A proactive approach to bullying

by HCA05 Dec 2013
Q. How do the changes to the Fair Work Act impact on bullying legislation, and what should my organisation do to stay compliant?
A Commencing on January 1 next year, changes to the Fair Work Act will enable allegations of bullying in the workplace to be handled by Australia’s national industrial tribunal, the Fair Work Commission. As usual, the best method for staying compliant is to manage the risk of bullying proactively, with sound policy and training and prompt investigation of all incidents.
Workplace bullying is repeated, interpersonal abusive behaviour. It is generally the result of an actual or perceived power imbalance between a perpetrator and a victim. Bullying can include behaviours that intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a worker. Bullying is illegal and victims are protected under extensive regulations in the Fair Work Australia Act.
A single incident of unreasonable behaviour may have the potential to escalate into bullying. No incident should be ignored. Employers have a duty to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of workers. Failing to take action when risks are identified can have devastating consequences for your employees and your business.
Bullying can happen in any workplace and is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it before it becomes a risk. Company culture can have a big influence on the likelihood of bullying occurring in the workplace. Management style, level of trust and communication methods are qualities that will impact on the way tension is dealt with in the workplace. If communication is open and respectful, if management takes a proactive approach in mediating conflict, and if managers are trusted, the workplace will be less likely to generate bullying.
Organisations must overcome the risks of A proactive approach to bullying bullying in the workplace, using both preventative and responsive approaches. Preventative approaches include drafting clear company policy on bullying, training staff, and cultivating a culture of respect and communication. Responsive approaches refer to methods businesses use to deal with reported incidents of bullying. They include compliance with Fair Work Australia, investigating reported incidents in a confidential manner, allowing all parties to have the appropriate guidance support and representation, and proceeding with any disciplinary measures.
On-boarding is the key period that organisations have when they can instruct employees on company policy and assimilate them into company culture. There are so many elements of on-boarding, it’s no surprise that some aspects of company policy are either forgotten or not properly absorbed at this crucial time. Businesses need to ensure their position on bullying is made clear from day one. This means not only laying down the rules but also training employees on their rights, responsibilities and the process they should follow if they experience or observe bullying.
Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) are now helping organisations manage their Fair Work Australia responsibilities across a range of different regulations, including bullying. Automating many of the on-boarding processes ensures core policies like bullying never fall through the cracks.
A HRIS helps organisations align employees with company policy from the outset and provides documented evidence that they have fulfilled their requirements. This is an ongoing task – the system tracks employees’ policy induction and training, and sends a prompt to managers when refresher training is needed.
A HRIS can also help managers and HR to document and investigate incidents should they occur. A best-in-class HRIS includes health and safety modules that allow you to manage the recording of incidents and complaints, to ensure all incidents are investigated, acted on and documented for compliance.

Nick Southcombe

Nick Southcombe General Manager, Frontier Software (03) 9639 0777 frontiersoftware.com