Workplace Bullying – ‘We just want it to stop’
Bullying in Australia is estimated to cost business as much as $36 Billion a year; this was the estimates coming from an inquiry into Workplace Bullying by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment. This staggering cost comes from additional sick days, absenteeism, reduced or lost productivity, turnover of employees, claims for compensation and associated costs that all stem from workplace bullying.
Bulling is already unlawful under theWorkplace Health and Safety Act 2011 as it directly contravenes the need for employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees. It also contravenes the duty of workers to ensure their actions do not constitute a risk to health and safety for themselves or other. However, as of 1 January 2014 legislative changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 will incorporate laws against bullying in the workplace to tackle this problem more directly.
The committee has recommended the following definition of bullying be adopted:
‘Bullying is the repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates risk to health and safety’.
These new laws will apply to employers or ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU), and employees or ‘worker’; those undertaking work for PCBU and may include employees full-time or part- time; contractors and subcontractors; apprentices, trainees, work experience students and volunteers.
The Fair Work Commission will have 14 days to start dealing with the reports of bullying and have the powers to order a stop to reported behaviours of bullying. They will also have the powers to apply sanctions on an organisation that does not comply with such orders with fines up to $51,000. The commission’s powers stop at being able to apply compensation to workers making complaints of bullying.
So what are the obligations to businesses in relation to these new laws?
PCBU are ultimately responsible to provide a safe working environment this includes one free of bullying. Australian businesses have an obligation beyond just not tolerating such behaviour. Business have a responsibility to put in place effective measures to ensure that bullying does not occur. These measures should include an education program and effective procedures in place to deal with behaviour or cases of a bullying nature.
The following are a list of positive actions that can be quickly implemented into the workplace which will inform, educate, and manage bullying. These steps are aimed at changing culture toward a zero tolerance and eliminating bullying in the Australian workplace:
- All staff must understand what constitutes bullying, through effective education program.
- A strong and acknowledged understand that bullying is not acceptable reflected in the code of conduct, values, and policies of the organisation;
- The consequences of taking part in such behaviour need to be clearly outlined from both an organisational and legal standpoint;
- A process established and understood of how to report a case of bullying and who and how it will be responded to.
- Reports of bullying need to be promptly investigated and the behaviour stopped.
Organisations need to develop clear policies and procedures outlining the above points and these must be communicated and acknowledged by all staff.
Performance management systems need to be fair, reasonable and transparent; procedures and documentation need to be appropriated, understood and followed.
Claims of bullying need to be taken seriously, acted on, investigated thoroughly and stopped immediately.
One of the most important and proactive measures that an organisation can take to stop bullying in the workplace is to build or change an existing culture or subculture. Organisations need to build a culture that engenders strong values of respect; equality and diversity; one that gives people the knowledge to recognise and the courage to stand up against bullying.
Bullying is a serious issue affecting the wellbeing of Australian workers and the productivity of our workplace. A proactive approach with positive action to create and sustain a culture in which bullying does not occur will have a lasting impact on our workers productivity and our business’ bottom line; We have the power to just make it stop.
HR Power believes greater success is possible through your people.
Make sure you are informed and prepared for these changes to the Fair Work Act. HR Power can help your business understand the issues, establish policies & procedures needed and conduct training to ensure your business is ready.