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Brodie’s Law ineffective in dealing with workplace bullying

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HC Online | 12 Sep 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Early intervention and education are the best ways to deal with workplace bullying, according to an employment lawyer’s public critique of Australia’s approach to the issue.
  • Michael C | 12 Sep 2012, 12:36 PM Agree 0
    I agree that Brodies law was a knee jerk response but am I reading this wrong. The article says on one hand that the criminalisation of bullying was not a good idea and that is should be removed from OHS realms, but then it goes on to say that complaints should be taken to a tribunal or a court. So I am not sure what the actual solution proposed by Bornstein is.
  • Stuart King | 12 Sep 2012, 01:36 PM Agree 0
    The creation of a criminal offence for serious cases of bullying is only part of the solution. I went on public record at the time of Brodie's death and when legislation in Victoria was created to articulate that. What I also said was that we needed greater understanding about the risk factors associated with workplace bullying. My commitment to that outcome led me to our private research of 5000 Australians in every State and Territory who were in work. The results were astonishing..... and identified the risk factors that I was keen to find. One such finding relates to the 'tournaments' that our structures in organisations create. Pay for performance is one such tournament which may lead to bullying behaviour. I recently attended a conference in Copenhagen where the definition of workplace bullying was discussed. We would benefit from a legislated definition in Australia.........
  • Bernie Althofer | 13 Sep 2012, 10:20 AM Agree 0
    There may well be an argument for the criminal prosecution of alleged bullies in certain cases. It might also be the case that with the changes that are occurring across Australia in relation to work health and safety, prosecutions might be instigated for breaches of work health and safety when allegations of bullying are made.

    However, the circumstances of each incident needs to be judged on its merits, and central to actions taken, is the need for the person being targeted to remain in control.

    It also seems that prevention and detection are 'glossed over' to some extent. Whilst organisations may argue that they have good policies and procedures in place, it might also be the case that individuals seek advice external to their organisation, and then decide not to pursue the matter for various reasons e.g. fear of job loss, 'rewards' being given to the alleged bully. Changing workplace cultures that allow transparency of reporting, that provide safe environments for the target and those who might support them, needs to occur.

    It might well be the case that if line managers and supervisors receive more effective training in conflict management (detection and resolution), workplace environments are monitored to control risk factors, and individuals are trained on how to respond to workplace conflict, then there may be an increased chance of reducing the threat of escalation.

    The issue that some organisations might be struggling with is whether or not bullying is a WHS issue or whether it should be dealt with as part of workplace relations. If it is a WHS issue, then it might be open to discussion as to how the matter is reported e.g. breach of work health and safety (and subjected to WHS investigations and penalties etc) or if it is a workplace relations issue, then what is the most effective way of resolving the matter for all concerned e.g. the target, the alleged bully and the organisation.

    Whilst there is confusion about what is and what is not bullying (and reasonable management actions), organisations and individuals will continue to struggle.

    Managing a workplace culture that tolerates bullying to the point of acceptance can be difficult when there is a 'cone of silence' in existence, or individuals are targeted for taking a stance against workplace bullying.
  • Jeannie Hunter | 07 Sep 2013, 07:12 PM Agree 0
    What is actually considered as bullying behaviour seems to be the major issue! It exists because organisations either do not agree it is bullying behaviour or simply cannot deal with it - placed in the to hard basket. It is this process that ultimately allows it to continue to run rife. I have seen it and personally experienced it - only to be told it was in my imagination. It does become the quiet myth! The hidden violence. Believe me it is a situation one would prefer not to have to endure at anytime in one's life. I feel strongly that the legal context input is critical. External investigation is necessary due to what constitutes bullying. It differs with each person within the organisation regardless of how much training has been undertaken. Equality should exist in every organisation but is often absent. I place this into the tournament context. Do you get brownie points or some form of remuneration if there are no bullies found within in your department. There must be something I am missing. This cultural context inhibits the appropriate outcome. Bullies want control and it is this that drives their behaviour.

    I realise this is harsh but if you have ever been bullied and off work because of the effect on health you would agree. The risk is high. I agree with Brodies Law. Requires legislation within Australia and court listed.
  • Greg W | 09 Sep 2013, 09:00 PM Agree 0
    Being on the receiving end of managerial level bullying which cost me my job (my resignation or my health & family) I am at a loss, confused & disappointed as to the options for the average (?) employee. Fairwork have no concern so long as you are receiving your entitlements (award etc), with even less interest if you are an employee of less than 12 months. As a WHS issue (in Qld) bullying is investigated only so far as whether the organisation has systems in place to limit or risk mitigate the bullying. Even then to view the results of your complaint require access via a FOI request. I've experienced the "cone of silence" (Bernie) where in private conversation senior managers talk of the bullying and the actions that should be taken, yet publicly deny that there is an issue. I could have gone off sick through stress & made a work cover claim but could not manage up to 6 weeks without pay while awaiting to see if the claim was accepted. Sourcing legal help via no win/no pay firms is disappointing as they are on the grab for quick super claims.
    So where does that leave a non-financial victim. With no recourse and on the job line trying to explain why they left their last employ.
  • Bernie Althofer | 10 Sep 2013, 10:14 AM Agree 0
    Discussions over the past three years in various online discussion groups have identified the continued complexity of issues involved in -1. reporting workplace bullying
    2. actioning complaints about bullying
    3. gaining admissions that bullying is an issue
    4. the impact that workplace culture has in relation to bullying
    5. consistency in 'managing' complaints of bullying
    6. consistency in resolving complaints
    7. consistency across the board in recording bullying incidents
    8. approaches to investigating bullying incidents
    9. gaps between the spoken word regarding an anti-bullying approach and the realities of tolerance and acceptance
    10. denial that bullying actually exists
    11. belief that 'bullying' can and should be written off as reasonable management actions
    12. urban and organisational myths bounded by confidentiality that 'limits' individual and organisational knowledge about specific cases
    13. lack of certainty regarding the best method or process for dealing with bullying
    14. increased complexity of issues involving putting 'bullying' in the too hard basket
    15. failure to address hazard or risk factors that contribute to bullying behaviours
    16. lack of organisational systems and processes required to gather data so that proactive strategies can be addressed
    17. lack of systems and processes to maintain currency of knowledge regarding trends and issues or Court, Commission or Tribunal decisions
    18. belief that bullying is 'mainly a personality clash' between two people
    19. lack of training provided to employees at all levels on how to identify and respond to workplace conflict
    20. financial cutbacks leading to reduction in front line services provided through support personnel
    21. inability of Courts, Commissions or Tribunals to provide timely resolution to complaints (because they too face a backlog)
    22. uncertainty being faced in organisations regarding proposed changes to legislation, Codes of Practice etc
    23. reactive responses rather than proactive responses
    24. increased physical, psychological and financial pressures being placed on targets seeking resolution in relation to incidents
    25. confusion regarding a consistent understanding or definition about what is and what is not bullying/harassment
    26. confusion about what is and what is not reasonable management
    27. the fear factor that exists when individuals perceive they will be further targeted if and when they make a complaint
    28. the level of 'unreported' incidents that occur because workers lack confidence in organisational systems and processes
    29. the belief that targets should just 'suffer in silence' and get on with the job
    30. the unwillingness of organisations to challenge the effectiveness of current systems and processes regarding the prevention, detection and resolution of workplace bullying (and other forms of counter productive behaviours)

    No-one should ever be put in the situation where they are targeted and bullied. However, it does seem that unless there is some real organisational leadership and commitment (not just rhetoric), and those points I identified are addressed, then we may see more and more incidents go under the 'radar'.
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