University of Wisconsin–Madison

Principles of UW–Madison’s policies on HIB

In 2014, the Faculty Senate and the Academic Staff Assembly passed policies on hostile and intimidating behavior; the University Staff Congress passed a policy in 2016. While these policies differ in some respects – in their complaint or grievance processes – they are fundamentally the same in their definitions, and how to recognize and prevent HIB.

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Definition of “Hostile and Intimidating Behavior”

Hostile and intimidating behavior is defined as unwelcome behavior pervasive or severe to the extent that it makes the conditions for work inhospitable and impairs another person’s ability to carry out his/her responsibilities to the university, and that does not further the University’s academic or operational interests. A person or a group can perpetrate this behavior. The person need not be more senior than or a supervisor to the target. Unacceptable behavior may include, but is not limited to:

  1. Abusive expression (including spoken, written, recorded, visual, digital, or nonverbal, etc.) directed at another person in the workplace, such as derogatory remarks or epithets that are outside the range of commonly accepted expressions of disagreement, disapproval, or critique in an academic culture and professional setting that respects free expression;
  2. Unwarranted physical contact or intimidating gestures;
  3. Conspicuous exclusion or isolation having the effect of harming another person’s reputation in the workplace and hindering another person’s work;
  4. Sabotage of another person’s work or impeding another person’s capacity for academic expression, be it oral, written, or other;
  5. Abuse of authority, such as using threats or retaliation in the exercise of authority, supervision, or guidance, or impeding another person from exercising shared governance rights, etc.

Repeated acts or a pattern of hostile and/or intimidating behaviors are of particular concern. A single act typically will not be sufficient to warrant discipline or dismissal, but an especially severe or egregious act may warrant either.

How to address HIB when it happens

Undesired consequences of HIB can be avoided or minimized when the problem is addressed early on, but victims are often hesitant to pursue a formal process before the impact of HIB is severe. Educational opportunities and campus resources have been implemented with the intent of aiding all employees in defusing situations before they become severe. These resources, including trained personnel who can advise and mediate, comprise the “informal process.” It is possible that situations will continue to arise in which informal interventions are not effective, and the “formal process” has been designed to address those situations.

You are encouraged to seek out advice and consultation after the first instance of HIB: consultation is not escalation. Discussing what’s happened in a timely way can often prevent continued bullying. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Seek advice from a trusted colleague;
  2. You may choose to seek informal resolution to HIB by approaching the individual yourself or with an intermediary;
  3. Consult your supervisor, manager, HR representative, department chair, director, dean, personal representative, labor union representative, or any campus resource to discuss options for resolution;
  4. Keep notes of what happened, when, where, and who was present. Retain copies of any correspondence.

If you are accused of hostile and intimidating behavior

Early consultation may help avoid claims of retaliation and facilitate resolution of the situation. You will be informed of any complaint filed against you and provided with an opportunity to respond. You should contact your supervisor, a member of the Ombuds office, Employee Assistance Office, labor union or personal representative, or another campus resource.

  1. Seek early consultation with a campus resource outside the unit/department/school/college/division (including Ombuds, Employee Assistance, Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff)
  2. Write notes of what you recall
  3. Avoid meeting with accuser (with others or alone) to avoid escalation
  4. Learn about the formal and informal HIB processes on campus

If you are in a position of authority

(e.g. principal investigator, supervisor, manager, department chair, director, dean)

You are responsible for:

  1. taking reasonable steps to prevent hostile and intimidating behavior in your unit;
  2. taking immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop hostile and intimidating behavior when you know or have reason to know it may exist, and enlisting help from campus resources to address HIB;
  3. preventing its recurrence
  4. remedying effects that could reasonably have been prevented, and
  5. including the prevention of HIB in departmental on-boarding practices.

Hostile and intimidating behavior can arise in a healthy environment but it often develops in negative climates. If you have concerns about the climate in your area, consult with the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff, the Ombuds office, or other support offices to learn about proactive measures to improve the climate for all individuals.

  1. Distribute relevant policies to new faculty and staff and to all employees periodically and when there are modifications to the policy.
  2. Schedule information sessions on HIB and promote attendance by all department/unit members.
  3. Encourage employees and students to come forward with questions, concerns, and allegations.
  4. Avoid discouraging people from “going outside the department with problems.” (A person may not be comfortable reporting within the department and may not seek help if the department’s culture discourages outside assistance.)
  5. Take every complaint seriously and ensure that others do as well. Ensure that your department adequately addresses all complaints. If you have questions about the scope of your responsibility, contact the Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff, the Secretary of the Faculty, the Secretary of the Academic Staff, or the Secretary of the University Staff, or another campus resource.
  6. Keep allegations confidential except on a “need to know” basis unless a policy requires disclosure.
  7. Ensure that no retaliation occurs against the person making the allegations and that the person charged with hostile and intimidating behavior is not assumed guilty and/or disciplined on the basis of allegations alone.
  8. For the protection of all parties, comply with all applicable university procedures and ensure that your department fully cooperates with any investigation.

If you are a colleague or peer

Listen to the report of alleged HIB sympathetically but objectively. Keep the expectations and advice for consultation offered in this site in mind during your conversation(s).

Encourage the individual to contact someone who can explain alternatives available to resolve the situation. If requested, and if you are comfortable doing so, assist the individual in reporting the behavior. The HIB policy includes a prohibition of retaliation, which is designed to protect all involved in the process. Keep allegations confidential, except as necessary to cooperate with appropriate university officials or to adhere to university policy. Be sensitive to the vulnerability of employees in subordinate positions who experience HIB involving one or more supervisors. Opportunities for guidance and support at every stage of the process must be made available in a setting safe from fear of retaliation.

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