Bullying is an easy allegation to make and seems to be becoming the fallback position for lots of employees when they don’t like something that is happening at work, particularly if they don’t have a clear understanding of what actually constitutes workplace bullying. We’ve seen managers become fearful and intimidated as soon as someone uses the “B” word, often in circumstances where the employee is clearly not being bullied, merely managed.
Don’t get me wrong, bullying is not appropriate in any workplace and should not be tolerated, but false allegations of bullying should not be tolerated either.
Allocating work and providing fair and reasonable feedback on an employee’s performance does not constitute workplace bullying, nor does undertaking disciplinary action in line with established policies and procedures, if they are carried out lawfully and in a reasonable manner, taking the circumstances into account.
So, what exactly is Workplace Bullying?
Workplace Bullying is when a person engages in repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety.
What is “unreasonable behaviour”?
Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten; and “behaviour” includes actions of individuals or a group, and may involve using a system of work as a means of victimising, humiliating, undermining, punishing or threatening.
The following types of behaviour, where repeated or occurring as part of a pattern of behaviour would be considered to be workplace bullying:
- threats or threatening behaviour
- shouting, swearing or being abusive
- starting rumours, and the spreading of misinformation
- unconstructive criticism
- behaviour that undermines an individual’s professionalism or status
- insulting others
- public humiliation
- being overloaded with work or not given enough work to do
- not getting the information needed to do one’s job
- personal effects or work equipment being damaged
- practical jokes
If the bullying behaviour is based on a protected attribute, real or imputed, such as sex, disability or race it may also be a form of unlawful discrimination.. but that’s for another blog!
Bullying does not cover situations where an employee has a grievance about legitimate and reasonable:
- Performance management processes
- Disciplinary action
- Allocation of work in compliance with systems
- Differences of opinion and disagreements
- Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way
People can have differences and disagreements in the workplace without engaging in repeated, unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety. However, in some cases, conflict that is not managed may escalate to the point where it meets the definition of workplace bullying.
It’s reasonable for managers and supervisors to allocate work and to give fair and reasonable feedback on a worker’s performance. These actions are not considered to be workplace bullying if they are carried out lawfully and in a reasonable manner, taking the particular circumstances into account.
Bullying claims can be time consuming and costly to your business, as well as an OH&S risk. To minimize the potential impact, it’s essential that you have robust policies in place, covering Bullying and all employees have received regular training and updates on these policies. It is also essential that you have well established procedures and policies relating to disciplinary procedures, performance management, grievance management. Not only will they minimize the risk to your business, but they will also empower you and your managers with the tools and confidence to manage people appropriately and not be intimidated by them.
If you need assistance with a Workplace Bullying, or developing and implementing workplace policies, give HR Gurus a call on 1300 959 560 and one of our highly experienced Gurus will be able to help.
Written by resident HR Guru Louise Betts.