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Workers slow to take advantage of anti-bullying measures

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HC Online | 02 Jul 2014, 12:00 PM Agree 0
It’s been more than six months since the Fair Work Commission’s anti-bullying measures came into force and the predicted onslaught of applications has yet to materialise. We look at the trends that have arisen from the changes.
  • Bernie Althofer | 09 Jul 2014, 07:47 AM Agree 0
    Some individuals who have been targeted in the past may have been of the belief that they would be able to access this new process, only to find that because of the 'limitations' placed i.e. who is covered, that they had no access.

    It might also be the case that some have been waiting to see whether or not this new process works in favour of the target, the alleged bully or the organisation.

    In some situations, the target may be building a 'dossier' recording all incidents that will actually support the need to show a pattern of behaviour or conduct. This might be difficult when the behaviours used to target them vary and to the outsider or casual observer, the behaviours might appear as isolated or random incidents, when in fact, they form a pattern.

    It might also be the case that despite a well documented policy and procedure, and the provision of training, some targets may not feel safe in reporting incidents. As has been expressed in a number of forums, some individuals make the informed decision to take no action based on their personal physical, psychological and financial cost implications i.e. if they perceive that they may be subjected to further threats, intimidation, harassment, victimisation, loss of employment or job prospects, or reporting the matter will result in being viewed as a troublemaker.

    The lack of 'formal' reports of bullying does not necessarily mean that it is not occurring so organisations need to be constantly aware of the potential for bullying to occur, and that even minor negative conflict needs to a response. Minor negative conflict can escalate to bullying allegations.

    Those who have responsibility and accountability for dealing with or investigating negative workplace conflict need to be trained so that their actions do not contribute to the escalation or further litigation.
  • Delia | 09 Jul 2014, 12:43 PM Agree 0
    Very thought provoking Bernie. Another issue is that "bullying" can be quite subtle; or its meaning can be blurred. A friend of mine was bullied for a long time under the guise of "it's only a joke, doesn't she have a sense of humour?" so that she felt she was perhaps being over-sensitive. Nevertheless, she was always stressed, and her mental health did deteriorate. Her solution was to leave, not to take action. I expect that many others do the same.
  • Deb | 09 Jul 2014, 12:49 PM Agree 0
    I agree with Bernie - I suspect many people who could lodge a complaint are sitting back waiting to see how the new process works. It takes a lot of guts to lodge this sort of complaint.
  • Bernie Althofer | 11 Jul 2014, 10:15 AM Agree 0
    I read a story about four cases that 'help' to clarify reasonable management action. In one particular case, a Senior Tribunal Member cited the Macquarie Dictionary definition of a bully as (and I quote) "a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who browbeats smaller or weaker people".

    Whilst this definition might describe some alleged bullies, in my experience, there are some alleged bullies who are the complete opposite.

    The problem that I see when definitions such as the above are used when making decisions about reasonable (and with all due respect to the Senior Member) is that some targets might believe that it only when this type of conduct is on display is when they might have a case. At the same time, an organisation might 'write off' allegations or complaints if the behaviour falls outside the above definition.

    It seems that there needs to be a more current definition or definitions of what is meant by a bully. There is little doubt that the legal landscape is constantly changing and all those involved need to be aware of those changes.

    The problem with subtle jokes etc is that no-one can see what lies beneath the skin, unlike a physical injury. It might be the case that some targets have some deep seated psychological injury that is being managed but resurfaces when 'jokes' are perpetuated. In previous presentations, it has been suggested that if a person has a psychological injury or has lodged a WorkCover Claim in relation to such injury, telling them to 'harden up' etc might go against the organisation.

    In the harsh reality of getting action taken in relation to institutional or organisational bullies, the degree of difficulty increases according to the outcomes being achieved e.g. increased profits/productivity, 'ranking' of the bully, and the willingness of the organisational leaders to take action. I suspect we will see an increased number of targets sitting back hoping the situation is going to improve. I also suspect that until it becomes personal for some senior executives i.e. facing prosecution or termination for an incident that occurred on their watch, we will still be agitating for positive change. Unfortunately, I think that in some organisations there may be an unstated acceptance that some collateral damage should be expected. The trouble when making a claim is trying to pin someone down to get some formal acknowledgement that this is the case.

    People might not be making a complaint through the new process because the FWC will not make compensation orders, or the target might be finding that other avenues are more effective in responding to the incident particularly if the incident involves a range of behaviours or conduct that includes unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, or breach of employment contracts.
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