What is workplace bullying?
- Workplace bullying is repeated “unreasonable behaviour” directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that a reasonable person having regard to all circumstances would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten a worker.
- Workplace bullying is often an abuse of power by someone who is stronger physically, verbally, mentally, socially, electronically, politically or financially.
- Instances of workplace bullying have the deliberate intent of causing physical and psychological distress and can include behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates the victim in front of co-workers, clients or customers.
- Bullying can range from manager to worker (downward), worker to co-worker (sideways) and workers to manager (upwards).
- Indirect bullying is harder to recognise as it’s often carried out behind the workers back and is designed to harm their reputation to cause humiliation, i.e. lying, spreading rumours, playing nasty jokes, teasing, name calling, insults, mimicking and encouraging others to socially exclude the victim.
Bully Zero Australia Foundation delivers evidenced based workplace bullying prevention programs and we can customise a workplace bullying policy to ensure your organisation is compliant and is reflecting its legal obligations.
Bullying in the workplace may include 1 or a number of the following deliberate, intentional, repeated and consistent behaviours:
- Initiation/hazing – where a worker is made to do humiliating or inappropriate tasks in order to be accepted. This includes pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.
- Manipulation and intimidation (making the worker feel less important and undervalued).
- Performing abusive or offensive acts in front or behind the worker.
- Aggressive, intimidating conduct, ongoing accusations, innuendo, sarcasm, unreasonable criticism which is not part of the management performance process.
- Verbal and physical threats or abuse, shouting, belittling or humiliating comments and actions.
- Making fun, practical jokes, i.e. about the workers family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race, culture, education or economic background.
- Refusing to delegate or withholding information or tools for the worker to perform their role.
- Placing undue pressure (unreasonable expectations), allocating meaningless tasks, changing work hours with the intention to make it difficult for the worker to perform their role, removal of responsibility without explanation and setting impossible deadlines, targets or KPI’s.
- Failure to acknowledge good work, repeated reminders of blunders, undermining behavior i.e. failure to give credit and deliberately setting up the worker to fail.
- Excessive, unjustified or unreasonable monitoring of tasks.
- Exclusion from work related meetings, functions and events.
- Preventing access to opportunities.
- Threats to sack or demote without explanation.
- Deliberate physical and social isolation.
- Pair Bullying – takes place with 2 workers, 1 is active and verbal while the other is watching and actively listening.
- Gang/group bullying – will flourish in corporate bullying climates, often called mobbing and usually involves scapegoating and victimization.
- Vicarious bullying – 2 parties are encouraged to fight, “triangulation” where the aggression gets passed around.
- Regulation bullying – a serial bully forces their target to comply with rules, regulations, procedures or laws regardless of their appropriateness, applicability or necessity.
- Residual bullying – after the serial bully has left or is fired, the behavior continues and can continue outside the workplace for years.
- Legal bullying – bringing of vexatious legal action to control and punish a person – nastiest form of bullying.
- Pressure/unwitting bullying – working to unrealistic time scales and or inadequate resources.
- Corporate bullying – abuses with impunity, knowing the law is weak and job market is soft.
- Organisational bullying – combination of pressure and corporate bullying occurs when the organisation struggles to adapt to changing markets, reduced income, cuts in budgets, imposed expectations and other extreme pressures.
- Institutional bullying – entrenched and is accepted as part of the organisations culture.
- Unwitting bullying – includes bullying where stressful circumstances, stemming either from the workplace or from personal issues results in deterioration of office behaviour.
Bullying Is Not:
- Victims often claim that they’ve been bullied during the performance/conflict disciplinary management process, in such cases the victim claims to have experienced a perceived infringement of their rights which may have left them feeling unreasonable.
- Reasonable work allocation, requirements of a worker’s role, fair and appropriate management instructions and managing performance is not bullying, nor are the decisions to counsel or warn a worker when performance issues arise.
- Claims of bullying seem to be related to the way managers provided directives or feedback, which often left the alleged victim feeling, demeaned, humiliated or threatened.
- Some managers and HR staff have suggested that bullying claims at times were submitted as a means of shifting the focus from performance, disciplinary or conflict matters.
