Do you know how to address workplace bullying?
Bullying in the workplace has received a lot of media attention lately. We hear a lot of stories about employees reporting they’ve been bullied or harassed at work. But, do you know the difference between reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner, and workplace bullying? Would you know what to do if an employee reports that they are being bullied by a co-worker or a manager? At the end of the day, it’s the employer who has a duty of care to provide a safe workplace under WHS laws. That’s why employers need to respond quickly and appropriately to allegations of bullying in the workplace.
The effects of workplace bullying
Like other workplace health and safety risks, bullying can have many negative effects on the success of a business, including:
- Excessive sick leave,
- Reduced productivity of employees,
- Excessive staff turnover, and
- Low morale.
Left unchecked, it can lead to orders from the Fair Work Commission (FWC), workers compensation claims and costly legal bills. Employers need to prepare for dealing with these situations.
Reasonable management action is not bullying
It’s important to recognise that reasonable management action is not bullying. The following list are not examples of bullying, yet sometimes managers are fearful these actions could be interpreted as bullying.
- Performance management.
- Disciplinary action for misconduct.
- Informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance or inappropriate behaviour.
- Directing a worker to perform duties in keeping with their job.
- Maintaining reasonable workplace standards.
So what is bullying in the workplace?
Examples of bullying can include:
- Aggressive or intimidating conduct.
- Belittling or humiliating comments.
- Spreading malicious rumours.
- Teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’.
- Exclusion from work related events.
- Unreasonable work expectations.
- Displaying offensive material.
- Pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.
To be classed as bullying, these behaviours must be repeated and unreasonable, and must create a risk to health and safety. Bullying can also occur outside of the workplace and work hours. In a recent case before the FWC, it was found that ‘defriending’ and ‘commenting’ on Facebook contributed to the bullying in that case.
Handling bullying complaints
Ignoring complaints about bullying will only let potential workplace grievances fester and, potentially, get out of hand. The best response is to prevent workplace bullying happening in the first place. If bullying does occur, then dealing with issues quickly and directly will have the best outcome for your workplace. To do this you need to have good policies and procedures in place before an incident occurs. In another case before the FWC, last minute implementation of an anti-bullying policy was not enough to stop the FWC from issuing orders against the employer.
Setting up workplace bullying policies
Ultimately, policies on how to treat people in the workplace and good internal grievance procedures have to be actively implemented by good line managers. Good line managers are the key to tackling workplace bullying. Employers need to give managers the best training, policies and procedures, and also the authority to resolve people management issues.
Consult with a Safety Advisor
Lighthouse Safety recommends updating your policies and procedures for managing bullying, and also putting your staff through bullying awareness training. For more information, please call Patrick on 0422 669 631.