Bullying prevention and response policy

Policy Update

As of 8-13-2018, the Chancellor approved a request to suspend the policy below in order to review how the policy is operationalized.  Please contact HR if you have a concern about your treatment in the workplace.


1 Introduction

1.1 Purpose: This policy supports the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL or University) campus community’s desire to seek a civil and respectful environment, where bullying will not be tolerated. This policy describes the UWL expectations, definitions, and procedures for handling complaints of bullying. This policy is intended to support normal relationships (social, work, and personal) as well as academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

1.2 Applicability: This policy applies to all University-related activities for personnel, vendors, and guests of the university. Student complaints should be directed to the Student Life Office. The University reserves the right to apply this policy to conduct occurring off-campus, if the University determines that the off-campus conduct could have an impact on the educational or work environment of the University.

1.3 Policy Statement: It is the policy of UWL that no University employee should be subjected to bullying or harassing behavior in any University-related capacity (public or private; on or off campus).

2 Definitions

2.1 Bullying: Bullying is defined as an act or actions—written, electronic, nonverbal, physical, and/or verbal—that is abusive and/or functions to intimidate, degrade, dehumanize, humiliate, harass and/or undermine the target or bystanders. Bullying may occur as a single, severe incident or repeated incidents and may or may not involve a power differential. Bullying creates a toxic relational climate, disrupts a professional work life or environment, and/or exploits another’s vulnerability, such as invoking fear of harm to a person or property, interfering with work, or is otherwise threatening or intimidating*1. Bullying may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • 2.1.1 Repeated and substantial interrupting others while they speak, ignoring another person all together, and/or loud language, raised voices
  • 2.1.2 Deliberate and repeated use of abusive language, which may include profanity
  • 2.1.3 Insulting and intimidating others, including using greater physical size/strength or greater institutional power to intimidate another
  • 2.1.4 Purposeful invasion of another’s personal space and other aggressive behavior, which may invoke fear or be intended to invoke fear
  • 2.1.5 Attempts to exploit an individual’s known psychological or physical vulnerability, including deliberately undermining or belittling behavior

*1 Conflict is a typical part of human relationships when people have or are perceived to have incompatible goals or desires, a difference of opinion, or other kind of disagreement.

The conditions for bullying occur when an individual subjectively views conduct as bullying behavior and the conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person/authority would agree that particular behaviors constitute bullying (versus a disagreement, understood difference in communication style, and so forth).

2.2 Related Definitions: Certain conduct that constitutes bullying under the above definition may also constitute Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and/or Retaliation. Applicable definitions of those terms are provided in Regent Policy Document 14-6 and 14-2, and adopted separately in the UW-La Crosse Policy on Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, and Retaliation. Those definitions are provided in Appendix A.

2.3 Protected Activity: Filing a complaint of bullying, participation in an investigation of such complaint, and/or opposition to bullying in the educational or workplace setting shall constitute “protected activity” for the purposes of the UWL and UW System policies regarding retaliation.

3 Responsibilities

3.1 Employees, Vendors, and Guests: University employees, vendors, and guests are expected to behave respectfully when they interact with others. Instances of bullying should be reported.

3.2 University Employees with Supervisory Responsibilities: Employees with supervisory responsibilities must take reasonable steps to ensure that any work or learning environment for which they are responsible is free from bullying behaviors.

  • 3.2.1 Employees with supervisory responsibility shall:
    • Treat all complaints and incidents of bullying seriously;
    • Manage all complaints of bullying in a timely and confidential manner;
    • Handle reports of bullying in accordance with the procedures described in this policy;
    • Attend training on this policy and related procedures.
  • 3.2.2 During any of the procedures outlined in this policy, University officials will:
    • Listen impartially to the concerns and perceptions of each party involved;
    • Ensure that all parties involved are treated fairly;
    • Offer appropriate assistance to all parties, which may include referrals to resources such as the Employee Assistance Program;
    • Respond to reported incidents of bullying promptly.

3.3 Education: UWL will support the creation of productive and congenial working environments by providing education for its employees. All UWL employees will be encouraged to participate in anti-bullying training, either on or off campus, in person or via online mechanisms.