- Single instances of inappropriate behaviour is not bullying, however such behaviour should be treated with caution and noted as it could escalate to bullying.
- Occasional differences of opinion, non-aggressive conflicts and problems in working relationships is not bullying.
- Dissatisfaction or grievance with organisational and management practices.
- Feeling upset or undervalued.
- Receiving feedback, unreasonable/inappropriate behaviour, quality of work or enforcement of policies, rules and regulations.
- The employer has the right to transfer, roster/allocate, delegate, monitor the flow and performance manage a worker.
- Deciding not to select a worker for promotion and or implementing organisational changes or downsizing is not bullying.
- The employer is permitted to reprimand, demote, discipline, retrench or dis-establish a worker as long as they’re acting reasonably.
- Counselling staff about absenteeism.
- Setting performance goals, standards or management processes and enforcing deadlines.
Common Ways A Worker Is Bullied
- Falsely accused of mistakes.
- Deliberately and intentionally ignored.
- Inconsistent standards/policies applied.
- Constantly criticized.
- Yelled at by employer in front of others.
- Belittling comments made about their performance during meetings.
- Other workers taking credit for work they performed.
- Purposely excluded from projects/meetings or targeted on for personal attributes.
- Management action is reasonable if conducted fairly, transparently and in line with approved policies, procedures and processes of the workplace.
- Feedback provided appropriately with the intention of assisting to improve the workers work performance, behaviour, or directing and monitoring workflow does not constitute bullying.
Workplace Bullying – Why?
It’s reported that bullies use coercive means to get what they want and enjoy:
- Power, control and attention.
- The bully may feel jealous, was a victim or want attention and to be popular.
They may have been bullies throughout their childhood and bring this behaviour into the workplace.
Clinical Psychologist Keryl Egan believes there are 3 types of workplace bullies:
- Accidental bullies: emotionally blunt, aggressive and demanding.
- Narcissistic bullies: grandiose and tend to become energised when things don’t go their way (known to be destructive and manipulative).
- Serial bullies: target a number of workers in succession and are intentional. Serial bullies are systematic, organised, charming, authoritative, aggressive, dominating, fearless, shameless, deceptive, impulsive, chaotic, stimulus seeking and excellent at imitation and mimicry.
Bullying Is A Crime – Victoria
The Victorian Parliament passed the Crimes Amendment bullying Act 2011, amending the Crimes Act 1958, section 21A (2) (d). This Act amends the offence of stalking and harassment to cover “serious bullying as a crime” – (it was the first time a law was passed for the specific purpose of criminalising bullying in Australia).
The new law includes:
- Making threats to the victim.
- Using abusive or offensive words to or in the presence of the victim.
- Performing abusive or offensive acts in the presence of the victim.
- Directing abusive or offensive acts towards the victim.
- Acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm including self-harm.
- Arouse apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of another.
- Intention of causing physical or mental harm (covers psychological and suicidal thoughts).
Impact On Worker
- Severe psychological and emotional distress.
- Sleep disturbances, impaired cognitive ability and feelings of anxiety and apprehension.
- Physical symptoms i.e. stomach/back/head-aches, depression and general ill-health.
- Incapacity to work – absenteeism and presenteeism.
- Life outside work is affected, e.g. study and personal relationships.
- Reduced productivity, work output and performance.
- Loss of self-confidence, esteem, low morale, feeling rejected or unable to trust others.
- Damage to career and peace of mind.
- Medical expenses.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event. The victim may feel afraid and lack control, this fear can balloon into confusion, challenges with memory, cause anxiety and intense emotion.
- The worst scenario could be suicidal tthoughts and it’s reported that 1 in 100 workplace victims either attempt or succeed in committing suicide due to workplace bullying.
Impact On Organisation
- Lower productivity, performance, disruption, low efficiency and deterioration in relationships.
- Increased absenteeism, presenteeism, sick leave, high staff turnover and stress.
- Increase in recruitment, induction and training costs, down time as replacement workers are inducted into new position/s.
- Effort managing disciplinary and counselling activities.
