08 Aug Workplace Bullying
Reports of workplace bullying have become increasingly prevalent over recent years. Such behaviour can severely disturb individual conceptions of self and value, and cause significant damage to an individual’s health and well-being.
However, workplace bullying does not just affect the person being bullied. It can have far greater implications. In particular, workplace bullying can be highly detrimental to businesses. The cost to employers can include the loss of morale and productivity, higher staff turnover, management down-time in addressing bullying claims and dealing with the effects of bullying, as well as damage to the company’s reputation.
The Federal Government’s Productivity Commission estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy a total of between $6 billion and $36 billion every year (see Productivity Commission, Benchmarking Business Regulation: Occupational Health and Safety, March 2010).
Notwithstanding this, until recently there was no Federal or Victorian legislation which specifically addressed workplace bullying. The matter generally fell under State occupational health and safety legislation and, in serious cases, the criminal law.
This changed most significantly when the Federal Government introduced new workplace bullying laws with effect from 1 January 2014. Under these laws, a worker can now apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying. The term “bullying” is defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker, or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.
The laws make it clear that bullying does not include “reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner”. So, for example, the reasonable allocation of work, legitimate disciplinary action, and appropriate performance management should not constitute bullying
There are a number of steps that employers should take to try to prevent bullying in their workplace, including introducing robust policies with respect to bullying and ensuring employees receive appropriate training on these policies. Further, if any complaints of bullying are made, employers should take appropriate steps to respond to them, including possibly arranging for an independent investigation to be conducted.