As a community we have become a lot more aware of the impact of bullying and the need to prevent it. From primary school age, children are now encouraged to stand up to bullies and in the workplace, there is a strong focus on preventing bullying behaviour. This is a good thing.
The flip side is that ‘bullying’ is a term that gets bandied about, often inappropriately. Many managers that I speak to are nervous about managing poor performance or intervening in situations because they are unsure if the behaviour they are dealing with is bullying or they are concerned about being accused of bullying themselves.
Under Occupational Health and Safety Laws employers have an obligation to provide a safe place of work for employees. That obligation puts a positive onus on employers to take steps to eliminate risks to health and safety and where it is not possible to eliminate those risks, to minimise them. Whilst developing appropriate policies and training will be an important part of this process, it’s also vital that managers feel informed and confident to address any allegations of bullying, and aware of the process for handling such complaints.
A good place to start is by understanding the definition of bullying. The Fair Work Commission describes bullying as repeated unreasonable behaviour directed against a person or group of persons that creates a risk to their health and safety (including mental health).
In Victoria, Worksafe describes workplace bullying as characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.
Bullying can happen by a manager towards workers, between co-workers, or by workers towards a manager or other person present in the workplace such as a contractor.
The important things to note are:
1. The bullying behaviour must be repeated. A one-off instance does not constitute bullying. Sometimes it will be a pattern of behaviour such as repeated shouting, it could also be different types of behaviour over a period.
2. The ‘bullying’ behaviour must be unreasonable. Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way is NOT bullying for example:
* allocating work and setting performance goals, standards and deadlines
* informing and warning a worker about unsatisfactory work performance
* informing and warning a worker about inappropriate behaviour
* undertaking performance management processes and providing constructive feedback.
3. The bullying behaviour must create a risk to health and safety. Health and safety includes mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. The anxiety and depression does not have to be demonstrated, it is sufficient if the behaviour creates a risk of it occurring
Below are just some examples of behaviour that can be considered bullying:
* Physical aggression, such as pushing shoving or tripping
* Threatening or intimidating someone
* Initiation or hazing rituals
* Shouting or verbal abuse such as sarcasm, name calling
* Excluding someone from activities
* Giving someone impossible tasks or meaningless tasks or unreasonable deadlines
* Cruel pranks or taunting, playing mind games