- Stress related costs via workers compensation claims with resultant increases in insurance premiums and/or rehabilitation costs.
- Lack of motivation of workers.
- Corporate growth and damage to reputation, brand and image.
- Results of poor organisational culture can be seen in staff effectiveness and in a stagnation of ideas as worker/s won’t have the confidence to raise new thoughts which impacts on the retention and hiring of good worker/s.
Signs Of Workplace Bullying
- Hesitation about being at work.
- Sudden decline in productivity.
- Lacks relationships and friendship groups.
- Lacks self-confidence, esteem and feelings of sadness and worry.
- Not engaging in normal workplace activities, meetings or events.
- Constantly depressed, crying, apprehensive or anxious.
- Complaining about the behaviour of another worker consistently.
- Making inappropriate comments or threats to harm themselves.
- An accusation of bullying can be potentially defamatory, especially if confidentiality is not observed and a worker’s reputation is unfairly damaged.
- Discussions, information and records relating to a complaint should remain factual and confidential.
- All documentation and details of bullying enquiries and grievances should be kept securely by Human Resources (HR).
- Complaints should be treated in confidence and where confidentiality cannot be guaranteed this should be clearly indicated.
- Vilification is a public act that incites and encourages others to hate, have serious contempt for or severely ridicule a person or group because they’re thought to be, members of a particular race or religion.
- Vilification covers statements made at public meetings, in publications and on social media. It includes threats to physical harm or cause damage to property.
- A single incident or series of incidents over a period of time could constitute vilification.
- Victimisation is used to describe unfavourable treatment including pay backs or intimidation which may result following the lodgement of a bullying complaint made by a worker/s.
- Victimisation includes intimidation to the individual who has, is about to complain and refers to witnesses or those resolving or investigating a complaint.
- Victimisation is a serious breach of conduct and could result in a formal investigation. If proven, it may result in disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrator and could include dismissal.
Workplace bullying and discrimination law
Bullying could be unlawful under state and federal anti-discrimination legislation where the bullying is linked to or based on the following attributes covered by legislation.
It’s unlawful if a worker is subjected to bullying because of:
- Sexual orientation.
Federal Anti-Bullying Laws – Fair Work Commission (FWC)
- From 1 January 2014 section 789FD of the Fair Work Act (FWA) 2009 prohibits bullying in the workplace. Section 789FE states complaints must be dealt with promptly within 14 days and under section 789FF the Commission may make orders to stop the alleged bullying behaviour.
- Under the FWA a worker is defined as a worker, contractor, subcontractor, apprentice, trainee, outworker, volunteer, worker of a contractor/sub-contractor, worker of a labour hire company, outworker and students gaining work experience – excludes members of the defence force, partnerships, state government departments and corporations who are not trading financial.
- Under section 789FC a worker can make an application for an order to stop the bullying if the worker reasonably believes he/she is at risk of the behaviour continuing. Focus is upon the conduct of individuals in the workplace – to stop, prevent and resolve further harm or injury to worker/s and enable normal working relationships to resume.
- FWC cannot make orders (pecuniary amount) on reinstatement, punitive, or financial compensation, issue fines or penalties, (role of the FWC is purely preventative).
- FWC can increase pressure and onus on organisations to be proactive about preventing bullying, it can enforce workplaces to promptly deal with any related complaints in order to avoid intervention.
- The Commission can only make an order if there is a perceived risk that the worker will continue to be bullied at work by the alleged worker/s.
- Orders cannot be made where the worker is no longer engaged in the workplace or for some other reason is no longer exposed to the behaviour by the individual or group at work.
What Should An Organisation Do To Ensure They Are Compliant?
- Have adequate systems in place to manage bullying claims.
- Have policies and procedures about bullying in the workplace including a social media policy.
- Have Managers trained in effective management of employees to avoid claims.
- Have staff trained in appropriate workplace behaviour including bullying and harassment.
- Have satisfactory arrangements for investigating, monitoring, processing and implementing outcomes or complaints.
- Conduct training for managers and supervisors on bullying, harassment and discrimination issues.
