established the Statewide Security Management Council, required the Department of Public Works (DPW) to establish safety standards, and authorized DPW to conduct security audits of state facilities.

A few months later, Gov. Rowland issued Executive Order No. 16 (see attachment 1) that banned state employees from bringing weapons or dangerous instruments onto any state worksite (unless required to as a condition of employment). In addition to addressing violence in the workplace, the order addressed threatening, harassing, or intimidating behavior and required employees to report such behavior immediately.

The security council has since issued a detailed Violence in the Workplace Policy and Procedures Manual, based on the executive order, for all executive branch agencies to follow.

Statewide Security Management Council

PA 99-220 included a number of provisions regarding employee safety. It established DPW as the primary agency responsible for maintaining security in state buildings and created the security council to help coordinate security activities in state agencies. By law, the council consists of:

1. the commissioners of Public Safety, DAS, mental health and addiction services, DPW, and Emergency Management and Homeland Security;

2. the Office of Police and Management secretary,

3. the Legislative Management executive director,

4. the chief court administrator,

5. a representative of the Governor,

6. a representative of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and the president of the Connecticut State Police Union or his designee, and

7. an attorney appointed by DPW commissioner (CGS 4b-136).

The DPW commissioner serves as the council chairperson.

Violence in the Workplace Policy and Procedures

The policy and procedures incorporate Executive Order No. 16 into the manual and elaborate on it. The manual's purpose is to provide direction to human resources personnel in preventing and responding to violent incidents and perceived threats of violence in the workplace. The manual outlines the components of the anti-violence effort: policy, procedures, workplace security assessment, control and prevention, training, and other support services.

The goal of the policy and manual is to:

● reduce the probability that employees will engage in verbal threats or physical actions that create a security hazard for others in the workplace and

● ensure that any complaint of violence or threat of violence is taken seriously and is thoroughly and promptly investigated.

All executive branch agencies were instructed to adopt the manual or modify their policies to comply with the manual. It also became part of the DAS training for human resource personnel. DAS has broad authority to establish and administer personnel policy for state employees (CGS 4a-2).

The manual outlines the role of each agency's human resources office including requiring each to (1) respond to and investigate all complaints and (2) establish a threat assessment team. The teams, which must

include a human resources professional and an employee assistance program (EAP) provider, handle workplace violence complaints, identify the potential for violence, and work on violence prevention.

The workplace violence policy addresses much of what is considered bullying by including the following in the definition of violence:

● intimidating or threatening behaviors,

● verbal abuse,

● offensive comments regarding violent acts or behaviors, and

● any other acts which a reasonable person would consider as inappropriate or posing a danger or threat of danger in the workplace. Such behavior includes, but is not limited to, oral, written, or e-mail statements, gestures, or expressions that communicate a direct or indirect threat of physical harm.

The manual emphasizes that all reports of incidents must be taken seriously and dealt with thoroughly. All reports are to be immediately evaluated and investigated and management must take proper action upon completion of the investigation.

Violations of the policy can lead to disciplinary action ranging from an EAP referral or an oral warning to suspension or dismissal from employment.

JM:ts