How victims of workplace bullying can respond
If you have experienced workplace bullying, you are certainly not alone. A 2021 survey by Safe Work Australia reveals that almost one in ten (8.6 per cent) Australian workers have experienced bullying in the workplace. This is a notable increase since 2011, when only seven per cent of workers experienced bullying. How victims of workplace bullying can respond is important reading to know your rights, to not suffer in silence.
All working Australians have access to various commissions, tribunals and statutory bodies. It doesn’t not matter if your permanent, part time or a casual employee. By international standards, the prevalence of workplace bullying in Australia is very high. The Safe Work survey reveals that only two European nations – France and Luxembourg – have a higher rate than us.
If you haven’t personally experienced workplace bullying, it is likely you have witnessed it taking place or know someone who has been a victim. It is clear that Australia has a widespread workplace bullying problem. That the anti-bullying policies of employers are failing to curb.
“Results suggest that current approaches to preventing bullying and harassment in Australian workplaces are having little effect,”says Safe Work in its 2021 survey.
What is the definition of workplace bullying?
Some workers may not fully understand if what they have experienced at work constitutes bullying. After all, it is safe to say that many of us have at least experienced discomfort due to the behaviour or comments of our colleagues. However, many of these experiences may not meet the definition of workplace bullying.
Safe Work Australia, which is the federal government agency tasked with overseeing the health and safety of the nation’s workers, provides a clear definition. It states that:
“Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”Work safe Australia
Key to this definition is that bullying involves repeated behaviour. That is, it is of a persistent nature that can involve a range of behaviors over time. Safe Work also outlines that unreasonable behaviour is that which a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see it as unreasonable. This includes behaviour that is victimizing, humiliating, intimidating or threatening (it’s common for example to the threatened with dismissal or a warning on a regular basis). You can read our article about different types of workplace harassment to learn about the many forms that bullying can take.
What is not bullying?
It is important to understand that not all behaviour that may upset someone or make them feel undervalued is considered workplace bullying. According to the Safe Work definition, a single incident of unreasonable behaviour does not constitute bullying. However, it should not be ignored given that it may become a repeated behaviour or escalate.
Action taken by managers may also sometimes cause an employee to feel upset. This could either be the result of the manager allocating work or providing feedback on their performance. But as long as these actions are carried out in a reasonable and lawful manner, they are not considered bullying. However there may be unreasonable patterns of behavior that may meet the threshold. An example of this is the supervisor every night dumps an huge amount of work on your desk 10 minutes before you finish work or they know you have to leave to pick the kids up from child care. It’s deliberate act to frustrate you, to humiliate you.
What are the rates of workplace bullying across Australia?
The SafeWork survey reveals that workplace bullying rates vary across Australian states and territories. In 2021, Western Australia had the lowest rate at 5.2 per cent, while South Australia had the highest at 9.7 per cent. A more than two-fold increase since 2015.
Some key employment sectors have bullying rates far higher than the national average. In Government Administration and Defence, the rate is 13.4 per cent, Transport and Storage 13.3 per cent, and Retail 12.8 per cent.
What are the most common forms of workplace bullying in Australia?
In 2021, 55.6 per cent of those who reported that they had experienced bullying said that they were bullied at least once per week. This is a huge surge from 2015 figures, where only 33 per cent of those who were bullied experienced it weekly. Verbal abuse and humiliation is the most common form of workplace bulling, accounting for 42.7 per cent of cases. This includes being sworn or yelled at and or being humiliated in front of others.
Gender and racial harassment are the second most common form of bullying, accounting for 25. 5 per cent of cases. This is a huge increase from 2015, when this form of harassment only accounted for 16.2 per cent of bullying cases. Accounting for 16.7 per cent of bullying cases, sexual harassment is the third most common type of bullying. While threats and physical assault account for just 3.8 per cent of bullying cases.
Despite best efforts, workplace bullying is rife
In recent years, many Australian employers have made efforts to embed anti-bullying policies in their workplaces. However, even organisations with the means to enact and enforce comprehensive policies have fallen short of preventing the scourge of workplace bullying.
