A California county grand jury issues a report on workplace bullying in local government

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.

Main findings

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.”

Main recommendations

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.

Getting attention

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.

17 responses

  1. Hmmm, this seems to be a growing trend for a LOT of companies. As more and more information is brought forth it will be that much more difficult for employers to continue to hide such unjust and unethical behavior.

  2. To Barbara Pachter, the author of “The power of positive confrontation”. You say if you don’t speak up the bullying will get worse. I did speak up with the “I” statement, to my managers, bully and HR. It has only gotten worse! Now I am monitored daily by my supervisors and written up for anything I say or do wrong as they perceive it. Typical workplace bullying. Oh, by the way, now I am required to repeat the course on conflict and resolution since it is obviously my fault for being the target and I couldn’t take care of it on my own.

    • Nancy, just to make clear to other readers, you’re responding to the “etiquette expert” quoted in the Ventura County Star article linked to this post, who advises people to confront their tormenters.

      Yes, I thought about mentioning that because I winced when I read her advice. Another example of reaching out to a supposed expert who apparently isn’t very knowledgeable about workplace bullying, the behaviors of aggressors at work, and the possible consequences of a target’s responses. With some people, it can be useful to call them on their bad behavior. But with bad organizations and truly bad bosses, what happened to you is sadly typical.

      Unfortunately, with the mainstreaming of workplace bullying as an employment relations concern, we’re also seeing a lot of bad advice quoted in newspapers, magazines, and online forums. While there certainly is room for informed differences of opinion, there are a lot of self-appointed experts out there who haven’t done their homework.

      • Thank you for your reply. I winced too when I read her advice! I felt the need to reply to her etiquette on workplace bullying because she just doesn’t get it!!

  3. I will like to see what the Ventura county will do to to prevent the continue abuse and mis treatments of many county employees. This bullying has been going on for some time and I am glad it finally came out to the open. People are afraid to speak up because there is definitely retaliation against those who do. IT NEEDS TO STOP. Enough is enough….

    • Retaliation, termination, blackballing in the market are real and done everyday. The book “The Bully FREE workplace” is a great resource to read. All CEO’s need to read this. Because the work to stop this epidemic starts at the top, not HR! HR is in place to protect the company, NOT the employee!

  4. Companies would save millions implimenting policies against workplace bullying. From absenteeism, medical leaves due to this, and turnover and training new employees.

  5. I am a quiet advocate for policies and laws to prevent this. If I speak too loud I will not find employment in my profession again. I am awsome at what I do. The bully chose me to take down and out. I have not asked any coworker to back me up because that would place their job in jeopordy. It really sucks to be walking in my shoes right now!

    • Im walking in your shoes right now so dont feel alone because your not, ill support you even though we work for different companies. We need to unite strongly and fight because remember WORK SHOULDNT HURT.!!!! BEST WISHES…. Jesus…

      • Thank You Jesus! I actually sent the book “The Bully FREE
        Workplace” to my CEO anonimousy (sp?)!!!!! I highlighted areas that I thought were important. Been over 6 weeks without a peep. Hoping he takes it seriously.
        Jesus, I will support you too! Let’s work on this together to help all the other people suffering with this issue!
        Nancy

      • I’m chuckling at the thought of that CEO looking at the highlighted passages….

  6. This was great to read. I worked for State Government, hopefully this movement continues to the state and federal levels. The state paid out over a million on my case. Yet, no policy has been adopted to change the behavior.

  7. Workplace bullying does exist and not only in government jobs but in any other job. Im going through a lot of bullying at work by my manager and i have stepped up to her and said enough is enough. She is always sending people to watch over me and giving me excessive loads of work even though i have a work related injury, but thats ok because she is the one not listening to doctors orders shes the one not complying with my physical therapy and everything that she does to me im going to say it this july when i meet with my lawyer and the companies lawyer for a deposition meeting so shes actually helping me out in my case and making her self look bad. There outa be a law and it has to be quick, this is causing so much damage to the employee mental and physical wellbeing. I will strongly support any law that will put an end to this kind of people and we can go to work and love to be there. Remember DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT , DOCUMENT everything that happends and what time, were, and who was there. Stay up and stay strong.

    • Good luck with your case! I have so much documentation with time, where, witnesses and what not!
      Your boss is only hurting herself and is going DOWN!!!!!!
      The Healthy Workplace Bill needs to be passed by ALL states to protect the targets and FINALLY make the bullies comply or be fired!

  8. How about getting bullied by the HR managers themselves. The employees who should be showing the rest of the agency how to behave. File a complaint, have hard evidence, plenty of witnesses, and you believe that the truth will prevail. Well, complaint is distributed amongst all managers charged in complaint, evidence not given a second or first look, witnesses not interviewed, investigator former employee — now contract employee, investigation completely a joke. Employee dies from overdose.

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