- According to the Sensis Australia social media report May 2015 (survey of 800 consumers and 1,100 Australian businesses) 53.64% of Australian use an IPhone while 72.49% prefer a desktop computer and 27.51% a mobile device.
- Those who own hand held devices (i.e. a smartphone, tablet, iPod touch) or internet enabled TVs tend to access the internet more frequently.
- Social media has the capacity to be beneficial to the productivity and social cohesion of workplaces which can increase presence in the market place. Staff use social media as their primary form of communication in the competitive hunt for talent BUT some workers have made defamatory remarks, posted misleading and deceptive comments or behaved in a discriminatory manner.
- Some organisations use social media for their advertising to facilitate the activities of working and social groups effectively.
- Workers do use social media as their primary form of communication however some workers have made defamatory comments, posted demeaning, deceptive and humiliating information or photos, made sexual/discriminating remarks, threats and posted comments that defame or ridicule a worker and their organisation.
- Workplace cyber bullying is now as prevalent as other forms of bullying in some sectors.
- As the use of social media increases – privacy of workers is diminishing through worker misuse and cyber bullying. There are many examples of workers avoiding face-to-face conversations and some resort to online social media platforms to interact.
- It’s reported that 1 in 10 workers have experienced a manager using information from a social media site against them or a colleague.
- Research conducted by Bully Zero has found that some workers have come across secret discussions about themselves by colleagues online, some have discovered embarrassing pictures (from work events, parties/gatherings/functions), uploaded onto social media applications/platforms including inappropriate websites that have not gained authorisation.
- 1 in 8 workers have found themselves the subject of unwanted romantic advances from colleagues through online social media platforms.
- There are reports of workers who are not protected from cyber bullying as their workplace failed to include social media risks into their workplace bullying policy.
- Workers have come to believe that their company is responsible for their online behaviour during work hours if they are using their personal social media accounts.
- Cyber bullying at work involves the use of and sending of cruel or threatening messages via: emails, text messaging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Fango, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, iMessage, Viber, blogging, instant messaging and Twittering.
- Impacts of online bullying can be significant because of the potentially large size of the audience and the anonymity in which comments can be made.
- Some employees have posted inflammatory and offensive content or bad mouthed their current of former organisation which can compromise the reputation of the organisation and their employment position and potentially open litigation.
- Organisations are now implementing web-filtering systems to protect their employees, which can provide the organisation with evidence enabling them to intervene early before cyber bullying escalates.
- Some Australian organisations do provide devices that leave the boundaries of the workplace and thus have extended protection to wherever these devices are connected to the wireless internet.
What can the employer do to protect its social media reputation?
- Workplaces have the right to direct an employee to either remove or correct online comment/s or information that is unauthorised and irrelevant to their organisation.
- Disciplinary action could include termination of employment.
- Developing a social media policy with employees and defining how the policy is relevant to their duties is paramount to make effective use of social media.
- Monitoring compliance and on-going training is fundamental if the policy is to be reflected in the day to day behaviour of workers and the employer.
- Bully Zero offers workplaces the opportunity to engage in workplace bullying training and can develop an effective workplace bullying policy to ensure the organisation is reflecting its legal obligations.
How Not To Be A Cyber Bully?
- Use good etiquette.
- Never send a message when frustrated, angry or upset.
- Don’t post anything about others you wouldn’t want posted about yourself.
- Don’t share or upload pictures of your organisation or others without their permission.
- Don’t start or spread rumours about others online.
- Talk out issues before reacting and responding online.
- Unplug, detox, take a digital Ifamine, it’s not mandatory to answer every message or respond to request immediately.
- If a worker is cyber bullied or exposed to inappropriate on line behaviour they may:
Why Don’t People Report Bullying?
- Don’t know what to do and how to complain.
- Can’t be bothered with paperwork and red tape including the written formal complaints process.
- Fear retribution.
- Doubt the problem will be solved, perceive nothing will be done and thus the behaviour continues to be unaddressed.
- Fear of being regarded as weak or a personal failure, not being able to deal with it alone or that management and staff will label the worker as a nuisance.
