Violence usually involves physical assault or the threat of physical assault. Bullying and violence can both result from conflict and can occur together. However, bullying does not always result in violence. Threats to harm someone, violence and damage to property are criminal matters that should be referred to the police.
Identifying and controlling the risk of Workplace Bullying
Bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it before it becomes a risk to health and safety. Using a risk management approach will assist in the process. Consultation with workers and their health and safety representatives must occur at each step of the risk management process.
- Identify bullying risk factors
- Assess the likelihood of bullying occurring and its impact
- Control the risks by eliminating them, or if not reasonably practicable, minimising the risk as far as reasonably practicable, and
- Review the effectiveness of the control measures.
The WHS Act requires that you consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for you who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a work health and safety matter. Consultation must also be carried out in the development of any policies and procedures related to bullying, including complaints procedures.
PCBU’s should develop a Bullying policy in consultation with workers and their health and safety representatives. The policy should set out the standards of expected behaviour and make a clear statement that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated
A workplace bullying policy should contain:
- A statement that the organisation is committed to preventing bullying
- The standards of appropriate behaviour,
- A process to encourage reporting, including contact points
- A definition of bullying with examples of bullying behaviour, and
- The consequences for not complying with the policy.
An appropriate communication strategy for the policies and procedures relating to bullying and harassment will encourage widespread awareness of the health and safety impacts of workplace bullying and endorse the need to be proactive in preventing workplace bullying.
Many things that happen at work are generally not considered to be bullying, although some experiences can be uncomfortable for those involved. Differences of opinion, performance management, conflicts and personality clashes can happen in any workplace, but usually they do not result in bullying.
A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not bullying, although it may have the potential to escalate into bullying and therefore should not be ignored.
Reasonable management action, carried out in a fair way, is not bullying. Managers have a right to direct the way work is carried out and to monitor and give feedback on performance, but the way that this is done is a risk factor in determining the likelihood of bullying occurring.
Examples of reasonable management action include:
- Setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines in consultation with workers and after considering their respective skills and experience
- Allocating work to a worker in a transparent way
- Fairly rostering and allocating working hours
- Transferring a worker for legitimate and explained operational reasons
- Deciding not to select a worker for promotion, following a fair and documented process
- Informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in a constructive way and in accordance with any workplace policies or agreements
- Informing a worker about inappropriate behaviour in an objective and confidential way
- Implementing organisational changes or restructuring, and
- Performance management processes.
Harassment and Discrimination
Harassment involves intimidating, offending or humiliating behaviour directed toward a person on the basis of a particular personal characteristic such as race, age or gender.
Discrimination involves the unfair treatment of a person based on a personal characteristic, for example not hiring or promoting a woman to a position because she may become pregnant or has children.
Unlike bullying, harassment and discrimination do not have to be repeated and have to be based on some characteristic of the target.
Discrimination and harassment are dealt with separately under anti-discrimination, industrial and human rights laws. The WHS Act includes specific protections against discriminatory conduct for persons raising health and safety concerns or performing legitimate safety-related functions.
A worker can be bullied, harassed and discriminated against at the same time.
Bullying is a hazard as it may affect the emotional, mental and physical health of workers.
The WHS Act defines ‘health’ as both physical and psychological health. Therefore the duties imposed under the WHS Act to ensure health and safety also includes ensuring the emotional and mental health of workers.
In some workplaces, workers may feel that they are the subject of bullying, harassment and discrimination and it may be a misunderstanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination is that leads to dissatisfaction within the workplace. To assist in clarifying, we are going to detail the differences. The risk of bullying is minimised in workplaces where everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.
Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.
‘Repeated behaviour’ refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can refer to a range of behaviours over time.
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening.
Impact of workplace bullying
Bullying can be harmful for the workers who experience it and those who witness it. Each individual will react differently to bullying and in response to different situations. Reactions may include any combination of the following:
- Distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
- Physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
- Reduced work performance
- Loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
- Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
- Depression and risk of suicide.
Those persons who witness bullying may experience guilt and fear because they cannot help or support the affected person in case they too get bullied. Witnesses may feel angry, unhappy or stressed with the workplace and may become unmotivated to work.
Bullying can also damage organisations. It can lead to:
- High staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs
- Low morale and motivation
- Increased absenteeism
- Lost productivity
- Disruption to work when complex complaints are being investigated, and
- Costly workers’ compensation claims or legal action.
The parliamentary inquiry revealed that the teenage boy left high school at age 16 to start work as an apprentice chef at a local hospital. It was at this hospital he experienced an ingrained culture of workplace bullying in the hospital kitchen. He was at the end of constant put-downs,jokes, sexual innuendo, tampering with his possessions and eventually, sexual abuse.
The brother was reportedly being bullied consistently for two years by his immediate supervisor and co-workers.
The culture of bullying in the kitchen had allegedly become so ingrained that many long-standing members of staff became used to it and subsequently turned a blind eye or laughed along with the taunting.
About the inquiry:
- The impacts of workplace bullying in Australia could be as high as $36 billion every year
- The committee in investigating what can be done to prevent workplace bullying
- Submissions are still open to the public, with the committee to report its findings to parliament in due course
What are some examples of bullying behaviour, or workplace harassment?
Bullying behaviour can be obvious and aggressive. Examples could include: (more…)
In the days before Kevin Morrissey committed suicide near the University of Virginia campus, at least two co-workers said they warned university officials about his growing despair over alleged workplace bullying at the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review. (more…)