In 2022, one of Australia’s largest and most well-known corporations – mining giant Rio Tinto – published a report into bullying across its global workforce of 47,500 employees. The report, which was overseen by Australia’s former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, reveals that “bullying and sexism are systemic across Rio Tinto worksites, with almost half of the people experiencing bullying.”
In last five years, 21 female employees said they had been a victim of attempted or actual rape or sexual assault at Rio Tinto. And nearly a third of its female employees had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The report reveals high rates of racism at Rio Tinto too. Roughly a third of its Indigenous employees said they had experienced racism in the workplace.
What should you do if you experience workplace bullying?
Australia’s workplace relations laws allow employees to seek protection from workplace bullying through the Fair Work Commission (FWC). But before you explore that option, you may want to consider talking to the individual(s) who is the cause of your bullying. You could let them know that their behaviour is wrong and ask them to stop. However, it is advised to only confront them if you feel it is safe to do so. This a more restorative justice approach to bullying.
Another option you could explore is making a complaint with your supervisor or manager. You could also raise the issue with a member of your HR department or a health and safety representative. If your workplace has an Employee Assistance Program, you could also access free professional advice on how to resolve your bullying.
It is important to understand that you have the right to make such a complaint to your employer. Some employees may feel that doing so may place them at risk of being dismissed or unfairly treated for complaining about bullying. However, if this occurs it would constitute an adverse action and you could be entitled to make a General Protections claim with the FWC. (F8 application).
Applying for a stop bullying order
If you are unsuccessful in resolving your harassment, you can apply for a stop bullying order with the FWC. Australian workers are entitled to apply for this order. Providing if the harassment they have suffered meets the FWC’s definition of bullying. There is also a range of other eligibility criteria that an employee must satisfy, which you can view on the FWC site.
It is important to note that under the Fair Work Act 2009, a stop bullying order can be made if an employee was bullied by “an individual or group of individuals.” This means that it can be made against the employer, a manager, supervisor or colleague. It also means that the bully does not have to be an employee of the same employer as the bullied worker. The critical factor is that the bullying took place “at work.”
What is the process involved with a stop bullying order?
Once the Fair work receives a stop bullying order application, it must process it within two weeks. The FWC then provides a copy of the application to the employer and the individual(s) outlined as the bully. If appropriate, the FWC will organize a mediation session between the parties to help resolve the issue.
If the issue is not resolved in mediation, the case will proceed to a formal hearing with a member of the FWC. At this hearing, the stop bullying application is fully considered and a binding decision or order can be made.
What can a stop bullying order potentially entail?
If a binding decision is made to issue a stop bullying order, the nature of the order depends on a number of factors. This includes the nature of complaints made by the applicant. Who and how many bullies were involved and the nature of the workplace and organisation.
The bully or bullies may be ordered to not make certain comments about the applicant. Or be prohibited from being in the vicinity of the applicant. An order could also involve the bully being transferred to another worksite or having their roster changed to avoid contact with the applicant.
A real-life example of what a stop bullying order can look like is provided by a case known as Applicant Vs. Respondent (PR548852). This order, which was handed down in 2014, included the following requirements:
For the alleged bully:
1. Shall complete any exercise at the employer’s premises before 8.00 a.m.
2. Shall have no contact with the applicant alone.
3. Shall make no comment about the applicant’s clothes or appearance.
4. Shall not send any emails or texts to the applicant except in emergency circumstances.
5. Shall not raise any work issues without notifying the Chief Operating Officer of the respondent, or his subordinate, beforehand.
For the alleged victim:
1. The applicant shall not arrive at work before 8.15 a.m.
Conclusion to How victims of workplace bullying can respond
Have you experienced workplace bullying?
Get advice, explore your options. Applying for a stop bullying order can be a complex process. It involves understanding the numerous eligibility criteria and what evidence to submit, among other details. Our friendly team at A Whole New Approach can help you easily understand if you are eligible. To make the process of submitting a stop bullying order application simple. all Fair work matters, including, casual employee rights, toxic workplace culture, abandonment of employment.