- Worry that reporting will negatively affect career and may impact on advancement or promotion.
- Belief that this kind of behaviour is a normal part of the workplace culture.
Why Does Bullying Occur?
- Personality clash, mood swings, robust or macho management including autocratic, dictatorship, leadership or management styles.
- Unreasonable or aggressive behaviour.
- Excessive workload.
- Organisational culture, internal changes including budget cuts or restructuring.
- Workers without relevant skills being moved into management positions.
- Poor understanding of legal obligations including rights of workers and the consequences of bullying or a lack of awareness related to intervention and management.
- Implicit or explicit endorsement of the behaviour.
- Ineffective management and poor understanding of inappropriate behaviour of managers or leaders.
- Inadequate policies and procedures.
Workplace Bullying Policy
- Bully Zero can visit your workplace to develop a workplace bullying policy including a social media policy.
- Organisations should make it clear that they’re committed to preventing bullying, that the behaviour will not be tolerated and is unacceptable under any circumstance during or after work hours.
- The policy should cover all forms of bullying including:
- Face-to-face, (verbal and physical).
- Indirect (psychological, emotional and social).
- Cyber/online communications.
- The policy should be distributed to all workers and a thorough induction take place. Inductions should cover all workers i.e. permanent, casuals, part-time, shift workers, volunteers, labour hire and work experience students.
- Acknowledgment that complaints will be dealt with in confidence, taken seriously and actioned swiftly should be noted in the policy.
Employees Are Less Likely To Report Bullying If They:
- Don’t recognise it.
- Lack knowledge about bullying behaviours and their affects.
- Unsure about procedure.
- Don’t know where to seek support.
- Fear retribution from the bully or bullies including losing employment.
- Feel intimidated or embarrassed.
- Believe bullying is part of the workplace culture and feel nothing will change.
- Opportunities for promotion in the organisation may be affected.
- Complaints can be made outside the workplace.
- WorkSafe may issue notices if the employer doesn’t have proper policies, practices, procedures and risk assessment strategies in place to deal with workplace bullying.
- Non-compliance or unchecked the workplace could increase the likelihood of a worker making a claim for mental or physical injury) which could increase the organisations premiums.
- If the injured worker/s are found to have a 30% impairment they may access common law i.e. a (civil suit).
- The company or an individual (or both) can be prosecuted in serious cases.
- Staff turnover and additional costs could be incurred.
- There could be potential legal action where persons victimised have protected rights.
- Employers have a legal obligation and responsibility under the Victorian OH&S Act 2004 to provide a safe and bully free workplace.
- Employers have a duty of care which cannot be delegated or passed on.
- Section 21 (1) of the Act states “An employer shall provide and maintain so far as is practicable for workers a working environment that is safe without risks to health.” Health includes both physical and mental, employers have a number of duties under the Act including providing adequate supervision, instruction, information and training necessary for workers to do their work safely and to consult with a worker who is appropriately trained and acts as an occupational health and safety representative.”
- Employers must take reasonable actions to prevent bullying and respond to any complaint immediately, this includes acting on bullying issues, implementing policies and procedures, training staff and keeping abreast with changes in law.
- Employers must monitor and review their policy and ensure that prevention measures are effective and implement changes as required.
- The employer should deal with bullying issues immediately and ensure they create an environment that not only refuses to condone workplace bullying, but also has appropriate reporting processes in place.
- It’s not enough for an employer to establish a safe system of work – they must maintain the system, ensure its risk free and that it complies with the Act.
- A worker, while at work, must take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety and for the health and safety of anyone else who may be affected by his or her acts or omissions in the workplace.
- A worker must not intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the workplace in the interest of health, safety and welfare.
- Under section 25 (1) of the Victorian OH&S Act 2004 a worker while at work, must:
- “Take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety and for the health and safety of anyone else who may be affected by his or her acts or omissions in the workplace.
- A worker must not intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided at the workplace in the interest of health, safety and welfare.”
- Workers have a duty of care which cannot be delegated.
- Workers have the right to refuse work should they believe performing that task/role will expose them to immediate danger or risk of injury.
