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The Latest from the Blog

How to Handle Workplace Bullying

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Handle Workplace Bullying

Is bullying a problem in your workplace? According to a regulation impact statement produced by Safe Work Australia, the prevalence of bullying in Australian workplaces is between 3.5 and 21%. The cost of bullying to businesses in terms of lost productivity and absenteeism amounts to millions of dollars every year, and being a victim of bullying can affect the physical and mental health of employees.

If you suspect bullying is a problem in your workplace, it’s important that the problem is addressed, but how do you tackle it without making things worse or aggravating the situation further? Here are a few suggestions to help you handle workplace bullying in your organisation.
Make sure you have all the information

Before you jump in to try to resolve the situation, it’s important to make sure that you have a complete understanding of the issues involved. It’s a good idea to speak to other co-workers who may have witnessed the alleged bullying and find out whether there are any underlying problems which may have contributed to the situation.

If you try to take further measures without having an accurate picture of what is happening, you could end up causing further conflict and making the situation worse. If you have a personal relationship or work closely with either of the parties involved, it may be worth taking a step back and asking HR or even an external investigator to help you.

Before taking further action you will need to evaluate whether the behaviour can be defined as bullying or whether it falls under a different category such as sexual harassment or discrimination. Sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination require a different disciplinary approach to bullying.

Minimise the risk of continued harm

Once you have evaluated the situation, the next step is to take short-term measures to prevent the behaviour continuing. It may take a while to come to a full resolution so in the meantime you may want to consider reassigning tasks, granting leave or taking steps to ensure that the parties involved have minimal or no contact.

Decide whether the matter can be resolved

If the bullying isn’t too serious, it may be possible to resolve the matter internally with a no-blame conciliatory approach or disciplinary measures for the person found to be doing the bullying. In more serious cases, you may need to conduct an in-depth investigation, especially if someone could potentially lose their job over bullying allegations. .

If you decide on a resolution, it’s important to make sure the person being bullied is happy with the outcome. They may wish to deal with the situation themselves first by asking the person doing the bullying to stop, and you can offer them support in this.

As an employer, it’s important that any actions taken are well documented. If your management and employees haven’t undergone specific workplace bullying training it is well worth considering. Anyone who may have to deal with bullying incidents should be aware of the legislation surrounding workplace bullying before they escalate an issue or take action themselves.

When Should You Report Workplace Bullying?

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Should You Report Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying can be toxic to organisations and can have a long-term physical and emotional impact on victims. If someone you know is being bullied at work, it’s important to know when to report it.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour which is directed towards an individual or a group of workers, and creates a risk to their health and safety.

Every situation is different when it comes to workplace bullying, and it can be difficult to know how serious it is. If there is an immediate risk of physical harm to an employee, then workplace bullying should definitely be reported. In less serious cases, whether or not to report the bullying to a manager or supervisor can depend on how comfortable the victim is talking to their supervisor, and whether they are concerned about repercussions.

When determining whether or not to report bullying to a supervisor, it’s important to decide if the behaviour is classed as bullying, or if it falls under another category like reasonable management direction or discrimination.

Here are some examples of workplace bullying that should be reported:

                • Repeated hurtful remarks about a person’s standard of work or them as a person, including comments about their ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic background or other factors.
                • Repeatedly excluding someone or stopping them taking part in activities related to work..
                • Giving someone pointless tasks which have nothing to do with their job.
                • Deliberately changing someone’s work hours or schedule to make it more difficult for them to do their work.
                • Deliberately overloading someone with work they can’t possibly get done in the required timeframe or with the available resources.
                • Physical bullying including pushing, kicking, grabbing or any other physical contact which is unwanted and repeated.
                • Threats of physical harm against a person.

Some activities which aren’t categorised as bullying include:

      • Reasonable management direction. .
      • Disciplinary action which is reasonable and in keeping with organisational policies and procedures.
      • Other forms of harassment including sexual harassment and discrimination. These should still be reported, but will be dealt with differently from workplace bullying.

If you are concerned about bullying in your workplace, it may be worth having a confidential discussion with a supervisor, or a health and safety officer, to determine whether further action should be taken.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s important that workplace bullying or intimidation doesn’t continue, as this can have serious repercussions for the wellbeing of the victims and other employees who may be exposed to the behaviour. It can result in an unhappy and unproductive workplace for all employees, not just the direct victims of bullying.

Defence Department Criticised for Dismissal Process

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Defence Department Criticised for Dismissal Process

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has criticised the Department of Defence for its dismissal of an employee for excessive personal internet browsing, and the use of an anonymous search engine. The dismissal took place after a workplace investigation which the commission deemed to be unfair and unreasonable.

During the investigation of the employee, the Department failed to speak to the employee’s manager or work colleagues about his internet usage, and whether or not it was having an impact on his work. Senior Deputy President of the FWC Jonathan Hamberger made the point that it was fairly evident that co-workers and the employee’s direct manager would have a strong idea of whether he was spending the majority of his time browsing the internet for non work-related reasons

The original allegations against the employee stated that he had visited non work-related websites up to 1,822 times per day but this figure was later amended after it was found to be incorrect. The issue was never raised with the employee’s manager, but instead a bureaucratic process was put into action which was described by the deputy president as “bizarre” and as taking on a life of its own.

Reasons for the findings

Some of the reasons for finding the dismissal to be unfair and harsh included the severity of the penalty compared to the severity of the alleged behaviour. There was no clear evidence that the internet usage was affecting the employee’s work and even if it had been excessive, informal counselling would have been a more appropriate penalty than dismissal, the commission found.

In the employee’s defence he was described as an honest witness with a genuine interest in IT security issues, which explained his motivation in deleting cookies and using anonymous search engines. According to the employee, his reason for using anonymous search engines and deleting cookies was to protect the Department’s IT network rather than as a way of hiding his usage and internet activities.

He admitted to sometimes using the internet for personal reasons but no evidence could be found that his internet usage was adversely affecting his work.

Defence policies criticised

The investigation, as well as not taking into consideration the statements of the employee’s colleagues and manager, was found to have been excessively drawn out and there were no clear policies to provide a valid reason for the employee’s dismissal.

The Defence Department was advised by the commission that if it wanted the use of anonymous search engines to be punishable by dismissal then that needed to be stated clearly in its policies. The current policies were found to be vague and contradictory on the subject of anonymous internet usage.

No remedy has so far been determined, with the parties due to meet at a future date to discuss the options for providing reparations to the employee.

Harriet Stacey 28 Jan 2014

Following the recent anti-bullying amendment to the Fair Work Act, WISE CEO Harriet Stacey talks about the importance for employers to be proactive and effective in how they deal with workplace bullying.