Companies in Australia owe a duty to provide a safe working environment free from bullying and harassment. This applies to not only employees, but anyone who has a relationship with your company.
Workplace bullying is defined by Safe Work Australia as ‘the repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety’. This definition is also enshrined in section 789FD of the Fair Work Act 2009.
The Human Rights Commission provides the following as examples of workplace bullying:
- Repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)
- Sexual harassment, particularly stuff like unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable
- Excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
- Playing mind games, ganging up on you, or other types of psychological harassment
- Intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)
- Giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
- Giving you impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided
- Deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you
- Deliberately holding back information you need for getting your work done properly
- Pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you in the workplace
- Attacking or threatening with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any other type of object that can be turned into a weapon
- Initiation or hazing – where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team
A well-drafted and comprehensive bullying and harassment policy can go a long way to reducing bullying and harassment in the workplace, and mitigating company risk. However, each policy should be specifically tailored to suit your business and industry. At its most basic level, a good bullying and harassment policy should include:
- Company policy statement
- Summary of parties’ roles and responsibilities
- References to relevant legislation and resources
- A staged internal and external complaints / grievance procedure
- Disciplinary and response procedure
A bullying and harassment policy should also clearly outline the difference between bullying and harassment, and reasonable action of the employer. Reasonable action means an employer is allowed to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench, investigate, delegate to, or reasonably sack employees.
Once developed and implemented, it is vital that employers enforce the policy consistently and efficiently. If a bullying or harassment situation does arise in your workplace, it is vital that the matter is treated seriously. Any investigation or disciplinary process should maintain confidentiality, ensure procedural fairness, communicate clearly with all parties including the communication of possible outcomes, keep comprehensive records, and refer back to the policy as much as possible.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace can be costly for employers, resulting in high staff turnover, excessive workers compensation claims, legal action, and fines. Moreover, your company reputation can be damaged. Your liability can be significantly reduced if you can clearly show that the company’s bullying and harassment policy was closely followed.
Adams & Partners Lawyers can draft, review, implement, and enforce your bullying and harassment policy to help reduce your risk, and ensure your company remains compliant with relevant legislation and regulations.