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12 Sep 2018

Bullying is a scourge in the workplace. From the more obvious forms of physical violence and overt sexual harassment, to its more subtle forms, like exclusion and rumour spreading: the ugly head of bullying has many faces. Quite often, employers and other employees alike are dismissive of bullying in its more subtle forms, often viewing it as something akin to mere “high school antics” and something that the perpetrator and victim should just get over.

The reality though, is that bullying, whether it is overt or subtle, can be equally as damaging, and often, it is the damage to the victim’s mental health rather than any physical harm that is the most profound and lasting. Community understanding of bullying, what it is, and how it can affect an individual is evolving. One sign of that evolution is the introduction of the stop bullying regime in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

The stop bullying regime allows a victim of bullying to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that the employer take positive steps to stop the bullying behavior and prevent it from happening in the future. Failure to comply can result in significant adverse (and expensive) consequences for employers. This can be a powerful tool for victims, as it does not simply target the perpetrator, but compels the employer to actively intervene. An employer has a legal obligation to provide an employee with a safe working environment, the stop bullying regime is just one aspect of this obligation.

Employers looking to create a culture where bullying does not occur and/or looking to mitigate its effect, can start by:

  • Having a clear, detailed policy for handling bullying complaints; 
  • Consistently and proactively enforcing that policy; 
  • Seeking regular legal advice to ensure that policy reflects the law, which constantly evolves;
  • Training and encouraging staff and management to identify, call out and appropriately handle workplace conflict and negative behaviours before they escalate; and
  • Using recruitment, induction, remuneration, promotion and performance review processes to manage team dynamics and build a positive culture where bullying behaviours are not allowed to develop

GREGORY ROGERS 

This is general information only and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you are concerned for yourself or a member of the community, please contact HHG Legal Group on we.help.people@hhg.com.au to book a 15 minute appointment at our free legal assistance clinics.

HHG Legal Group offers high service levels, without cost concerns. How? By pioneering a genuine, simple ‘client satisfaction guarantee’. If you aren’t happy, fees will be reduced.

If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more about what mental health is all about, or need to talk to someone, don’t wait; contact beyond blue by calling them on 1300 224 636 or visiting their website.