Implementing Workplace Anti-Bullying & Gossip Policies

February 25, 2014

As the topics of workplace bullying, gossip, and harassment have garnered attention, employers must be precise in enacting protective policies. In Laurus Technical Institute and Joslyn Henderson, a National Labor Relations Board Judge rejected a “No Gossip Policy” that prohibited discussing a person’s personal life when they were not present, discussing a person’s professional life without their supervisor present, negative or untrue comments about a person, injuring a person’s reputation, or sharing a rumor about the person.

The ALJ held that the policy would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their protected rights. Specifically, the ALJ noted that the policy was vague and overly broad, as it precluded both negative and positive comments about managers and the company. The ALJ compared the “No Gossip Policy” to prior Board decisions that invalidated employer policies banning “false and profane statements,” “disrespectful conduct,” “negative conversations,” and “disparaging comments.”

Despite this decision, a carefully drafted anti-gossip or anti-bullying policy can withstand scrutiny. Applying principles previously upheld by the Board, an employer should include the following when drafting a policy:

  1. A preamble to the policy that states its purpose, i.e. eliminating bullying in the workplace.
  2. Clear definitions of any term that may be subject to multiple meanings.
  3. Examples of the activities the policy is designed to prevent. For instance, an anti-bullying policy should include language prohibiting inflammatory comments about an individual’s height, weight, voice, or intelligence level.
  4. Examples of the workplace harm bullying may cause, i.e. lower morale, absenteeism, and creating an unsafe working environment.
  5. A procedure for victims of bullying to seek assistance, including management contacts.

These suggestions are merely a few that should be implemented in an anti-bullying or anti-gossip policy. A company planning to enact or renew a policy should have a thorough understanding of the problems facing its workplace in order to draft a precise policy addressing its specific needs.

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