Workplace bullying and harassment claims cost Australian businesses an estimated $36 billion each year. So, as an employer, is this really something you can afford to ignore?

If your answer to this question is a resounding ‘no’ then you have come to the right place. In this article, we will break down exactly what constitutes bullying, how to deal with bullying concerns and go over basic steps you can take to prevent bullying in the first place.

What constitutes bullying in the workplace?

The Fair Work Act 2009 states a worker is bullied at work if:

An individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably toward the worker, or a group of workers of which the worker is a member, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

To constitute workplace bullying, the behaviour must satisfy four things:

  1. The behaviour must be repetitive. One off issues that occur in the heat of the moment are not workplace bullying. However, a single incident may be repeated or may escalate. Therefore, single incidents must not be ignored.
  2. The actions must fall into the category of unreasonable behaviour, which may include:
    • behaving in an aggressive, demeaning or humiliating way;
    • teasing, practical jokes or initiations;
    • excluding someone form work-related events; or
    • unreasonable expectations at work including unjustified criticism
  3. The conduct must be directed towards a worker, including not only employees but student of work placements, outworkers, contractors/sub-contractors and volunteers.
  4. The behaviour must create a risk to the health and safety of the individual.

What is not workplace bullying?

An employer can make decisions about an employee’s performance, discipline employees for unreasonable behaviour and control the way work is performed.  Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner, such as a manager going through a legitimate disciplinary process, is not bullying.

How to deal with workplace bullying.

Once you have an understanding of what behaviour constitutes bullying, you will need to consider your approach when an employee comes to you with a complaint. Dealing with these types of complaints can be very challenging and we often see businesses ignoring the problem because of time constraints, the challenging nature of the conversation or because they fail to see the importance.

However, penalties including significant fines, can be imposed for not dealing with a bullying complaint. Employers must ensure they take the correct approach when a complaint arises. Applying the following steps will reduce the risk of penalties against you or your business:

1.Detail the nature of the complaint

Make sure you understand the nature of the complaint and why it arose. Is it simply a clash of personalities or is there a systemic issue within the business?

2.Take time to investigate the complaint

Remain impartial throughout the process and don’t jump to any conclusions. Take a step back and take time to gather as much information as possible. Depending on the nature of the concerns, consider whether it would be appropriate to engage an independent party to conduct the investigation.

3. Address the issue with each party

Once you have gathered evidence of the complaint, you need to discuss the complaint with each party and provide all individuals with the opportunity to respond to the issues arising in the investigation.

4. Respond to the complaint

Once you have followed these steps, you will need to decide on an appropriate response. In some circumstances you may be able to facilitate a mediation between the two parties whereas other circumstances may require a formal disciplinary meeting.

What is involved in preventing workplace bullying?

The old saying prevention is better than a cure couldn’t be more appropriate then when it comes to dealing with workplace bullying. Sticking your head in the sand is a recipe for disaster and a costly mistake for your business. There are a number of steps you can take to prevent bullying occurring in the first place, including:

  • develop workplace policies such as a code of conduct or workplace bullying and harassment policy;
  • take time to regularly consult with your employees;
  • provide information and training to your employees;
  • implement a reporting and response procedure;
  • offer support and counselling;
  • take interim steps to minimise risks of harm; and
  • educate your employees about how to change behaviours in the workplace.

Workplace bullying can cause emotional and sometimes even physical harm to your employees, which is detrimental to company culture. To protect your business from a very expensive problem and your employees from harm, preventing these types of behaviours is paramout. Our advice? Stay proactive, try to identify potential issues within the workplace ahead of time and make sure you deal with complaints as soon as they arise.

HR Assured provides businesses with tailored HR Policies and Procedures, including a Code of Conduct, Bullying and Harassment Policy and Complaint Handling workflow. For more information, contact us to speak with a workplace specialist.