No Bullying: Napolitano Issues Guidance

Photo: Janet Napolitano, at her desk.
Janet Napolitano has issued presidential guidance stating the university “will not tolerate abusive conduct or bullying.” (UC photo)


If there were any doubt where the University of California stood on how employees should treat one another in the workplace, this language from the Office of the President makes it crystal-clear: “The university does not tolerate abusive conduct or bullying.”

In a letter accompanying “Guidance from the President Regarding Staff Abusive Conduct and Bullying,” President Janet Napolitano wrote: “All UC community members are expected to behave in ways that support the UC Principles of Community and Regents Policy 1111 (Statement of Ethical Values and Standards of Ethical Conduct), which state that UC is committed to treating each member of the university community with dignity and respect.”

Napolitano prefaced her letter by stating that she considers UC to be a leader for its treatment of employees and for cultivating a positive working environment. But, she added, “I recognize the unfortunate reality that bullying and other abusive behaviors occur in every workplace.”

Finding ways to improve the working climate for staff has been a consistent theme, she said, in her regular meetings and interactions with staff and Staff Assembly leaders from around the system, and with staff advisors to the regents. In response, Napolitano formed a work group — comprising staff, human resources officers and administrators — to assist her in developing the presidential guidance that is now in place.

Systemwide definition

Napolitano wrote: “UC has a number of current policies that could be used to address bullying, but there is some confusion among employees about what bullying is and how to address it. Consistent with the recommendations (of the working group), I would like to start by moving us towards a systemwide definition of bullying and abusive conduct.”

That definition comes from state legislation, Assembly Bill 2053, signed into law in 2014. It defines abusive conduct as “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.”

AB 2053 further states: “Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”

The presidential guidance gives examples of abusive conduct, and notes that there is a difference between bullying and appropriate supervision, with examples.

“Differences of opinion, interpersonal conflicts and occasional problems in working relations are an inevitable part of working life and do not necessarily constitute workplace bullying. Moreover, this guidance is not intended to interfere with employees’ right to engage in protected, concerted activity under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA).”

Direction to campuses

Napolitano directed all campuses to give clear guidance about best practices with regard to bullying prevention, the identification of abusive conduct in the workplace and the resources available to staff when such incidents arise. See box.

In addition, UC Davis has a new staff development course, “Is It Bullying? Awareness and Strategies.” It covers policies and resources related to bullying and other forms of abrasive behavior, and teaches skills for responding to abrasive behaviors in the workplace.

Class participants also have the opportunity to examine their own behaviors (self-reflection) that impact interaction with colleagues and workplace climate, and explore strategies for empowering themselves and others in cultivating inclusive work environments. 

The course schedule for this academic year has not been finalized. Look here for updated information when available for “Is It Bullying? Awareness and Strategies.”

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