Bullying in the workplace – most of us have seen it,
too many of us have been victims. It isn't limited to places of
hard yakka such as down mines, in the military, at mechanic
workshops or on factory floors. Bullying happens everywhere from
respectable corporations to hospitals, schools, universities and
public service offices.
So what can we do about it? Usually the bully is someone higher
in the workplace rankings. Many victims are reluctant to complain
as they don't want to make things worse, miss promotions or
lose their job.
The first problem is to identify exactly what is bullying. Where
does joking finish and bullying start? What's normal give and
take for one person might be intimidating for another.
Surprisingly, there is no statutory definition of bullying in
NSW. This can leave technical loopholes for bullies to escape
retribution. So long as an employer acts "reasonably"
they can transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack
The Law Society of NSW has adopted the following definition:
"Unreasonable and inappropriate workplace behaviour includes
bullying, which comprises behaviour that intimidates, offends,
degrades, insults or humiliates an employee, possibly in front of
co-workers, clients or customers and which includes physical or
It doesn't have to be physical aggression. It can include
verbal abuse, threats, rude or belittling comments, spreading
rumours, name calling, baiting or teasing, nasty practical jokes,
dismissing a person's work contributions and isolating someone
from work discussions or information. Managers can bully with
excessive scrutiny, unreasonable criticism, setting impossible
tasks, unreasonable blocking of promotion or branding anyone who
raises legitimate grievances as a troublemaker.
Legislation covering bullying includes industrial law, unfair
dismissal, anti-discrimination and occupational health and safety
laws. There is also the possibility of being able to sue employers
who don't prevent bullying as they breach duty of care
Lawyers advise bullying victims to keep a diary of what happens,
know their rights, consult WorkCover NSW, notify their HR, union or
occupational health and safety representative, address the
situation early and make a formal complaint. If you need help, get
legal advice. There is legal action you can take under the various
laws governing employment.
Employers also should get legal advice on their responsibilities
such as written risk assessments aimed at preventing bullying.
The suicide of a bullied young female café worker in
Melbourne prompted the Victorian government to make serious
bullying punishable by up to ten years in jail. The federal
government is currently conducting a parliamentary inquiry into
workplace bullying to see if tougher national laws are needed.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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