When it comes to managing bullying in the workplace, the focus
tends to be on dealing with the bullying behaviour after it has
occurred or at least after the bully has started work. But are
there ways to stop bullies from being recruited in the first
One place to start is screening during recruitment. There are
certain personalities who deliberately inflict harm or lack the
ability to understand the harm they are doing to others. These
personalities fall within a category that psychologists call the
'Dark Triad' which comprises three sub-personalities:
Machiavellianism, sub-clinical narcissism and sub-clinical
The Dark Triad share a number of overlapping features including
social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative
behaviour, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency towards
self-promotion. Studies have shown a strong correlation between
psychopathy and bullying behavior and these studies have indicated
that psychopaths are fairly well-represented in leadership
Psychometric testing is commonly used by companies at the
recruitment stage to ensure a certain level of cognitive function
and aptitude amongst potential employees. Some companies use
behavioural interview questions too. But do they use psychological
assessment tools in order to weed out the Dark Triad traits that
lead to bullying?
There are various assessment tools that have been developed in
studies aimed at identifying both bullies and Dark Triad traits.
They range from basic questionnaires to more sophisticated tools
that require administration by a qualified clinician under
scientifically controlled conditions. Access to these can be
costly, but when you consider the collateral damage that can occur
from a psychopath in the workplace, who then ascends to management,
and causes harm to other employees and the business, it might be
worth the investment.
The corollary to this is, if these personality traits are viewed
as a disorder or mental illness, rather than a defect of character,
would it be discrimination under the Disability Discrimination
Act 1992 (Cth) (Act) to actively try to eliminate this group
from the workplace?
The definition of 'disability' in the Act includes
"a disorder, illness or disease that affects a
person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or
judgement or that results in disturbed behavior".
But even if psychopathy is a disability, all employees must be
able to perform the inherent requirements of the job. To the extent
that a psychopath is unable to do so they will fall within the
section 21A exception of the Act and it would not be discrimination
to refuse to hire them on that basis.
Isn't it an inherent requirement of all jobs to be able to
work without bullying and harassing your colleagues? An untreated
psychopath by their very nature cannot work in a team effectively
without harming others and ultimately causing reputational damage
to a business. Should companies be investing in more sophisticated
psychological assessment tools to screen Dark Triad traits and
bullies form the workplace?
We would be interested to hear your thoughts.
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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