Bullies in the Workplace

Schools are workplaces as well as institutions of learning. Bullying in the workplace occurs in all professions and across education levels.

Does your school safety plan include a protocol for addressing workplace harassment, bullying and violence?

I recently spoke with the principal of a school in a district where I’m training and developing violence threat assessment teams. This principal has concerns about the negative relationships she’s seeing between some staff members. Workplace bullying is its own problem, but at times, it can lead to violence.

Here’s how to avert that progression.

The first step is to put a workplace bullying or harassment policy in place. This will give you something to reference and enforce when you are faced with a bullying situation. It will also provide an opportunity for you to learn about the legal issues involved in workplace harassment. For example, it is illegal for someone to harass or discriminate based on gender, race, religious affiliation, disability and other protected categories.

If you are witnessing active bullying or harassment between employees or staff members, it’s important to intervene immediately and let the bully know that his or her behavior is unacceptable and violates workplace policy. This behavior should never be ignored. Boundaries should be put in place and monitored. Whether the person chooses, or is able, to respect those boundaries will tell you a lot about his or her mindset.

During your conversation with this person, you will want to observe him or her for unusual mood, behavior and language – something that is out of character for this individual. I recommend chatting a bit about successes and challenges the person is facing to gain some insight into anything particularly stressful or difficult in the person’s life. If you have an employee assistance program, now’s the time to offer it. While you are setting a boundary, you also want to convey that you are there to help and work with the person so solve the issues. Teaming up will help both of you, and will go a long way toward diffusing any anger that may exacerbate a grievance.

It’s vital to document all reports, conversations and interventions, and continue to check in and monitor the situation with all parties involved. If things escalate, you will need to take additional steps which may include mediation, suspension from duties or contacting law enforcement.

Parents: How to handle safety concerns about someone in your child’s school

Parents: How to handle safety concerns in your child's school

Parents: do you know how to handle safety concerns about someone in your child’s school? Perhaps, it’s a classmate or one of your child’s friends. Maybe it’s someone your child has mentioned as a bully or a disruptive student in the school. What if your child expresses concerns about an adult who works or volunteers at the school?

Rest assured: there are some things you can do. Here are some tips that other parents have found to be helpful as they’ve navigated these troubled waters.

How to handle safety concerns about someone in your child’s school

  1. Trust your intuition. If you believe someone’s words or behavior warrant further investigation and possible action, report those concerns to an administrator at once. Intuition is not some mystical sense. It is our subconscious picking up peripheral clues while we are focused on other things.
  2. If you are concerned that violence could be imminent, contact law enforcement immediately. If it does not appear that violence is imminent but you have concerns about someone being on a pathway to violence, report your concerns to the school principal. You may have to move up the chain of command until someone takes action, which could require taking your concerns to the school resource officer, director of student services or superintendent. Understand, though, that much of what needs to be done by school staff to address the issue is behind-the-scenses, and cannot be shared with you.
  3. Document dates and content of any reports you make, and any responses or conversations you have with school personnel regarding your concerns.
  4. Show an interest in wanting to be part of the solution. Let the school staff with whom you speak know that you are not trying to create upheaval or place blame; you simply want to do all you can to be certain the school is safe for students, staff and families.
  5. Do your research. Read about the warning signs of violence from a reputable source such as this list, created through a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice. If you find it challenging to get school staff to understand the seriousness of your concerns or you start to doubt your own perceptions, pick up the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker for reinforcement. This book will help you decipher and understand your sense that something isn’t right, giving you the strength you need to press on.
  6. Don’t give up!  Stay with it until you are confident that your concerns are being adequately addressed. You will be rewarded with a sense of relief and your community will be safer because of your tenacity.