Safe workplace policy in the works


NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education is in the process of implementing a safe workplace policy in response to allegations of bullying, verbal abuse and threats of violence at the school system’s administrative offices.

The two-page policy is still in draft form and is likely to be approved by the Board of Education next month. It spells out how employees are expected to behave and treat one another, names the human resources director as the designee to hear and investigate complaints, spells out a complaint procedure and types of disciplinary action that may be imposed on people found in violation of safe workplace norms.

“The procedures are clear in what steps to take and what the expectation is for the administration, and I think that’s helpful,” Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said.

The policy is being implemented after AFSCME Local 1818, the union that represents support staff in the school system, submitted a grievance Oct. 9 claiming serious allegations of workplace harassment at the Tuttle House Board of Education building.

Union President Jim Healy said he told the school board not to act on the grievance but said if the board and the union could not resolve the issues, the union would be forced to officially request that the claims go through the standard grievance process.

Locke said the policy was drafted in consultation with unions representing support teachers, administrators and support staff, which include paraprofessionals, custodians, secretaries and cafeteria workers.

Among the highlights of the draft policy, which the full school board was given last week, are:

• The board states that it is committed to providing a safe workplace free from physical assault and harassing behaviors for its employees.

• Each employee should be able to work in an environment free of any threatened, attempted or actual conduct that may constitute harassment or conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the health and safety of an employee or person.

• Should harassment be alleged, it will be thoroughly investigated and there is to be no retaliation against the victim.

• Anyone who feels wronged should promptly file a complaint in writing to the HR Department.
• The HR director will conduct a thorough investigation.

• Complaints will be confidential to the extent possible.

• Investigation reports will go to the superintendent.

• Anyone dissatisfied with the outcome of the report can appeal to the superintendent, who will conduct his/her own investigation to determine if the initial investigator’s disposition will be upheld.

• Disciplinary action may range from counseling, reprimand, reassignment, transfer, suspension, termination of employment or some other corrective or remedial action

Healy said the policy is positive for the employees and for the district.

“We’re working in the right direction,” he said. “Sharon (Locke) seems to react to things pretty quickly. She got this done in a timely manner. She takes us seriously. She realizes there has been a bit of a problem down there (at Tuttle) and she wants to make things better and safer for everybody. She puts in the time to look into things that we haven’t had looked into in the past three years.”

Locke said the focus since her arrival on July 1 has been on teaching and learning.

“Early on, when I met and surveyed employees about their role at the Tuttle office, 100 percent said they want to support what’s happening in our schools,” she said. “Collectively, we want the focus to be on teaching and learning in our schools.”

She said safety in the workplace is a major concern and that it is rare for a school district to have such a policy.

“I think more and more districts are moving to something like this because of issues arising from digital communications,” she said. “Since I’ve been here, all complaints have been investigated and addressed as appropriate, and will continue to be.”