Unfortunately, bullying and harassment cases in Australian workplaces are all too common, but are definitely not something that should be pushed to the side within any business. That’s why we’ve written this blog, to help you create a workplace bullying and harassment policy for your business and ensure everyone feels safe and happy at work.
According to Safe Work Australia, 9.4 per cent of Australian workers reported experiencing workplace bullying in the previous 6 months in 2014-15. Accusations of bullying plague workplaces of all types: construction, media, politics, hospitality and hospitals. Some of which might come as a shock to some of you.
What is a workplace bullying and harassment policy?
A workplace bullying and harassment policy is a policy committed to providing a respectful workplace that is completely free of workplace bullying and harassment. Workplace bullying and harassment is can be a huge risk to health and safety of employees and can have lasting affects on their mental and physical health.
This is why every business has an obligation under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace. This act prohibits any person within a business from engaging in discriminatory conduct of any description. But what counts as bullying and harassment, and what doesn’t? Where do you draw the line?
What is bullying – and what isn’t?
The first step in creating a bullying and harassment policy is to determine and define what bullying is. The Fair Work Australia website provides information about what does and doesn’t constitute bullying behaviour.
An important distinction to make for both employees and management when creating your bullying and harassment policy. Bullying is repeated acts of unreasonable behaviour directed towards an individual or a group that poses a risk to health and safety.
Unreasonable behaviour includes:
- Victimising behaviour;
- Humiliating an individual or group;
- Displaying intimidating gestures or behaviour;
- Or threatening language or behaviour.
It’s also important to note that management action, such as delivering instructions or addressing performance issues, does not count as bullying. However, only if that behaviour is carried out fairly. If management action is unreasonable, it may constitute bullying as well.
What it could cost you
We created an Employment Hero Stamp Out Bullying whitepaper, which outlines some of these effects of not having a bullying and harassment policy in place.
“Individuals who are being bullied may lose confidence in their abilities, suffer from increased anxiety, headaches, loss of sleep, and potentially depression.”
As shown in our white paper, it pays to take bullying seriously. The Productivity Commission estimates that bullying costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale, and time spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims.
A bullying and harassment workplace policy is a simple thing to put into place, yet could cost you big bucks if not implemented correctly.
The essential guide to HR compliance
Handling bullying and harassment in the workplace
So, now you know what counts as bullying in the workplace and what it means for your business – how do you handle it?
Employers must be proactive when handling bullying and harassment in the workplace as part of their obligation to provide a safe work environment. Employers must provide an environment that’s free from risks to health and safety. Failure to do this properly has serious consequences for the entire business.
Mary-Rose Robinson (Queensland Health)
Let’s take the case of Mary-Rose Robinson as a prime example. Mary-Rose was a registered nurse who worked for Queensland Health. She won $1.46 million in damages for negligence from her former employer after she suffered a psychological injury due to workplace bullying.
Mary-Rose Robinson said her former boss, Cape York Health Service district chief executive Susan Turner, repeatedly humiliated and undermined her until she was forced to leave left her job back in 2011. This led to Mary-Rose medically retiring from nursing in 2014 for good.
This is a terrible case of workplace bullying, and it’s a case that highlights how workplace bullying and harassment can have potentially devastating effects in the workplace if there is no policy in place – for victims, perpetrators and organisations alike.
Kate Mathews (Winslow Constructors)
Another horrible example of a workplace that didn’t have a bullying and harassment policy in place is the story of Kate Mathews. Kate was a road construction worker from Victoria, who endured two years of sexual harassment and bullying from her colleagues at Winslow Constructors between 2008 and 2010. She said when she brought the issue to her employer’s attention, management did nothing to address her co-worker’s behaviour.
In 2015, the Victorian Supreme Court awarded Kate $1.36 million in damages. The judge acknowledged the unlikelihood of Kate ever working again due to the chronic and significant psychiatric injuries caused by the bullying. These two examples of completely neglected workplace bullying and harassment policies in a workplace show that every organisation should have an official workplace bullying and harassment policy that clearly identifies in writing the expected behaviours and consequences from every employee if they do not comply to them.
Where do I start?
As you can see the issues with not having a proper bullying and harassment policy in place can be catastrophic. So, you want to make sure your business has one, and that it’s water-tight and understand from every corner of the office.
Safe Work Australia provides a basic guide outlining what should be included when creating a workplace bullying and harassment policy:
- a statement that the organisation is committed to preventing workplace bullying as part of providing a safe and healthy work environment;
- the definition of workplace bullying (as described in this guide);
- the standard of behaviour expected from workers and others in the workplace;
- a statement, where relevant, that the policy extends to communication through email, text messaging and social media;
- the process for reporting and responding to incidents of unreasonable behaviour;
- the process for managing reports of workplace bullying, including vexatious reports, and
- the consequences of not complying with the policy.
Putting it into practice
A policy, no matter how robust, is only as good as its implementation. So, now you’ve created your policy, you need to make sure it’s been stuck to.
“You need to ensure your workers have reviewed and acknowledged the policy, and you’ve provided appropriate training on identifying behaviour that is not acceptable. Without adequately enforcing your policy, it’s worthless when it comes to protecting your business and your employees.”
Make sure you share the policy with all employees. You should raise awareness about bullying by discussing the issue in company newsletters, blogs and at in-house events.
Whenever you do receive complaints about bullying or harassment, be sure to investigate promptly and document accordingly as soon as possible. Read more about essential workplace policies for SMEs here.