In this Bulletin we look at bullying in the workplace – which remains a leading factor in stress related claims for employers.
Because of this fact it is important that all workplaces have established a clear Policy on workplace bullying including a definition of exactly ‘what’ bullying is – ie ‘repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee that creates a risk to health and safety’.
Note the use of the word ‘repeated’ – as bullying generally occurs over a sustained period of time and is quite deliberate in its intent.
Bullying may include but is not necessarily limited to:
- Verbal abuse
- Excluding or isolating employees
- Psychological harassment
- Deliberately withholding information
- Assigning heavy workloads or unrealistic deadlines
- ‘E Bullying’ via text messaging, email and social media
Pending legislative changes which will empower the Fair Work Commission to assess complaints of bullying for Federal system employers, the current process is undertaken by Worksafe as proven bullying represents a breach of the State OSH Act and the duty of care required by employers (see Sections 19 and 20).
Failure to have an Anti Bullying Policy in place may also represent a breach of this duty and a subsequent breach of the Act so to this end a bullying policy needs to address the following questions –
Does the policy:
- Help managers and employees to identify workplace bullying?
- Tell employees what sanctions might be imposed in cases where claims of workplace bullying are proven?
- Make clear what steps an employee can take if they have been bullied?
- Outline what steps will be taken to investigate and respond to a complaint?
- Contain measures to deal with vexatious or malicious claims that have no merit?
It is important in any workplace that a strong positive culture is developed and fostered by management, in the longer term this is the most effective way to ensure that these issues do not find fertile ground to grow. Prevention being better than cure when dealing with bullying, harassment and discrimination:
- Encourage respectful and courteous behaviour particularly by management who must ‘model’ acceptable standards;
- Establish your anti bullying Policy and ensure that all employees are provided with a copy. Set up a system whereby this is regularly re visited eg staff meetings;
- Make sure that your workplace has a clear and shared definition and understanding of what constitutes bullying and what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t;
- Respond as soon as possible to any claims of inappropriate behaviour;
- Regularly monitor your workplace and watch for warning signs eg absenteeism, increased sick leave/stress claims etc
- Train your management team and undertake training yourself in these areas in how to manage this, be aware of the legislation and Acts that govern the workplace and know your compliance requirements.
It is not good enough simply to have a policy in place, there is a requirement that you remain pro active and diligent in this area. A policy that nobody knows and a procedure that nobody utilises is a complete waste of time and may actively contribute to negligence in this area should a serious issue arise not to mention actively contribute to stress related sick leave and workers compensation claims.
Do you have a Bullying Policy in place? When was the last time this was reviewed with staff? Does your policy cover cyber bullying?
Further questions? Call us to discuss your duty of care.