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“Workplace bullying: We Just Want it to Stop”

13 April 2013

“Workplace bullying: We Just Want it to Stop”

Kerry James, Senior Associate

At the end of 2012, the Standing Committee on Education and Employment (the “Committee”) released its much anticipated report into workplace bullying titled “Workplace Bullying: We Just Want It To Stop” (the “Report”). The Report was the result of a comprehensive inquiry which received over 300 submissions and conducted 11 days of public hearings.

The Federal Government’s focus on workplace bullying is reflective of the growing awareness of workplace bulling as a serious behaviour and culture issue. This growing awareness is the result of a number of high profile cases which have attracted significant media attention, the introduction of legislation to criminalise workplace bullying and the recent work health & safety harmonisation process which reinforced psychological health as a priority.

The Process

On 1 June 2012, the Committee called for submissions to be made on all forms of bullying in the workplace to hear a range of perspectives and experiences.

The Committee was interested in hearing from all parties and submissions were received from a range of stakeholders including, affected individuals and their families, legal practitioners (of which PCS was one firm), employer groups, employee counselling service providers and unions.

The Committee was then tasked with preparing a report to examine the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying and considering proposals to address workplace bullying.

The Report

The Committee released the Report at the end of 2012 detailing the inquiry process and making 23 key recommendations. These recommendations depict a clear focus on up-skilling all workplace participants in relation to workplace bullying and adopting a preventative approach to address workplace bullying at the organisational level.

Having said this, the Report also made a number of recommendations suggesting legislative changes to address workplace bullying. Of significance, was the recommendation that an adjudicative process be established to provide employees with an avenue for redress. In circumstances where there are already numerous avenues available to an employee to pursue a complaint of bullying (including through worker’s compensation, anti-discrimination, industrial law and tort law), this has caused concern for many employers and has taken the focus away from adopting a preventative approach to workplace bullying.

Of the 23 recommendations made by the Committee, employers should particularly be aware of the following key recommendations:

Definition: throughout the inquiry there was general support for the adoption of a single nationally consistent definition of workplace bullying. The definition of workplace bullying recommended by the Committee was:

repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Importantly, the Committee noted in their Report that balanced against this definition is also the need for managers to be able to manage their staff and that the definition of workplace bullying must include scope for reasonable performance management, disciplinary action and management action.

  • Advisory services: the Committee made a number of recommendations about the establishment of various services to assist employers and workers to prevent workplace bullying and appropriately address instances of workplace bullying. Specifically, the Committee recommended the establishment of advisory services, through new and existing channels, to provide resources and toolkits for employers and workers.
  • Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying: as part of the work health & safety harmonisation process, Safe Work Australia prepared a number of codes of practice, with one of these codes of practice addressing workplace bullying. Due to the significant consultation with various stakeholders this code of practice has not been finalised. The Committee recommended that this code of practice be urgently progressed by Safe Work Australia and it is expected that an updated code of practice will be released in March/April 2013 as on 14 March Safe Work Australia members agreed by majority to release the much-anticipated revised draft Code of Practice on the prevention of workplace bullying.
  • Training: in addition to training at an organisational level, it was suggested that a new accredited training program be designed for managers and health & safety representatives to equip them to deal with workplace bullying matters.
  • Legislation: the Committee also recommended that the Commonwealth Government implement arrangements that would allow an individual to make a claim of workplace bullying and seek remedies through an adjudicative process.

Of the 23 recommendations made, 19 were adopted by the Federal Government, including all of the recommendations set out above.

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