- In such cases the worker could:
- Visit a Doctor to gain a work cover medical certificate.
- Contact their HR department or union.
- Gain legal advice.
- Contact Work Safe Victoria or the FWC.
Responsibilities of Managers and Supervisors
- Supervisors and Managers are responsible for taking early corrective action to deal with bullying behaviour that could be viewed as offensive or intimidating.
- Managers should intervene in bullying issues if they requested by a member of their team and such actions should be recorded.
- The prevention of bullying requires not just managers but the entire organisation to:
- Be aware of and identify bullying behaviour and where appropriate utilise the organisations services or external mechanisms to stop and eliminate inappropriate behaviour from escalating.
- Encourage staff to behave in accordance with the organisations, policies, procedures and principles of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination.
- Provide leadership and role modelling in relation to appropriate and professional behaviour.
- Respond promptly, sensitively and confidentially to situations where inappropriate behaviour is demonstrated or alleged to occur, has happened or may happen in the future.
- The manager must be aware of the warning signs of bullying and harassment, monitor and supervise the workplace, (conduct regular audits of those areas where bullying may occur) and manage the risk.
- Any enterprise, its principals and staff are personally liable for bullying, however the onus is on the employer and managers to ensure unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated and if detected the employer and manager must act to stop it.
- Supervisors are central in preventing and managing bullying, they should be offered professional development opportunities that provide training in leadership skills, workplace bullying conflict and performance management.
- If a worker suffers psychological or physical harm as a result of bullying and is required to undergo treatment or forced to cease work, they may lodge a work cover claim.
- Work cover is funded through premiums paid by employers and covers a broad range of injuries including (physical and psychological).
- If a claim is accepted the worker may be entitled to receive weekly payments for time off work, payment of medical and like expenses.
- The aim of work cover is to return the worker back into the workplace.
- The cost of the average claim for a physical injury in 2015 was around $65,000 and the cost of the average claim for a psycho social related injury could be 3 times more, such claims will impact the employer’s premium and reputation.
Employees have a duty of care which cannot be delegated and they have the right to refuse work should they believe they’re in immediate danger or risk of injury and in such cases the employee can:
- See a Doctor to gain a work cover medical certificate.
- Contact their HR/organisational development Department.
- Contact the Union.
- Gain legal advice.
- Contact their respective state WorkSafe Department.
- Equal opportunity and human rights Commission.
- Bully Zero Australia Foundation.
- Private Lawyer (Nowicki Carbone/Slater and Gordon Lawyers).
Prevention of bullying requires workers to be responsible
- Be aware of and identify bullying behaviour and where appropriate utilise the organisations services or external mechanisms to stop it escalating.
- Behave in accordance with the principles of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination.
- If bullying behaviour is witnessed or experienced the worker should speak with the alleged bully to object to the behaviour, bystanders in the workplace also have a responsibility to take action.
- Offer to act as a witness if the person being bullied decides to report the incident.
Responsibility of Bystanders
- Co-workers that witness bullying could suffer negative effects, i.e. fear, stress and emotional exhaustion if they witness a colleague being inappropriately treated.
- Some bystander have left their respective workplaces due to bullying.
- Bullying can hinder organisational dynamics, group cohesion, peer communication and overall performance.
- If a worker observes bullying behaviour they should report it.
- The early intervention approach is the best strategy where an individual takes responsibility to take action on behalf of others. Workers have a moral responsibility to help create a positive and safe workplace.
What Can You Do If You Are bullied?
- Address the situation early.
- Approach the perpetrator.
- Keep a diary.
- Modify behaviour.
- Make sure you’re informed.
- Speak to your OH&S representative.
- Contact your union.
- Gain information and advice.
- Contact with the employee assistance program (EAP) – should be made which offers confidential support and assistance.
Note: Formal investigations should only be used for serious allegations
The Bully Zero Australia Foundation offers workplaces the opportunity to engage in workplace bullying prevention training and can develop an effective workplace bullying policy to ensure your organisation is reflecting its legal obligations.
Who to contact?
Bully Zero Australia Foundation: (03) 9094 3718.