I am writing to you today answer a few of the questions that have come to my attention in the last few months – I believe the answers below can help more than just the person who posed the question to me. Please read & heed!
Q: Dear Brenda: every semester I receive a number of gifts from my outgoing students, and I was wondering if I could keep them? Gifts have ranged from small gifts like small paperweights & trinkets, fruit/nuts/candy, and flowers, but I have also received a small e-reader, gift cards to restaurants, and lingerie. What should I do?
A: This is a great question and one I run into frequently. Unfortunately, Illinois law and rules passed by state community colleges severely limit the types of things that you can accept from students (legally known as a “prohibited source”). For your information, a gift means any tangible or intangible item having monetary value including, but not limited to, cash, food and/or drink. Under state law, you can’t accept anything with a cumulative value in excess of $100, but your college’s policy might be more restrictive, so it’s best to thank the person for the sentiment, and then return the item to them. If you can’t return the gift, then you should give the gift, or a donation of equal amount, to charity. Look on your college’s website or check with human resources for more information about the ethics policy and gift ban.
Q: Dear Brenda: I was told by a co-worker that at a recent Union meeting you said Local 1600 members should never touch a student – even hugs when they graduate! Is that true?
A: Yes, I did say that, and I’ll say it again here: do NOT touch students. We live in litigious times and we have a very savvy student body. As such, it is imperative that you keep your actions with them above reproach. Your fellow Union brothers and sisters are being disciplined (and even terminated) for being accused of inappropriately touching a student. It’s a lot easier for me to defend you if you are saying “I never touch students” instead of saying “I hugged him/her, but not like that!” So please, for your own sake, refrain from touching students.
Q: Dear Brenda: Help, I am being harassed at work! My supervisor plays favorites, nitpicks my work, micromanages me and generally acts like she doesn’t like me. Can I file a grievance with College administration to make this behavior stop? Or some other type of complaint?
A: Perhaps. Most Union contracts don’t cover this issue, so you probably cannot file a grievance. However, what you are describing could possibly be considered “workplace bullying,” depending on the severity of the conduct. Regrettably, workplace bullying is not illegal in Illinois yet, though it has real and lasting effects. You may be able to talk with the human resources office at your college to see if there is a process to file a complaint – feel free to utilize the assistance of your campus Union rep to assist you with this conversation. One caveat: filing a complaint brings scrutiny to both you and your boss. If you are not being circumspect with respect to your responsibilities (i.e. not coming to work on time, completing your assignments correctly and with a minimum of errors, and treating others with respect) filing a complaint can backfire and possibly hasten disciplinary action against you! So be careful when going this route so you don’t get caught up in your own trap.
Ultimately, it is incumbent on you to be apprised of your rights and responsibilities as a college employee. Feel free to email your questions to me for possible publication in a future issue of the Voice: firstname.lastname@example.org.