Can you be bullied when working from home?
Bullying when working from home, has only recently come into focus. Where more people were working from home, because of the effects of the pandemic. Can you be dismissed for retaliating?, defending yourself? what’s the test of bullying? what can you do about it? Bring threatened with dismissal is effecting your mental health.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
Workplace bullying occurs when an individual or a group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker. Or a group of workers of which the worker is a member, at work and that behavior creates a risk to health and safety. Depending on the circumstances, employees’ may be eligible to lodge an application at the Fair work Commission
- For an order to stop Workplace Bullying (Form F72),
- A General Protections Application not involving dismissal (Form F8C)
- A General Protections Application involving dismissal (Form F8).
- In order to determine which application is best for your unique circumstances, get advice, please read on.
Bullying occurs when an individual or a group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker. Or a group of workers of which the worker is a member, at work and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
In the unfair dismissal case of Amie Mac v Bank of Queensland Limited and Others. The Fair work Commission indicated that some of the features which might be expected to be found in a course of repeated unreasonable behaviour constituting bullying at work.
“intimidation, coercion, threats, humiliation, shouting, sarcasm, victimisation, terrorizing, singling-out, malicious pranks, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, belittling, bad faith, harassment, conspiracy to harm, ganging-up, isolation, freezing-out, ostracism, innuendo, rumor – mongering, disrespect, mobbing, mocking, victim-blaming and discrimination”.Fair work Commission
In regards to establishing a risk to health and safety for the test of workplace bullying. Proof of actual harm to health and safety is not necessary provided that a risk to health and safety created by bullying behaviour is demonstrated. Thus, the bullying behaviour must create the risk to health and safety through a casual link. The test is on the balance of probabilities.
Many employees have been required to work from home
This was due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and thus this raises many issues in regards to whether an employer’s actions will constitute workplace bullying. In order to constitute workplace bullying, the bullying conduct must have occurred while the worker is “at work”. Although “at work” is not defined clearly in the legislation.
It has been held that the definition includes work activities wherever they may occur and is not limited to the confines of a physical workplace. Despite not being physically present at work, it has been held in unfair dismissal case of Bowker and Others v DP World Melbourne Limited T/A DP World and Others. That bullying through social media platforms can constitute workplace bullying, despite the conduct not occurring “at work”.
such as Zoom, in order to conduct interviews, meetings and general communication with their employees. Just because an employee is working from home, does not mean an employer can intimidate. Or victimize, single-out, yell or belittle their employees. Similarly, just because employees are working from home, does not mean that employer’s can have unreasonable expectations in regards to workload or give unreasonable directions.
The employees should still be required to complete the amount of work they would have had they physically gone into work. They should still be entitled to the same breaks and they should only be contacted during work hours.(you should not be working from laying in bed as many have been doing).
“Bullying when working from home”,
This does not mean an employer can abuse the employee’s freedom by making them work until late at night. Or contacting them constantly in order to make sure they are being productive. Or having to be available 24 hours a day. In return, employees should not be abusing this freedom by not meeting daily targets or completing their allocated tasks.
Many employees believe if they work from home. They can procrastinate or get away with not doing as much work as if they had physically gone into the office because they are in the comfort of their own home. If employees wish to be treated with respect. They must also respect their employer and their directions, if they are reasonable.
Children at home
Another important issue during this time is related to employees with young children they are required to homeschool due to the pandemic. As many Australian states have adopted remote learning for primary and secondary students. Many parents have an obligation to homeschool their children. Although older children are more disciplined and can complete the remote learning tasks themselves. Younger children, such as primary school children, require assistance and guidance from their parents, who are also working from home. This can pose an issue for employers as it becomes difficult for employees to juggle homeschooling and completing their own workplace tasks for their employer. This can be particularly difficult if the work space or apartment is small.
Enviromental shift and increased bullying
Along with these traditional examples that often occur within the workplaces, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken many of us out of the traditional workplace environment to instead work remotely from home. Yet, this environmental shift has, in many cases, led to an increase in instances of workplace bullying.
When working from home, workers can experience an increase in anxiety, emails can be misinterpreted, and increased self-isolation may create a climate where effective communication is undermined as teams that once worked together in close proximity of each other, now suffer the tyranny of distance. The loneliness of working from home can make employees cranky. This increasing behavioural issue is traded off againt the convenice of working from home.
The main bullying problems when working from home include:
- Misinterpreted emails, text and group chat messages orv not responding.
- Isolation and loneliness causing workers to act and react irrationally or cranky.
- Miscommunication, an increasing cannot be bothered approach
- Lack of human connection and loneliness.
- Stress and anxiety being deflected onto others, simply blaming others.
- No firm boundaries when it comes to calls and/or other issues outside of business hours.
- Drinking during work hours and the issues and behaviour that goes with this.
Safe haven is important
Furthermore, where instances of bullying are directed at a employee who is working from home, a place that they would normally associate with safety and ‘quiet enjoyment’, the effect can be heightened as the bullied employee has no ‘safe haven’ to retreat to at the end of the day.
It is likely that employers will be met with an increased number of issues and bullying complaints surrounding email, text, or group chat communication where employees are working from home. Emails, text, group chat do not always express the full intention or sentiment of the sender and can be easily or deliberately misinterpreted. Particularly where the employee is already feeling vulnerable due to anxiety, isolation and a lack of peer support. Employees or the employer do not pick up the phone and call like they used to.
The sudden increase in employees working from home is new to many employers and employees may not have adapted to the new communication norms. It is also much easier for a bully to ignore or isolate a employee if the employee is not in the same physical location. The failure to properly communicate and include team members in relevant discussions is facilitated by the physical separation occasioned by remote work.
Workplace bullies and people with similar behaviour, tend to be opportunistic and may refrain from attacking their target in front of a group of workers where they themselves might feel peer pressure for their bullying behaviour. Employees who may have previously enjoyed the peer support of their colleagues in the workplace environment are now more at risk of being targeted when working remotely. The lack of togetherness is to blame.
Conclusion to Bullying When Working From Home
In conclusion, both employers and employees will need to communicate. To be understanding during difficult times. Employees need to understand when their employer’s conduct or directions are unreasonable and thus constitutes workplace bullying. In order to discuss whether you are being bullied at work or whether your employer’s directions are unreasonable. Please give us a free call on1800 333 666 .
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