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Equal Opportunity Training

Workplace bullying has a cost to those being bullied, a cost to the community and can have a significant cost to your business. Learning how to identify and deal with workplace bullying through compliance training can save you a lot of time and money and lead to a more positive and productive workplace.

What is workplace bullying? There are various definitions, but this one seems to sum it up fairly well:

“the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker.” ( ACTUQ/QCCI/Qld Govt Dept of Workplace Health and Safety)

Bullying can have severe psychological implications for the victim. It can cause loss of confidence,  stress, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression.

This can have a flow-on effect to the general community through relationship breakdowns, domestic violence, substance abuse and even suicide.

Bullying can also cost your business a lot of money through lost productivity, increased absenteeism, high staff turnover with subsequent retraining costs, workers compensation claims, as well as possible financial penalties and the time involved in dealing with them.

And it is quite often the employer who is fined, not the person doing the bullying. According to Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination legislation, you have a legal obligation as an employer to provide a safe workplace for your employees. By allowing bullying to occur, you are deemed not to be meeting this obligation and could be fined accordingly.

Take the recent case of a Sydney bar worker, who was awarded more than half a million dollars in damages after being bullied by her manager over a period of two years. The fine was not borne by the manager who did the bullying. It was the company who had to pay for not meeting their duty of care obligations. In contrast, the recently enacted Brodie legislation came into effect after a cafe worker committed suicide following intense bullying in the workplace. In this case the business, the owners and the staff involved were all penalised to varying degrees.

So how do you know if bullying is occurring in your workplace? It can be between an employee and a manager or supervisor or between work mates, so what do you look for? Physical bullying or verbal abuse is easier to spot, but bullying can take much more subtle forms than that. It can include:

  • assigning an employee meaningless tasks
  • excluding them or isolating them
  • spreading rumours about them
  • making unwelcome sexual advances (sexual harassment)
  • treating them differently because of their age, race or sexual orientation (discrimination)
  • deliberately changing rosters to inconvenience them
  • setting deadlines that are impossible to achieve
  • withholding information needed to successfully complete a task.

The practice of initiation or ‘hazing’ is where someone is made to do humiliating things in order to earn acceptance by the team. It used to be considered a rite of passage in many jobs, but don’t be complacent about it, as this too is workplace bullying.

Ways to reduce the likelihood of bullying occurring include fostering a culture of mutual respect in the workplace, educating your staff on acceptable behaviour, having clear complaint procedures in place and investigating any complaints swiftly and confidentially.

It is estimated that as many as 5 million Australians will experience workplace bullying at some time in their careers and that workplace bullying costs Australian business upwards of 6 billion dollars a year. By educating your management and staff through equal opportunity training, you can reduce the likelihood of your business contributing to this alarming social and financial burden.