Relations: Factions, Ethics, Bullies, and Workplace Violence

Factions, Ethics, Bullies, and Workplace Violence

by Betsy Barbieux, CFCAM / Published June 2014


This condominium board of directors is always split three to two on all issues. They have letters going out to all owners from one faction or the other criticizing the other “side” for its action or inaction. It seems there is one “rules-possessed” man who wants to go back in time and correct everything the board has ever done that he thinks was wrong.

A manager is also the rental agent for a condominium association that is made up mostly of investment rentals. He seems to have been given the authority to approve or disapprove all private owners’ rental agreements. He appears to be arbitrary about the approval and makes private owners “guess” as to the proper form of the rental agreement provisions he will approve.

A board member charges into the manager’s office, towers over her desk not giving her a chance to stand up, jabs his finger in her face, and yells obscenities at her. He is red faced and getting angrier by the second. Does she dare reach for the telephone to call 911?

A president decided she wanted to change the name of the community, so she created another corporation on Next, she obtained a new Federal tax identification number, opened a bank account, and moved the funds of the homeowners association to the new bank account. She announced her actions to the other board members and owners. With this collection of factions, ethics, bullies, and a hostile work environment stories, it’s just another day!


Faction is described as a group of persons forming a cohesive, usually contentious minority within a larger group. It would probably be safe to say every community association has at least one faction. Factions challenge elections; factions recall board members; factions disrupt meetings; factions spread gossip and ill will; factions use the Internet. When will people learn it is more advantageous to be part of the solution than part of the problem?


One association actually has an ethics section in its employee handbook. It states, in part, “the highest standards of ethical business conduct and compliance are required of all our employees in performance of their jobs and responsibilities. Employees must not engage in conduct or activity that may raise questions as to the honesty, impartiality, or reputation or otherwise cause embarrassment to the association.”

The manual gives examples of crossing the ethical line. If you say these things to yourself:

  • “Well, maybe just this once…”
  • “No one will ever know…” 
  • “It doesn’t matter how it gets done as long as it gets done.”
  • “It sounds too good to be true.” 
  • “Everyone does it.”
  • “Shred that document.”
  • “We can hide it.” 
  • “No one will get hurt.” 

This manual even has a quiz for employees. It says: “When in doubt, ask yourself…

  • Are my actions legal?
  • Am I being fair and honest? 
  • Will my action stand the test of time?  
  • How will I feel about myself afterwards?
  • How will it look in the newspaper?
  • Are my dealings transparent?
  • Does this action have the appearance of impropriety?
  • What would I tell my child to do? 
  • How would I feel if my family and friends knew what I was doing?”


There is a lot in the news about teenage bullying, but it is not just a problem among the young. Adult bullies exist, and many in the community association industry will verify that fact. You would think by the time someone is 30 or 40 or 70 years old, they would stop that type of behavior—but many managers will agree that adult bullies exist. 

Adult bullies never learned how to play in the kindergarten sandbox with their friends. They never learned how to deal with the word “no.” Even as a child, life is full of disappointments, not getting your way, and unmet expectations. Unless that child learns how to deal with disappointment, cruelty, unfairness, rejection, and emotional pain, he will grow up without the social and emotional skills he needs to interact and work with others. Instead of learning self-control and self-correction, he will react to emotional pain with anger and pitch a temper tantrum. So this child grows up and moves into your community not knowing any other way to be heard than to yell and pitch a fit. Nor does he know how to listen or negotiate but somehow gets elected to the board of directors. All discussions or decisions made by the board are now a challenge to him. He has to win and will do so with intimidation and threats. Sometimes the threats result in assault. And as if that isn’t enough, bullying is complicated with aging, medication, and dementia.


A hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere generated by the harasser. Bullies can create a hostile work environment in our community associations. Residents need to be warned against this type of behavior, and boards should take immediate action to stop it. Remember, while this may be where you live, it is a workplace—our workplace!

According to the Department of Labor, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. 

If your association has employees, be sure to check your Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy for requirements regarding harassment policies. One cooperative association recently received the following notice:

We were advised by Greenwich Insurance that your business currently does not have policies regarding harassment, discrimination, or employment at will… Greenwich Insurance requires that you adopt and distribute policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and employment at will to your employees within 30 days of coverage.

A quote from The True Joy in Life sums it up pretty well: This is the true joy in life—being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one… being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

—George Bernard Shaw