Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

BULLYING IS VIOLENCE

Violence is the use of force or power by the perpetrator (the person doing the violence) against another, i.e. the victim. This use of force or power is made up of a range of behaviours or actions that may be physical (affecting the body) and/or psychological (affecting the mind). The result of this force or power may impact on the well being or health of the victim; for example, injury, death psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation for the victim.

IT’S THE LAW!

Clause 9 (2) (b) of the OH&S regulations 2001 requires employers to identify Psychological Hazards. Clause 11 of the OH&S regulations 2001 requires employers to eliminate risks arising from hazards. Bullying is a psychological hazard and it is the employers responsibility to eliminate it as part of the Risk Assessment Process.

Where bullying involves sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of things like disability, gender, race or age, a claim may be made under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity, Equal Opportunity or Anti-Discrimination Acts.

If you are forced to resign because you are being bullied, you may be able to claim this as an unfair dismissal. If you become unwell as a result of inappropriate management action in relation to the bullying you may be able to claim workers’ compensation.

WHAT IS WORKPLACE VIOLENCE?

Violence and aggression includes verbal and emotional abuse or threats and physical attack to an individual or to property by another individual or group.

BULLYING IS VIOLENCE

Research shows that definitions of violence can be categorised into broad generic definitions. These definitions have been recognised by the leading international bodies, or represent the most current view nationally.

Although the definitions vary, there are common aspects, as follows.

Violence has common elements in that:

1. It is caused by the intentional use of force or power of the perpetrator against another (i.e. the victim) and,

2. This use of force or power constitutes a range of behaviours or actions which may be physical and/or psychological, and,

3. The consequences of this force or power may impact on the well being or health of the victim e.g. injury, death psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation for the victim.

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE

This is where the incident/s of violence occurs within the circumstances related to the victim’s work. The WorkCover Health and Safety Guide – Violence in the Workplace has included an introductory paragraph called “What is workplace violence”. This guide provides practical guidance on managing workplace violence and aggression, as described below.

WHAT IS WORKPLACE VIOLENCE?

Overt violence and aggression includes verbal and emotional abuse or threats and physical attacks to an individual or to property by another individual or group. Covert, or hidden violence is also a form of bullying in the workplace. Covert bullying is not in the form of physical attack but also causes emotional damage to the worker. The impact of violence on a victim depends on the severity of the violence, his or her personal experiences, skills and personality.

Violent (overt) acts include:

  • Verbal abuse in person or over the telephone, Physical or sexual assault
  • Written abuse
  • Threats, Ganging up, bullying and intimidation
  • Malicious damage to the property of staff, customers or the business.

Covert Acts Include:

  • repeated refusal of ongoing ducation/Training.
  • Withholding important information needed to complete a job
  • Continual allocation of low grade or inappropriate work (inequity)
  • Repeated sporadic rostering

WORKPLACE BULLYING

Bullying at work is a problem that is only just beginning to be seen as one of the main causes of workplace stress. Bullying is a form of psychological or physical harassment and women and men at all levels of employment can be affected by it. The bully can be a manager, a supervisor or a co-worker.

A bully is a person who uses strength or power to intimidate others by fear. Workplace bullying exists in various forms. It involves behaviour that intimidates, degrades or humiliates an employee (sometimes in front of other people). Sometimes the behaviour may be subtle and not easily observed by other people. It may include verbal abuse, behaviour that is intended to punish, constant ‘put-downs’, aggression, and poorly managed conflicts of opinion or ‘personality clashes’. Inappropriate comments about personal appearance and persistent, unreasonable criticism of work performance are also common. Assault, both physical and threatened, can also be a factor.

Physical assault is a criminal offense and should be reported to the police immediately.

THE EFFECTS OF BULLYING

No one works at their best if they feel hurt, angry, vulnerable and powerless. Bullying can have a variety of physical and psychological effects on people. Commonly reported effects are:

  • Stress, anxiety and tension
  • Feelings of social isolation at work
  • Loss of confidence and self esteem
  • Loss or deterioration of personal relationships
  • Headaches, backaches, stomach cramps, depression
  • Deterioration of work performance

EFFECTS ON THE INDIVIDUAL

The effects of bullying can be psychological and financial and include:

  • Anti social behaviour, impact on family/relationships
  • Stress-related illnesses and headaches
  • Anxiety, depression; self blame
  • Stomach disorders and skin rashes
  • Disempowerment
  • Lethargy and sleep disturbance
  • Anger; irritability
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of self esteem, lowered self confidence
  • Loss of income; loss of potential income
  • Panic attacks
  • Reluctance to go to work
  • Uncertainty of self
  • Actively seeking other positions
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Pressure to take jobs below his/her capacity

HOW TO PREVENT BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE

The first step in prevention is to acknowledge that bullying can exist in any workplace.

The most effective way to prevent bullying is for employers to send a clear message that workplace bullying is unacceptable.

Following are some steps that can be taken to minimise and prevent bullying in the workplace. Support and involvement from senior management is essential in effecting change and preventing bullying before it becomes a problem. Occupational Health and Safety Committees are ideally placed to deal with these issues

Steps to Take

  • Ask for a meeting.
  • Choose a quiet confidential place.
  • Take notes of the discussion.
  • State aim of the meeting, for example wish to discuss how we communicate with each other.
  • Try to stay calm.
  • Do not become personally abusive or insulting, i.e. remain completely professional.
  • If the other person becomes aggressive, thank them for their time and end the meeting.

WHAT WORKERS CAN DO

Workplace bullying is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated. As a first step, there are a few tactics worth trying – but only if you feel up to it and if they are appropriate for your situation.

  • Stand firm if you come under verbal attack.
  • Tell the bully you will not put up with being spoken to in that way.
  • Remain confident in your own judgement and ability.
  • Avoid being alone with the bully.

If you don’t feel up to this, contact your OHS Representative, union delegate or supervisor.

WHAT THE UNION CAN DO

  • The Union views Bullying as a form of Sexual Harassment, and or Discrimination.
  • The Union has developed an extensive policy to deal with Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
  • The policy outlines that the union as an agent to the membership shall ensure that workplace are free of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
  • The policy contains procedures for dealing with complaints of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
  • As an agent the Union shall provide the necessary training and information for members.
  • The Union will also provide the necessary services to deal with and resolve complaints of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
  • The Union through its policy will maintain confidentiality regarding all complaints.
  • The Union shall make available on request a copy of the policy to the members.
  • The Union shall appoint a Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Officer to deal with all matters including Bullying.
  • Never tolerate any form of Harassment please contact your union if you feel that this is happening to you.

More info:

Download the UnionSafe Bullying Fact Sheet

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