3.4 Timeliness: There is no fixed time limitation for filing a complaint. However, the ability of the University to investigate and take corrective action may be affected by the length of time between the alleged incident(s) and the filing of the complaint. Once filed, a complaint should be investigated and a decision determined within 60 days.

3.5 Confidentiality: All complaints will be treated with consideration to their sensitive nature. Complaints will be considered confidential to the extent requested by the complainant, if possible. However, certain disclosures may be necessary for the University to conduct a thorough investigation, comply with state and federal law, and comply with its own procedures and regulations. In addition, all records maintained by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse are potentially subject to the provisions of the Wisconsin open records law.

4 Addressing bullying complaints

4.1 Goal: The goal of sanctions for bullying is to change problematic behavior and to (re)create a work environment characterized by respect and equanimity. Thus, the following is a list of possible sanctions for bullying behavior that should match the severity of bullying behavior and be part of a plan to restore respectful work spaces.

4.2 Corrective and/or Disciplinary Actions: Individuals who engage in bullying behavior are subject to disciplinary action. Corrective and/or disciplinary action may include one or more of the following:

  • 4.2.1 No action
  • 4.2.2 Verbal and/or written warnings
  • 4.2.3 Referral to use policies/procedures of governance groups (e.g. Faculty Senate, Academic Staff Council, etc.)
  • 4.2.4 Provide a formal apology accompanied by a change in bullying behavior
  • 4.2.5 Mediation/discussion with all parties
  • 4.2.6 On-going coaching/Employee Assistance Program/etc. with an assigned mentor
  • 4.2.7 Mandatory attendance at educational training
  • 4.2.8 Removal from retention, tenure, promotion discussions/decisions
  • 4.2.9 Implementing practical arrangements such as behavioral contract, physically moving offices, signed agreement, separate service commitment
  • 4.2.10 Restricted duties/change in responsibilities/privileges. May include reassignment of supervisory responsibility (i.e. removal from evaluation of staff)
  • 4.2.11 Disciplinary letters in employment file/on-going documentation as outlined in the progressive disciplinary process

The nature and severity of the corrective and/or disciplinary action will depend on the frequency and severity of the offense and any history of past misconduct. Every effort will be made to assure University-wide uniformity of sanctions for similar offenses. Criminal behavior could result in legal sanctions, including formal restraining orders, arrest, or formal legal action, and is outside the scope of this policy. Repeated behavior that is not criminal in nature will be dealt with via UWL’s standard disciplinary procedures.

5 Where to report bullying

Anyone wishing to report bullying should contact the appropriate University official as indicated below. A Bullying Complaint form is provided at the end of this document.

Reporter Informal Complaints Officials Formal Complaint Official
Employees and Student Workers Immediate Supervisor, Including Department Chairs*2 Human Resources Employee Relations Specialist (convener) and 3 representatives from CGAAF (Faculty & IAS) or other committee appropriate for the type of employee impacted*3. Affirmative Action may be asked to join, where relevant.
Vendor/Guest Human Resources Appropriate division head (VC Administration and Finance; VC Academic Affairs; VC Student Affairs; VC University Advancement); Affirmative Action (where relevant)

*2 In cases where individuals have concerns about their immediate supervisor or department chair—such as when the supervisor or chair is the person being accused of bullying— complainants should contact the next level supervisor or Human Resources.

*3 The Human Resources Employee Relations Specialist and CGAAF chair will collaborate to identify three members from CGAAF to serve as a hearing committee.

5.1 Informal Complaints: Informal complaints are designed to resolve bullying complaints at the lowest level and as quickly as possible. It is preferable to resolve complaints informally wherever possible and feasible.  

