A Ventura County, California grand jury has issued a report finding that workplace bullying is a serious problem in county government and recommending that the county Board of Supervisors adopt an anti-bullying policy and collect information on bullying in county government offices.
The investigation was triggered by a public complaint, leading to a 33-page report (link to pdf here) containing these main findings:
The Grand Jury found that bullying is occurring in County government and that the County has no anti-bullying policy. Employees have escaped from bullying by leaving their County positions. These employees did not file complaints of bullying because they perceived they could not get a fair and impartial investigation into their complaints. They felt their situation would worsen if their identities became known.
Common bullying behaviors included:
- “Employees were yelled at by managers in group meetings and in public areas.”
- “Employees, including those who were highly experienced, were excessively monitored by managers to such an extent that they left their positions.”
- “Employees were isolated both organizationally and physically. Some employees were organizationally separated from their functional groups into single person work units that bypassed their former supervisor and reported directly to a higher manager.”
The report makes specific recommendations:
The Grand Jury recommends that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors (BOS) issue a policy against bullying and collect data to identify the existence and extent of bullying in branches of County government. The CEO-HR should establish an independent process to report cases of bullying.
Background: The purpose of a grand jury
Most readers are familiar with the work of grand juries in the context of criminal proceedings. In those settings, jurors are assembled to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to issue a criminal indictment.
What occurred in Ventura County involves a less familiar function for county-level grand juries, that of an overseer or monitor of county government and municipalities within a county, vested with some investigative powers.
Thus, it is important to keep in mind that a report such as that issued by the Ventura County grand jury is not the equivalent of criminal indictments. In this setting, a grand jury may serve as a fact finder and issue recommendations as this one did, but that typically is the extent of its authority.
The grand jury report is attracting local attention. As John Scheibe reports for the Ventura County Star (link here):
The Ventura County Grand Jury recently concluded that workplace bullying is a problem in county government offices and encouraged county officials to develop a policy against bullying in the workplace.
…John Nicoll, assistant county executive officer and the director of human resources for the county, said county officials are preparing a response to the grand jury’s report.
This is an encouraging development for the anti-bullying movement. The reach of the Ventura County report may be limited — after all, its findings and recommendations apply only to certain government employees within the county and do not have a lot of teeth — but it serves as a valuable tool for public education locally and beyond.
For those who want to learn more about the role of grand juries in our legal system, Wikipedia does a very nice job of explaining, here.