'Stressful' incidents fall under 'workplace violence' at Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University lists behavior that causes stress under its "workplace violence" policy.

One constitutional lawyer told Campus Reform that the policy, if implemented at a public school, would likely be unconstitutional.

Vanderbilt University lists “stressful or traumatic” incidents under examples of “workplace violence.” The policy stipulates that faculty whose behavior causes these types of responses may be disciplined or even terminated.

The vague statement regarding workplace behavior on the university’s website is last on the list of various types of behaviors that are not tolerated, located on a page titled “Workplace Violence.” 

Examples of “disruptive, threatening or violent behavior” include yelling, making threats, and physical assault along with “behavior which create incidents that are stressful or traumatic that interfere with an individual’s or group of individuals’ ability to effectively function in his/her educational work environment.”

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Although there isn’t any clarification regarding what constitutes a “stressful or traumatic” incident, employees in violation of the policy may be disciplined or even terminated.

“Employees who violate this policy may be subject to discipline up to and including discharge,” the website states.

Constitutional lawyer Hans Bader discussed the policy with Campus Reform, explaining that it is too vague: “If it were at a public rather than private university (and thus bound by the First Amendment), it would be unconstitutionally vague, and violate the First Amendment, because it could be used to restrict some speech protected by the First Amendment.” Vanderbilt, however, is a private university. 

“Speech doesn’t lose its protection just because it is labeled as ‘workplace violence,’” he added. 

Bader further explained that this opens the door for “hypersensitive” people to complain. 

“It would be too overbroad and vague for a state university to have, because it doesn’t have a ‘reasonable person’ limit, so even a hypersensitive person who can’t function due to speech that causes stress could file a complaint,” Bader said.

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Bader also added that this policy, if at a public university, would be “unconstitutionally vague.”

“Policies that turn on ‘subjective reference’ rather than what a reasonable person would find offensive are unconstitutionally vague,” Bader adds.

Bader graduated from Harvard Law School and has worked for the Department of Education and the Competitive Enterprise Institute

He is now a self-employed lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C.

Campus Reform has previously reported on Vanderbilt University faculty taking training on unconscious bias. Several months later, a faculty member at the university stated that racism is enabled by academic freedom.

Campus Reform reached out to Vanderbilt for comment but hasn’t received a response.

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