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Workplace Bullying Explained

Published June 28, 2017 (last updated June 26, 2020) -
Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a common query that comes into our advice line and can cause big headaches for employers if it goes unmanaged. I speak to business owners every day about this complex issue, helping employers understand what exactly workplace bullying is, and how to prevent it.

As it is such a personal and subjective issue, many employers struggle to identify bullying between employees, and may fail to recognise their own behaviour as bullying.

We find that bullying is often first brought to the attention of an employer through an official grievance raised by an employee. We consider the employer’s situation carefully and advise on the next steps to take.

Defining bullying.

Bullying is defined as a physical or psychological act that occurs in the workplace, where an individual, or a group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, or a group of workers, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying can take place between employees, or between management and employees. Examples of bullying can include: teasing, unreasonable work expectations, intimidation, aggressive behaviour or exclusion from group activities.

Common misconceptions often arise when managers are legitimately coaching or performance managing employees. Such instances should be assessed and if they fit the definition of ‘reasonable management direction’ they can sometimes be dealt with informally through mediation or through a casual chat about conduct.

Reasonable management direction is where a manager is simply carrying out their job in directing the employee to complete work to the required standard.

Whether a legitimate or false bullying claim is put forward by an employee, it is essential for employers to be proactive when addressing the grievance. Simply dismissing or ignoring allegations rather than following up can have serious consequences.

Businesses can benefit from being both proactive and reactive to bullying claims put forward by employees. We advise clients on how to include anti-bullying measures within the workplace, and give them step by step guidance on how to deal with issues before they arise, as well as how they can fix the unexpected problems that pop up.

What are the risks of bullying?

In order to define an action as bullying, it needs to be considered a risk to employee health and safety. Owners, directors and managers have the responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace for their employees. A bullying complaint can, in some circumstances indicate that a person feels their safety is threatened at work. Having policies and procedures that deal with safe work practices and how an employee can raise a bullying complaint will certainly help to reduce this risk and ensure employees are aware of how they can raise any grievances.

Workers compensation claims.

With any perceived unsafe physical or psychological incident comes the risk that an employee could raise a claim for compensation. Whether it is a physical or psychological incident, recording and reporting are a must. Recording that an incident has occurred and reporting it to any relevant party are the vital steps that must be taken, even if no action is needed.

Psychological claims, or stress claims, are those which come about over the course of managing employees. These claims can be challenged by employers if there are genuine performance or conduct management issues with records on file.

Employee morale.

As with any issue raised in the workplace, comes the risk of reduced employee morale, increased absenteeism and staff turnover. Employers should continue to conduct training, review their policies and communicate best practice around bullying and harassment to assist in maintaining a fair and safe workplace for all employees.

As every situation is different, it’s worth getting professional advice on the best way to manage bullying in your workplace. Give Employsure a call on 1300 651 415.

For more information on workplace bullying, download Natalie’s Workplace Presentation here.

About Employsure

Employsure is Australia’s largest workplace relations specialists. We take the complexity out of workplace laws to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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