Bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to the health and safety of those workers. It can be perpetrated by an individual or a group. As well as creating a risk to health and safety, bullying can impact an organisation through reduced productivity, staff turnover and legal costs.
'Mobbing' is a term sometimes used to describe bullying behaviour where the perpetrator is a group of people rather than an individual.
'Unreasonable behaviour' is behaviour that is offensive, humiliating, degrading or threatening.
One or more of the following links may be useful to you in your attempts to deal with workplace bullying.
From 1 January 2012 the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) has effect in the ACT, replacing the Work Safety Act 2008. Click here for further information on the WHS Act.
Guides and Brochures
There are five handbooks under the previous Act available with regard to bullying:
1 - Checklist for Employers Addressing Workplace Bullying
2 - I think I am Being Bullied - What Should I Do?
3 - Recognising and Removing the Risks of Workplace Bullying
4 - Developing a Complete Complaints Resolution Process to Address Workplace Bullying
5 - Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying - in October 20101 this publication was replaced by an Approved Code of Practice for the ACT in relation to workplace bullying.
There are four posters available in regard to workplace bullying. Click here to see the full range of posters available.
I Think I am Being Bullied - What Can I Do?
It is not uncommon for victims of bullying to find it difficult to know how to respond to such situations.
In some cases, those experiencing bullying simply don't know who to turn to. This can particularly be the case where the bully is someone in a position of authority or trust within their organisation.
In other cases, the victim will feel that they themselves must be at fault in some way, that what is happening to them must be due to some flaw in their own character or behaviour.
Many people will simply hope that the situation they find themself in will simply right itself of its own accord.
One of the best things someone experiencing bullying can do, as difficult as it may be at the time, is to confide in someone who has a more objective perspective on what is going on. While such people may not be able to fully understand what it is like for the person on the receiving end of bullying, the very act of discussing the situation with someone you can trust, and who is not weighed down by the emotional response that a victim inevitably feels, can be helpful. They may offer a perspective on the situation that you have not considered. They may also be able to help you sort through the options open to you.
The following are some of the actions you could take if you are experiencing bullying at work. The actions you choose will depend on your particular circumstances and the nature of the bullying at your workplace.
Have a look at our brochure I think I am being bullied ... what should I do?
If you can, tell the person who is behaving inappropriately that you are offended and want it to stop.
Get advice from your work safety representative and / or bullying contact officer.
Get advice from your union.
Keep a record of events, including the name of people involved (incl. witnesses if there are any). Make sure the record focuses on the facts of the situation (what happened, when and on what date(s) and, if possible, copies of any relevant documents. One way of keeping notes is to send yourself an email containing this information as soon as possible after the event. By its nature this will be dated and time-stamped.
Use the workplace or local health and safety incident reporting procedure to report the situation.
Seek professional counselling and / or advice. perhaps your organisation provides an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) free of charge. If so, consider using it. These types of services usually guarantee anonymity.
Talk to people you trust at your workplace (a colleague, supervisor, manager, work safety representative, or someone from the human resources area).
Report the matter; don't just hope it will go away! In the first instance, report the matter to management at your workplace. If the bully is your direct supervisor, report the matter to their manager.
If you have followed the steps outlined above and are not satisfied with the action taken, you may wish to seek advice from the Human Rights Commission or WorkSafe ACT (see What Can WorkSafe ACT Do? below).
Our organisation wants to take action against bullying - what should we do?
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers are obliged to take all reasonably practicable steps to manage health and safety risks in their workplaces. Bullying is one such health and safety risk. Failure to do so could constitute a breach of the Act and could have serious repercussions, not just for those bullying or being bullied, but for the organisation as a whole.
The following are a number of actions employers should take to prevent bullying or harassment occurring in their workplaces:
have a look at our booklet under the previous Act Checklist for Employers addressing Workplace Bullying which identifies the key steps managers should take to prevent and / or respond to workplace bullying
follow our Four Step Process (outlined in the booklet Recognising and Managing the Risks of Workplace Bullying) to identify, assess and 'control' the factors which contribute to workplace bullying
inform workers about bullying and harassment, what it is, and why it is not accepted as well as what action will be taken against those who do it - our Workplace Bullying Awareness training course is just one way of achieving this.
adopt a Code of Ethics or set of Values for your organisation which make clear what sorts of behaviour are acceptable or valued, as well as those which are not
develop a bullying policy and procedure to address workplace bullying in your workplace - ensure that the policy is developed in consultation with your workers - see our booklet, Developing a Complete Complaint Resolution Process to address Workplace Bullying, which outlines a process with 3 components - 1. Personal Options for responding to perceived bullying; 2. an Informal Complaint Process and 3. a Formal Investigation Process for more serious matters or those not resolved through 1 or 2- the booklet also provides a sample policy and procedures
make sure that your bullying policies and procedures adhere to principles of 'natural justice'
The following are the key principles of natural justice:
1. the person who is subject to a complaint must know the basis of the complaint or allegations made against them2. this person must have the opportunity to put their case forward3. all parties to the complaint must have the right to be heard4. all relevant evidence and submissions must be considered5. the employer must not take into account matters that are not relevant6. the person or people who lay the charge must not determine the charge7. the decision must be fair and just.
