Are you being bullied?

The Lamp December 2013

Bullying at work can have a serious impact on individuals and organisations. It should not be regarded as normal workplace behaviour and it should not be tolerated.

If members are having problems making a complaint to someone in authority in their workplace, or are afraid to do so, they should contact the NSWNMA for advice.

New national anti-bullying laws will come into force next year, giving the Fair Work Commission power to issue orders against individuals and employers.

The state government’s workplace safety authority, WorkCover NSW, considers bullying a serious health and safety issue.

“The stress caused to someone who is bullied, or to those who work in a climate of bullying, can result in psychological injuries such as anxiety and depression, and can indirectly cause physical injuries,” WorkCover says.

It says employers should take steps to prevent and manage bullying and should encourage workers to report bullying incidents.

Workplace health and safety professional officers at the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association say that while staff-related bullying is usually manager to staff, it can involve staff to staff, or staff to manager. Bullying can be done by individuals and groups.

What is bullying?

WorkCover defines bullying at work as “repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Bullying can be direct or indirect. Examples of direct bullying include:

  • verbal abuse
  • putting someone down
  • spreading rumours or innuendo about someone
  • interfering with someone’s personal property or work equipment.

Examples of indirect bullying include:

  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • deliberately denying access to information or other resources
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably above or below a worker’s ability
  • deliberately changing work arrangements to inconvenience a particular worker or workers
  • excessive scrutiny at work.

“Reasonable management actions carried out in a fair way” are not defined as bullying.

What can I do?

If you can, tell the bully that their behaviour is unreasonable and inappropriate, and that you want it to stop.

Keep a written record of all bullying incidents including dates, times and witnesses to the behaviour.

If you feel threatened, try to have someone with you when you meet the bully until the matter is resolved.

Check your employer’s policy and procedures on bullying and follow them to lodge a complaint.

Most public sector organisations have specific policies and procedures. NSW Ministry of Health directive PD2011­_018 outlines how to make a complaint about bullying, including contacting an Anti-Bullying Contact Officer or the anti-bullying advice line.

Sectors such as aged care often have no specific bullying policies and no clear protocols on how to respond if bullying happens.

If members are having problems making a complaint to someone in authority in their workplace, or are afraid to do so, they should contact the NSWNMA for advice.

WorkCover will not look into a bullying complaint unless management has first been given an opportunity to fix the problem.

If management fails to act on your complaint, or is unable to stop the bullying, you can complain directly to WorkCover or ask the NSWNMA to do so on your behalf.

You can download the complaints form here: http://tinyurl.com/k9q3vgf

New powers to act

Under new national anti-bullying laws coming into force from January 1, 2014, the Fair Work Commission will have the power to order that bullying must stop.

The Commission will also have the power to issue orders against individuals and employers, such as to direct an employer to develop policy and provide training to combat bullying.

While amendments to the Fair Work Act give the Commission power to make an order that bullying must stop, the Commission cannot impose financial penalties or order reinstatement or compensation.

The amendments were designed to complement state workplace health and safety laws rather than replace them. They are designed to allow workers affected by bullying to apply directly to the Fair Work Commission for a quick and affordable hearing of their complaint.

If the Commission makes an order this does not prevent further action being taken under state work health and safety legislation.

The previous government initiated the changes following a parliamentary inquiry into bullying in the workplace.

However the new Abbott Government has indicated it is not happy with some of the changes to the Act, and may seek to make them more employer-friendly.

The cost of bullying

A 2010 Productivity Commission report estimated that the annual cost of workplace bullying, to employers and the economy, ranged from $6 billion to as much as $36 billion.

Direct costs of bullying result from absenteeism, staff turnover, legal and compensation costs, and redundancy and early retirement payouts.

Hidden direct costs include management time consumed in addressing claims for bullying, investigating allegations of bullying through formal grievance procedures and workplace support services such as counselling.

Other costs to the economy include public sector costs such as the health and medical services needed to treat bullied individuals, and income support and other government benefits provided to victims of bullying who become unemployed as a result.