Australia is home to some of the worst workplace bullying in the developed world, ranking sixth highest in a recent study comparing us with 31 European countries.
Around 10 per cent of Australian employees admit to being bullied at work, but that figure may hide the true extent of the problem, with much antisocial workplace behaviour going unreported and research suggesting up to two-thirds of workers may experience unfair treatment on the job.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace can take many different forms. It may be obvious behaviour, or more subtle, and could comprise verbal, physical, psychological or social abuse by a manager, colleague or another group of people at work.
Australia’s Fair Work Commission considers bullying as ‘repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers’. It is also behaviour that can create a risk to workplace health and safety.
Some examples of bullying behaviour include:
- abusive or offensive language or comments directed at a person;
- aggressive and intimidating behaviour;
- belittling, humiliating or degrading comments;
- sexual harassment, including unwanted touching;
- practical jokes and initiation rituals;
- excluding a fellow worker from workplace activities;
- unjustified criticism or complaints.
Certain workplace policies or executive decisions could also be classified as bullying or harassment, including not sharing important information that a person needs to work effectively; setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines; setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level; spreading misinformation or malicious rumours; and changing rosters or leave to deliberately inconvenience a person.
The effect of bullying in the workplace on a person’s wellbeing can be long-lasting and damaging. Anxiety, depression, sleeplessness or more serious psychiatric conditions can result.
Beyond the human cost is the economic cost. Workplace productivity, morale and reputation can all be adversely affected by merely an accusation that bullying occurred at a particular place of employment.
What are the first steps if you experience bullying and harassment in the workplace?
Many workplaces will have a reporting procedure in place for incidents of workplace bullying, perhaps as part of its broader occupational health and safety policy.
A person who experiences this type of behaviour at work should report it to a manager, supervisor, health and safety officer or union rep. Depending on the circumstances, the person who is responsible for the behaviour should also be contacted about the impact of their actions and given a chance to desist.
Some people may decide to contact an employment lawyer at this stage to assess legal options to either try and stop the behaviour, or explore whether a claim might be possible for the harm suffered as a result of the bullying.
What type of legal options are available to address bullying?
It’s important to distinguish an incident of workplace bullying from other incidents which might not meet the accepted definitions.
A single incident, or what is called ‘reasonable management action’ (such as a performance review in which an employee is asked to improve his or her performance, or disciplinary action for misconduct) done in a reasonable way, or regular differences of opinion or disagreements, are not considered workplace bullying.
Anti-bullying laws are administered nationally through the Fair Work Commission. A person who believes they have been bullied at work can apply to the Commission for an order to stop the bullying. If the order is ignored, penalties can apply.
Most workers in Australia are entitled to apply to the Fair Work Commission, other than:
- an organisation entirely made up of volunteers with no employees;
- a sole trader or partnership;
- some state government departments and non-corporate state public sector agencies;
- some local governments;
- corporations without significant trading or financial activities.
Those who believe the workplace bullying involves a form discrimination (sexual, racial, religious, etc) may also apply to the Queensland Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
In Queensland, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will also investigate workplace bullying complaints that fall under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Prevention of Workplace Harassment Code of Practice 2004.
For those who work in the Queensland public service, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission hears disputes about workplace bullying.
Speak with experts in compensation and workplace law
It can be difficult for a person to prove workplace bullying as behaviour that is repeated, unreasonable and a risk to health and safety.
If the situation cannot be resolved in the workplace, either through the internal process at the workplace or even with the help of external mediation, it’s time to discuss your situation with an our experienced Gold coast compensation lawyer.
Moreover, if you believe you’ve suffered a physical or psychological injury as a result of bullying in the workplace, you may have a case to lodge a workers’ compensation claim or a common law claim for damages for a personal injury.
Contact Lifestyle Injury Lawyers for an obligation-free initial consultation if you believe anything discussed in this article applies to your experience at work.