More information about natural justice.
take prompt and impartial action to resolve any situations which may be perceived as workplace bullying or harassment
provide access to external investigation and/or mediation when management may be perceived not to be partial, or to ensure independence, impartiality and objectivity
ensure there is follow-through on such action - both bullies and workers will quickly recognise threats to take strong action which are not backed up by strong action when appropriate
provide training, particularly for supervisors and managers (see the Training provided by our office)
What laws might apply to bullying in the ACT?
Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers must take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or minimise the harm from risks to the health and safety of their workers. One of the key considerations in determining what might constitute 'reasonably practicable steps' is the seriousness of the risk under consideration. The impact of bullying in the workplace can be quite serious indeed. Employers must therefore ensure that they have done everything they reasonably could to eliminate and/or miminise the effects of bullying in their workplaces. Failure to do so could constitute a breach of the Act's requirements and could, in certain circumstances, be liable to prosecution or other penalties.
Workers also have a safety duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. That duty is not to expose themselves or other people who may be affected by the worker's work, to work safety risks because of their work. In other words, bullying could also be considered a breach, by the bully, of a worker's safety duty under the Act. Such a breach can also be subject to penalties under the Act.
WorkSafe ACT (a unit within the ACT's Office of Regulatory Services [ORS]) enforces the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. When required, and appropriate, WorkSafe inspectors will investigate and consider action to be taken in relation to alleged breaches of the Act (see What Can WorkSafe ACT Do?).
Discrimination Act 1991
The Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religion, race. professional associations, disability, marital or parental status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, age and a range of other personal attributes in the workplace.
Workplace bullying that involves discrimination on any of these grounds can be referred to the ACT Human Rights Commission. Refer to their website at www.hrc.act.gov.au for further details.
Under the federal discrimination laws it is unlawful to discriminate against another person on the basis of race, sex, disability or age. The federal legislation complements the ACT legislation in ensuring that workplaces are non-discriminatory. It covers only these four attributes, whereas the ACT Discrimination Act covers these four plus a range of other attributes as well.
Public Sector Management Act 1994
For ACT Government public servants, the Public Sector Management Act establishes clear standards of conduct for public sector employees, including those administering employment matters within the public service. in particular, there is a responsibility on public sector managers to provide a safe working environment. Sub-section 9(h) of the Act emphasises the need for public sector employees to comply with other territory laws, including the Work Safety Act 2008.
The standards of conduct specified in the Act as being expected of public employees also rule out workplace bullying behaviour as acceptable conduct for public sector employees.
Workers Compensation Act 1951
Private sector workers in the ACT may be able to claim for workers' compensation in respect of any medical conditions they incur as a result of bullying at work.
Workers' compensation primarily provides for reimbursement of time off work as well as medical costs associated with medical conditions arising from injuries (including 'psychological injuries') arising out of or in the course of their employment. The focus of workers' compensation is on ascertaining whether a worker should be compensated for certain costs arising from their injuries, NOT on apportioning blame.
A workers' compensation claim form must be completed and lodged with the worker's employer. The employer is obliged to forward the claim to their insurer for consideration.
Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988
Workers employed by the ACT Public Service may be entitled to claim for workers' compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (the SRC Act) with respect to the effects of bullying in the workplace.
Workers' compensation under the SRC act primarily provides for reimbursement of time off work as well as medical costs associated with medical conditions arising from injuries (including 'psychological injuries') arising out of or in the course of their employment. The focus of workers' compensation is on ascertaining whether a worker should be compensated for certain costs arising from their injuries, NOT on apportioning blame.
For a claim for workers' compensation under the SRC Act to be accepted, the worker must be suffering from a medically diagnosed condition which is attributable to their employment.
Injuries which can be shown to arise out of a 'failure to gain a benefit' (such as a promotion, or HDA, for example) or which result from 'reasonable management action taken in a reasonable manner' may not be accepted.
The SRC Act is administered by Comcare. A Comcare delegate will decide whether compensation is payable under the SRC Act. Both the worker and the employer will be given a chance by the delegate to present their case in respect of any such claim.
Two training courses are currently on offer from the Office of the ACT Work Safety Commissioner in respect of workplace bullying.
Download our bullying training flyer.
