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Why aren’t workers making bullying complaints?

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HC Online | 04 Nov 2015, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Employment lawyers warn employers that workers are opting for ‘more traditional’ legal routes which offer higher chances of compensation for bullying.
  • Bernie Althofer | 05 Nov 2015, 01:55 PM Agree 0
    There has been considerable discussion in a number of forums about this issue. Whilst it was initially thought that there would be a flood of complaints, the data seems to show otherwise. Now the focus is on why aren't more complaints being made.

    From what I have been able to glean from various discussion groups and from postings and from experience, there are a number of factors that come into play.

    These include:

    The process of reporting and resolving a complaint is time consuming and costly, and difficult for those who are not experienced in handling such matters.

    The parameters established through the Fair Work Commission in relation to workplace bullying means that a number of targets are precluded from using this avenue as a means of getting an outcome.

    The definition of workplace bullying does create considerable angst for individuals, and even moreso when the issue of reasonable management comes into play. There are significant differences between some international definitions, local definitions and workplace understandings about what is meant by bullying.

    Some targets do investigate alternative processes for achieving and outcome and this action result in a combination of of strategies involving various legislative options e.g. Trade Practices Act etc.

    In practical terms, the reasons discussed more often than not appear to be related to:

    workplace culture and the support offered to targets if they make a complaint
    punishment and reward systems linked to reporting of any forms of counterproductive workplace behaviours
    lack of leadership and management offered in relation to the prevention, detection, reporting and resolution of workplace bullying and other counterproductive behaviours
    fear of economic sanctions and job loss, and uncertainity of possible future employment if seen as a 'complainer'
    fear that bullying and other counterproductive behaviours are not seen as 'real issues' or put in the 'too hard' basket where targets find the process is dragged out to 'encourage' them to either withdraw their complaint or leave
    penalties imposed on alleged bullies not seen as a real deterrent and therefore not providing a reason for the incidents to be reported
    targets not having documentation to support their version finding themselves in situations whereby they will be further intimidated, threatened or harassed
    gaps between what a target perceives as bullying and what is reasonable management action
    differences in meaning and understanding being placed on requirements for 'repeated behaviour'
    wanting the behaviour to stop but not wanting the alleged bully to 'get into trouble or lose their job'
    target wanting someone to believe them, when the alleged bully is seen as the 'golden haired person'

    Reporting workplace bullying can apply additional pressure on a target who is already distressed because of the behaviours. It does appear that a well prepared target will seek legal advice from external sources particularly when they see that internal processes are not that effective in permanently stopping bullying behaviours. It might well be the case that some will pursue external sources and chances for higher compensation to send a message to their organisation that these are the consequences for not stopping bullying or treating a complaint seriously. Taking the matter externally make increase the potential for media interest, whereas internal processes are often shrouded in secrecy and confidentiality.

    Just because an organisation is not receiving data about workplace bullying incidents, it does not mean it is not happening.
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