What To Do About Principal Harassment of Teachers
Workplace harassment of teachers by principals, superintendents, and other school administration is far too prevalent. This aggressive harassment eats away at the confidence level of teachers and sometimes forces them to quit. Fear of termination or retaliation in the sense of refusing to give a teacher a recommendation can cripple teaching careers. More recently, research has shown that principals take part in something called “harassing supervision.” Teachers deal with a number of pressures in their jobs, but employment discrimination and harassment should not be one of them.
The Employment Rights of Teachers
Teachers are in a tight place. On a daily basis, they deal with the standards of not only their employer (the school district) but also the expectations of parents, students, and teaching standards. Meanwhile, they also interact with coworkers and principals. The teaching environment can be a tough workplace.
As with all jobs, teachers also run the risk of experiencing employment problems. Whether a hostile work environment or sexual harassment, teachers need to be aware of their rights.
Teacher Harassment by Principal
Everyone knows that powerful people sometimes abuse that power and others around them too. Principals and school administrators are no exception. When a principal begins to harass a teacher, it can be considered discriminatory. The law defines employment discrimination illegal when harassment occurs against legally protected classes. Harassment comes in many different levels. The key to having a case of harassment is when it’s an ongoing, pervasive part of the workplace, not just a one-time thing.
- Inappropriate comments
- Unwelcome touching
- Offensive gestures
- Suggestive eye contact
- Derogatory remarks
- Threatening comments
- Overly personal questions
- Offensive cartoon posters
A Hostile Work Environment in School
A hostile work environment in a school works the same way as a hostile work environment in any workplace. In this case, a teacher struggles to carry out his or her job well due to harassment or intimidation. Meanwhile, the fear of losing their job heightens an already stressful job situation.
Wrongful Termination in the School
At this point, the school administration might fear legal action for the hostile work environment and then might participate in wrongful termination. In hopes of ridding themselves of a problem, the administration singles the teacher out for poor parent interaction or incorrect student discipline. The teacher might be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and then terminated without specific reason even if the PIP was completed correctly.
Principal Harassing Supervision of Teachers
Research conducted in the Chicago public school system reveals that a large number of school principals use something called “harassing supervision” on school teachers. Some consider it an easier way to remove teachers rather than the normal process. Basically, “harassing supervision” is used by principals to make teachers uncomfortable until they voluntarily leave their positions.
The Chicago study also notes two factors that caused a higher use of harassing supervision.
- Principal turnover
- Lack of training in good hiring and recruitment
Many principals see harassing supervision of their teachers as a necessary evil to prune their staff to the best it can be. The Chicago study showed that 37 out of 40 principals described using harassing supervision in their management of their schools. Teachers who believe that they might be experiencing harassment are likely not wrong. However, to have a case under the law, the teacher must be part of a legally protected class.
5 Steps to Fight for Your Teacher Rights
Teachers who recognize that their employment rights have been violated by their principal or school administration have few options. After all, make the wrong move and lose your job, relinquishing any possible positive job recommendations. Teacher harassment can be so subtle that only a legal professional might be capable of building a case for your situation. Consult an employment lawyer to understand what rights may be available to you under the law.
1. Recognize teacher discrimination.
The first step of pursuing your teacher employee rights is by knowing your rights and knowing when they’ve been violated. A couple of the questions below will help you get started.
- Are you part of a legally protected class?
- Does the harassment happen frequently?
- Is there a difference in treatment between you and another group of teachers?
- Has the situation influenced your ability to teach well?
2. Document situations.
Teachers are notorious for documenting everything, especially when it comes to their classroom. When you suspect that you’re being discriminated against for some reason, document the interactions, emails, and conversations that show harassment. This information could be important in a lawsuit.
3. Follow your employee handbook.
Check how the teacher handbook outlines handling cases of harassment, discrimination, or hostile work environment. Speak to the HR department or management level employees about the ongoing situation and ask for a solution. The law protects those who have a rightful reason to make a complaint.
4. Retaliation is illegal.
Speaking up for your employment rights can be scary. And it’s possible that you could lose your job. However, if an employer fires you soon after you complain to them about harassment or discrimination, this is illegal retaliation. And honestly, this just makes your principal and school district look work during legal action.
5. Consult a lawyer.
A lawyer is your best bet at moving your case through the legal system and receiving your rightful remedies to the damages caused by your employer. Lawyers understand what makes your case viable under the law, and lawyers can champion your teacher employee rights.
If you have experienced harassment while teaching, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.