Massive rise in work bullying claims

by Stephanie Zillman08 Aug 2012

Investigating bullying claims is an exhausting, emotionally taxing job for HR – yet as a new report has revealed the sheer increase in claims, HR must ensure quality investigation procedures are followed.

A federal government inquiry into the problem of bullying is currently underway, and in Perth this week, the West Australian reported that in WA alone there has been a massive rise in workplace bullying claims. Victim compensation claims more than trebled over the past four years. In 2010-11, some 105 workers' compensation claims for workplace bullying and harassment were filed in WA, up from just 30 cases in 2007-08.

While the total cost of compensation paid to the victims from 2010-11 has not been finalised, in the 2009-10 period the figure reached $2.7m in WA for only 85 claims.

The inquiry will consider matters including policy gaps and if there are sufficient deterrents to bullying. While employers, politicians and unions alike agree that bullying is a serious problem which can ruin people's lives and result in long-term problems for employers, the spike in claims also shines the spotlight on a sinister underlying problem – employees who falsify claims.

False accusations of bullying and sexual harassment are a concurrent issue to true instances of harassment. A high profile example occurred earlier this year, when the Federal Court ordered former Commonwealth Bank employee Vivienne Dye to pay $5.85m in legal costs after her claims of sexual harassment against two managers were found to be false.

In the finding, the judge said she had lied and had been motivated to make up false claims out of a “venomous desire for revenge”. The judge also commended the Commonwealth Bank for fighting to clear the managers’ names rather than making an out-of-court settlement to brush the bad press under the rug.

According to the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, the need to investigate matters thoroughly and fully cannot be overstated, particularly in cases where there are conflicting statements as to what has occurred. Where an employer seeks to rely on certain facts, they must be substantiated ‘on the balance of probabilities’. In practical terms, this means thoroughly testing the evidence on which the employer may rely before coming to a decision regarding substantiation.

For more information on conducting workplace investigations, and when to conduct internally or externally, click here.


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  • by Bernie Althofer 9/08/2012 2:05:38 PM

    The 'sleeper' in the area of workplace bullying lies in those organisations where, despite the existence of policies and procedures, those being targeted seek advice and support externally, without formally reporting the behaviours according to their policy or procedures. In times when there is economic uncertainity about job security, when targets perceive that the 'alleged bullies' are either protected or rewarded, and resolution options appear to support the alleged bullies, workers go outside for advice, or simply don't report.

    Given the complexities of issues involved, with a diverse range of workplace relations issues being involved, any workplace conflict (irrespective of size or apparent relevance) needs to be investigated. Individuals, be they directly or indirectly involved (target, alleged bullies or even witnesses/bystanders) need to be supported and encouraged to address the issue.

    If all incidents were actually reported to organisations, then there may be a more accurate picture of the situation.

  • by Marcus 20/10/2012 6:12:19 PM

    I am about to release an employee who has been given more chances and warnings than required to dismiss him. His claims of bullying in other branches of the dompany have resulted in him being shifted to the branch I manage.
    The employee is aggressive, and disregards policies and procedures on a continual basis. He will be dismissed shortly, but it's almost certain he'll lodge a claim against me for 'bullying'.
    I've insisted we dismiss him, and take him head on in any claims made, but I still am apprehensive, knowing that the success of any claim, regardless of being true or false, will depend largely on how 'good' his legal representations are.
    It's right that workplace bullying is a problem that needs to be dealt with. The problem is that companies stand to lose a lot more by way of reputation, than the losses that might be incurred by a false claimant.

  • by Concerned 31/03/2013 5:34:10 PM

    Many firms don't support those that are or were bullied. I worked in two financial organisations in regulation. By protecting customers and doing my job, I was horrendously bullied. Others were also bullied with my managers taking 4 and 3 months off on stress leave. I was diagnosed with acute shock after being given a poor performance review, one that was inconsistent with comments made by my manager, who said she had nothing to do with the result. I was stabbed in the back for telling the truth and having integrity. I suffer Adrenal fatigue now and am unemployed after enduring another bullying experience at another company. My colleague and I were routinely yelled at in an open plan office. My manager was inconsistent and rude in her behaviour. Our complaints to HR went unheard. I have no faith in HR departments, their lack of integrity disappoints me. My colleague left the organisation and I was let go at the end of my probation period. I feel those who do the right thing are punished. Meanwhile others doing the wrong thing excel. I just know I will never do business with those organisations again. For clearly they lack morals and leadership. Unfortunately I believe many organisations are like this and if they lack people to stand up and tell the truth then they and their HR will continue to be toxic.

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