One Day Workshop - Workplace Bullying Prevention and Management
This full day workshop is available for Executives, Human Resource Managers, Managers and Supervisors, Executives, Contact Officers, WorkCover Inspectors and/or workers.
The workshop covers the following topics:
The cost of this course is $420 per person. All participants will receive a Participant's Workbook as well as coffee/tea on arrival, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.
Bookings are essential for this course. The following sessions are scheduled for 2013:
You can sign up for one of our scheduled courses by clicking on the link for the date above, or you can enquire about arranging an in-house or group course specifically for your workplace.
1/2 Day Workshop - Workplace Bullying Awareness
Our half day workshop is targeted at workers and focuses on bullying awareness and what responses can be taken at the individual level to bullying or perceptions of bullying in the workplace.
The workshop addresses the types of things that could be considered to constitute bullying as well as those which would not generally be bullying (e.g. reasonable management action that is taken in a reasonable manner). Workshop attendees will also work through how to respond to bullying, what options are available at the individual level, what the law requires and what actions we can take personally to prevent bullying occurring.
The cost of this course is $190 per person. All participants will receive a Workbook as well as morning tea / coffee.
NOTE: There is no obligation to undertake training provided by WorkSafe ACT. There are many other reputable providers of training in this area whom you might want to consider for the delivery of such training.
What can WorkSafe ACT do?
WorkSafe ACT's role is to monitor and enforce compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. An employer's failure to provide a safe working environment could constitute an offence under this Act.
WorkSafe expects that any allegation of bullying at work will be dealt with in the workplace as a health and safety issue through the employer's health and safety issue resolution processes.
One of WorkSafe's roles in relation to bullying at work is to ensure that the employer is meeting their obligation to provide a work environment that is safe and that risks to health (including risks to psychological health) are prevented or managed. In the case of bullying, this can include dealing effectively with issues that do arise despite attempts at prevention.
WorkSafe ACT is NOT responsible for determining whether compensation should be provided to the victims of bullying. Such redress may be possible under workers' compensation or human rights legislation.
What is the inspector's role?
WorkSafe ACT inspectors monitor and enforce compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
The inspector's role in response to an allegation of bullying at work could include ensuring that:
information is obtained from all relevant parties to assess whether bullying at work may have occurred
the employer has processes in place for reporting and investigating bullying
the employer has provided information to workers in relation to preventing bullying at work
the employer takes all reasonably practicable steps to stop bullying if it is occurring
allegations are treated seriously and are promptly dealt with
the employer complies with any directions or notices issued by the inspector.
What will the inspector do?
An inspector may contact you to find out more about your allegation of bullying at work. To help the inspector, you should prepare a summary of what happened and when, with as much detail as you can provide about your allegations.
After an inspector collects relevant information from you, they may then speak to other workplace parties. This will help them make a decision about the employer's compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Workplace visits / inspections
A WorkSafe ACT inspector may then decide to visit the workplace to gather more information (though this may not always be necessary).
If an inspector visits a workplace, they may:
inspect incident/injury records
inspect training and/or induction records
review workplace policies, procedures and complaints handling processes
inspect other workplace records such as incident or complaint investigation reports
interview or talk to workers, management representatives, witnesses and/or any other relevant people.
During a workplace visit the inspector may assess two things:
the steps taken by the employer to deal with your allegation of bullying at work (where the employer is aware of your specific allegation(s))
what measures the employer has in place to ensure that risks to workers' health and safety from bullying at work are either eliminated or reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.
The inspector's decision
After making enquiries into your allegations, the inspector will make an assessment of the information they have collected and make a decision about whether they may be a risk to health and safety from bullying at work.
An inspector may ask whether the workplace has conducted an investigation into your specific allegation(s).
If so, the inspector may request a copy of the investigation report and require that the employer implement any of the relevant recommendations contained in it.
If the workplace does not have suitable health and safety processes in place for managing and responding to bullying as a health and safety issue, the inspector may recommend the development of these processes within the workplace.
At this point, an inspector may:
issue an Improvement Notice requiring specific actions to be taken by the employer where there is a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (this action may include directions to develop and implement policies and procedures, directions to train staff in relation to acceptable workplace behaviours and/or directions to train supervisors in relation to their role in dealing with bullying at work)
provide advice to the employer about how to comply with health and safety laws
decide that the workplace has taken reasonable steps to prevent bullying at work
decide that the employer has taken reasonable steps to respond to and manage allegations of bullying at work
recommend that the employer engage the services of a suitably qualified person to assist with managing health and safety issues.
How will I find out what the outcome is?
You will be provided with feedback during the inspector's enquiry process. At the completion of WorkSafe ACT's involvement with your particular matter, you will receive written confirmation of the inspector's decision.