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Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and feel safe and valued in the workplace.
Unfortunately, many employees will experience bullying from peers, subordinates and/or management in the course of their working life.
Bullying can have severe impacts on both the employee and employer.
It may result in psychological injury to the employee and consequently the employer could be caught up in a time-consuming worker’s compensation case and/or be sued for negligence.
And that’s not to mention being down a staff member, added insurance costs and regulatory monitoring and the impacts on productivity and camaraderie in the workplace.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying, which is also known as harassment, occurs when an employee or group of employees are subjected to repeated unreasonable behaviour that:
- Is unwelcome and unsolicited;
- The employee considers offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening;
- A reasonable person would consider offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening
- Creates a risk to health and safety.
Workplace harassment does not include reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way by the person’s employer in connection with the person’s employment.
What are some examples of workplace bullying?
- Verbal abuse and constant ridicule;
- Repeated threats of dismissal;
- Persistent and unjustified criticisms or complaints, often about small things;
- Excluding someone from workplace activities
- Humiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism and insults;
- Spreading gossip or false, malicious rumours about a person;
- Withholding or supplying incorrect information, hiding documents or equipment, not passing on messages and seeking to get a person into trouble.
What are the impacts of bullying on the victim?
Workplace bullying can cause severe psychological problems including:
- distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
- physical illness, reduced work performance, concentration and decision-making ability
- loss of self-esteem and self-confidence feelings of isolation
- deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
- depression, and
- thoughts of suicide.
How do you know if you are being bullied at work?
Safe Work Australia’s Dealing with workplace bullying – a worker’s guide will help you identify if bullying is occurring and how it may be resolved. This online resource is useful if you think you are experiencing or witnessing workplace bullying or have had a report made against you.
There is also a quiz on the Fair Work Commission’s website that is helpful.
What can I do if I have been bullied at work?
If you have been bullied in the workplace it is important to keep records of each incident.
Record times, dates, where the incidents took place, who was involved and any witnesses present.
Employees should try to resolve issues of bullying with a manager or supervisor; a health and safety representative, HR or your union.
If this does not resolve the problem an employee can take further action, including contacting the Fair Work Commission which can issue an order to stop the bullying, monitor the workplace and order your employer to review their workplace safety policy.
Go to Fair Work Commission’s website and take the eligibility quiz, if you are eligible you can lodge an application to stop bullying with the commission.
To make this process easier, legal representation at this stage is invaluable.
How do I make a compensation claim?
If you have suffered an injury due to a workplace bullying incident, you could consider making a worker’s compensation claim. For injuries suffered due to workplace bullying, the most common is psychological injury. You will need to prove that while you were employed at your workplace, the environment was the cause of your psychological injury. If you can prove this, you may receive compensation for earnings you have lost or medical bills you had to pay. To make a claim you need to notify your employer of the psychological injury, visit a doctor for treatment, get a Certificate of Capacity from your doctor, request a worker’s compensation claim form from your employer and complete and submit your claim. You may be entitled to
- Medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Rehabilitation services
- Lump sum compensation; and
- Legal costs
Employers also have a duty of care and must actively seek to take care of their employee’s safety. If an employee suffers psychological injuries while working for a negligent employer, they are eligible to make a negligence claim for loss of income and pain and suffering.
If you are suffering psychological trauma from workplace bullying having a lawyer by your side can help alleviate the stress of a worker’s compensation or a negligence case. Make no mistake, you will be up against an insurance company who will go to great lengths to minimise or dismiss any payout necessary.
Dealing with workplace bullying can be a time consuming and expensive process. Your businesses or organisation has a duty of care to all employees and should have policies in place to prevent bullying. Safe Work Australia’s website features a guide to preventing and responding to workplace bullying. It outlines what bullying is and how to prevent, respond and investigate it.
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to workplace bullying. If you are an employer, make sure all your workplace policies in place. All employees should be made aware that bullying in the workplace is unacceptable. Appropriate worker’s compensation insurance cover should also be up to date in the event a worker makes a claim for psychological injury for workplace harassment.
What do I do if an employee complains of workplace bullying?
It is always prudent to try to solve complaints of bullying internally.
Being accused of bullying or harassment can be upsetting and could come as a shock to most businesses. It is important to be open to feedback and, if necessary, change the behaviour and culture in the workplace.
Try to remain calm and avoid aggravating the situation.
Listen to the concerns expressed and discuss how you might work together to resolve the issue.
It is important not to dismiss claims of harassment, if your employee is able to prove they have been bullied and it has caused them psychological injury they can claim worker’s compensation.
What do I do if I receive an application to stop bullying from the Fair Work Commission?
Employers can respond and defend the claims of bullying made against them to the Fair Work Commission. Given the subjective nature and difficulty in defining what workplace bullying is, it is advisable to seek legal representation to try to dismiss these claims.
It is not in the Fair Work Commission’s jurisdiction to award compensation or damages to a bullied worker, needless to say the “bullied” worker could go on to make a claim for workers compensation, negligence, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, breach of rights and more if your response to the claims of bullying are unsuccessful.
What legal action can be taken against my business?
If an employee claims they have been bullied in the workplace, your business could face costly and time-consuming legal action. The employee could make a worker’s compensation claim for injury at work or a negligence claim for failure to provide a duty of care.
If the workplace bullying includes threats of violence it could be regarded as a breach of criminal law and the matter could be passed onto the police.
It is important to get legal advice under these circumstances.
The employment experts at Fourtree Lawyers will explore every avenue to resolve the issue of bullying in the workplace without costly court action. But if this in unavoidable they will work with you to minimise the damage or dismiss the claims altogether.
What are the impacts of workplace bullying on my business?
Workplace bullying can have a negative impact on the work environment and incur direct and indirect costs for a business, including:
- high staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs
- low morale and motivation
- increased absenteeism
- lost productivity
- disruption to work when complex complaints are being investigated
- costs associated with counselling, mediation and support
- costly workers’ compensation claims or legal action, and
- damage to the reputation of the business.
We are here to help
Our solicitors specialise in Employment Law and represent clients throughout the Hunter, Newcastle, Sydney and across the Central Coast. We have the experience to guide you through often complex workplace issues from beginning to end to ensure you get you the best possible outcome.
If you have a workplace issue or dispute, contact one of our employment law specialists on 1300 529 444 or submit a contact form to arrange a case assessment with one of our solicitors today.
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