  • 5.1.1 Methods: To pursue an informal complaint, complainants should do the following:
    • Speak directly with the alleged offender to address the behavior and ask the alleged offender to “STOP”.
    • Engage in a meeting with the alleged offender, which could be done with a third party present. An appropriate third party could be your supervisor or a co-worker in your unit.
    • If the above steps do not resolve the matter, request mediation with the alleged offender. The offices of Human Resources or Affirmative Action can assist in identifying a mediator.
  • 5.1.2 Mediation: To conduct mediation, the designated mediator will do the following:
    1. Notify all parties named that there has been a request for mediation.
    2. If appropriate, conduct individual and group meetings with all parties. Independent mediators can assist parties in understanding their differing points of view and can lead to constructive resolution of issues.
      • Convening a mediation meeting does not necessarily imply that there is a case to answer or that any inappropriate behavior has actually occurred. The mediator’s role is to assist the parties in achieving a mutually agreed resolution, not to make a formal finding.
      • Each party may bring a support person of their choosing to mediation meetings. At this stage, third parties should be laypersons, not legally trained representatives.
  • 5.1.3 Document the process, including contact made, dates of contact, nature of conversations that occurred during meetings, and mediation outcomes. Please note: like any other disciplinary investigation, mediation may be subject to open records requests. It would be kept confidential until resolved pursuant to 19.36(10) and then released, if there is a request, following proper notice to the parties involved.
  • 5.1.4 The use of the informal process does not restrict the complainant from filing a formal grievance. If the informal process is unsuccessful or not a viable option, the formal process is available to resolve the complaint.

5.2 Formal Complaint Process & Complaint Form

Anyone may initiate a formal complaint process by completing the complaint form (see form below). Once completed, the complainant should forward the form to the appropriate official listed in the chart above. The official notified will acknowledge receipt of the complaint form and then initiate an investigation in collaboration with other University offices as deemed appropriate.

If the investigating official determines that disciplinary action or a specific sanction is appropriate, the matter will be pursued through the appropriate UWL policies and procedures, including UWS 4, 6, and 7 for faculty members, UWS 11 and 13 for academic staff, University Workplace Expectations for University Staff and subject to the applicable appeals process.

Policy History: New policy. Approved by Chancellor Gow on 08 / 02 / 2017.

Bullying Complaint Form

Click here to open the form

Appendix A

Definitions Related to the Bullying Prevention Policy

Certain conduct that constitutes bullying in the UWL Bullying Policy may also constitute Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and/or Retaliation. Applicable definitions of those terms are provided in Regent Policy Document 14-6 and 14-2, and adopted separately in the UW-La Crosse Policy on Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, and Retaliation.

Discrimination is conduct that adversely affects any aspect of an individual’s employment, education, or participation in an institution’s activities or programs, or has the effect of denying equal privileges or treatment to an individual on the basis of one or more characteristics of that individual’s protected status or category as defined herein.

Discriminatory Harassment is a form of discrimination consisting of unwelcome verbal, written, graphic or physical conduct that:

  1. Is directed at an individual or group of individuals on the basis of the individual or group of individuals’ actual or perceived protected status, or affiliation or association with person(s) within a protected status (as defined herein above); and
  2. Is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to interfere with an individual’s employment, education or academic environment or participation in institution programs or activities and creates a working, learning, program or activity environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, offensive or hostile.

To constitute prohibited harassment, the conduct must be both objectively and subjectively harassing in nature. Harassment may include but is not limited to verbal or physical attacks, threats, slurs or derogatory or offensive comments that meet the definition set forth herein. Harassment does not have to be targeted at a particular individual in order to create a harassing environment, nor must the conduct result in a tangible injury to be considered a violation of this policy. Whether the alleged conduct constitutes prohibited harassment depends on the totality of the particular circumstances, including the nature, frequency and duration of the conduct in question, the location and context in which it occurs and the status of the individuals involved. Sexual Harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other physical conduct and expressive behavior of a sexual nature where:

  1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or education;
  2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or employment decisions affecting that individual; or
  3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s academic or professional performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or demeaning employment or educational environment.

Retaliation is defined as adverse action taken against an individual in response to, motivated by or in connection with an individual’s having engaged in a protected activity, which includes, but is not limited to, filing a complaint of discrimination or discriminatory harassment, participation in an investigation of such complaint, and/or opposition to discrimination or discriminatory harassment in the educational or workplace setting. An “adverse action” is one that negatively affects significant terms or conditions of employment, or substantially impedes one’s educational progress.