The Moral Harassment of Teachers: an organizational problem


Miriam Rodrigues e Maria Ester de Freitas



Research in focus: Moral harassment in universities.

It is common for teaching institutions to have cultures that accept or even encourage practices that neglect instructors, that do not develop their leaders well and that have few communication channels for preventing and addressing this phenomenon.

Objective: To identify and analyze moral harassment practices in the academic environment and the organizational conditions that favor its occurrence.


• An investigation of the complaints lodged by teachers in six labor lawsuits whose details were made available by SINPRO-SP

• Seventeen in-depth interviews with instructors of an administration course in São Paulo

• Content analysis, supported by NVivo software


• Of the 22 different situations reported by the 17 people interviewed, 5 are not moral harassment, primarily because they were unique episodes. It is difficult to identify what moral harassment is and what it is not.

• Moral harassment involved those holding superior hierarchical positions, such as directors, deans, supervisors and course coordinators; those in hierarchically similar positions, such as colleagues; and those in lower positions, such as students and former students.

• The most-cited manifestations of harassment are noteworthy because of their subtleness, such as isolation, irony, refusal to communicate, boycotting ideas, blackmail and veiled threats.

• The organizational conditions perceived by the teachers appear to be related to the frequency and variety of professional interactions, to a culture that accepts, supports or even encourages practices of neglect and harassment with regard to teachers and to the weakness or non-existence of rules and processes for preventing and addressing this phenomenon.

• Students are increasingly considered customers by teaching institutions, and this is having perverse effects on the relationships among all those involved.

• Prolonged exposure to moral harassment affects the physical and psychological health of the teacher and may lead them to leave the profession.

What's new

• This study shows that harassment is not merely a personal relationship between the harasser and the person being harassed but is an organizational problem that can be prevented and overcome with the use of communication channels, transparent rules, leadership development, and people management and by valuing the role of the teacher.

• This study draws attention to the loss of talent and the reduced desire to continue teaching in institutions that do not combat recurrent harassment.

Contact the author Maria Ester de Freitas.  

Learn more about the research conducted by Maria Ester de Freitas.