Workplace bullying and harassment is far more common than you might think. A once-off snide remark or rude comment is poor conduct but when this kind of behaviour is repeated and unnecessary, becomes physical, or causes physical or mental harm to another person it is likely to be considered bullying or harassment and needs to be addressed.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees. As workplace bullying and harassment can pose a serious risk to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, this duty of care extends to appropriately dealing with bullying behaviour.

What is considered to be bullying behaviour?

The types of workplace behaviour that can be considered bullying include:

  • Verbal abuse directed at an individual,
  • Excluding or isolating employees,
  • Intimidation,
  • Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job,
  • Giving employees impossible assignments,
  • Deliberately changed work rosters to inconvenience particular employees, and
  • Deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance.

Many employers and managers can find themselves hamstrung, not wanting to come across as bullying when trying to manage an employee’s work performance. It’s good to know that any reasonable and legitimate actions taken by employers to manage an employee’s performance is not considered bullying and for those with concerns around this, read our article on Managing Mental Health During the Performance Management Process. Likewise, making changes to an employee’s workload, reporting structure or duties where there is clearly a reason for the business to do so, is not considered bullying or harassment, however, it’s important to note that major workplace changes do require consultation with employees.

Do I need to respond to every bullying or harassment complaint?

You need to respond to any and all allegations of bullying or harassment as soon as reasonably possible, and we recommend this is done in writing so that you can demonstrate that when the allegation is received, it has been taken seriously. This may involve meeting with the employee to discuss their complaint and then meeting with any other people involved. We’ve shared more about How to Deal with Employee Complaints previously and depending on the seriousness of the matter, engaging a third-party to conduct an independent investigation is recommended, as this removes the bias of internal management and shows a fair process including investigation has been followed.

When handling issues around bullying and harassment it is important to respond to the complaint in a timely manner to not only protect the health and wellbeing of the employee but to also minimise risk to the business.

If an allegation of bullying or harassment is not addressed in a timely manner, this can impact the individuals involved, lead to performance issues, and create issues within the team culture. In some cases, poorly managed complaints may lead to unfair dismissal claims, worker’s compensation claim, or other legal proceedings against the business. Having a good bullying and harassment policy and processes in place can assist managers to handle these matters appropriately as well as protect the business in the event of a situation leading to a claim.

What if it is just workplace banter?

It is common in many workplaces that claims of bullying and harassment are brushed off and labelled as ‘workplace banter’. Workplace bullying and harassment laws generally do not consider the ‘intentions’ of the actions as much as how the employee targeted has responded to and felt about the actions.

Hidden types of bullying to look out for

Bullying and harassment isn’t always obvious like swearing at someone, touching someone inappropriately, or being physically violent. Indirect bullying is much more common in workplaces and can take the form of repeatedly excluding a particular colleague from a lunch invitation, loading up an individual with too much work, or not providing any work for an employee.

With many people now working remotely or connected via messaging apps in and outside of the workplace, bullying activity can take place online and unseen by others. Like the indirect forms of bullying mentioned above, this can be dangerous as the victim may feel as though their responses to the actions are not valid and may not come forward with a complaint, despite suffering. This of course can be tragic for the victim and can also mean the impacts to performance, culture and potentially employee turnover will persist.

If you’re looking for assistance in managing workplace bullying and harassment, or developing effective bullying and harassment processes, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or calling us on 08 6150 0043.

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