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.
Another two-fifths claim to have been at the receiving end of bullying, three per cent of which had submitted a formal complaint.
Approximately 62,600 public service workers were asked to participate in the survey and a reported 18,500 people responded. This large sample reportedly indicate that the results are “highly reliable” due to the large size of the sample.
The opposition implied that the results indicate a growing problem in Victoria’s public workforce. They believe the problem is compounded by the Baillieu Government’s intention to cull 4200 bureaucrats.
Victorian Parliament passed “Brodie’s Law” law year which reformed existing offences of stalking so that it clearly covers serious bullying or harassment. Now the new legislation potentially covers threats and abusive language or any act that seems to indicate stalking.
WorkSafe has yet to prosecute a state government department for bullying despite rumours of a growing culture of stress within the public service in areas such as youth justice and prisons.
The extent of workplace bullying in Australia is undetermined, which enforces the beliefs of some that a Senate inquiry is currently needed.
The extent of bullying in Australian workplaces is unclear – a reason for a Senate inquiry into the issue under way at the moment. Reports have indicates that Victoria suffers from a “relatively high figure” number of bullying and harassment incidents due to a workplace education campaign that potentially put mental stress.
The median average of weeks taken off by victims of workplace bullies was 13.
Sarah Gregson’s Report into Workplace Bullying at UNSW, was initially reported in Herald early this year, and revealed a culture of bullying and intimidation at the post-secondary institute. It has since been submitted to a federal inquiry into workplace bullying . Gregson, an academic at the institute and the local branch representative of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), stated her intention to lobby the union to extend her survey throughout a multitude of institutions.
Gregson has reportedly sent the report to a variety of activists throughout the union. She stated that the activists seem to be aware of many of the issues and believe a continual campaign is required. It is her hope that a parliamentary inquiry would recommend an improved legislation in the area.
An email to staff from Neil Morris, VP of university services at UNSW rejected the claims made in Gregson’s report. Morris claimed that there was no pattern of bullying and the methods of research were not dependable.
Morris stated that survey methodology was flawed because of numerous factors. He cited the surveys broad definition of “bullying” and numerous other situations as reasons why the survey is not sound. He also stated that the number of complaints and the amount of staff the survey claims to have been bullied do not correlate. The report revealed that majority of the 552 participants had experiences or observed bullying behaviours. 68 percent of participants said they had been bullied while 83 percent had been a witness.
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Unions are pushing for the use of jail terms for cases of workplace bullying. Recently the The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ submitted a motion to a parliamentary committee recommending an increase in the severity of penalties for individuals accused of workplace bullying. The recommendation discusses the potential of implementing jail terms for extreme cases, and increase in recognition that employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is bully-free.
The ACTU discussed the findings of the Productivity Commission which revealed through research that workplace bullying costs the economy between $6 and $36 billion a year.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick, provided evidence to the inquiry in Melbourne. While Borowick stated her support for stronger and more severe penalties, she did however emphasize the importance of a shift in workplace culture which would thereby ensure that such bullying never occurs.
Employer body, the Australian Industry Group stated that employers were vehemently against any form of bullying and matters of bullying are treated with importance.
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ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe revealed that an investigation in to workplace bullying which was conducted at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), is now completed.The investigation was launched as a result of several ideas submitted to WorkSafe ACT by various CIT employees regarding CIT measures for handling bullying and harassment situations.
McCabe said that the WorkSafe ACT investigation determined that the CIT had breached the Territory’s health and safety legislation.
The investigation revealed that the CIT lacks an adequate prevention and response system for incidents of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
WorkSafe issued an Improvement Notice that compels the CIT to improve a number of aspects of its systems and procedures regarding bullying and harassment of staff. The CIT has six months to fulfill all the requirements in the notice in order to ensure that the organization has an efficient prevention and management system for this human resources issue.
The report regarding the bullying and harassment systems at CIT is called WORKSAFE ACT INVESTIGATION INTO COMPLIANCE BY THE CANBERRA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (CIT) WITH ITS DUTIES UNDER THE WORK SAFETY ACT 2008 AND THE WORK HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT 2011 IN RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS OF BULLYING AND HARASSMENT AT THE CIT . It can be accessed and downloaded in PDF format from WorkSafe’s website.
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Some of the allegations include; being locked in rooms, public berating, and a lack of shifts after clashing with managers.A man outside of the interviewees, claims he spent two days in the hospital after being forced to teach a first-aid class despite suffering an asthma attack.
First-aid trainer Anthony Mesman stated that he believed it to be one of the worst places he has even been employed by. Mesman claims that there was distinct atmosphere of fear in the workplace.There was previously a police inquiry into an alleged case where two managers locked a first-aid trainer in a room. However, the case was dropped because of a lack of witnesses.
WorkSafe acquired access to documents which prompted their investigation. The documents contain the testimonial of a former health and safety officer who claims that a manager constantly intimidates, harasses, and bullies trainers to the detriment of their health. This account also alleges that other managers support this behaviour within the training unit.
Ambulance Employees Australia secretary, Phil Cavanagh warned the CEO of St. Johns that a culture of bullying, harassing and victimising was brewing within the organization because of some managers.
Deputy CEO Theron Vassiliou said St John Ambulance Victoria claims that the organisation has a strong anti-bullying policy and any claims or allegations are promptly investigated and dealt with appropriately.
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