Today, Jun 24th 2017

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Bullying at work is illegal

Bullying at work can be defined as repeated, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour directed towards a worker, or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

Because it can adversely affect the safety and health of employees, bullying is unlawful in WA.

While some workplace bullying may involve verbal abuse and physical violence, bullying can also involve subtle intimidation. Workplace bullying can be carried out indirectly, for example via letters, emails or telephone text messages. An individual or a group may instigate bullying.

The term workplace mobbing is sometimes used to refer to abusive group behaviour that is prolonged or systematic. The intent is usually to try to drive a worker from the workplace.

Workplace bullying can take place between workers and other workers, managers or supervisors, contractors, or visitors.

Dealing with bullying at work

There are bound to be occasional differences of opinion, conflicts and problems in working relationships, these are part of working life.

But when treatment of another person is unreasonable or offensive, then workplace bullying exists and should not be tolerated.

Bullying behaviours

All workers are potentially at risk of experiencing some form of bullying.Victims are often younger, weaker, smaller, less skilled, or have with less social skills. However victims may also be highly skilled, competent and high achievers, who are trusting, creative, and politically inept or have a high degree of loyalty to the organisation.

Bullying may include violence and aggression. Where bullying involves assault or threat of assault it may become a police matter.

Some bullying behaviours may also be unlawful under other legislation, for example the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 covers sexual and racial harassment.

There are two main types of bullying behaviour, overt and covert.

Examples of overt bullying are:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language
  • Behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades, including criticism that is delivered with yelling and screaming
  • Inappropriate comments about a person's appearance, lifestyle, or their family
  • Teasing or regularly making someone the brunt of pranks or practical jokes
  • Interfering with a person's personal effects or work equipment
  • Harmful or offensive initiation practices; and physical assault or threats.

Covert or less obvious behaviour that undermines, treats less favourably or disempowers others is also bullying, for example:

  • Unreasonably overloading a person with work
  • Setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines.
  • Setting tasks that are beyond a person's skill level
  • Ignoring or isolating a person
  • Deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources; or
  • Unfair treatment in relation to accessing entitlements such as leave or training.

What isn't bullying?

All employers have a legal right to direct and control how work is done, and managers have a responsibility to monitor workflow and give feedback on performance. If a worker has obvious performance problems, these should be identified and dealt with in a constructive and objective way that does not involve personal insults or derogatory remarks.

In situations where a worker is dissatisfied with management practices, the problems should also be raised in a manner that remains professional and objective.

What are the possible effects of bullying?

The reactions of individual workers will vary according to the type of the bullying.

  • Stress, anxiety, sleep disturbance
  • Panic attacks or impaired ability to make decisions
  • Incapacity to work, concentration problems, loss of self-confidence and reduced output and performance.
  • Depression or a sense of isolation and in extreme cases, risk of suicide.

If you are being bullied at work, don't put up with it. Report your situation to a senior manager at work.

If appropriate action isn't taken, call Worksafe or the TWU.

(Information for this article has been obtained from a Worksafe publication entitled 'Dealing with bullying at work').

It can be downloaded from their website: www.worksafe.wa.gov.au